If you’re trying to figure out if your child needs a COVID-19 test, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents speak to their child’s pediatrician. Generally, if a child is exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19, a test will be given, based on availability and rates of infection in the community.

Testing can be important in helping to determine if kids should be participating in activities such as attending in-person school. Children who are scheduled for surgery will need to take a COVID test.


Dr. Eberechi I Nwaobasi Iwuh, MD, a pediatric infectious diseases consultant and director of the division of pediatric hospital medicine at Atlantic Health System’s Goryeb Children’s Hospital, says that the pediatrician is the one to recommend the best way to obtain a test for your child if it’s needed.

“The pediatrician will be able to recommend the best manner in which to obtain testing whether it be going to the emergency room, which is more likely if they are symptomatic with fever and/or respiratory symptoms or to an urgent care facility which is comfortable with testing and managing children or even coming to their office for testing if they have that ability,” she says. “The pediatrician can also give appropriate anticipatory guidance after a test result is relayed, regarding when to follow up with them and if repeat testing is needed, especially if the test is positive or if it is negative, but there remains a high suspicion for infection.”

According to the CDC, testing children for COVID-19 has become increasingly available, but should not be a replacement for any rules or regulations set forth by schools and states.

“Testing to diagnose COVID-19 is part of a comprehensive strategy and should be used in conjunction with promoting behaviors that reduce spread (e.g., mask use, social distancing, hand hygiene), maintaining healthy environments (e.g., cleaning and disinfection, ventilation), maintaining healthy operations (e.g., scheduling, virtual learning, class sizes) and preparing for when someone gets sick.”

There are two types of diagnostic tests out there that your child might be given. The molecular test is very accurate and can show if your child has COVID-19. An antigen test, sometimes called a rapid test, can provide results quickly, sometimes in an hour or less. The test’s positive results are very acute, but false negatives are not uncommon.

Molecular Test

  • One type is called a Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test
  • Done by a nasal or throat swab or sometimes saliva for a test sample
  • Results the same day or up to a week later
  • The test is very accurate and tells you if your child has COVID-19. It will not show if your child had COVID-19 in the past

Antigen Test

  • Done by nasal or throat swab
  • Results take an hour or less
  • Positive test results are very accurate
  • Sometimes produces false-negative results. Further testing may be necessary

An antibody test can reveal if your child had COVID-19 in the past, but it cannot diagnose if your child is currently infected with COVID-19.

“Many factors play into how accurate a test will be including where a patient is in the course of their illness and how long they have been symptomatic if they are symptomatic when the test is done,” says Nwaobasi Iwuh. “Accuracy is also impacted by how the sample is collected, stored and transported.”

“Overall, the majority of the commercially available PCR tests report a sensitivity of >95 percent,” she says. “The antigen tests have been reported to have a false negative rate as high as 50%, so a negative result does not guarantee that a patient does not have COVID, especially if they have symptoms that are consistent with COVID or they had a prolonged, high-risk exposure to someone with COVID.”

Where can your child get tested?

In the past, many parents had to wait to schedule a doctor’s appointment or visit an urgent care center for testing. Now, Walgreens has announced its testing sites will be available for children ages 3 and older.

“We’re continuing to expand our COVID-19 testing program to improve access in the communities we serve, and this will help to address the growing need for testing for children and adolescents,” said Rick Gates, senior vice president of pharmacy, Walgreens. “As more health departments and school administrators continue efforts to bring students back to classrooms in a safe and thoughtful manner, and to help parents and guardians seeking access to testing when warranted for their children, we’re proud to be a community testing resource for individuals and families – including those age 3 and over.”

Parents can visit the Walgreens website to schedule a testing appointment. Parents will be given instructions on how to administer the test to their child.

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