How soon will you test positive for COVID-19?

key takeaways

  • If you have COVID-19, you may test positive for several weeks after you are no longer contagious.
  • The persistence of a positive result depends on the test used, as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are more sensitive than rapid antigen tests that can be performed at home.
  • If you test positive, you do not need to test again. If you know you have been exposed to the virus and test negative, test again in a few days.

You have tested positive for COVID-19. You follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by isolating yourself for five days and wearing a mask for another five days. But what about now?

When did you stop testing positive for the virus that causes COVID-19? Experts say it depends on several factors, the most important part being which test you use.

“Positive tests can be short-lived or they can last for months,” Robert Amler, MD, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice at New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York, told VigorTip by email. “Different types of tests may or may not be consistently positive.”

Should I use PCR or rapid testing for COVID-19?

There are two main types of tests for COVID-19 that can be used to detect active infection. Antigen tests, commonly called rapid tests, quickly look for viral proteins called antigens and can be done at home. Molecular tests, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, look for fragments of the virus’ genetic material and analyze it in a laboratory.

Whether you use the PCR test or the rapid test, the result is either positive or negative. They don’t measure how much virus you might have in your body or how contagious you are.

However, these tests have different sensitivities.

What is sensitivity?

Sensitivity indicates how likely the test is to detect a disease when the patient actually has it. Tests with high sensitivity are less likely to produce false negatives.

PCR tests are more sensitive and can detect the presence of the virus earlier. But they could also detect the presence of COVID-19 well beyond the point in time when it was contagious.

“After we discovered [people] Recovering from any symptoms, we can occasionally detect very low levels of RNA, which is [PCR] testing, up to 12 weeks,” Alan Wells, MD, MD, director of clinical laboratory medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, told VigorTip.

According to a CDC review of 113 studies, COVID-19 is contagious only between 2 to 3 days before symptoms appear and up to 8 days after symptoms appear.

“That’s why the CDC recommends that people be exempt from any form of PCR surveillance testing for 90 days after testing positive,” Dr. Gigi Gronvall, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Health Security, told reporters. very good. Gronvall uses the center’s COVID-19 testing kit. “I expect that guidance may change at some point with more information, but some people continue to test positive by PCR even after they are clearly no longer infectious. For whatever reason, the There is still viral genetic material.”

Rapid tests are less sensitive, but a person may still test positive for six or seven days after they no longer experience symptoms, Gronvall said.

Is it really safe to quarantine for only five days if you have COVID-19?

positive?no more testing

If you get a positive result on the test, there is no point in further testing.

“The health department says if you test positive, don’t repeat the test just to find a negative result,” Amler said. “Any positive test is a positive result, so you’re just wasting scarce test kits.”

The only time to retest is if you test negative after being exposed to someone with the virus or developing symptoms. It can take a while for the virus to reach detectable levels.

“You want to be tested on days three and five or days four and six after exposure to make sure you’re negative,” Wells said.

what does this mean to you

If you have COVID-19, you may test positive for PCR within a few weeks after you are no longer contagious. With a rapid test, you may test positive within six to seven days of symptoms disappearing.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.