Fort Worth, Texas,
16:19 PM

What To Do If Your Child Is Exposed To COVID-19 Or Has Symptoms

By Diane Arnaout, M.D.

Hey friends. Our phone lines are blowing up with exposure and quarantine questions. I love that you guys are calling – it’s the right thing to do! And we are here for ya.

But just wanted to spell out some common scenarios so that you have quick answers:

What does the CDC consider a “close exposure”?

  • Being within six feet of someone indoors for more than 15 minutes in a day.
  • This is common in classroom settings where kids aren’t masking.
  • The CDC does not consider it a “close exposure” if both kids are masked (what a GREAT REASON to mask all kids in school!).

What should I do if my child had a close (classroom or otherwise) exposure to COVID-19?

  • Keep your kiddo home for 10-14 days after exposure to the positive person.
  • Make sure your child wears a mask in any indoor setting for 14 days, if over age 2.
  • An infection could show itself anytime in those 14 days – but if you get to day 10 and the child has zero symptoms, most of the time it’s fine to end quarantine.
  • Sometimes a negative test on Days 5-7 will allow return to school on Day 7 of quarantine if no symptoms appear.

What if my child has been vaccinated and then exposed? Does she have to quarantine?

  • Nope. If she is symptom-free, she does not have to quarantine.
  • The CDC does recommend a COVID-19 test on day 3-5 after exposure though, to be on the safe side.
  • Your child should wear a mask indoors for a minimum of 14 days after the exposure, even if vaccinated.

What should I do if someone in my house tests positive for COVID-19?

  • Try to keep them in their room as much as possible, and using their own bathroom.
  • If they’re older than 2, have them wear a mask in shared spaces.
  • Don’t share towels, cups, utensils or bathroom supplies.
  • Wash your hands a lot.

What if someone in my home tests positive for COVID? Can my child go to school?

  • If your child is VACCINATED and has no symptoms, yes. Get a COVID test 3-5 days after the last close exposure to that person.
  • Regardless of vaccine status, have the child wear a mask in indoor spaces (if over age 2) for at least 14 days
  • If unvaccinated, they need to quarantine for 10 days after their last exposure to that person. If the COVID+ person cannot isolate (say a parent who must help with childcare), the child must quarantine for 24 days (14 days they could potentially catch it, and 10 days to become non-infectious if they do have it). Again, these times could be shortened with negative testing and no symptoms, as discussed above.

My child has been in close contact with someone who was positive for COVID, and is starting to show symptoms. What do I do?

  • Don’t panic. Remember that most of the time, COVID-19 is mild in kids.
  • The child must isolate at home for at least 14 days from first symptoms, and must be 24 hours without fever and improving.
  • Have the child mask indoors for at least 14 days, if over age 2
  • Get your child a test for COVID
  • If the test is negative, consider a repeat in 24 hours (or if it was a rapid, consider a PCR)
  • COVID is a virus, and will need time to run its course. Typically, the only thing kids need is time.
  • If your child is under 3 months old, call your pediatrician.
  • Make sure he’s breathing comfortably.
  • Make sure he’s drinking enough to urinate every 6-8 hours.
  • Make sure he’s acting coherent and normal.
  • He’ll probably be more tired, and may be dealing with coughing and congestion.
  • Some kids have GI symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea.
  • We are okay with fever for up to 5 days. We don’t want fevers trending higher over time.
  • We don’t want breathing to become labored, wheezy, or faster.

My child tested positive for COVID-19, but has no symptoms. What do we do?

Your child is infected and needs to be in isolation from others even though they don't have any symptoms.

  • You may end your child’s isolation if 10 days pass after the positive test with no symptoms.
  • If over age 2, have them mask in indoor spaces for at least 14 days

What if my kid has symptoms of COVID-19, but I don’t know of any positive contacts. What do I do?

  • Typically if a child is showing symptoms of COVID-19 (which, let’s face it, can look like a whole lot of other viruses), and they have no known exposures, I will perform a rapid or PCR test on them. If it is negative, they can go back to school as long as fever-free for 24 hours and symptoms are improving.
  • If I am VERY suspicious for COVID (let’s say they’re having shortness of breath and have lost their sense of smell), I will ether get a PCR (more accurate than the rapid test), or I will repeat testing in 24 hours.

Quick reminder about RAPID versus PCR testing:

  • Rapid testing (the kind we do in the office which is done in 15 minutes) is 80-85% sensitive. This means if it’s negative, and I really think a kid has COVID, I will re-test again in 1-2 days, or send them for a PCR
  • PCR testing (often drive-thru or hospital testing that takes a day or two to come back): 99% sensitive! One test is sufficient to rule in/rule out COVID.

Get to know Diane Arnaout, M.D., a Cook Children's pediatrician at Forest Park

"I didn’t realize how important the job of the pediatrician was until I had kids of my own. My education, experience in medicine, and cocky attitude made me feel like I knew it all before my first one came around. He proceeded to make me very aware of how little I actually knew.

Thankfully he survived, as did the next one, and they’ve helped me to grow and to help YOU, the parent, in so many ways. Sure I’m here to make sure your kids are healthy and happy at all ages. But I’m also here to make sure you’re educated, to make sure your family is thriving, and to make you feel confident in caring for your kids. From diaper rashes to sleep problems to school difficulties - I’m here to help.

I write a lot about common problems and ailments online – you can find me busy on Facebook and Instagram, and I write articles for the Cook Children’s Checkup Newsroom blog. A lot of stuff you’ll hear me say in the office will be typed out on there, too. And we’re in a day and age where the internet helps make connections – you can connect with me on there, or e-mail me anytime.

It takes a village to raise a child – and I’m so grateful to be a part of yours. And as Master Yoda teaches us – “Always pass on what you have learned.” I fully plan to!"

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Arnaout, click here.


Comments 1 - 4 (4)
Thank you for your message. It will be posted after approval.
Great info! There is a lot of confusion for me anyway regarding quarantine. If person is + out local health dept says 10 days quarantine. I have siblings that test negative and it says 14 days quarantine. Then I get parents telling me they need 5 days quarantine if negative w direct exposure. Don’t quite understand the 4 extra days of quarantine if negative?? Also, if one person is + in the household, why are others negative? Is this due to viral load? Precious infection?
Elania bishop
My relative had 3 too young to vaccinate kids. 2 youngest gave Covid. Now mom and aunt in the home have Covid. The school said the oldest (too young to vaccinate) must come to school until she test positive. Even tho she is in a home with multiple Covid.
Is outdoor sports is safe for unvaccinated 8years old kids examples soccer.
Julie Luong
Hi Dr. Arnaout,

Both of my kids seeing their Cook's Children pedi in Arlington but I followed your FB page for the longest time. I love your posts and I just want to say thank you for guiding us helpless parents during this madness time. I'm a RN but feel so helpless right now. Can't keep my child at home to home school, doesn't qualify for covid-19 vaccine yet, my elderly parents live with us. It's like a ticking bomb sending her to school. Thankfully that half of her classmate wear masks. Pray for you and all of our kids to stay healthy and soon this time will pass so we can go back to normal. Our kids need it. Thank you again for everything that you do!


Julie Luong