Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Confusion over the pandemic isn’t new, but lately I’ve received a number of questions asking specifically about when to go to the emergency room.

I sought a wise colleague with 28 years of emergency department nursing experience to support my responses to these questions. Most of the young people who reach out to me do not have a primary care provider, or PCP, nor do some of their parents. It’s troubling when so many of us seem to use emergency services as a family doctor. If responding to these concerns in my column can ease the burden of overworked health care workers, I am happy to help.

I am not offering medical advice. I am simply responding to questions I’ve received about when to go to the emergency room.

Q. I took my temperature using my mom’s thermometer because I’m worried I have COVID-19. It’s 98.2. Is that bad? Should I tell her so she can take me to the emergency room?


Mary Jo’s Response: An average body temperature is 98.6 F (37 C), but normal body temperature can range between 97 F (36.1 C) and 99 F (37.2 C) or more. Your body temperature can also change depending on how active you are or the time of day.

Please talk with your mom.

It sounds as if you’re worrying about COVID-19 enough to frighten you and cause you stress. You shouldn’t go to the emergency room with a normal body temperature, especially if you have no symptoms.

Q. My son had a positive at home COVID-19 test. I want to take him to the emergency room, but he doesn’t want to go. He seems OK. I think they should do another test at the ER.

Parent of 16-year-old

Mary Jo’s Response: Thanks for reaching out. Your son is correct. There is no reason to go to the ER. The emergency staff is busy caring for sick patients and they do not do second COVID-19 tests. If you want to check the test another way, you can get a PCR test at a local testing site.

Q. Our daughter is invited to a party and the parents require a negative COVID-19 test. I can’t find any at-home tests to buy and the place where you can get them is full. Should I go to the ER to get a test?

Parent of 15-year-old

Mary Jo’s Response: No, please do not go to the emergency room for a COVID-19 test. The ER staff is unable to do routine tests. You might want to reconsider attendance at the party if it is a number of teens will be in attendance, since there is a COVID-19 surge, and a test can be a false negative.

Q. My daughter was exposed to COVID-19 at school and sent home. She is not vaccinated. Her school told her to quarantine for five days. I think I should take her to the ER. My husband says no, there’s nothing they can do for her there. Which of us is right? What should we do?

Parent of 13-year-old

Mary Jo’s Response: Your husband is correct. An exposure doesn’t mean you should take your child to the ER. If your child is not vaccinated for COVID-19 and is exposed to the virus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends your child should quarantine at home for five days. If you have someone in your household who is at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness, or who is unvaccinated, try to distance your child from them during the quarantine time if possible.

After five days of quarantine, your child should wear a mask when around others for an additional five days to prevent any possible spread.

It’s recommended you test your child for COVID-19 on the fifth day after exposure. This can help confirm whether your child has COVID-19 even if they are not showing any symptoms. This should not be done at an emergency department.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email

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