Have you recently experienced an episode of COVID-19, but are still testing positive despite federal isolation and masking recommendations? With the rapid expansion of the BA.5 subvariant, people can receive positive test results even longer than with other subvariants.
If you test positive after the period of isolation and mask use, does that mean you are still contagious?
Under current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who test positive for COVID-19 are advised to self-isolate for five days, when a person is considered most infectious. After that, if their symptoms have improved, they can leave the house, but must participate in strict mask use for another five days.
According to Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, the risk of spreading COVID decreases significantly after day 10, including for those with persistent symptoms.
“If you are generally feeling well, especially if what lingers is a cough or if a bit of a cough tends to be the last thing to go after a virus, you are unlikely to continue spreading the disease,” explained doctor.
A recent Boston University study found that only 17% of people were likely still infectious six days after their first positive test. A University of Chicago Medical Center study published earlier this year contradicts the CDC recommendations. It found that more than 40% of vaccinated healthcare workers still tested positive for COVID-19 five to 10 days after their symptoms started.
According to the CDC, data suggests that patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 remain infectious no longer than 10 days after symptom onset. People with severe to critical illness resulting from COVID infection are unlikely to be contagious 20 days after symptoms start.
People can still test positive months after contracting COVID-19, especially when using a PCR test.
“They keep picking up dead virus in your nose for sometimes weeks, but you can’t grow that virus in the lab,” Arwady previously said. “You can’t spread it, but it can be positive.”
After the 10 days are up, if you’re still not feeling well, Arwady recommends that you continue to wear a mask and take another COVID test.
“If it’s negative, that’s another piece of information that suggests you’re very unlikely to be contagious at this stage,” she said. “So, you know, no test is 100%, just like no vaccine is 100%. But these tests are pretty good…”