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COVID-19 Testing for Kids: A Parent's Guide

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Mar 25, 2023

COVID-19 Testing for Kids: A Parent's Guide

Through vaccination, older kids and adults now have another layer of protection against COVID-19. But because we have yet to start giving vaccines to younger kids, experts continue to see an increase in pediatric cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection. And with the continuous increase of cases, many parents now await their kids’ COVID-19 test results. Here are the answers to frequently asked questions about COVID testing in children. 

When Do Children Need COVID-19 Testing? 

The first question parents often  have is, “When should kids get tested for SARS-CoV-2?” 

Experts say children need testing if:

  • They have symptoms.
  • They had close contact with an infected person.
  • There’s an illness going around within their close environment.

Note that many COVID symptoms are similar to other respiratory infections that affect children. Examples of these are the flu, common cold, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

COVID-19 test results will tell you if your child needs to isolate immediately to reduce the spread of infection. If the result turns out negative, that might mean your child needs to have a test for another virus or disease. 

Where Should Children Get Their COVID-19 Test?

In most cases, where you bring your child for testing depends on the availability or accessibility of the testing facility. 

Experts say parents can wait to bring their kids to the hospital or emergency care department for when they have more serious symptoms, such as:

  • Trouble breathing like shortness of breath or fast breathing
  • Bluish tinge on skin, lips, and nails
  • Persistent chest pain or pressure
  • Dehydration (no urine in 6-8 hours)
  • Difficulty waking up, sluggishness

If the child has mild symptoms, they advise going to convenient facilities with rapid antigen testing. 

Which Gives the Most Accurate COVID Test Results?

The gold standard for COVID-19 testing is still the RT-PCR swab test since it is very sensitive to viral genetic material. However, your child may not always need it. 

Choosing the best way to get your COVID-19 test results depends on the following:

  • How soon you need the COVID-19 test results 
  • How important the accuracy is 
  • The clinical situation the child is in
  • Convenience and accessibility of testing sites

If parents need to know if their child is COVID-positive so they can decide whether or not to isolate them immediately, they might resort to rapid antigen testing. This is a good choice for cases with symptoms. Antigen COVID-19 test results, after all, come out in minutes. 

However, if they need to identify the infection for treatment or health insurance purposes, RT-PCR testing is the best option. Asymptomatic cases are also best tested through RT-PCR.

For travel, parents might need to check with their destination’s policy. Some require PCR testing, others accept rapid antigen COVID-19 test results. 

COVID Testing: How To Support Your Child

If your child develops symptoms, get in touch with their pediatrician right away. The presence of symptoms means they need testing right away.

If your child is asymptomatic, but was in close contact with a COVID-positive patient, testing might have to wait for a couple of days. In both instances, you need to isolate your child immediately. 

Now, if the doctor orders testing, or if you decide to do it on your own, you must take the time to explain to your child what will happen during the test. 

Saliva testing is quite straightforward. For a nasal swab, however, you might want to tell your child that the healthcare worker will insert a swab into the nostril. Emphasize that it is a simple procedure, but the insertion might tickle or trigger sneezing.

The more a child knows about the test, the chance that they would experience anxiety is less likely. This might also make them more cooperative. 

Key Takeaways

It is important to remember that COVID-19 also affects kids. That’s why they also need COVID-19 testing. Kids need COVID-19 test results when they are showing symptoms or if they have had close contact with an infected patient. The type of testing also depends on when you need the results, how important accuracy is, the clinical situation the child is in, and the accessibility of the testing sites. 

Learn more about Coronavirus here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Mar 25, 2023

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