As schools reopen, many parents are stressed about the extra potential for Covid-19 exposure that comes with another school year during this ongoing pandemic. Even if you’ve already decided what your family is comfortable with in terms of risk level, and what the safety measures are in place at your kids’ schools, there still may be more questions than answers in terms of what this school year is going to be like.
Say your kid comes down with cold- or flu-like symptoms after attending in-person school, or you find out that a classmate/teammate has tested positive for Covid-19. In the times we’re living in, this type of news can potentially affect your entire family as well as your kids’ classmates and teammates, and even your workplace. So how should you proceed?
One of the first things you’ll probably want to do when you become aware of either symptoms or exposure from a close contact, is to get any affected family members tested for Covid-19. The test itself is often free and accessible for the whole family—but finding the best place to get tested can be stressful and complicated, especially when you’re just trying to figure out as soon as possible who will be going to school and work for the rest of the week.
Below is a list of where to look in your area to obtain Covid-19 tests for your family. For each one, be sure to ask how long you will need to wait for the results—it could be anywhere from 15 minutes for a rapid test done on-site, to 1-5 days for a PCR (molecular) test that needs to be sent out to a lab. If you have young children, also ask what age children the testing site can accommodate, because some have restrictions.
Pediatrician or doctor’s office
Many private doctor’s offices have testing available, but it might be limited to patients with symptoms. Your doctor may require you to do a virtual or in-person visit first before recommending a Covid-19 test. Tests are often free for insured patients, but pricing will depend on the office and the type of test—so be sure to clarify first.
Urgent care clinics
These on-demand types of doctor’s offices are more likely to offer Covid-19 tests to anyone who wants one, regardless of whether you have symptoms—but ask first if you qualify. They may have on-site rapid tests available in addition to PCR testing to be sent to a lab. The cost for testing may be free but will vary by clinic, insurance status, and type of test.
Community testing sites
Designated health centers across the country are serving as free community testing sites. Check your state on this Department of Health & Human Services list to find sites that are guaranteed to offer free Covid-19 testing regardless of whether you have insurance. Your state or locality might also offer a search directory for community testing sites. To find them, search for “Covid-19 testing sites” with your state name, and click on websites that end in “.gov” for the most official lists, especially if cost or insurance is a concern.
Major drug store/big box chains, including CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart, offer free Covid-19 testing to anyone who needs it. So do all of the independent pharmacies listed here (click on your state to see a list of local pharmacies).
At-home rapid tests
One of the most convenient options is to buy an at-home Covid-19 testing kit and conduct the test at home—however, these obviously come with a cost (and perhaps without the same peace of mind, depending on how worried you are). Testing kits are available for purchase at CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and other retailers for about $20 to $40. Some at-home testing kits require you to perform the test twice, waiting a couple of days in between. So read the instructions carefully—and check your school’s and workplace’s rules, too, to make sure these test results will “count.”
You’ve gotten tested. Now what? If it wasn’t a rapid test, stay home while waiting for the test results—and then proceed based on the results…
If someone in your household tests positive…
First, you’ll want to check your school’s and workplace’s health guidelines to make sure you are following their recommended procedures at a minimum. However, some communities might not have very robust health and safety protocols in place.
No matter what your handbooks say, the first thing you’ll want to do is to have the whole household stay home until you’ve talked to a doctor. Follow any other recommendations given to you by the doctor or testing site. Or if you used an at-home testing kit, you should report any positive results to your doctor or to your state or local health department.
After a positive test, the main goal will be to limit the family member’s contact with others to the extent that that’s possible for 14 days (or possibly longer if symptomatic). Of course very young children cannot be put into isolation. But keeping them home, staying away from high-risk family members and anyone outside of the household, wearing masks (for ages 2 and up), not sharing food and utensils, using separate bathrooms and/or towels, and sleeping/playing in separate rooms whenever possible can help limit the spread within your household.
If the person who tested positive has symptoms, monitor them daily so you can see if any are worsening. Contact your doctor (often a virtual visit will be recommended if it’s not an emergency) to see how you can best care for the sick person at home, and learn which emergency symptoms to watch for.
Also inform anyone else who’s had recent close contact with the person who tested positive—so they can get tested as well.
If everyone in your household tests negative…
If you know that unvaccinated members of your household have had close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) with someone who had Covid-19, you will still want to be cautious. The absolute safest option is to stay home for 14 days because the virus can take up to 14 days to show up as an infection. If that’s not doable, consider getting another Covid-19 test 3-5 days later before making a decision to see people again.
If anyone has symptoms, even if they’ve tested negative, that family member should still stay home from school and work, and symptoms should be monitored daily until they return to good health. If symptoms get worse or are concerning, contact a doctor. Continue to isolate the sick household member from others who are high risk or unvaccinated, whenever possible.
Once no one has symptoms or a recent close-contact exposure in your household, you can proceed back to “normal” life, while continuing to take precautions against Covid-19.