Tens of thousands of people in the U.S. have contracted COVID-19, killing hundreds of thousands. After contracting COVID-19, people are curious about how often people should self-test, when, and whether they should continue to retest if they become ill.
This article reviews why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend repeat testing for people who have recovered from COVID-19.
Do I need to get a post-COVID-19 test?
The most concise answer is no.
Currently, CDC guidelines state that if a person tests positive for COVID-19 (regardless of vaccination status), they need to isolate at home for at least 5 days and take precautions for at least 10 days. This means that after five days, if a person who is asymptomatic can still wear a suitable mask around other people for another five days, they can end their isolation.
People with mild symptoms should isolate for 5 days after onset of symptoms and ensure that their symptoms are improving and are fever-free for 24 hours before ending isolation. If symptoms improve on day five, then they should continue wearing a suitable mask around other people for five days.
Why the CDC shortened the COVID-19 quarantine period to 10 days
At the end of the five days, if a person can get a COVID-19 test and want to get tested, they can. However, a person does not need to be tested, and the test results do not change whether a person needs to wear a fitted mask for an additional five days.
The CDC recommends testing only if you have been fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication and your other symptoms have improved. If the test is negative, the person can end quarantine after the fifth day and wear a suitable mask around others until day 10. If the test is positive, the person should continue to isolate until day 10.
After that, even if someone tests positive on day five, no further testing is recommended. After 10 days of isolation, there is no need to repeat testing after recovery from COVID-19.
sick and immunocompromised people
These guidelines do not apply to people with moderate or severe COVID-19 or people with weakened immune systems. People who are immunocompromised should always isolate for at least 10 days, and for severely ill patients with COVID-19, for up to 20 days.
If a person is unable to repeat a COVID-19 test after five days of isolation, or does not want to be retested, the CDC recommends that people take precautions by day 10 and continue to wear a fitted mask around other people in the home and in public; in public.
test at home
People with mild to moderate symptoms often self-test for COVID-19 and take care of themselves at home. Testing options have become harder to find as cases rise. There are several home test kits available, but they are few and far between. The government has launched a scheme to help ease barriers to testing by offering free home COVID-19 rapid test kits, but only four per household.
How soon after contracting COVID-19 will someone test positive?
People may get a repeat COVID-19 test because they think a positive result for another COVID-19 test — even if symptoms are improving — means they are still infectious. These individuals may feel obligated to further limit the spread of the disease.
However, many people can continue to test positive for the virus, sometimes for weeks or even months, even if they are asymptomatic or not contagious.
For PCR testing, there is evidence that, in most people, viral particles can be detected as early as six days to two weeks before symptoms appear.
However, while viral RNA could continue to be detected, the scientists were unable to culture live virus from the specimens taken nine days after symptoms appeared. This suggests that even though a person can continue to test positive, they are no longer contagious eight days after symptoms appear.
How soon will you test positive for COVID-19?
How can a person test positive for COVID-19 without being contagious?
The best COVID-19 test is Nucleic acid reverse transcriptase-polymerase Chain reaction (RT-PCR) test. These tests work by creating copies of the virus’ genetic material in respiratory samples. These tests can take a single copy of viral RNA and amplify it to show a positive result.
Essentially, these tests are very good at detecting small amounts of viral material. However, these viral fragments do not represent live viruses. Their presence does not mean that viral fragments cause symptoms or infect others. These viral fragments can be detected for up to three months.
If someone continues to test positive for COVID-19, will they be contagious again?
The problem of retesting becomes even more confusing when we add the element of reinfection.
People who recover from COVID-19 develop protective antibodies that help prevent the virus from replicating and infecting new cells. However, scientists don’t fully understand the effectiveness or duration of this antibody protection.
Some studies suggest that neutralizing antibodies are present for at least six months. Therefore, the risk of reinfection is low, but not impossible, and unvaccinated people are more likely to be reinfected.
This concept also applies to people who are fully vaccinated, as breakthrough infections can occur in fully vaccinated people.
keep wearing a mask
Even if you have recovered from COVID-19 or are fully vaccinated, it is still important to wear a mask in indoor public spaces and in close contact areas.
According to CDC guidelines, testing as part of a contact tracing program or new exposure within three months of testing positive for COVID-19 is not recommended for people who have recovered from COVID-19. During those three months, positive test results may have been associated with previous infections rather than new ones.
However, this advice differs if a person has symptoms consistent with COVID-19 within three months. In this case, repeating the test is recommended. If the test comes back positive, the patient should repeat the five-day quarantine period according to recommended guidelines.
Can my employer require a negative COVID-19 test to return to work?
Some workplaces have implemented COVID-19 screening to help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. CDC directs workplaces to implement these testing strategies in non-medical settings. They do not recommend requiring a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to work.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers who administer mandatory COVID-19 testing for employees must ensure that the testing is work-related and business-necessary. The purpose of the plan should be to identify current infections.
Is your company’s COVID vaccine authorization illegal?
Based on evidence of persistent positive results months after illness, the CDC recommends time-based and symptom-based strategies to determine when a person can return to work. This strategy means people should follow CDC guidelines for a five-day quarantine and should not return to work unless their symptoms improve or resolve.
Under the ADA, employers can require health care providers to provide certification that they are fit to work after contracting COVID-19. Public health groups stress that this requirement can be onerous, as healthcare professionals may be too busy to provide documentation suitable for on-duty.
The CDC recommends that employers should consider not requiring instructions from healthcare providers to return employees to work. However, some employers need it anyway.
Employers that have implemented regular COVID-19 screenings may need to repeat testing when employees return to work. However, the ADA requires employers to follow current CDC guidelines for repeat testing and return to work.
If I continue to test positive for COVID-19, does that mean I have had COVID-19 longer?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a clinical definition of post-COVID syndrome, known as protracted COVID. This happens to people who:
- History of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection
- who still have symptoms three months after initial symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test
- People with chronic symptoms lasting at least two months
- whose symptoms cannot be explained by alternative diagnoses
Common symptoms of long-term COVID include:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- joint or muscle pain
- Cognitive impairment or difficulty concentrating
- sleep problems
- mood changes
- change in smell or taste
- changes in the menstrual cycle
Post-COVID-19 illnesses like COVID-19 are clinical diagnoses, so no tests are available.
Long-term COVID is uncommon among people who continue to test positive for the virus. Research is still being done to understand this range of symptoms.
So far, the CDC states that people most at risk of long-term COVID infection are:
- people hospitalized
- Black person
- People aged 40 and over
- people with pre-existing health conditions
However, the initial risk analysis was performed in a small group of people, and the scientists continued to analyze the risk.
Millions of people in the United States have contracted the COVID-19 virus, and most have recovered from the disease. Infections have risen over the past few months, prompting people to seek COVID-19 testing and repeat tests to ensure they have recovered.
However, the CDC does not recommend repeated COVID-19 testing for people who have recovered from the illness, especially since many people can go on to test positive for months without being contagious. The CDC says only that people with mild illness can repeat the test to end their isolation early on the fifth day. However, people will still need to wear a fitted mask until day 10.
Additionally, the CDC does not recommend repeat testing to return to work. Instead, workplaces should follow CDC guidelines and return to work using time-based and symptom-based strategies.
Many people find it difficult to get a COVID-19 test. If you are already infected and your symptoms improve after five days of isolation, you do not need to get a repeat COVID-19 test unless you have symptoms again. You can rest assured that you are no longer contagious after 10 days of isolation. The best way to help your community is to leave the tests to those who need them, isolate yourself for five days, and wear an appropriate mask until day 10.