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Does my child need a COVID-19 test?

We’re all living through a difficult situation with lots of different guidelines we need to follow. Don’t worry if you’re not 100% clear on when you need to get a COVID-19 test for your child. To help clear things up we have the answers about when they need to be tested for coronavirus, and what the results mean for you and your family. We also take you through the test process so you know what to expect, and have lots of tips for making it easier and less stressful for you and your children.

My child is unwell, should they get a test?

 

If you or your child has any of the main coronavirus symptoms - either a new continuous cough, a fever, or a loss of or change in smell and taste - you should get them tested. 

 

Book a test and stay at home if your child has a fever, a new continuous cough or a change in smell or taste. To book a test, visit the NHS Inform website or call 0800 028 2816.

 

The UK senior clinicians are keeping the symptoms that define COVID-19 under review and will continue to use evidence to adjust these if it becomes necessary. 

Read on to find out more about:

  • when your child should get a test
  • what to expect when you go for a test
  • tips for carrying out the test on a child
  • what happens after the test.

You can book a test here.

When should my child get a test?

My child only has one of the symptoms. Do they still need a test?

Yes. If you or your child has any of the main coronavirus symptoms - either a new continuous cough, a fever, or a loss of or change in smell and taste - you should get them tested. The UK senior clinicians are keeping the symptoms that define COVID-19 under review and will continue to use evidence to adjust these if it becomes necessary. 

What is a new continuous cough?

Your child needs tested if they have a cough that has lasted for more than an hour, if they have had three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours, or if they are coughing more than usual.

How do I know if my child has a high temperature or fever?

A high temperature is feeling hot to the touch on your chest or back. If you have a thermometer you can take their temperature – a high temperature is 37.8C or higher. They may feel warm, cold or shivery.

Do they still need tested if they have other symptoms as well?

Yes. If your child has any of the main COVID-19 symptoms (a new continuous cough, fever, loss of or change in smell and taste) they need tested even if they have other unrelated symptoms like a sore tummy, earache, or a snotty nose.

Do they need tested if they don’t have COVID-19 symptoms but have other symptoms instead?

If your child doesn’t have symptoms of COVID-19 but has other cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, they don’t need to be tested. However, the UK senior clinicians are keeping the symptoms that define COVID-19 under review and will continue to use evidence to adjust these if it becomes necessary. 

Their symptoms are very mild, do they still need tested?

Yes. It doesn’t matter how serious the symptoms are, they still need to be tested. Even if they’re not very ill they could pass it on to others.

Can I wait and see if their symptoms get worse before I take them for a test?

No. Don’t wait to get tested if you or your child shows any symptoms. You should have your child tested within three days of their symptoms starting, as tests are only effective for five days after the symptoms first appear.

How do I get my child tested?

You can book a test online on the NHS Inform website. If you can’t book online, you can call 0800 028 2816. Anyone who has symptoms can be tested. See 'Getting a test' below for more information on what happens after you've booked your test and tips for helping you carry out the test on your child.

Do they need to isolate while they wait for a test?

Yes. Your child needs to self-isolate and not go to school or nursery until they either test negative or they have been in self-isolation for 10 days from when they first got ill. If symptoms worsen or last for more than 10 days, call 111. If they still have a fever for more than 10 days, they need to continue isolating for 48 hours after it ends.

Does everyone in our household need to isolate?

Unfortunately everyone within the household needs to isolate for 14 days whether or not they have symptoms. This is because they can take that long to develop and you can pass the virus on even if you don't have symptoms yet. This means any brothers or sisters need to stay off school or nursery and no one should be leaving the house unless in an emergency or to get tested.

Getting a test

How do I book a test?

To book a test, go to NHS Inform’s Test and Protect website. You’ll be asked a series of online questions about your symptoms (or your child’s symptoms) and you can then book a test at a centre near you, or request a home test kit to be posted out to you. The advantage of going to a test centre is that the whole process will be over more quickly. However, if your child is very young or if you have 3 or more children it may be easier and less stressful to carry out the test at home. 

What happens when I go for the test?

When you go to the test centre, you’ll be given a test kit. If you are having a test yourself, you may be asked to do the test yourself, or staff at the centre may do it for you. If your child needs tested and they are aged 11 or under, you’ll be asked to do the test on them.

