Understanding Your COVID-19 Test Results

You were recently tested for COVID-19. The test has been run at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia's lab, and the results have come back. Please select the appropriate directions below based on your test results.

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Invalid

You were recently tested for COVID-19. The test has been run at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia's lab, and the results have come back INVALID. Please note that this is a PCR test and not a rapid antigen test. This means that we could not determine if your result is positive or negative for COVID-19. Please talk to the healthcare provider who referred you to get a test to determine your next steps.

Invalid tests

  • Rarely, the COVID-19 test cannot give a result, either positive or negative, when it is run in the lab. This can be due to a variety of reasons.
  • If you get an invalid result it ultimately means that the swab needs to be re-done in order to determine whether you do or do not have COVID-19.
  • At CHOP, we try to contact all patients who have an invalid result to work with you to reschedule your test. You will need a new appointment to be scheduled, and even before we contact you, you are welcome to re-schedule that test online here.

Negative

You were recently tested for COVID-19. The test has been run at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia's lab, and the results have come back as NEGATIVE. Please note that this is a PCR test and not a rapid antigen test.

What does this mean?

A negative test means that we have NOT found evidence of the virus which causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the swab from the back of your nose/mouth.

  • If you were tested because you are having symptoms (such as fever or cough), it is likely that those symptoms are NOT being caused by COVID-19.
  • If you were tested because you were exposed, but have not had any symptoms so far, then this means that we cannot currently find any evidence that you are infected. However, if you were tested before the 14-day mark, it is possible that you were exposed, and will develop new symptoms, but it is too early to find the infection with this test.

What do I need to do if I was exposed?

  • For now, we recommend that you continue to remain at home under “self-quarantine” until you are 10 days from your exposure. The vast majority of people who are going to become infected do so within 10 days of exposure.
  • Self-quarantine means you should stop all in-person contact with people outside your home, and not leaving your home unless for essential medical care. [Some guidance about self-quarantine is given at the end of this document.]
  • It is important to remember that it is still possible to develop the disease up to 14 days from exposure. So if you stop quarantining at 10 days, you should still be especially careful with distancing, masking, hand-washing, and monitoring for new symptoms for the full 14 days post-exposure.

What do you mean by “monitor symptoms”?

You should continue to pay attention to your body for symptoms (especially if you develop a new fever or cough) for 14 days from the day you were exposed. If you have new symptoms, you should consider being retested.

What happens if I have no symptoms by 14 days from my exposure?

If you self-quarantine for 14 days after your last exposure to someone diagnosed with COVID-19, and have developed no new or worsening symptoms, then you likely were not exposed enough to cause an infection. At that point, you can confirm with your local department of public health and/or your healthcare provider that you can come out of quarantine.

What does this mean for my household contacts?

  • We recommend that as much as possible, you limit your contact with people in your home. Everyone should clean their hands frequently, stay more than 6 feet apart as much as possible, and not share personal items, including water bottles, utensils, etc.
  • If anyone else in your home becomes ill, they should discuss this with your department of health, and their primary care doctor.
  • Before going in for care, please let any doctor’s offices, emergency rooms, etc. know ahead of time that they have been in contact with a positive case.

Guidance for self-quarantine (at least 10 days post exposure)

  • If at any time you feel symptomatic, please contact the health department. If seeking medical advice, please contact your primary care doctor and inform them of your situation.
  • Stay at home and avoid public places.
  • Do not travel.
  • Do not go to work, school or public areas.
  • Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
  • Avoid crowds, public events, meetings, social activities, or other group activities.
  • If your child attends school or daycare, have them remain home.
  • Do not share utensils, toothbrushes, water bottles, pillows, and avoid shaking hands, kissing, hugging, or other intimate activities. Avoid close contact. (Close contact is defined as closer than a 6-foot distance between you and others.)
  • If you must go to a medical appointment, call ahead and make arrangements.
  • Monitor your symptoms throughout the day. Contact your primary care physician if there are concerns.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

Why is there some guidance about testing and ending quarantine at 7 days?

  • All guidance on quarantining and when to get tested is based on a balance of the risk that you could unknowingly be infected after an exposure and the benefit of returning to activities outside of the home.
  • We know that it is possible to become infected with COVID-19 up to 14 days from the time you are exposed. However, the vast majority of people who are going to become infected do so within 10 days of exposure.
  • We also know that a test can sometimes pick up infection 2-3 days before you actually develop symptoms. Therefore, having a negative test at 7 days makes the likelihood that you will develop infection even lower. Importantly, this should NOT be done earlier than 7 days, because this would be too early for the test to pick up anything and would be falsely reassuring if it was negative.
  • We still recommend, if at all possible, to remain in quarantine until the 10 day mark.
  • The more we know about the virus and how it behaves, the more we can become specific about how long you have to be strictly quarantined after an exposure.
  • It is important to remember that it is still possible to develop the disease up to 14 days from exposure and even you stop strict quarantining early based on current guidance. Youu should still be very careful with who you are around, and as always, be ESPECIALLY good about your social distancing, masking, hand-washing, and monitoring for new symptoms for those 14 days.

What if I have more questions?

  • If you have concerns about new symptoms, please call your primary care doctor. If these symptoms are severe and you are having a medical emergency, you should call 911. In both cases, be sure to explain that you have been exposed to COVID-19, including the date that you were exposed and whether or not you have had a test since that time, so that appropriate measures can be taken.
  •  If you have questions about your quarantine, and how long it should last, please get in touch with your local department of public health.

