Parenting Win of the Week: Testing 1, 2, 3

Confused about at-home COVID tests? You aren’t alone.

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I have been fortunate enough that my kids have remained in school this entire year (with no shutdowns) and hopefully saying this isn’t going to jinx anything. That’s not to say that this year hasn’t been rocky and confusing.

Especially with the newest Omicron variant, there is a ton of confusion over the testing portion of it all. Test at home, home tests don’t work, get a PCR, good luck finding a PCR, etc.

That’s all to say that I am not really sure what is right and I had a feeling I may not be alone. So, I spoke to Dr. Arunima Agarwal, M.D., a board certified general pediatrician based in New York City, about her thoughts on how to navigate this testing situation. Here are her thoughts.

Should we keep a stock of home tests at home? How many should we have on hand? Are there certain ones you recommend?

Dr. Agarwal: "There is no particular brand that I recommend. It is a good idea to keep some tests at home, I would say 1 per person in the family."

When do we need to be tested? Does it differ for younger kids who aren’t vaccinated?

"The CDC recommends a home test prior to a get-together with others not in your household. A home test may also be done if you had a positive exposure (test yourself roughly 5 days after exposure if you are asymptomatic, or right when symptoms start if it's sooner than 5 days). You may also do a home test if you have symptoms and are not sure if it's covid, flu, or the common cold. These recommendations are for those who are vaccinated or unvaccinated."

There is all this back and forth that home tests don't work, you need to swab your nose and throat, you need to test every other day...what is the real story?

"Follow the instructions on your home test, if it is only for a nasal swab then just do that. At this time the FDA does not recommend doing a throat swab with home tests. Some kits have saliva samples, so again follow the instructions on the box. Home tests are accurate if they give you a positive result; they have a higher false negative rate than PCR tests. I would say home tests are useful and helpful."

If we test positive on an antigen test, do we need to get a PCR and vice versa? If an antigen is negative but we are symptomatic, what do we do?

"If your antigen test is positive, you do not need to do a PCR test, it is reliable. If your antigen test is negative and you are having symptoms, I would talk to your doctor because now your vaccine status, timing of test/symptoms, exposure history, etc., come into play — your doctor may recommend a PCR test or to repeat the antigen test in a few days."

What if my kid has a temper tantrum every time I try to test? Any tips?

"It's always hard to test kids because this is usually uncomfortable. A saliva test might be easier if you are able to obtain it, or the lower nares swab (which doesn't go as far up the nose). You can offer your child their favorite treat or reward like a sticker if they cooperate. If your child is extremely uncooperative, call your doctor and discuss if they should go into the office for a test."


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