My daughter has a runny nose, but she tested negative for Covid. Her preschool is saying she has to stay home until she's symptom-free, but I think that's crazy! What do you think? Is it OK to send a kid with a cold to school?
This is probably the most popular question I get right now. When it comes to differentiating between COVID-19 and other circulating cold viruses, it can be tricky to tell the difference between the two just based on the physical exam alone. With children being vulnerable to the Delta variant, as one of the largely unvaccinated populations, it’s important to remain as cautious as you were in the early 2020 days of the pandemic. So, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if your child is exhibiting any cold or flu-like symptoms it is best practice to keep them home until symptoms subside (more specifics on timing below) and a negative COVID test results. No matter how skilled a clinician is, the symptoms of the common cold, allergies, and COVID-19 are so similar that diagnostic testing is the best way to be sure. But what happens if the test is negative and your child still has symptoms?
As a parent, I know it’s challenging to keep kids home from school, especially if you’re trying to juggle work and/or additional children. The data show that the average 2-year-old experiences six to eight upper respiratory infections per year, each of which can last for seven to 10 days. To make matters worse, these infections are generally the most concentrated in the winter season. My general guidance is to keep kids home whenever they are feeling unwell. Sounds like a “Captain Obvious” statement, but the truth is that they have an increased chance of transmitting their infection to another student, and will unlikely be in the right frame of mind and physical wellness to be able to have a successful day of learning. So if they are experiencing symptoms, call your pediatrician for further guidance. It’s what we’re here for!
As we head into what we usually consider “cold and flu season,” we cannot be thinking only about COVID-19: we should keep in mind the other upper respiratory infections, as well. We saw a big surge in Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, in the last several months, particularly among children under the age of 2. We all have to do our part to keep kids healthy and control the spread of illness, but there is a reasonable balance to strike so that children don’t miss an excessive number of school days.