When to test your child for COVID-19

Dr Luke Powles
Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK
04 October 2021
Next review due October 2024

When children come together at school, germs are bound to spread. But how do you know if your child has coronavirus (COVID-19), or another virus such as a cold? Here, I’ll give an easy overview of COVID-19 symptoms and explain when to get your child tested.

When should I request a COVID test for my child?

It’s very common for children to become unwell, especially during the autumn and winter months when more illnesses are circulating. Because of the risk of coronavirus, it’s important that you get your child tested if they develop any of the following three symptoms.

  • A high temperature. This is any new high temperature where your child feels hot to touch on their chest or back (you don’t need to measure the temperature).
  • A new continuous cough. This is coughing a lot for more than one hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours.
  • A loss of, or change in, smell or taste. This is a noticeable loss of smell or taste, or if things smell and taste different to normal.

These are officially recognised as the three main symptoms of COVID-19. But it’s worth being aware that symptoms of the Delta variant of COVID-19 may be different. The Delta variant may present more like a heavy cold, with symptoms such as a headache, sneezing, runny nose or a sore throat.

Currently, the advice from the UK Government remains the same. You only need to arrange a test for your child if they have one of the three main symptoms above.

My child has one of the main COVID symptoms. What shall I do?

Don’t send your child to school or nursery, or out into the community. They need to isolate at home until they have had a test and received a negative result.

Request a test for your child as soon as possible. You can book a time to visit a test site or order a home test kit if you can’t get to a test site.

Let your child’s school or nursery know that they’re having a test and that you’ll let them know the results as soon as you have it.

While you wait for the test result, you will need to isolate along with your child if you’re not fully vaccinated. This means that you have not had two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

If you’re fully vaccinated, then you don’t need to isolate with them. If you have other children at home, aged under 18-and-a-half, who aren’t showing coronavirus symptoms, they also don’t need to isolate or stay off school.

I have symptoms of coronavirus. Can my child go to school?

Yes, but someone other than you should take them to school. If you have symptoms of coronavirus, you should isolate at home and request a test. Children aged under 18-and-a-half don’t need to isolate unless they have coronavirus symptoms or test positive for COVID-19.

Can I wait to see if my child gets better before I request a test?

No. Don’t wait to request a test for your child if they develop any of the main three symptoms. Aim to get your child tested as soon as possible after new symptoms start.

How long will I have to wait for the result?

You should receive the test result within 48 hours of a swab being taken, or within 72 hours for a home test. However, it can take up to five days.

My child tested negative. Can they go back to school straightaway?

Yes. As soon as your child receives a negative result, they can return to school if they feel well enough. Anyone else isolating in the household can also go back to school, work and usual activities.

My child tested positive for COVID-19. What now?

If your child’s test comes back positive, they should continue isolating. This should last for 10 days from:

  • the day their symptoms started, or
  • the day they received a positive test result if they had no symptoms.

Let your child’s school or nursery know that they have received a positive test straightaway.

You will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace to help identify who has been in contact with your child. They will encourage you and anyone who has been in close contact with your child to take a PCR test.

While your child is isolating, you only need to isolate with them if:

  • you’re not fully vaccinated
  • you have coronavirus symptoms
  • you have tested positive yourself

Any other children at home, aged 18-and-a-half, who don’t have coronavirus symptoms don’t need to isolate.

What happens if another pupil in my child’s class tests positive for coronavirus?

If your child has been in close contact with a child who has tested positive for coronavirus, NHS Test and Trace may ask you to arrange a PCR test for them. Your child won’t need to isolate unless they have coronavirus symptoms, or a PCR result shows they have COVID.

If your child’s school or nursery has a large increase in cases, they may put other steps in place for particular classes or year groups.

What if my child becomes very unwell and we’re isolating waiting for a test result?

Children with coronavirus don’t usually become severely unwell, but always seek medical advice if you’re concerned about your child, even if you’re isolating.

You can call your GP surgery or 111 for advice and support. Coronavirus is still spreading in the UK, but it’s important to remember that there are other illnesses to watch out for.

Dial 999 and request an ambulance for your child if they:

  • have difficulty breathing (their breathing may be fast, noisy or wheezy, or you may see their chest drawing in)
  • become unusually drowsy, difficult to rouse or are unconscious
  • appear confused
  • aren’t drinking or passing urine (in babies and younger children, their nappies may be dry)
  • are bleeding severely
  • have severe burns or scalds
  • are choking
  • are fitting
  • have symptoms of concussion after a blow to the head
  • have a severe allergic reaction

Visit our children’s health hub for more information and advice on common childhood illnesses.

Dr Luke Powles
Dr Luke Powles
Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK

    • What parents and carers need to know about early years providers, schools and colleges. Department of Education., updated 17 August 2021
    • Stay at home: guidance for households with possible or confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. Public Health England., last updated 31 August 2021
    • What are the new top 5 COVID symptoms? ZOE COVID Study., published 23 June 2021
    • Coronavirus (COVID-19): getting tested. UK Health Security Agency., last updated 27 August 2021

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