What to do if your child is exposed to COVID-19 at school, from quarantine etiquette to testing

·3-min read
Kids in masks returning to school
Kids in masks returning to school Los Angeles Times
  • If your child is exposed to COVID-19, the whole family should prepare for some level of quarantine.

  • An unvaccinated child should quarantine for 10 days, and even vaccinated teens should mask up around others.

  • They should get tested 5-7 days after the exposure regardless of vaccination status.

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With kids back in classrooms in the US, the risk of your child being exposed to the coronavirus has gone up again.

The rise of the highly transmissible Delta variant across the US means infections are more likely even among vaccinated people. In the US, vaccines are only authorized for people over 12 years old, meaning large swathes of classrooms will not have shot protection.

Masking, social distancing, and good ventilation in classrooms can provide multiple layers of protection, but there are still some precautions that need to be taken at home in the case of an exposure.

If you get a contact tracing alert that your child has been exposed to COVID-19, here are a few simple steps you can take to keep your family safe.

Unvaccinated kids should stay home for 10 days after an exposure

If your child has not been vaccinated against COVID-19, they need to quarantine for 10 days after any close contact with an infected person, according to the CDC.

Keep your child home and try to limit their exposure to other family members as much as possible. Ideally, the exposed person should have their own bedroom and bathroom, but if that's not the case, everyone should wear masks around the house during the quarantine period.

Dr. Leana Wen, a medical analyst for CNN, recommends designated a vaccinated adult to be the child's primary caregiver while they quarantine. They should wear a mask during close interactions and stay home for the duration of quarantine if possible.

Get tested 5 days after the exposure

The CDC permits a shortened quarantine period if the exposed person tests negative for COVID-19 at least five days after the exposure.

An earlier test might not pick up on an incubating infection, but a negative PCR test after five to seven days at home should provide some peace of mind. (A rapid antigen test could suffice in the short term, but PCR tests are the "gold standard" for COVID testing.)

A child who is exposed to COVID-19 on Monday could get tested on Saturday and return to school the following Monday if the test comes back negative, Wen explained for CNN.

"But if you don't get the child tested, then the quarantine period is 10 days. And during that period of time, you should not be in public if you are unvaccinated," Wen said.

If your child has been vaccinated against COVID-19, they should still get a test

Children aged 12 and older can get the Pfizer vaccine now that it is authorized, but the vaccination rate for the age group is relatively low, Wen told CNN.

Getting vaccinated can protect against severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19. However, a small number of vaccinated people have gotten "breakthrough" infections.

The Delta variant has increased the odds of such an infection, but COVID infections in vaccinated people are typically mild. If your vaccinated child is exposed to COVID, the quarantine protocol is less strict, but they should still get tested.

The CDC says vaccinated people should get tested 3-5 days after a COVID exposure, and they should also wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.

Even if your child has been vaccinated, you may want them to get a PCR test at urgent care or with a home collection kit to be certain they are not infected.

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