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Preparing Your Child for a COVID-19 Test

Posted on Jul 02, 2020

A photo of Child Life intern Heidi Bothe using a doll to show what happens during a COVID-19 test.
Child Life intern Heidi Bothe uses a doll to show what happens during a COVID-19 test.

With more children coming to the hospital, more kids are being tested for the coronavirus (COVID-19). Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital requires all patients to be tested before being admitted to the hospital to keep areas safe for patients and staff.

Rayna Emerson, a Child Life specialist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s, developed some tips for preparing your child for a test. It is important to communicate with your child in an age-appropriate way about what they should expect. Here are some questions and answers to help guide your discussion:

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a new virus that can make people feel sick, sometimes causing a fever, cough or congestion. Because it is new, scientists and doctors still are learning about how it affects people and how to treat it.

What is a virus?

A virus is a germ that is so tiny we can’t even see it and it can spread from person to person in different ways. Sometimes people have a virus without feeling sick at all.

I don’t feel sick. Why do I need to be tested?

This test is not happening because you are in trouble or because you did something wrong. It is to make sure your body is safe. Some people who get the virus don’t feel sick, but they may be able to pass it on to other people. An important way that scientists and doctors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s are keeping people safe is by doing a medical test that can tell them if someone has COVID-19. You are going to be tested to make sure it’s safe for everyone who will be part of your hospital stay.

What will happen?

When we get to the hospital, we will meet your nurse. This person may be wearing a blue or yellow gown over their clothes, gloves on their hands, and a mask that covers their nose and mouth. This outfit helps keep everyone as safe as possible during the test.

You have a very important job during the test. Your job is to try to sit still like a statue with your chin up to the ceiling. To help make sure your body is still like a statue, someone (or I) will help you sit still and be calm during the test.

Next, your nurse will use a long, skinny cotton swab to rub the inside of the back of your nose for about 10 seconds. The swab will help to collect a sample of any germs in your body to see if the COVID-19 germs are there.
While this happens, you may feel like you want to push the cotton swab away, but it’s really important to stay as still as possible so the nurse can finish the test. Some kids say that counting to three or taking slow, deep breaths relaxes them before the test happens. Some kids like to hug their favorite stuffed animal or blanket. And others like to watch a video or listen to a song on a tablet or phone. 

Remember that your very important job during the test is to keep your body perfectly still like a statue. 

What happens after the test?

People will use a computerized machine to look for signs of the virus in the sample. Sometimes they have answers right away but often it takes a day or two before we have the results.

If the results show you have the virus, we’ll postpone your hospital stay and your doctor will make sure that you get any treatment you need if you feel sick. Most children have mild symptoms and feel better soon. If the results show you don’t have the virus, then you can come to the hospital for your operation or other reasons as scheduled.

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