Parent testing child for COVID at home

What Child Care Providers Should Know About COVID-19

What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The virus is constantly changing  and can lead to the emergence of variants that may have new characteristics, including different ways of spreading.

Who gets COVID-19 and how?
COVID-19 is caused by a strain of the coronavirus. Coronavirus is a common virus that can cause cold-like symptoms. Many people with COVID-19 have no symptoms, or think they just have a common cold. 

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads through the air when a person coughs, sneezes, sings, or talks. It can also spread when droplets land on surfaces and then are rubbed into the eyes, nose, or mouth. COVID-19 most commonly spreads during the first week of the infection.  People can be contagious anytime from two days before symptoms appear to 10 days after the symptoms start. Anyone infected with COVID-19 can spread it, even if they do NOT have symptoms.

People who are at high risk for getting very sick or requiring medical attention if they get COVID-19 are premature infants, older adults, people with chronic health conditions, and people with weakened immune systems.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Children with COVID-19 usually have mild symptoms or no symptoms. A child with COVID-19 may have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose and congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle pain
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Children with COVID-19 generally don’t get as sick as adults. However, a rare but serious concern is Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). MIS-C causes inflammation in different parts of the body, like the heart, lungs, brain, and digestive tract. It usually occurs two to six weeks after a child gets COVID-19. Symptoms include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and rash. Children with these symptoms should be seen by a health care provider to be evaluated for MIS-C. For more information about MIS-C, visit: 

Should a child with COVID-19 stay home?
Children should stay home if they have new COVID-19 symptoms. They should take a COVID-19 test as soon as possible.

  • If the test is positive, then the child should stay isolated from others so that they do not infect other children or adults. As of June 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that people who test positive for COVID-19 should stay home for at least 5 days. After 5 days, follow your usual exclusion for illness policy.
  • If the test is negative, consider getting your child tested for other respiratory diseases. The California Department of Public Health recommends that children can return to school, camp, or child care once their symptoms are improving and mild enough for them to participate; or if the cause of the symptoms is not infectious (e.g., allergies).

Most children with COVID-19 get better by resting at home, staying hydrated, and managing their symptoms. Children with COVID-19 may need to see their health care provider if they have a chronic illness, their symptoms are restricting their activity, or their symptoms are getting worse. A child’s health care provider may suggest over-the-counter medications for fever, cough, and congestion.

Children should see a health care provider immediately if they have difficulty breathing, confusion, chest pain, inability to stay awake, or changes in the skin, lip, or nail color (e.g., they become pale, gray, or blue). 

Tips to reduce the risk of COVID-19
Practicing healthy habits can reduce the likelihood of getting COVID-19:

  • Practice good handwashing.
  • Stay up-to-date with vaccinations.
  • Stay at home when you have been exposed to someone with symptoms of COVID-19, and get tested.
  • Use the Daily Health Check, exclusion policy, and staff health policy to guide health and safety decisions in your program. 
  • Show children how to cover their cough and sneeze.
  • Follow the routine schedule for cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting in Caring for Our Children Appendix K
  • Ventilate the indoor space by using an exhaust fan, open windows, and/or portable air cleaner; maintain and check the program’s HVAC system and use MERV 13+ filters.
  • Spend time outdoors, when possible. See recommendations about Active Outdoor Play for more information.

What to do if someone has been exposed to someone with COVID-19:

  • Wear a high-quality mask when indoors around others (including inside your home) for 10 days.
  • Complete a home rapid test for COVID-19.
  • Monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.

Where can I find more information?

California Childcare Health Program (2023) Sample COVID-19 Pandemic Policy Template at

California Department of Public Health (2023) California COVID-19 Personalized Testing and Isolation Calculator at 

California Department of Public Health (2023) What to Do if You Are Exposed to COVID-19 at 

California Department of Public Health (2023) Guidance for Child Care Providers and Programs: Questions and Answers at 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023) Isolation and Precautions for People with COVID-19 at 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023) What to Do If You Were Exposed to COVID-19 at 

June 2023, UCSF California Childcare Health Program
This illness sheet was made possible with funding from the Heising-Simons Foundation.