Young child on mom's lap getting nose swabbed for COVID-19

Testing Children for COVID-19

When people of different households mix together, they risk spreading COVID-19.  There are many ways that families can avoid getting a respiratory illness like COVID-19, with tools like wearing masks and physical distancing, staying home when sick, and getting vaccinated.  When available, testing is another useful tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

There are a few reasons to get a test.  Your child should be tested if they have symptoms or if you know they have been exposed to COVID-19.  Consider testing before spending time with persons at higher risk of severe disease and after travel. By getting tested for COVID-19, a person can find out if they are contagious and isolate themselves from others so they don’t spread the virus.

When to get your child tested for COVID-19

One main reason to get your child tested is if you think they might have COVID-19. 

If your child has COVID-19 symptoms:

  • Your child should stay home if they are sick.  You can find out if your child has COVID-19 by getting them tested. 
    • If the test is positive, then you will need to keep your child home and away from others so that they do not spread the disease.  The Centers for Disease control recommends staying home for at least 5 days.  
    • If the test is negative, your child can return to school, camp, or child care once their symptoms resolve and according to their policies.  If an antigen test is negative, consider taking another in 24-48 hours as testing too early may miss cases.

If your child has been exposed to COVID-19:

  • Your child may have been exposed if they spent time in close contact or indoors with a person who has COVID-19 (or who got sick soon after).  Even if your child is not sick, your child should get tested as soon as possible after the exposure and again 3-5 days after exposure .

If you and your child have traveled: 

When traveling by airplane, people from multiple households share close quarters, sometimes for many hours.  When people travel to other states or countries, they risk bringing COVID-19 to other communities or bringing it back home with them.  Consider testing for COVID-19 if:

  • you or your child develop symptoms before, during or after your travel 
  • you will spend time with someone at high risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 
  • you had greater exposure during travel like crowded indoor spaces such as an airport terminal without a mask.  

Places to get tested for COVID-19

What should I do if my COVID-19 at-home tests have expired? 

Many at-home COVID 19 tests can be used past the expiration date on the box. Check the FDA's website to see if you can still use you tests before you throw them away.

References and Resources 

The California Department of Public Health has more on testing: 

Updated October 2023, UCSF California Childcare Health Program

This article was made possible with funding from the UCSF Chancellor's Fund and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Photo copyright 2020 by Barbara Ries, used with permission from UCSF.