Remember that “parents know their children best,” said Meg Fisher, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist and the medical director of the Unterberg Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J. If your child always gets allergies this time of year, for example, then it’s probably safe to assume that’s what’s causing her runny nose. But if your child’s symptoms seem out of the ordinary, it’s best to talk to your child’s pediatrician.
Some infected children won’t have any symptoms. A multicenter study of more than 400 hospitalized children in France found that 45 percent of the 22 children who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, had none of the symptoms typically associated with Covid-19. This offers a clue as to how many children are potentially asymptomatic. But it’s difficult to know what percentage of children will be asymptomatic in the general population because we don’t know the total number of children who have had Covid-19 — many of them may have never been tested.
While it can be challenging for parents to identify Covid-19 symptoms from the usual cold or the flu, the Covid-related multisystem inflammatory syndrome, now known as MIS-C, has more distinguishable symptoms and characteristics. The condition, which affects children, is usually characterized by a fever of 101 or higher that doesn’t go away; a red rash; and abdominal pain accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting. The syndrome, however, is quite rare.
At what point should I keep my child home from school?
If your child has a fever, keep her at home. Even before the pandemic, most schools required children with fevers to be kept at home and remain there until their fever had subsided for at least 24 hours.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, kids would often go to school with lingering runny noses and coughs because cold symptoms can sometimes drag on for weeks. In most school settings, it was not expected, nor practical, for parents to keep their children home for three weeks if their kids felt well enough to attend school and didn’t have a fever.
But this school year is different, experts said.
“This is not the year to be sending your kid to school sick, even a little bit, even with mild symptoms, which I know is crazy. Because it’s really hard for parents,” said Adam Ratner, M.D., a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases and director of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at N.Y.U. Langone. “Sometimes mild symptoms are all we have to go on and kids are really good at shedding the virus, even if they don’t have symptoms. And so I worry about spread from kids who have mild symptoms within the class.”
Symptoms that warrant staying at home include coughing, runny nose, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain, regardless of whether or not your child has a fever.