After five days of isolation and another five days of strict mask-wearing, some people are still testing positive for COVID-19 even though the recommended isolation period has passed.
But if you continue to test positive after the 10-day period, should you remain isolated? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not provided specific guidance on how to handle this situation, but experts generally state that as long as your symptoms have disappeared, you probably no longer need to isolate.
dr Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, previously told CNBC she would “feel very comfortable” if a symptom-free person showed up after five days of isolation, even if they still tested positive for COVID -19
“Follow the CDC’s instructions and wear a mask for the next five days,” she said.
The incubation period for COVID is said to be two to 14 days, with a person considered contagious starting two days before developing symptoms, or two days before the date of their positive test if they have no symptoms.
Under current CDC guidelines, people who test positive for COVID-19 are advised to isolate themselves for five days. After that, if their symptoms have improved, they can leave the house but will have to wear strict masks for another five days.
The CDC previously said people may be able to test positive for up to three months after contracting an infection.
Some doctors claim the safest course of action is to remain isolated until the test comes back negative. dr But Stephen Kissler, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said it’s not unreasonable to gradually exit isolation – even if you still test positive with a rapid test.
This is especially true if you are fully vaccinated, symptoms have subsided and you continue to practice masking.
“Perhaps you can slowly start to integrate again while still paying attention to your contact,” Kissler said.
If you’re concerned about how long you’ve tested positive, contact a healthcare provider for guidance on your situation, the doctor said.
If you continue to test positive, is it possible you are still contagious?
A Boston University study found that only 17% of people were likely still contagious six days after their first positive test.
If you’re still testing positive outside the 10-day window, it may have to do with the type of test you’re using.
dr Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Allison Arwady previously said that PCR tests are more likely to continue picking up the virus after infection.
“These PCR tests are very sensitive,” she explained. “You sometimes pick up dead virus in your nose for weeks, but you can’t grow that virus in the lab. You can’t spread it, but it can be positive.”
If you’re vaccinated and refreshed, Arwady says testing several days after exposure probably won’t be necessary because you’re unlikely to be contagious.
“If you’ve had exposure, you’re vaccinated and refreshed. I don’t think it’s necessary to do tests after about seven days,” she said. “If you want to be extra careful you can do it at 10, but just with what we’re seeing I’d consider you really clear. If you are not vaccinated or boosted, I am certainly much more concerned that you could become infected. Ideally you would definitely be looking for that test at five and I would do it again, you know, at seven, possibly ten.