If you drive to a test centre, you’ll probably be asked to stay in your car to carry out the test, which means you may need to climb into the back seat to do the test on your child, if they’re too young to sit in the front. 

What does the test involve?

To carry out the test you need to get a swab from the tonsils and then inside the nose (a swab looks like a big cotton bud). This may sound like a tricky process to carry out on a child (or even on yourself!), but if you keep calm it should be fine. You’ll be given an instruction booklet that takes you through everything step-by-step so make sure you read through this carefully before getting started. Below you’ll find lots of tips to help you carry out the test on your child. 

How does the self-test kit work?

If you order a self-test kit it will be delivered to your home. The test involves taking a swab of the inside of your (or your child’s) nose and the back of the throat, using a long cotton bud. Each kit comes with instructions. You can also watch a short video which shows the process step by step. You will carry out the test, packing it up as instructed. A Royal Mail courier will arrive the next day to collect the test and take it to the lab. Your result should be sent by text message within 48 hours. 

Does it hurt?

The test doesn’t hurt, but it can be a bit uncomfortable. When the swab touches the tonsils it may make you gag or retch a bit, and the nasal swab may make your eyes water. Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal. However, it may seem a bit scary for children, so take a look at our tips below to see how you can make it easier for them.

When will I get the results?

You should get the results back by text or email within 48 hours, and no more than 72 hours for postal kits. Remember that your whole household must self-isolate until you get the results (see ‘Do they need to isolate while they wait for a test?’ above).

What if I can't carry out the test on my child?

If it’s impossible to get a throat swab from your child you can take two nose swabs instead, one from each nostril, although the results won’t be as accurate this way. If you find you can’t carry out the test at all because your child is too upset or it hurts them, you can decide to self-isolate instead. This means your child can’t go to school or nursery until they have been in self-isolation for 10 days from when they first got ill. If they still have a fever for more than 10 days, they need to continue isolating for 48 hours after it ends. In addition, everyone else in the household must self-isolate for 14 days whether or not they have symptoms.

Tips for carrying out the test on a child

Tip #1: Stay calm

Having a poorly child is always stressful, but try to stay as calm as you can – this will help your wee one stay calm too.

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Tip #2: Be prepared

If you’re taking your child to a test centre, make sure you pack tissues, hand sanitiser, face coverings, your mobile, a pen and piece of paper, a favourite toy or book to distract them, something to drink and maybe a treat for afterwards.  Bear in mind that you may have to climb from the front seat to the back to carry out the test on your child, so it’s a good idea to wear loose, comfortable clothes.  

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Tip #3: Think about who sits where in the car

If you’re travelling to the test centre by car, it’s likely that you won’t be able to get out of the car when you get there. Therefore it’s a good idea to think about who’s going to sit where, if you want to avoid too much climbing around!

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Tip #4: Keep reassuring them

Driving into the test centre might seem a bit daunting. Staff may be wearing full PPE and holding up signs. Try to make it into a game – you could pretend you’re driving to a space station and seeing the astronauts. 

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Tip #5: Read the instruction booklet first

The test comes with an instruction booklet that takes you through the process step-by-step. Make sure you read through this carefully and have a good look at the pictures before making a start – your kids could look at a book or watch a video on your phone while you’re doing this to keep them occupied.

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Tip #6: Talk them through the process

Before you carry out the test, explain the process to your child so they know what to expect. Show them the swab and explain that you need to tickle their nose and throat with it. You could tell them that although it may be a bit uncomfortable, it’s important they don’t push the swab away, because it will help you find out if they have coronavirus. You could also say that although it may make them gag, it won’t make them sick, so they shouldn’t worry about that. Explain that it won’t take long, and you can do something fun together afterwards.

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Tip #7: Patient teddy

You could show them how the process works using a favourite toy – brave teddy will keep very still while he has his throat and nose swabbed! 

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Tip #8: Cause a distraction

Try to distract them by playing their favourite music or video or giving them a toy to play with or a book to look at. Remind them of the fun things you’re going to do afterwards.

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Tip #9: Involve another adult from your household

If you live with another adult, it’s a good idea to get them involved too, either to come with you to the test centre or to help you carry out the test at home. (Remember that you shouldn’t be meeting anyone who isn’t a member of your household when someone has coronavirus symptoms.) One of you could distract and comfort the child while the other carries out the test. If your child is small, one of you could hold them on your knee. If you are driving, one adult could sit in the back with the child. 

