August 9, 2020

How Long Do You Need to Isolate After Having COVID-19?

The short answer from an infectious disease specialist

woman isolated at home

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its guidelines about when it’s safe for someone who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) or someone who believes they had the illness, to come out of isolation.

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Remember:

  • Isolation: When sick people separate themselves from those who are not sick.
  • Quarantine: Eases and restricts people’s movements to limit the spread of a contagious disease or separates those who were exposed, but might not know it.

The CDC now says the virus is no longer contagious 10 days after symptom onset, down from a previous 14 days. It’s also important to note that you should be fever-free for at least 24 hours (down from 3 days) and that your symptoms (if you had any) have improved before leaving isolation.

So why did the guidelines change?

As health experts learn more about COVID-19 (remember it’s only been around for about seven months!), there’s evidence that suggest people are no longer contagious 10 days after the infection begins, even if you had symptoms.

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It’s also worth noting that in the past, earlier guidelines recommended that someone have two negative tests, taken 24 hours apart, before leaving isolation. Today, this isn’t the case as tests should be reserved for the most crucial and sick patients.

If you’re recovering at home from a severe case of COVID-19 (or if you were previously hospitalized), your doctor might recommend staying in isolation longer.

So to sum it up — once a person meets certain criteria for a mild case of COVID-19 (aka: 10 days, no fever and symptoms have improved) then they can safely leave isolation.

Once you leave isolation, it’s worth repeating to continue practicing pandemic safety guidelines, which include: washing your hands, not touching your face, wearing a face mask and social distancing.

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– Infectious disease specialist Alan Taege, MD.

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