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Does my child need a COVID-19 test?

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.

On this page you can find out about:

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. 

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:

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.

This short video shows you how to use the under arm thermometer from the Baby Box. This page on NHS Inform explains what to do if your baby has a temperature or if you’re worried that your baby is ill.

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 119. Anyone who has symptoms or who has been in close contact with someone who's tested positive 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 until you've got the test results back. See 'What if my child test positive?' below to find out what you need to do in this situation.

If you can’t work while your household is isolating, you may be eligible for a Self-Isolation Support Grant.

What happens if my child comes into contact with someone who tests positive? Do they need to isolate?

Children and young people under the age of 18 no longer need to isolate for 10 days if they come into contact with someone who tests positive, as long as they receive a negative PCR test result and don't have any symptoms. Children aged 5-17, who are close contacts, must get a PCR test and isolate until the results come through. If the results are negative they can return to school. If the results are positive, they must isolate for 10 days and everyone else in the household must book a test. Our page on staying safe from coronavirus has more information on this. 

Children under 5 don’t have to get a PCR test, although it’s a good idea to book a test for them if you can. This reflects the lower risks of infection and transmission in this age group, and the fact that younger children may find it harder to tolerate testing. They can go back to school, nursery or childcare without a PCR test as long as they don’t have any symptoms. However, you should remain vigilant for your child developing any COVID-19 symptoms. 

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 under 12, 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. The rest of your household should follow the advice for if your child tests positive.

Tips for carrying out the test on a child

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. They can leave the house after 10 days if they’re improving and no longer have a temperature. If they still have a temperature, they shouldn’t leave the house until 48 hours after it’s gone down. It's okay to leave the house after 10 days, even if they still have a cough.

Everyone else aged 5 or over in the house must also book a test and isolate until they receive the results. When they have received their test results, they must also self-isolate if the result is positive. If the result is negative the action they should take this depends on their situation:

  • If they’ve had two COVID-19 vaccinations and it’s two weeks or more since their second jab and they don’t have any symptoms, they can stop self-isolating. 
  • If they’re aged 18 and 4 months or over, and not fully vaccinated, they’ll still need to self-isolate for 10 days. 
  • If they’re under 18 and they don't have any symptoms, they won’t need to isolate. 

If you're not sure, this guide from NHS Inform can help you work out when you need to self-isolate and for how long.

If you can’t work while your child is isolating, you may be eligible for a Self-Isolation Support Grant.

Support is available to help you to self-isolate. You can either phone the National Coronavirus Helpline on 0800 111 4000 from Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm, or visit the NHS Inform website to find out more. 

How can I help my child if they test positive?

The NHS Inform website has lots of advice for looking after your child if they are poorly and test positive for coronavirus. 

If you live with someone who’s vulnerable or is on the shielding list, try to keep your child away from them while they’re isolating, to reduce the risk of them passing on any infection. No one can expect children to stay in their rooms for 10 days, but there are some precautions you can take. Try to keep the house well ventilated, to let fresh air in and stale out. And try to make sure your child doesn’t share things like cutlery, cups, water bottles or towels with anyone else in the household, and sleeps in their own bed.

Your child may find it hard to understand why they have to stay at home, especially if they don’t feel that poorly or if you have to cancel plans they were excited about. Explain to them that everyone has to follow these rules to stop the virus spreading. Try to rearrange any plans for once their isolation period is over, so they have something to look forward to.

If you have a garden, make sure they get outside regularly. If not, our page on keeping active indoors has lots of ideas for indoor activities. Our page on staying at home with a child also has tips for making the isolation period easier.

What if they test negative?

If the child that had symptoms tests negative and no one else in your household has symptoms, 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 also self-isolate for 10 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.

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

No. The child who tested negative no longer needs to isolate, but keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t develop symptoms later. If symptoms develop, they must self-isolate immediately, and you should book them a PCR test.

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

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 supporting your child's learning at home have information and tips to help you if they need to self-isolate

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.