Learn symptoms to watch for in kids and when to get tested for COVID-19

As COVID-19 continues to spread, it's important to take precautions to reduce your family's risk of infection. The best way to keep your family safe is taking preventive measures such as getting the COVID-19 vaccine if eligible, wearing a mask (if over age 2) and regularly washing hands.

But with the highly contagious Delta variant circulating, more children are getting COVID-19. As kids attend school, see friends and participate in extracurricular activities, one of the most common questions parents are asking is: What should I do if my child is exposed to COVID-19?

It's helpful to have a plan for what to do if your child is exposed to COVID-19. Being prepared can help you stay calm and know the best steps to take to avoid potential further spread of the virus. 

Here are some important details parents should know about COVID-19 exposure in children.

What is considered exposure to COVID-19?

COVID-19 exposure is when you have close contact with someone who has COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines close contact as being within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more during a 24-hour period. The 15 minutes are cumulative – so three 5-minute exposures in a day still count.

For children in school, as long as students are consistently and correctly wearing face masks, they are not considered a close contact or exposure if one tests positive for COVID-19, even if they were within 3 to 6 feet from each other.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets, such as when an infected person breathes, speaks, sings, exercises, coughs or sneezes. If your child is exposed to COVID-19, their risk of infection depends on the amount of virus they are exposed to. This can depend on factors such as air circulation (outdoor spaces have a lower risk), the duration of time your child was exposed and mask wearing.

"Masks are considered an important tool for source control," explains Carla Garcia Carreno, M.D., Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist at Children's Health℠. "If a student wears a proper mask (a well-fitted mask covering the nose and mouth), the risk of spreading infection is minimal because this would prevent any infectious respiratory particle to be expelled and infect others." See tips to help your child wear a mask.

Risk of infection also depends on whether your child is vaccinated for COVID-19 or not. Data has shown that COVID-19 vaccines offer protection against infection. The protection is highest against severe disease, but the vaccines still decrease the chance of becoming infected, even with the Delta variant.

Keep in mind that someone can spread the virus up to 2 days before showing symptoms or testing positive. That means a friend or family member could spread COVID-19 even if they don't show signs of being sick.

Learn important details parents should know about COVID-19 exposure in children.