When to Retest After a Positive COVID-19 Test (2023)

If you've tested positive for COVID-19 and have isolated yourself for 10 days, there is no need for retesting if you have fully recovered.

If you are unable to isolate for the entire 10 days, you may opt for retesting, although it may not be necessary if you are fever-free for 24 hours and continue to wear a face mask as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This article explains when retesting after a positive COVID test may be appropriate and why the CDC does not recommend repeat testing for those who have recovered. It also explains how long you are contagious after testing positive for COVID, how long you can continue to remain positive, and when it may be reasonable to stop isolation if you are symptom-free.

When to Retest After a Positive COVID-19 Test (1)

Which Test Should I Use for COVID?

What Do I Do If I Test Positive for COVID?

The current CDC guidelines state that if a person tests positive for COVID, they need to isolate themselves at home for at least five days and take precautions for at least 10 days—regardless of vaccination status.

After five days, a person who does not have COVID symptoms can end isolation if they can still wear a well-fitting mask around other people for five more days.

People with mild symptoms should isolate for five days, starting when the symptoms came on. This helps ensure that their symptoms are improving and they are fever-free for 24 hours before they end isolation.

Even if their symptoms have improved on day five, they should continue wearing a well-fitting mask around other people for another five days.

Why the CDC Reduced COVID-19 Isolation to 10 Days

Do I Need to Test After I Have COVID?

At the end of five days, if a person has access to a COVID test and wants to test, they can. However, they do not need to test, and the test result will not change whether they still need to wear a mask around others for five more days.

The CDC recommends that you only test if you have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and your other symptoms have gotten better.

  • If the test result is negative, you can end isolation after day five and wear a mask around others until day 10.
  • If the test result is positive, continue to isolate until day 10.

No further testing is recommended—even if you tested positive on day five. Repeat testing after recovery from COVID is not required after 10 days of isolation.

What If I'm Immunocompromised or Very Sick?

The CDC's guidelines do not apply to moderately or severely ill people with COVID-19 or people with weakened immune systems.

Immunocompromised people should always isolate for at least 10 days. People who are severely sick may need to isolate for up to 20 days.

(Video) When Should You Retest For COVID-19?

If a person does not have access to repeat COVID testing after five days in isolation or does not want to retest, the CDC recommends they take precautions until day 10.

At-Home COVID Testing

If you have mild to moderate symptoms, you might do COVID testing and take care of yourself at home. The free at-home rapid COVID testing kits from the government have been discontinued but you can still buy at-home COVID testing kits.

Where to Find Affordable COVID Tests After the Free Kits Are Gone

How Long Will I Test Positive After Having COVID?

People might do repeat COVID testing because they think that getting another positive test result means that they are still contagious, even if they're feeling better.

However, many people continue to test positive for COVID even though they are not symptomatic or contagious. They may keep testing positive for COVID weeks or even months after they were sick.

Research has shown that with PCR tests, viral particles can be detected in most people as early as six days before COVID symptoms start and continue to show up until two weeks later.

While viral RNA can still be detected on a test, scientists have not been able to grow the live virus from collected specimens nine days after symptoms started.

That means that even though a person can continue to test positive for COVID, they are no longer contagious eight days after they started having symptoms.

How Long Will You Test Positive for COVID-19?

How Can Someone Test Positive for COVID and Not Be Infectious?

The best COVID-19 tests are the nucleic acid reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests. These tests make copies of viral genetic material in respiratory samples. The tests can take a single copy of viral RNA and amplify it to show a positive result.

(Video) COVID-19: When to Test and Re-Test

These tests are very good at detecting small amounts of viral material. However, the viral fragments do not indicate a live virus is present.

Just because the material is detected does not mean that the viral fragments will cause symptoms or be passed to others. The viral fragments can be detected for up to three months.

The FDA Wants You to Take More than One At-Home COVID Test

If I Keep Testing Positive for COVID Will I Become Contagious Again?

Repeat COVID infection makes the question of retesting a little more complicated.

People who have recovered from COVID get protective antibodies that help prevent the virus from replicating and infecting new cells. However, scientists do not fully understand the effectiveness of antibody protection or how long it lasts.

Some studies have suggested that neutralizing antibodies are present for at least six months, which means the risk of reinfection is low but not impossible.

Research has also shown that COVID reinfection is more likely in unvaccinated people. However, breakthrough COVID infections can also happen to fully vaccinated people.

Should I Retest If I've Recovered From COVID But Have Symptoms Again?

According to the CDC guidelines, testing is not recommended as part of a contact tracing program or new exposures within three months of a positive COVID test. During that time, a positive test result could be from the previous infection rather than a new infection.

However, the recommendation is different if a person experiences symptoms of COVID within that three months. In that case, repeat testing is recommended.

