well·4 min read

How Long Will I Test Positive For COVID After Recovery — And Other Post-COVID Things to Know

Woman Taking COVID Test at Home
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
Jun 6, 2022

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition.

It’s the final countdown. You’re getting close to the end of your isolation after a bout of COVID-19, but after all this time dealing with the virus…What’s next? When can you stop isolating and rejoin the world? How long should you plan to wear a mask? And what do you need to know about long COVID? We broke down what you need to know about your post-COVID journey. And what to do if symptoms stick around longer than expected. 

I had COVID, but I’m feeling better. When can I stop isolating? 

According to the CDC, you can feel comfortable ending your quarantine or isolation from others if: 

  • At least five days have passed since your symptoms started. 

  • Your symptoms are improving at a consistent rate (note: not including symptoms like loss of taste and smell, which might last for a few weeks or months).

  • 24 hours have passed since you’ve had a fever (and you haven’t used any fever-reducing medications in that timeframe).

If you have a severe case of COVID-19 or have a weakened immune system, it’s better to be cautious — the CDC recommends extending the isolation time for people in these situations for at least 20 days

But if you were sick with COVID, recovered and then your symptoms returned, all within three months? Then it’s recommended to take an antigen test. If it comes back positive, turn that isolation timer back up to 10 days, then test again.

If you’re still unsure (or if you’re immunocompromised), consult with your doctor before ending your isolation. And if your COVID symptoms seem to get worse, seek medical attention right away. 

Do I have immunity to COVID-19 now?

Research shows that after recovering from COVID-19, you can have immunity that lasts at least six months. But that doesn’t mean that you can never get the virus again. So it’s important to continue to take the necessary precautions to keep you and others safe (think: get vaccinated, wash your hands thoroughly, and wear a mask indoors in public areas with a high COVID-19 Community Level).

How long will I test positive for COVID after recovery?

Usually, you can expect to test positive on an antigen or rapid test for up to 10 days. But if you’re using a PCR test, you could test positive for much longer — weeks or even months after infection. According to the CDC, people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 can have “detectable SARS-CoV-2 RNA” in their body for up to three months after the initial infection. But most of these individuals are likely not infectious after the first 10 days if they’re no longer showing symptoms.

Do I still need to wear a mask? 

The short answer: yes. You can stop isolating after five days as long as you wear a mask around others for an additional five days. You can take an antigen test after the five-day mark. If the test comes back negative and you’ve had no fever for at least 24 hours, you can stop masking. But if the test comes back positive, it’s recommended to isolate for another five days and try again.

What do I need to know about long COVID?

Some people who have COVID can experience long-term effects, known as long COVID or post-COVID conditions. Symptoms can include post-exertional malaise (read: symptoms that get worse after expending mental or physical effort), heart palpitations and brain fog (think: slow or sluggish thinking). These symptoms are mostly seen in people who had severe cases of COVID but can affect anyone who has had the virus — even those with mild cases or no symptoms.

Long COVID symptoms can first be identified at least four weeks after infection. But some symptoms people experience can stem from other health problems they may have. Which can make it harder for healthcare providers to identify long COVID in patients. 

The CDC has said that there isn’t a single test yet for post-COVID conditions or long COVID symptoms. And that those who weren’t vaccinated for COVID and got sick are more at risk compared to those who were vaccinated. A recent study shows that vaccinated people are 50% less likely to have long COVID compared to unvaccinated people. Talk to your doctor if you feel that you’re experiencing long COVID symptoms. 

theSkimm

We know you’re ready to get back into the swing of things after your COVID-19 experience. But while your symptoms might be gone, you may still test positive for a while. Knowing how long to isolate and when to mask up can help keep you and others safe as you recover. So pay attention to how your body feels throughout your recovery. And be on the lookout for signs of long COVID so you can talk to your doctor if your symptoms don’t subside. 

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