WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — To test or not to test? To isolate or not to isolate?
COVID confusion is spreading misinformation, as the COVID pandemic evolves with new variants.
Is it true you can leave isolation five days after a COVID infection begins?
Yes, in most cases, you can leave isolation (staying at home and away from others) five days after COVID symptoms start or five days after your first positive test. However, masking through day 10 is crucial, when out in public, in case you are still contagious.
"Yes, it's true. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or asymptomatic (no symptoms) COVID-19 and test positive, your isolation period can be over at the end of five days," said infectious diseases physician Chris Ohl, MD.
However, he noted the conditions specified in the CDC's March 2022 guidance. Regardless of vaccination status, if you test positive for COVID-19, you should:
- Stay home at least five days and isolate from others in the home.
- Wear a mask, if you do encounter others in your home.
- End isolation at least five full days after symptom onset, if you are fever-free for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medication (like Tylenol or Motrin).
- If asymptomatic, end isolation at least five days after the first positive test.
You do not need to re-test until negative.
"If, for some reason, you tested on day five or six and are still positive, it does not necessarily mean you are still contagious, and you can leave isolation. The caveat is that after five days of isolation, when you're in public indoor spaces, you should wear a mask, because there's a small chance you could still shed virus," Ohl explained.
A Boston University study published preliminarily this spring researched 92 vaccinated COVID patients with mild breakthrough infections. After day five of symptom onset, 17% still tested positive. However, by day 10, the probability of COVID contagion was almost zero. Note, though, this study accounted for Delta and Omicron, not their new variants like the BA strains.
"The current variants of COVID being transmitted here (central NC)...are BA1.12.1 and BA2. There are small, but increasing numbers of BA4 and BA5. These variants are somewhat more contagious than the original Omicron variant but fortunately, are not any more severe," Ohl affirmed.
Experts agree as long as you follow the five-day isolation and 10-day masking rules, you do not have to keep testing until you are negative. Tests still positive after five days could be detecting some virus particles that are no longer contagious. However, if your COVID case was severe, or you have a weakened immune system, the CDC recommends a longer isolation period of 10 to 20 days.
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