Positive

You were recently tested for COVID-19. The test has been run at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia's lab, and the results have come back as POSITIVE. Please note that this is a PCR test and not a rapid antigen test.

Please read this full message for guidelines on home isolation and caring for your child.

What to do under home isolation

Patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should remain under home isolation until the risk of giving it to others is thought to be low. This means stopping all in-person contact with people outside your home, and not leaving your home unless for essential medical care.

Those under home isolation should:

  • Stay at home and avoid public places.
  • Do not travel.
  • Do not go to work, school or public areas.
  • Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
  • Avoid crowds, public events, meetings, social activities, or other group activities.
  • If your child attends school or daycare, have them remain home.
  • Do not share utensils, toothbrushes, water bottles, pillows, and avoid shaking hands, kissing, hugging, or other intimate activities.
  • If other non-infected people live in the home, then avoid being within 6 feet of those individuals, consider wearing masks when in the same room, use frequent hand washing and/or hand sanitizer, and if possible, use a bathroom that is not used by others
  • Avoid close contact. (Close contact is defined as closer than a 6-foot distance between you and others.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • If you must go to a medical appointment, call ahead to make arrangements.
  • Monitor your symptoms throughout the day. Contact your primary care doctor if there are concerns.

Caring for your child with COVID-19 at home

If your child has been diagnosed with a viral infection (COVID-19 or other virus), antibiotic treatment will not cure the viral infection. If given when not needed, antibiotics can be harmful. The treatments described below will help your child feel better and help the body's own defenses fight the virus:

  • Drink a lot of water
  • Use cool mist vaporizer or saline drops or nasal spray (with bulb suction for babies) to relieve congestion
  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for discomfort with fever or aches and pains

What should I look out for?

Seek medical attention if your child's illness is worsening as described below. Persons who are placed under active monitoring should follow instructions provided by their physician or local health department.

Before seeking care, call the healthcare provider/medical facility and tell them that your child has, or is being evaluated for, COVID-19.

Call your primary care provider immediately or go to the emergency room if:

  • Your child is less than 2 months old and their temperature is greater than 100.4F (38.0C) rectally
  • Your child is crying constantly (irritable) and you cannot console him or her
  • Your child is difficult to awaken
  • Your child has a stiff neck
  • Your child has purple spots on the skin
  • Your child has trouble breathing that does not improve with cleaning out the nose
  • Your child cannot swallow and is drooling
  • Your child has a seizure or convulsion
  • Your child does not urinate for more than 8 hours

Call your primary care provider within 24 hours if:

  • Your child tells you something hurts (for example, earache or burning with urination)
  • Your child runs a fever for more than 3 days
  • Your child develops a rash, red eyes, or significant abdominal pain
  • You have any other concerns

What should other people in our household do?

Those in the same household as the positive child are considered exposed to COVID-19 and should quarantine for 10-14 days from the last time they were with the positive individual before isolation. People who are quarantining should:

  • Stay home and avoid public places
  • Not go to work, school or public area
  • Alert their workplace that there is a positive person in their household and follow employer guidelines for eventual return to work
  • Wear masks when in the same room as the positive family member and not get closer than 6 feet
  • Be tested for COVID-19 if any symptoms develop
  • In some instances, the department of public health may request that testing be done for contact tracing before 7 days, even if an exposed person remains symptom-free. However, even if this test is negative, it should not be used to shorten quarantine time, because the test can be falsely reassuring earlier than 7 days. 
  • Remember that exposure to a household contact is generally higher risk than other community exposures, so continuing the full 14 day quarantine instead of the shortened 10 day quarantine is advised.
  • Anyone who had significant contact with the positive child (within 6 feet for 15 cumulative minutes, regardless of masking) in the 48 hours before they started showing symptoms (or prior to the test if the person had no symptoms at the time of testing) are considered exposed and should quarantine as well.
  • Please contact anyone who was exposed to your child to let them that your child is positive and that they should quarantine. They SHOULD NOT go get tested right away. A test done in the first few days after an exposure will be falsely reassuring. Unless symptoms develop, no test should be done for an exposure before 5-7 days.

When can I (or my child) stop home isolation?

In order to discontinue home isolation, your child must meet ALL of these criteria:

  1. No fevers for at least 3 days without taking fever-reducing medicines
  2. Other symptoms (cough, trouble breathing) have significantly improved
  3. It has been AT LEAST 10 days since their symptoms first started

If all of these are true, it is OK to stop home isolation. When in doubt, contact your child's provider with questions.

If your child had a positive test, but never had ANY symptoms, they can stop home isolation 10 days after that test.

After a positive COVID-19 test result, doctor clearance is needed prior to returning to sports. For younger children, this may just involve a phone discussion with your child’s doctor to ensure they are safe to return. Many older children will require an electrocardiogram of their heart before returning to sports, and your doctor can help coordinate this study.

Should I get my child re-tested?

Repeat testing is not recommended for return to activities after a positive COVID-19 test result. Your child will no longer be considered infectious after the isolation period for the following 3 months. Only get a repeat test before medical procedures, or if your child develops new symptoms, after 3 months from their initial COVID-19 infection.

For additional questions about COVID-19:


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