If the test is positive, a person should restart the five-day isolation period and follow the recommended guidelines.

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Can My Employer Require a Negative COVID Test Before I Can Return to Work?

Several workplaces have implemented COVID screening to help prevent the spread of the virus. The CDC advises employers on how to use testing strategies in non-healthcare settings.

However, the CDC does not recommend requiring a negative COVID test result before allowing employees to return to work.

(Video) After testing positive for COVID-19, when can I stop self-isolating?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers who put mandatory COVID testing of employees in place must make sure that the testing is job-related and consistent with a business necessity. The purpose of the program should be to identify current infections.

Is Your Company's COVID Vaccine Mandate Illegal?

What Does the CDC Recommend Employers Do About COVID Testing?

Based on the evidence of continued positive results for months after illness, the CDC recommends a time-based and symptom-based strategy for determining when an employee can return to work.

This strategy means that people should follow the CDC guidelines for five days of isolation and should not go back to work until symptoms improve or resolve.

According to the ADA, employers can require a healthcare provider’s note certifying fitness for duty after a COVID infection. However, health organizations have stressed that the requirement could be burdensome because many providers are too busy to provide fitness for duty documentation.

The CDC recommends that employers consider not requiring a provider’s note for employees to return to work. However, some employers do.

CDC Guidelines for Employers

Employers who have put regular COVID screenings in place will likely require repeat testing when employees come back to work. However, the ADA requires that employers follow current CDC guidelines for repeat testing and returning to work.

What You Need to Know About CDC's Updated COVID-19 Quarantine Guidelines

If I Continue to Test Positive for COVID, Does That Mean I Have Long COVID?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a clinical definition for post-COVID syndrome—also known as long COVID. The chronic condition has been seen in people:

  • With a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection
  • Who continue to have symptoms three months after the onset of initial symptoms or test positive for COVID
  • Who have symptoms lasting for at least two months
  • Whose symptoms cannot be explained by another diagnosis

The symptoms long COVID are being added to an ever-growing list, but some of the most commonly reported symptoms are:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Cognitive dysfunction or difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep problems
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in smell or taste
  • Changes in a person's menstrual cycle

Post-COVID-19 conditions like long COVID are clinical diagnoses. That means we do not have a specific test for them yet.

We do know that long COVID is not more common in people who continue to test positive for the virus.

A lot of what we know about long COVID came from the CDC when they looked at a small group of people to try to understand long COVID risk factors.

We're still learning about long COVID, including what makes a person more likely to get it. That said, there are a few factors that might make long COVID more likely:

(Video) Should I get retested after testing positive?

  • People hospitalized for the illness
  • Females
  • Black people
  • People aged 40 and older
  • People with preexisting health conditions

Who's Most at Risk of Long COVID?

Summary

The CDC does not recommend repeat COVID-19 testing for people who have recovered from the illness. Many people continue to test positive for months and are not contagious.

The CDC only says that people with mild illness can repeat the test to end isolation early on day five. However, people still need to wear a well-fitting mask until day 10.

The CDC does not recommend repeat testing for returning to work. Instead, workplaces should follow the CDC guidelines and use a time-based and symptom-based strategy for letting employees come back to work.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit ourcoronavirus news page.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it possible to be infected with 2 different COVID-19 variants at the same time?

    It's not common, but there have been case reports of people who have been diagnosed with two COVID variants at the same time.

  • Do I need to retest a positive COVID test for travel?

    You'll need to check the testing requirements for your destination. You may need to show a negative COVID test to enter a country or come back to the country you traveled from. If you test positive for COVID while you are traveling, you will need to follow the guidelines for isolation, testing, and treatment where you are.

    Learn More:CDC Drops COVID Test Requirement for Travelers

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Should You Get COVID Travel Insurance?

FAQs

How long will I test positive for Covid after having it? ›

If negative, multiple tests may be necessary. After a positive test result, you may continue to test positive for some time after. You may continue to test positive on antigen tests for a few weeks after your initial positive. You may continue to test positive on NAATs for up to 90 days.

Are you still contagious after 5 days of Covid? ›

Key takeaways:

People are most contagious with COVID-19 during the first 5 days of their illness. Many people don't have any symptoms during the first 2 to 3 days of their illness. This is why COVID-19 outbreaks are so hard to contain. On average, people are contagious for 5 to 10 days.

Can you retest after a positive Covid test? ›

I've tested positive for COVID-19 infection; how soon do I need to be tested again? Once you've tested positive for the virus, you do not need to be tested again for 90 days from symptom onset, if you became ill, or from the date of your positive test, if you remained asymptomatic.

