You’ve stayed home, you’ve recovered, you’ve done every puzzle in your house and binge-watched a bad Netflix show. Yet after the CDC-recommended COVID-19 isolation period you’ve still tested positive. Now what?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently shortened the length of its quarantine period from 10 days to five days. (According to the CDC, “day 0” is the day you first started feeling symptoms or first tested positive for the coronavirus.)
The current guidance doesn’t require you to test negative before ending quarantine. “CDC does not expressly recommend ‘testing out of isolation,’ instead using a time-based strategy that considers symptoms to determine the best time to end isolation,” an agency spokesperson told Nexstar.
However, the agency says, “If an individual has access to a test and wants to test, the best approach is to use an antigen test towards the end of the 5-day isolation period.”
You should also wait until you’re fever-free for 24 hours and your other symptoms are generally improving before taking this optional end-of-quarantine test.
The hope is you’ll test negative and be able to re-enter the world. But what if your COVID-19 test comes back positive? Here’s what the CDC says to do.
If you test positive on day 5
If it’s on or near day 5 of your isolation and you’re still testing positive, the CDC recommends you continue staying home and away from others for an additional five days, bringing the total length of your quarantine to 10 days.
If you test positive on day 10
The CDC guidance published online doesn’t address this specific scenario, making it confusing for someone whose symptoms may have been gone for days, but is still testing positive at the end of the isolation period.
But just because you’ve tested positive, it doesn’t mean you’re contagious, the CDC says.
A CDC spokesperson clarified the agency’s guidance to Nexstar: “Testing after the end of a 10-day isolation period is not recommended due to the potential for false positive test results. People are no longer considered infectious (able to spread the virus that causes COVID-19) after 10 days have passed since they became infected.”
At-home rapid tests could still show positive results 10 days after you first got sick, and highly sensitive PCR tests could still show up positive for weeks or even months.
As long as you’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours and your other symptoms are improving, the CDC says it’s OK to leave isolation after 10 full days.