NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Midstate kids are making their way back to the classroom during a pandemic fueled by the Delta variant, which is causing a spike in hospitalizations across Tennessee.

But how can you tell if your child has COVID or the common cold?

Dr. Joseph Gigante, a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center says if your child has symptoms at all, it’s best to keep them at home.

He says pediatricians have a hard time telling the difference between COVID, allergies, and a cold.

However, there are some slight differences parents should keep an eye on.

For five-year-old Zoe Smith, her dad, Tedrick Smith, says her first day of school is a milestone in what feels like a miles-long pandemic.

“I have been looking forward to it to see how she would respond, to see if she would enjoy school,” says Tedrick. “Clearly she seems to have loved it.”

This year, masks are required at Metro Nashville Public Schools like Park Avenue. But if kids come home with symptoms, how do parents know if it’s COVID?

Dr. Gigante says cough, congestion, and runny nose could be symptoms of a cold, but they could also be allergies or COVID.

However, if a child has a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a sudden cough, or difficulty breathing, it’s most likely not a cold, and could be COVID.

“We see a lot more gastrointestinal, or GI symptoms, in kids who have COVID, moreso than adults,” Dr. Gigante says. “So, the nausea, the vomiting, the diarrhea, the belly pain.”

While Dr. Gigante says these sound like common stomach virus symptoms, there’s one symptom that makes COVID different: loss of taste and smell.

“In some ways, you can almost test your child,” Dr. Gigante explains. “Be like, 'Hey, I made this for dinner. Smell it, what do you think? Taste it, how do you think it tastes?'"

For Tedrick and Zoe, this school year and pandemic isn’t something new, they know when to be concerned.

“You want her to be safe and everyone else to be safe,” says Tedrick. “So, it would probably be one of the first things to probably get tested and you know, make sure everything is good.”

Dr. Gigante emphasizes kids, like adults, can be asymptomatic, which is why it’s so important they wear masks to not spread the virus to their peers, teachers, or anyone else at their school.

RSV is another viral illness causing hospitalizations in Tennessee.

Doctors say it’s a winter illness that’s more prominent now since kids were taking precautions last winter. Doctors say most kids who get RSV are very young.

In fact, most babies have been infected with RSV at least once by the time they are two years old.

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