(NEXSTAR) – So you’ve got the coronavirus. No matter if you’re feeling normal, awful or somewhere in between, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it’s time to cancel your plans and stay home.
But the CDC guidelines, which have changed recently, can be confusing. Here’s what you need to know.
When do you need to start isolating?
You should begin isolating when you start to experience COVID-19 symptoms or when you test positive, whichever is sooner.
Even people who are asymptomatic need to isolate if they test positive.
If you have symptoms but haven’t gotten your test results back, you should still start your isolation, according to CDC guidelines.
When isolating, you should stay in a separate room from other people in your household and use a separate bathroom, if possible. If you need to be around members of your family, the CDC says to wear a mask.
How long do you need to isolate?
Isolation should last five full days, the CDC says. The countdown starts on the day after you had symptoms.
“To calculate your 5-day isolation period, day 0 is your first day of symptoms. Day 1 is the first full day after your symptoms developed. You can leave isolation after 5 full days,” the CDC says.
If you never developed symptoms but tested positive, your countdown starts the day you were tested.
When can you end isolation? What do you do after?
If you tested positive but you were never sick, you can end isolation after five days.
If you were sick, you can end isolation when:
- You haven’t had a fever for 24 hours (without using a fever suppressant like ibuprofen or Tylenol)
- AND your other symptoms are getting better (The exception is the loss of smell and taste because that can last weeks or months, and doesn’t necessarily mean you’re contagious.)
After five days, if you’re still feeling sick, wait until you’ve met the above criteria to leave isolation, the CDC says.
In both cases, after the five-day isolation period ends, the CDC says you can re-enter the world. However, you should wear a mask anytime you’re around other people, including members of your household.
A health order issued Jan. 3 by the County of San Diego goes beyond the CDC guidelines to state that both asymptomatic and symptomatic people should remain in isolation until a PCR or antigen test, taken on day five or later, is negative. It also states that for asymptomatic individuals, a mask should be worn for 10 days after their first positive test. For symptomatic individuals, a mask should be worn for 10 days after their first symptoms.
Do you need a negative COVID test to end isolation?
Given the shortage of at-home test kits and scarce appointments at testing sites, the CDC isn’t currently requiring a negative test to end isolation. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said they are considering adding such a requirement in the future.
On Tuesday, the CDC altered its isolation guidelines to suggest a test for whoever can access one:
“If an individual has access to a test and wants to test, the best approach is to use an antigen test towards the end of the 5-day isolation period.”
If you do test positive, keep isolating until day 10. If you test negative, you can leave isolation after the fifth day.
The CDC recommends using an antigen test, like a rapid at-home test kit, to see if you’re no longer contagious. That’s because highly sensitive PCR tests, which are processed in labs, may continue to show positive test results weeks or months after you’ve recovered.
Are there people who need to isolate longer than five days?
The CDC notes people who get severely ill with and those who are immunocompromised may need to stay home and away from others longer. If that applies to you, the agency suggests talking to your doctor to see when you should end isolation.