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When should you take a sick day this year? Medical experts weigh in

When students are feeling under the weather, you may be wondering: what symptoms qualify for a sick day? The guidelines are pretty much the same for the workplace.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Gone are the days of braving school or work with a fever.

Students in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach are starting to hit the classrooms in limited phases. But sick day qualifications are a lot different this year. 

“He’s going to thrive a lot better with social interaction,” said Chesapeake parent Janna Kirby.

Kirby is excited for her son to start in-person classes in Chesapeake Public Schools but worries new COVID-19 health screenings won’t be easy to pass.

“It’s flu season, kids are going to have runny noses,” Kirby said. 

Chesapeake’s daily self-check document asks parents to check yes or no for five questions that pertain to their student:

  1. Have you been exposed to COVID-19 in the past 14 days?
  2. Are you feeling ill?
  3. Is your temperature 100.4 or higher?
  4. Have you taken medication to lower your temperature in the past 24 hours?
  5. Do you have any of the following: Cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chills, fatigue, muscle ache, congestion/runny nose, sore throat, headache, new loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting diarrhea?

“There is no perfect answer, it’s going to take a little bit of judgment,” said Dr. Doug Mitchell.

Mitchell, who is CHKD’s Medical Director, said fevers or known contact with someone who has COVID are the easy indicators to stay home.

“If a child has a fever, they don’t go to school,” Dr. Mitchell said. “That is an absolute, no matter what might be causing that fever.”

He said the line between seasonal allergies and COVID symptoms is more of a blur. 

“If you got the stuffy nose and the same things that you get every hay fever season, but now there is a cough with this one and there is not usually a cough,  then that is reasonable to stay home or see a doctor,” Mitchell said.

The rules don’t just apply to kids. Doctors said adults should be more cautious about the same symptoms and willing to take sick days too. 

“Any kind of flu-like illness including fever, cough, shortness of breath especially, it would be important to go ahead, be seen and get tested,” said Velocity Urgent Care Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tiffany Sibley.

Sibley said they now offer rapid tests.

“Results can be returned within 15 minutes.”

The tests are available at all Velocity locations. 

“Maybe you had a positive exposure to a coworker at work and you want to be cleared to go back,” Dr. Sibley said.

Dr. Mitchell supports taking a day to assess possible COVID symptoms. He said that’s not much different than what you are supposed to do with illnesses like the flu.

“You observe for a couple of days. If you are not getting better, then you need to seek care,” Dr. Mitchell said. “What is different is, we do want to minimize the risk of exposures.”

Kirby hopes her son doesn’t miss too many school days.

“I don’t want them to call me for a bellyache, or a headache and he could just be OK,” Kirby said. 

The Chesapeake School Division’s daily self-check document asks parents with students who have symptoms to contact their health care professional and let the school attendance office know as soon as possible. 

The Virginia Beach School Division’s return to fall plan states employees or students who test positive for COVID-19 must provide medical clearance from a healthcare provider to return to school.

According to the CDC, there are three clearance indicators for someone who had COVID-19:

  • 10 days since symptoms first appeared and
  • 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and
  • Other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving