Limited Testing for Children Creates a Covid ‘Blind Spot’

Many places forgot about children while building up testing capacity. Now, as schools reopen, many parents can’t find a test nearby.

By Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz

When Audrey Blute’s almost 2-year-old son, George, had a runny nose in July, she wanted to do what she felt was responsible: get him tested for coronavirus.

It wasn’t easy.

Ms. Blute, 34, planned to walk to one of Washington, D.C.’s free testing sites — until she learned they do not test children younger than 6. She called her pediatrician’s office, which also declined to test George.

As child care centers and schools reopen, parents are encountering another coronavirus testing bottleneck: Few sites will test children. Even in large cities with dozens of test sites, parents are driving long distances and calling multiple centers to track down one accepting children.

The age policies at testing sites reflect a range of concerns, including differences in health insurance, medical privacy rules, holes in test approval, and fears of squirmy or shrieking children.

The limited testing hampers schools’ ability to quickly isolate and trace coronavirus cases among students. It could also create a new burden on working parents, with some schools and child care centers requiring symptomatic children to test negative for coronavirus before rejoining class.

“There is no good reason not to do it in kids,” said Sean O’Leary, a Colorado pediatrician who sits on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases. “It’s a matter of people not being comfortable with doing it.”

Many testing sites, including those run by cities and states, do not test any children, or they set age minimums that exclude young children. The age limits vary widely from place to place. Los Angeles offers public testing without any age minimum, while San Francisco, which initially saw only adults, recently began offering tests to children 13 and older. Dallas sets a cutoff at 5 years old.

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