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To test or not to test is not the question

By: Dr. Eric Levene, Chester Pediatrics (Whiteplains, New York)

You have been sheltering in place at home with your families since mid-March. Now, we are finally in phase 4, and the family can get out of the house with masks and a bottle of hand sanitizer. You are trying to establish a new normal while keeping yourself and your kids safe.

So what happens now? Your child spends some time with friends, and you remind them to wear their mask and social distance. Or you have socially distance cocktails with neighbors, trying to establish a new normal. Worse yet, you find your teenager has snuck out of the house to see their significant other. Then you find out that a person at one of these meetings has tested positive for COVID-19. Great, all that time being safe, now what do you do?
You call the pediatrician and ask for a COVID test (the nasal swab) hoping to avoid quarantine or self-isolation.

Let’s talk about the tests. The nasal swab test (PCR or Antigen) looks for the current disease. So, if we test the patient 5 days after the exposure and its negative, it means you don’t have COVID today. However, you could be positive 3 days from now. That is why after an exposure you need to quarantine for the full 14 DAYS. Regardless of if you are tested or not.

So why would you want to get a test? Well, if you start to develop symptoms, you should get a test. If you are positive then contact tracing can be done, and we can control the spread of the virus. If you are concerned that your child might have COVID and is asymptomatic, the best time to test is 5-8 days after exposure. Again, you still must quarantine for the full 14 DAYS.

What about the antibody test? Say you already had a documented case of COVID-19 and were lucky enough to come through without problems. You had an antibody test and it was positive. Why worry about being exposed to COVID again? Here is what we know today. We also know the level of antibodies a person has wanes over time. We DON’T KNOW if having antibodies will protect you against getting COVID again. At this time, we CANNOT assume that you are immune from getting COVID-19 again.

If your child may have been exposed or has symptoms, call your pediatrician and set up a telemedicine appointment.
Be smart, be a responsible citizen, and quarantine for the 14 DAYS. This is a small sacrifice to help control the spread of this virus. It’s better than spending another 3 months sheltering in place.