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Should Kids Get Tested For COVID-19 Before School Starts? Experts Explain

by Cat Bowen

With many parents facing the prospect of sending their children back to school within the next several weeks, confusion abounds over what we should be doing. Besides buying up all the cute face masks and putting hand sanitizer in every pocket of their backpack, should your kids get tested for COVID-19 before school starts? Is it that important?

With testing availability sparse in many states, parents are grappling with a difficult decision. Do you get your asymptomatic child tested, possibly taking a test away from someone who has symptoms? Beyond that, testing lines in states like Florida, Arizona, and Texas can be long, and the prospect of doing that with small children seems to be quite the obstacle. Dr. Sharon Nachman, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, tells Romper, "It really depends on the district and the school." While kids in close quarters or those who might be headed to college and dorms definitely need the test, for "kids in elementary and high schools, getting tested might be helpful, but less critical."

Pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Joi Lucas, M.D., tells Romper that it's a good idea to get tested, overall. Even though "the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics published data showing children rarely transmit COVID-19 to adults or each other, indicating schools may be safe to reopen, with the recent surge of positive COVID-19 cases in states like Florida, more children have tested positive for COVID-19 with increased pediatric hospitalization rates," she says. Caution is warranted. "Parents are rightly concerned about the risks of exposure to COVID-19 when their children return to school, day care, or a babysitter."

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If COVID testing is readily available and easy to get, it's a no-brainer. Get your kids tested before they go to school. Even if by and large they aren't getting as ill as adults, there are teachers and janitors and administrators who could be exposed, and that's a pretty huge risk. If COVID testing is not available, you should really be discussing your next steps with your child's health care providers, their school, and their teacher — if possible — to determine levels of risk and what should be done. (Because let's face it, no one knows what's going to happen in a classroom more than the teachers.)

But should your kids get tested for COVID before school starts if they're going to be doing hybrid learning, like in New York City? The simple fact is that if your children are going to be in close contact with teachers and other students, it's really a good idea to get tested — even if they're only going for two days per week. As Lucas says, "Making sure parents, teachers, and child care providers are all in agreement about steps needed to prevent COVID-19 transmission is critical." And that might just start with the swab.


Dr. Sharon Nachman, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital

Pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Joi Lucas. M.D.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.