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Children and Covid tests: What you need to know

If you are still in doubt about whether your child needs a test, call their pediatrician, said Dr. Kristin Moffitt, a specialist in infectious diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital. You can also take the CDC’s clinical assessment tool, which can be used for any family member, including children.

Virus testing for children is mostly the same as for adults. The Food and Drug Administration has approved emergency use of two basic categories of diagnostic testing. The most sensitive are molecular PCR test, which detects the genetic material of the virus and can take days to deliver results (some sites offer results in as little as a day). The second type of test, antigen test, hunts for fragments of proteins found on or within the coronavirus. Antigen tests typically give results quickly within 15 minutes, but may be less sensitive than the molecular tests.

The way your provider collects your sample may vary. For example, whether you are having a PCR test or an antigen test, the collection method can be one of the following: nasopharyngeal cotton swab (the long cotton swab with a brush at the end that reaches all the way up to the nose toward the neck); a shorter cotton swab inserted approx. an inch in the nostrils; a long cotton swab of the tonsils at the back of the neck; or a short cotton swab fainted in the gums and cheeks. The new saliva samples, which are still being investigated, require you to drool in a sterilized container, which can be difficult for young children.

FastMed Urgent Care, which has a network of more than 100 clinics in Arizona, North Carolina and Texas, is currently using a long cotton swab to perform the rapid antigen test and a short cotton swab for the PCR test, said Dr. Lane Tassin, one of the company’s medical superiors. But MedExpress, another acute care group with clinics in 16 states, tests all patients with the shorter nasal cones when performing either PCR or antigen tests at its nearly 200 emergency centers, said Jane Trombetta, the company’s clinical director.

The type of test your child gets depends largely on what is available in your area, how long it takes to get the results back, and why the child needs it, the experts said.

Some day care centers and schools only accept PCR results for approval to return to school, so it is best to double check their rules in advance.

The long-graft molecular test is considered the “gold standard”, but other less invasive test methods are also reliable. For routine testing, Dr. said. Jay K. Varma, senior public health adviser to the mayor of New York City, said the shorter cotton swab “basically works as well as the longer, deeper inoculation does. It is the case in both adults and children.” In fact, he added that New York City’s public hospital test sites began switching from the long cotton swab to the short cotton swab over the summer.

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