“If a mother doesn’t have any symptoms and she doesn’t have a known exposure to the virus, it’s not necessary to get tested as a precaution,” Sara B. Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., Associate Professor of Pediatrics & Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, tells Romper. The desire to take extra safety measures when you’re a parent is totally understandable, but not everyone needs testing right away. “There is no standard or recommendation for testing moms. Even people at high risk jobs (essential workers in healthcare, grocery stores, law enforcement for a few examples) are not having routine testing unless symptomatic,” Martha E. Rivera, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician & infectious disease physician at Optimal Healthcare Center, tells Romper in an email. “The number of tests and reagents are limited now through mass testing centers.” For the most part, people who are not displaying symptoms of COVID-19, as well as those who have not been exposed to others with the virus, may not need to get tested right away. If you have any questions about whether coronavirus testing is the right move for you, however, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor for advice.
There are, however, some cases in which a mom who does not have any COVID-19 symptoms might want to get tested anyway. For instance, mothers whose children have an underlying immune deficiency, severe lung condition, or heart condition may want to get tested for coronavirus, emergency physician Caesar Djavaherian, M.D., tells Romper. If you have any concerns about whether your own child’s situation calls for testing, then contact your doctor or pediatrician for further guidance. Another factor to consider is your workplace (or anywhere else you spend time these days). “If a mom is a healthcare worker or employed in a job that increases their risk, they should be tested regularly as a precaution,” Dr. Amita Vyas, Ph.D., director of the Child and Maternal Health Center at GW Milken Institute School of Public Health, tells Romper. Lastly, moms who have traveled to communities or states that are currently surging in cases may also want to get tested, Dr. Vyas adds.
Then there are some cases in which you should definitely get tested for coronavirus ASAP. “If someone in the household has tested positive, the mother should definitely be tested repeatedly for at least 10 days at 2-day intervals,” William Haseltine, Ph.D., Chair of the US-China Health Summit and founder of Harvard University’s cancer and HIV/AIDS research departments, tells Romper. And of course, get a test if you’re experiencing any symptoms of coronavirus as defined by the CDC, such as fever, shortness of breath, or loss of taste or smell.
Also know that there’s a lot to keep in mind if and when you do get tested for coronavirus. “Our current understanding is that if someone is exposed to someone else with COVID-19 and the virus is transmitted to them, symptoms can develop within 2-14 days after that exposure,” Kris Deeter, M.D., Pediatric Intensive Care Medical Director at Pediatrix Medical Group of Nevada, tells Romper. “If you get tested when you are not symptomatic, and the test is negative, that does not mean that you are not going to get sick or become contagious. It only means that at that moment of testing, there was not enough virus in your system to have a positive test.” So even with a negative COVID-19 test result, there’s still the possibility of passing coronavirus to someone else. (Yes, doctors realize this uncertainty can be super frustrating, but it’s simply the reality right now.)
If you still want some reassurance from a test, however, testing recommendations may change soon, so keep an eye on the coronavirus news in your community. “Testing asymptomatic young children or moms is not likely to be recommended in the near future, until testing becomes readily available and has better specificity,” Don L. Goldenberg, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, tells Romper. “This may change, as schools reopen, particularly if there are resurgences in cases at that time. The landscape of testing is likely to change over the next few months, especially if cheap, home-based testing become available.” The tests will (hopefully) be much easier to get soon.
Remember that there’s still a lot you can do to help slow the spread of coronavirus in your community (and household as well). In many cases, simply keeping up with the CDC’s current COVID-19 health practices can make a difference. “In general, people who are careful [about] wearing a mask, social distancing, hand washing, and staying away from crowds, especially in enclosed spaces, are going to be safe and don’t need routine testing,” physician scientist and Angiogenesis Foundation President Dr. William Li tells Romper in an email. Nearly every physician interviewed for this piece also stressed the importance of following coronavirus hygiene tips, while acknowledging that it can be impossible to get your four-year-old to stop touching her nose.
There’s no denying that the coronavirus outbreak is a scary, uncertain time for so many people, but plenty of experts are counting on moms to help guide their families through this pandemic. “I also know that it can be challenging for mothers to navigate some of these new behaviors for their children, particularly when not all parents are adhering to social distancing, limiting group gathering, and wearing masks,” says Dr. Vyas. “That said, since the beginning of time, mothers have been on the front lines of caring for their children, families, and communities. And today, their role in fighting COVID-19 is even more critical. I believe mothers and parents really have the power to stop the spread of this virus. Mothers are our first teachers — and teaching our children simple behaviors will not only protect them now but throughout their lives.” It’s a big responsibility, sure, but moms are up to the task.
Kris Deeter, M.D., Pediatric Intensive Care, Medical Director, Pediatrix Medical Group of Nevada
Caesar Djavaherian, M.D., medical director and co-founder of Carbon Health
Don L. Goldenberg, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, and the author of “How the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Affecting You and Your Healthcare” (ArminLear Press, June 16, 2020)
William Li, M.D., Physician Scientist and Angiogenesis Foundation President
William Haseltine, Ph.D., Chair of the US-China Health Summit, founder of Harvard University’s cancer and HIV/AIDS research departments, Covid expert, and author of the book A Family Guide to Covid (which can be purchased for free)
Sara B. Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., Associate Professor of Pediatrics & Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Martha E. Rivera, M.D FAAP, Optimal Healthcare Center
Amita Vyas, M.D., director of the Child and Maternal Health Center at GW Milken Institute School of Public Health and associate professor of prevention and community health