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Tip #10: Open up and say ah!

When you take the throat swab, ask them to open up really wide and say ‘ah’, and to keep saying ‘ah’ while you take the sample. You need to rub the swab gently across their tonsils for around 10-20 seconds. It’s a good idea to shine the torch on your phone into their mouth so you can see their tonsils more clearly.

If it’s impossible to get a throat swab you can take two nose swabs instead, one from each nostril. Bear in mind that the results won’t be as accurate from this, however.

The swab can leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth, so make sure you have drinks or a snack to hand to take away the taste.
 

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Tip #11: Keep track of the swabs

If you’re doing more than one test at a time, make a note of the barcode on the test and the name of the person whose sample it is on a piece of paper or on your phone. This will stop you getting the samples mixed up before you package them up.

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Tip #12: Do something fun afterwards

When it’s all over, thank them for being so good and then do something fun together like watch a favourite movie or play a game (although remember that you need to stay at home and isolate until you get the test results). We don’t usually recommend offering sweets as a reward on Parent Club, but we might make an exception here!

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What happens after the test?

What if my child tests positive?

If your child tests positive they need to isolate for 10 days from the day their symptoms first appeared. Everyone else in the house will need to isolate for 14 days from when these symptoms first appeared. 

What if they test negative?

If the child that had symptoms tests negative and they are not already isolating as a ‘close contact’ of a confirmed case they can stop isolating and go back to school or nursery when they are well enough and have not had a fever for 48 hours. The rest of their household can end isolation straight away.

What if the test is unclear or inconclusive?

In some cases the test result may come back as ‘unclear’, which means the test was unable to say whether you definitely do or don’t have coronavirus. If this happens, you can ask for another test. If you had a test because you had symptoms, you must keep self-isolating and have another test within 5 days of your symptoms starting. 

If you’re not able to have another test in time, you must self-isolate for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started. Everyone in your household must self-isolate for 14 days. 

If you had a test but have not had any symptoms, you do not need to self-isolate while you wait to get another test. The people in your household, do not need to self-isolate either.

Does everyone else at home need tested too?

No. Other family members only need tested if they also develop symptoms.

I have one child who tested negative and one who tested positive. Does the child with the negative test still need to isolate?

Yes. If someone at home has tested positive they should isolate for 10 days from symptom start date and everyone else in their household for 14 days whether they have tested positive or not.

If my child is isolating, can I go out to get food or medicine?

No, everyone in the household should isolate which means nobody should leave the house unless in an emergency or to get tested. Ask your family, friends, or neighbours if they can collect essentials for you like food or medicine, or arrange for things to be delivered. If you’re having trouble isolating and need support, call the National Assistance Helpline on 0800 111 4000.

How will my child continue to learn if they need to self-isolate for two weeks?

If your child needs to self-isolate, the school will have plans in place to allow their learning to continue.

Our pages on staying at home and helping your child with home and blended learning have information and tips to help you if they need to self-isolate

How do I know if I need to self-isolate?

If you’re unsure about when you do or don’t have to isolate, check out our summary below:

You should isolate if ANY of the following apply to you:

  • You or anyone in your household has any of the symptoms of coronavirus. Everyone in the household should isolate until the symptomatic person/people has been tested and has received the results.
  • You or anyone in your household has tested positive for coronavirus. The person with symptoms should continue to isolate for 10 days. Everyone else in the household should isolate for 14 days
  • You are contacted by Test and Protect. If you are contacted by Test and Protect as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, you should isolate for 14 days. If you have any symptoms, you should get a test. However even if the results are negative, you must isolate for the full 14 days.

Anyone who has travelled overseas must self-isolate for 14 days unless you’ve travelled from a country on the quarantine exemption list. This means staying in your accommodation, even if you don’t have symptoms, to help control coronavirus and to comply with the guidance. You can find out more on the Scottish Government website.

If you’ve been told to self-isolate by Test and Protect, you may be eligible for a Self-Isolation Support Grant.

It’s tough having to take your kids out of school or nursery and it’s difficult having to isolate as a household. But by following these guidelines we can all help control this virus and keep our communities safe and healthy.

Our pages on staying at home and helping your child with home and blended learning have tips to help make this a bit easier.

Last updated: 19 Nov, 2020