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Should Your Child Be Tested for COVID-19?

Many families are asking whether their children should be tested for COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to talk with their child’s doctor about testing. Kids First Pediatrics can ​help determine when it may be a good idea. We can also help you follow up on test results.

Generally, children and teens who have symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested without delay to determine if they have an active infection. This is especially important if they are participating in school, sports, or jobs in-person so steps can be taken to find out who may have been exposed. Testing is also recommended before a child is scheduled for medical procedures such as surgery. Some states are requiring testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, after travel outside the state or country.

For children who had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, but do not have symptoms of an infection, it’s best to wait at least 4 days after exposure to be tested. Close contact means having been less than 6 feet for a total of at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period from a person with confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.

Types of COVID-19 tests

There are currently three main types of COVID-19 tests available: Nucleic acid amplification tests, antigen tests, and antibody tests. Kids First Pediatrics can help describe what each test can and cannot do, and when tests can be most useful.

Nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT)

NAATs, also called molecular tests, look for pieces of SARS-CoV-2 virus in the respiratory tract. They generally use a nasal swab, throat swab, or sometimes saliva for the test sample. As diagnostic tests, NAATs are used to check if your child has an active infection. These tests will not tell if your child had COVID-19 in the past. You might get results the same day or up to a week later. Types of molecular tests include:

  1. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are highly accurate. A PCR test authorized or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considered the “gold standard” to determine if a child has an active COVID-19 infection.

  2. Loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) and nicking enzyme amplification reaction (NEAR) tests. Some of these newer tests have received FDA emergency-use authorization. Until more information is available on how well they work for children, LAMP and NEAR tests are not a replacement for PCR testing.

Antigen test

Another kind of diagnostic test is an antigen test. It uses a nasal or throat swab. Some antigen tests are approved to give rapid results, available in an hour or less. Positive antigen test results are generally reliable. If the test result is negative, a PCR test might be needed so you know for sure that your child does not have COVID-19. This is because negative antigen tests tend to be less accurate.

Antibody tests

An antibody (serology) test checks a sample of your child’s blood for special proteins called antibodies. The body makes these to fight off viruses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. An antibody test can tell you if your child has had COVID-19 at some point in the past, even if there were no symptoms.

Antibody tests are not useful to diagnose a current infection. This is because it may take up to three weeks after your child first shows symptoms of being sick before the test can find antibodies in the blood sample. Many test locations can provide results the same day or within one to three days.

​​Does a positive antibody test mean my child is immune to COVID-19?Scientists don’t know yet if people who had COVID-19 can catch it again. That’s why, based on what we know today, a positive antibod​​y test does not confirm protection against the COVID-19 virus. These antibody tests should not be used to make decisions about safe entering or returning to group settings like schools, child care or dorms. Anyone with a positive antibody test should continue to practice safety steps such as wearing cloth face coverings and physical distancing. ​


Kids First Pediatrics of Clayton and Raleigh do offer COVID-19 tests for children. After your child has a diagnostic test, it is important to talk with us about positive or negative test results and what to do next. If you have any concerns about your child’s health, call us today. Raleigh; 919-250-3478 or Clayton: 919-267-1499.

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More information

  1. Ask the Pediatrician: Is it really that important to see my pediatrician right now?

  2. Ask the Pediatrician: When can children get COVID-19 vaccines?​

  3. Youth Sports Participation During COVID-19: A Safety Checklist

  4. Multi-System Inflammatory Disease (MIS-C) in Children

  5. COVID-19 Testing Guidance (​

*This article is informational but is not a substitute for medical attention or information from your provider.

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