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Helping children through a PCR COVID-19 test

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​Update May 12, 2022: This story was originally published in July 2020 when PCR (or polymerase chain reaction) testing was more common. If you would like to know how to give a rapid anitgen test to a child, please see this BC Children's article


As children in the province venture back into their regular activities, some may need to be tested for COVID-19. Though COVID-19 has affected adults much more than children, some kids may start to show symptoms. 

Testing is recommended for anyone with cold, influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms, even mild ones.  Symptoms for COVID-19 include any new fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, painful swallowing, stuffy or runny nose, loss of sense of smell, headache, muscle aches fatigue or loss of appetite.

If your child feels sick and you suspect COVID-19, contact your primary care provider, local public health office, or call 8-1-1. You can also help them take the BC COVID-19 Symptom Self-Assessment Tool at

Reducing fear of the unknown

BC Children’s Dr. David Goldfarb has helped to create a video to show children before a COVID-19 test.

“When caregivers or their children see the video, it can help them to know what to expect,” he says. “It can be used to help ease the fear of the unknown.”

BC Children’s Psychiatrist Dr. Ashley Miller says caregivers can also tap kids’ feelings of bravery. 

“Getting tested is a great way kids are helping to keep their friends and family healthy,” says Miller. “With things like tests or needles, too much reassurance can be counterproductive. Most kids will tolerate the process just fine, so caregivers can be fairly matter-of-fact about including the process into a regular day.” 

For those children who are a little more anxious, Miller suggests pairing the test with a special reward or treat afterwards, like a fun activity with a caring adult.  

BC Children’s has child life specialists who help children feel more comfortable when they come to the hospital.

“For the test, children might sit on their mom or dad’s lap. Big kids can sit in a chair,” says BC Children’s Child Life Specialist Lisa Knight. “Smaller children can be held facing forward with their head supported. There are a few position options and families can choose which they’d prefer.”

The nurse who performs the test will be in personal protective clothing like masks, goggles and gloves. 

Children can bring a toy to hold or squeeze while the test is being performed. They can also hold their parent’s hands.

Over in an instant

“I will need to put a small swab into the child’s nose,” says BC Children’s Nurse Nicole Sacco.  “They’ll need to hold their chin up so the swab can reach the back of their nose. Mom, dad or another grown up might need to help keep them still during the test.”

The nurse will measure from the child’s nose to their ear to see how far the swab needs to go in. 

“By the time they count slowly to five, the test should be over,” says Sacco.

Some kids say that their eyes water and their nose feels warm or tingly when they have the test, kind of like when you get water up your nose or when you drink a really fizzy drink.

A mouth rinse and gargle sample COVID-19 is also available for school-aged children. Watch the video and read more about it here.

To find a testing site, or collection centre, near you go to the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) website. You can also call 8-1-1 to find the nearest centre. 

If your child has a COVID-19 test, please refer to the BCCDC handout for more information on how to self-isolate after the test, how to get test results and when to seek medical care.

More information on COVID-19 and children can be found on the BC Children’s website and the BCCDC website.

BC Children's Hospital; COVID-19; testing; video
Children's Health
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