What To Do If Your Child Is Exposed To COVID-19

Coronavirus cases are on the rise. Here are some tips and next steps to follow if your child is exposed to COVID-19.

Young child holding a mini basketball and wearing a face mask looks out a window

With school back in session and the holidays on the horizon, the elephant in the room needs to be addressed: What happens if your child is exposed to someone with COVID-19?

While each state has its own procedures, there are general precautions that you can take to ensure that the spread is contained as much as possible.

Dr. Anita Chandra-Puri, a pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics,highlights the two possible scenarios of this question. The first is if your child is exposed to someone who had coronavirus, and the other is if your child is symptomatic.

In the first scenario, the general recommendation is to quarantine for 14 days and then be tested. But testing is optional if there is not an onset of symptoms.

“Most of the time, in general with healthcare, we recommend testing or something if you know you’re going to be able to do something with the outcome of the result,” Chandra-Puri says.

In accordance with Michigan’s state government, a negative test result five to nine days after exposure is not enough to return to school. The full 14-day quarantine is necessary, which means that the test result will only confirm what you and your family’s next steps are moving forward. Testing also can determine who else in the household needs to be quarantined.

The State of Michigan handles a positive case in the classroom with contact tracers who call anyone who may have been exposed to the positive party.

The Michigan Department of Health website says, “Contacts are given information and support to understand their risk and how to keep others safe. They’re asked to monitor themselves for illness and to seek help if they become ill. They may be asked to quarantine or isolate themselves. The calls are confidential. Contact tracers protect the privacy of patients and contacts. They don’t give the name of the patient, only that they may have been exposed to someone with the infection.”

For children with symptoms, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services stipulates that kids should “continue in isolation until it has been 10 days since your positive test result or 10 days since you began showing symptoms and you have been fever free for 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medication and other symptoms have improved, like cough or shortness of breath.”

If parents choose not to test their children, the same rule applies.

Chandra-Puri believes that the Polymerase Chain Reaction test — or PCR test — is the best for anybody, including children, due to its accuracy. A PCR roughly translates to taking a trace amount of DNA and amplifying it so that the virus’s genetic material can be detected. The way this test is administered is with a mucus sample through the nose or throat.

“No test is 100% accurate so you have to correlate the test result with the symptoms that the child has,” Chandra-Puri says. “But the PCR test is as good of a test as we have. The rapid antigen testing that’s out there is not very accurate and has a lot of false negatives which can be a problem.”

Testing can also help eliminate curiosity and decide how a family should be quarantined. For those who are able to work from home and have groceries delivered, it might not be as urgent of a need.

For essential workers or those who are unable to continuously stay home, Chandra-Puri says, “You have to keep looking at the domino effect; one person gets sick and everyone surrounding that person has to be quarantined and then if one person in that bubble gets sick then the people near that group need to be quarantined so it kind of keeps going and going.”

For essential workers, like herself, it’s important for the worker and the worker’s family to be continuously tested to make sure that the spread is contained and identified before it spirals out of control.

The Children’s Hospital of Michigan‘s website says to make isolation the most effective, anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should:

  • Stay away from other people in your home.
  • Stay in a specific room as much as possible and use a separate bathroom, if available.
  • Limit contact with pets.
  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home.
  • After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Practice routine cleaning of high-touch surfaces, such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables.

Chandra-Puri’s final advice is: “There’s a lot of websites that tell you very specifically how to follow this through, but always, always, always feel free to call your pediatrician because we are now very well versed in how to deal with this.

Unfortunately, the numbers are rising so there’s just more and more exposure concern. So, in 2019 we might’ve sent our child to school with a bit of a runny nose, but in 2020 you can’t do that. You have to figure out what it is before you send them back to being around other people because you don’t want to be spreading illness.”

The Michigan Department of Health cites these as the best ways to protect those around you from infection:

  • Limit interaction with those around you. Stay in a separate room, like a bedroom, away from others in your home. Use a different bathroom if you can.
  • Wear a mask or cloth face covering. Make sure it covers your nose and mouth. Remember to stay six feet away from people and pets. People who are near you should also wear a mask or cloth face covering that covers their nose and mouth.
  • Use meal or grocery delivery services when possible or ask family and friends for help.
  • Clean and disinfect things you touch, like light switches, doorknobs, tables and remotes.
  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you do not have soap and water, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover cough and sneezes. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, then wash your hands.
  • Consider people living with you. If you live with someone with health conditions, think about whether there are other places you can stay while you get well.

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