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How Long Do You Have to Quarantine After Getting COVID?

Man wearing a face mask looking at the window
by: Adam Singfield
January 10, 2024

After having tested positive for COVID-19 or when you start to develop symptoms, understanding the duration of quarantine helps so you can effectively manage the spread of the virus.

In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss everything you need to know regarding quarantine periods, testing recommendations, incubation periods and guidelines for exposure and isolation.

How long after COVID exposure could symptoms appear?

The onset of symptoms following exposure to COVID-19 can vary from person to person. Some people may even remain asymptomatic but still carry and transmit the virus.

According to studies, the average incubation period for COVID-19 is approximately five to six days, but it can range from one to 14 days. Symptoms may start to show within this time frame, but this depends on your immune system.

You may test negative during the incubation period if you don’t develop symptoms. Still, you may also get a positive test result when tested with a molecular test even before symptoms start to appear.

When should you get a COVID test?

If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, getting tested is an essential step in preventing further transmission.

Ideally, it’s recommended to get tested four to 14 days after exposure, as this allows sufficient time for the virus to replicate within your body and for accurate test results.

However, if you develop symptoms earlier, get tested as soon as possible, even before the recommended window. Knowing your infection status helps you to think of the next steps.

What is the incubation period for COVID, and how long are you contagious?

The incubation period of COVID-19 refers to the time between viral exposure and the onset of symptoms. As mentioned earlier, the average incubation period is around five to six days, but it can range from one to 14 days. However, those infected with COVID-19 can be contagious even before symptoms appear.

Research suggests that viral shedding can occur one to two days before symptom onset and can continue for up to 10 to 12 days after symptom onset. This highlights the significance of adhering to isolation guidelines to prevent further transmission.

Exposure and isolation guidelines

The isolation period depends on:

  • Your test results
  • The symptom onset
  • Health
  • Vaccination status

The discussion in this section is based on the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you were exposed but have no symptoms

If you got exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID but you show no symptoms, there’s no need to self-isolate. According to the CDC, fully vaccinated individuals who received booster shots only need to wear a mask around others for ten days and get tested five days after the exposure.

If you test positive for COVID, proceed to isolation. Moreover, if you start to develop symptoms, stay home and get tested. You can order antigen tests online from a reputable and trusted source or go to the testing center and have an antigen test or a PCR test.

On the other hand, if you’re unvaccinated or have not received a booster shot, you must stay home for five days and get tested. If you test negative, discontinue isolation but continue to wear a mask around other people for another five days. It should take two negative tests to rule out the disease when using self-test antigen tests.

Tested positive without symptoms

You should start counting your isolation period on the day after you got tested and end isolation after five days. If you develop symptoms within ten days of when you were tested, the clock restarts at day zero on the day of symptom onset.

A woman holding a positive covid 19 test

Tested positive with symptoms

Your day zero of isolation should be the day of symptom onset, regardless of the date you tested positive. If your symptoms resolve and you are fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication, you can end isolation after five days.

If you still experience symptoms after five days, continue the isolation period until you stop developing a fever for at least 24 hours.

Moreover, patients who develop a moderate illness or severe disease after testing positive test should complete the 10-day isolation. If you have a weakened immune system, consult your healthcare provider about the best measures to take.

Do you need to test out of isolation?

Generally, you can discontinue isolation after completing the recommended isolation period and once your symptoms have improved without the need for testing.

In certain situations, sequential negative test results may be required, but this varies depending on factors such as vaccination status, the severity of illness, and healthcare provider advice.

What should you do after quarantine or isolation?

After completing the recommended quarantine or isolation period, continue following preventative measures to minimize the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19.

Here are some key actions to take after quarantine or isolation.

Wear a well-fitting mask. Regardless of vaccination status or viral test results, it’s advisable to continue wearing a well-fitting mask when you are around others, especially in situations where maintaining physical distance is challenging. Wearing a mask acts as an additional barrier to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets that may contain the virus.

Practice good hand hygiene. Continue practicing regular handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating, after using the restroom and after being in public places. If soap and water aren’t readily available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.

Maintain physical distance. While the risk of transmission may be lower after completing quarantine or isolation, it’s still important to maintain physical distance from others, when possible, especially when around individuals with a high risk of developing a severe illness. Avoid crowded spaces and close contact with individuals who are sick or displaying symptoms.

Follow local guidelines and CDC recommendations. Stay updated with the latest guidelines and recommendations from local health authorities and the CDC. These guidelines may vary depending on the prevalence of COVID-19 in your area and changes in the overall situation.

Monitor your health. Even after completing quarantine or isolation, it is essential to monitor your health closely. If you develop any new symptoms or if existing symptoms persist or worsen, contact your healthcare provider for guidance and possibly get tested again.

Key takeaway

The question of whether or not you need to self-isolate depends on different factors, such as your vaccination status and infection status.

As the guidelines are continually changing, keep updated with the latest reports from your local authorities.

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