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.

About 5.3 million kids have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the week ending Sept. 9 saw a jump of 243,373 cases, reaching levels not seen since last winter.

The Children and COVID-19: State-Level Data Report, developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, shows kids represent 28.9 percent of reported weekly cases.

After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, adding nearly 500,000 cases in two weeks, the AAP says.

As the more contagious Delta variant is still raging, a new variant, the mu variant, is being detected nationwide.

“We’re certainly seeing more sick and sicker kids, especially among the adolescents (ages 12-18). I have not seen a lot of sick kids in the preschool and elementary school range, although it is certainly being reported in parts of the country where immunizations are much lower and there’s much of a risk so the kids are exposed more,” says Dr. Dr. Leonard Pollack, a pediatrician with Henry Ford Health System.

So that begs the question, with school back in session, packed sports stadiums and other events happening and the holidays looming, the elephant in the room needs to be addressed: What happens if your child is exposed to someone with COVID-19?

“My feeling is that people should be careful. I’m certainly in favor of people wearing masks and people staying home if they are sick,” Pollack says, adding kids have suffered educationally and socially and should be back in school. “You can’t just close everything down forever.”

The current guidance

If your child is exposed at school, a day care or in a gathering that includes more than immediate family, there are a few general precautions that parents can take to ensure that the spread is contained as much as possible.

The state of Michigan released its own advice Sept. 8, 2021. At the center of keeping kids in school seems to be masks, though some school districts are still not requiring them.

When a student exposed to a COVID-positive student can remain in school, but should limit social activities:

  • If they are fully vaccinated. They should wear a mask and monitor symptoms for 14 days after exposure and test three to five days after exposure. If they test positive, they should isolate.
  • If a student wearing a mask was exposed to a COVID-positive student who was also masked in an indoor school setting as long as they remained at least 3-6 feet apart.
  • If a student wearing a mask was exposed to a COVID-positive student who was also masked in an indoor school setting, but the students were less than 3 feet apart, the student tests daily for seven days and wears a mask.

When an unvaccinated student exposed to a COVID-positive student should not remain in school:

  • If the exposed or infected student, or both, were not wearing a mask. The student should quarantine at home for 10 days following exposure and may return if they have not had any symptoms, but should monitor for 14 days. They also may return after day 7 if they test negative and do not have symptoms.
  • If a student wearing a mask was exposed to a COVID-positive student who was also masked in an indoor school setting, but the students were less than 3 feet apart and cannot test daily.

Pollack says he agrees with the state’s current guidance, although notes not all Michigan school districts are requiring masks.

When it comes to playdates and indoor birthday parties, Pollack shares this advice: If kids are showing any symptoms, as hard as it might be, they should stay home. Also, try to limit the size of gatherings, spread out as much as possible when you can’t wait a mask, such as when eating, and hold events outdoors whenever possible.

Test guidance

When it comes to testing, Dr. Anita Chandra-Puri, a pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, says she believes that the Polymerase Chain Reaction test — or PCR test — is the best test 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 a family determine if someone 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.”

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.

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.

What about MIS-C?

Some kids who get COVID-19 get the rare multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) to can hurt the lungs and other vital organs. Signs to watch for are persistent fever, belly pain, Kawasaki disease-like symptoms of conjunctivitis, red or swollen hands and feet, red, cracked lips, a rash and swollen glands, the AAP says.

Michigan has seen some cases, some of which were severe, but Michigan has not seen the spike other areas have seen, Pollack says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still studying why some kids get MIS-C after getting COVID and why some don’t. It recommends parents do everything they can to avoid their kids and families from getting COVID.

Chandra-Puri’s final advice: “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 2021 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.”

This post was originally published in 2020 and is updated regularly.


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