How long are you contagious Omicron? ›

We know that people tend to be most infectious early in the course of their infection. With Omicron, most transmission occurs during the one to two days before onset of symptoms, and in the two to three days afterwards.

How long are you contagious with coronavirus? ›

If you have COVID-19, you can pass on the virus to other people for up to 10 days from when your infection starts. Many people will no longer be infectious to others after 5 days. You should: try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 5 days.

How long does Omicron symptoms last? ›

How long do omicron symptoms last? Most people who test positive with any variant of COVID-19 typically experience some symptoms for a couple weeks.

Can you get Covid twice? ›

Reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 means a person was infected, recovered, and then later became infected again. After recovering from COVID-19, most individuals will have some protection from repeat infections. However, reinfections do occur after COVID-19.

Can you test negative for Covid after 3 days? ›

One study from researchers at Johns Hopkins suggested that COVID-19 PCR tests conducted 3 to 5 days after a person is exposed that return a negative result shouldn't be relied on alone to gauge infection status, and that in addition, the clinical and epidemiologic situation should be carefully evaluated by health ...

Why do I keep testing positive for Covid? ›

Positive COVID-19 Test: A Sign of Viral Shedding

Viral shedding is the release of a virus as it multiplies inside your body. If you are shedding virus, it means you can pass it on and infect other people. Testing positive for COVID-19 is an indication of viral shedding.

How long test positive COVID Omicron? ›

During the Omicron BA. 1 period, 80.2% of symptomatic persons with COVID-19 returning for repeated testing were RAT–positive after 5 days, and 34.9% were still positive after 10 days, regardless of vaccine status.

Can you have COVID and test negative? ›

A negative result means it's likely you are not infectious. But a negative test is not a guarantee you do not have COVID-19 and there's still a chance you may be infectious. You should follow advice on how to avoid catching and spreading the virus.

Can you test negative for COVID and still be contagious? ›

You can have COVID-19 and spread it to others even if you do not have symptoms. Your COVID-19 test can be negative even if you are infected. Most people do not test positive for the virus until days after exposure. You may also be exposed to the virus afteryou are tested and then get infected.

How long are you contagious with mild COVID? ›

You are considered contagious from two days before your symptoms begin until 10 days after your symptoms began. If you have no symptoms, you are considered contagious beginning two days before your test sample was collected and until 10 days after your test sample was collected.

How long should I isolate with COVID? ›

If you were tested with no symptoms and had a positive test result, you can end your home isolation 14 days after the positive specimen was collected. After a 14-day home isolation period, you are considered to no longer be infectious, i.e. you are very unlikely to transmit infection to others.

How long does immunity last after COVID? ›

(2021). Naturally acquired SARS-CoV-2 immunity persists for up to 11 months following infection. The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

What does your throat feel like with Covid? ›

Well, it can feel exactly the same as a cold, according to Brian Curtis, MD, vice president of Clinical Specialty Services for OSF HealthCare. That makes it hard to tell the difference between a cold and a mild case of COVID. It's even harder to tell the difference knowing that sore throat is a COVID symptom.

Does Omicron start with a sore throat? ›

Compared to other SARS-CoV-2 variants, the Omicron variant is associated with generally less severe symptoms that may include fatigue, cough, headache, sore throat or a runny nose.

How do you treat Omicron at home? ›

Take proper rest and treat the mild symptoms at home and be in a strict self-quarantine for 7 days to avoid further spread. Currently, there are no specific drugs and medication are available to prevent or treat Omicron variant of COVID-19.

How do you get over Covid fast? ›

To care for yourself, follow these steps:
  1. Keep a daily routine, such as taking a shower and getting dressed.
  2. Take breaks from COVID-19 news and social media.
  3. Eat healthy meals and drink plenty of fluids.
  4. Stay physically active.
  5. Get plenty of sleep.
  6. Avoid use of drugs, tobacco and alcohol.

What does a faint line on a Covid test mean? ›

Two lines – even faint lines – indicate the test is positive. The test has failed and should be retaken. Negative result.

What if you're still testing positive after 10 days? ›

If a person continues to test positive on day six or beyond, or does not have access to lateral flow tests, we think they should remain in isolation until they've had two consecutive days with negative test results.

What happens if I still test positive for Covid? ›

If you have a positive coronavirus test result, try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 5 days after the day you took your test, or from the day your symptoms started (whichever was earlier). You should count the day after you took the test as day 1.

Why do I keep testing positive for Covid? ›

Positive COVID-19 Test: A Sign of Viral Shedding

Viral shedding is the release of a virus as it multiplies inside your body. If you are shedding virus, it means you can pass it on and infect other people. Testing positive for COVID-19 is an indication of viral shedding.

How long will I test positive for Covid UK? ›

If a person continues to test positive on day six or beyond, or does not have access to lateral flow tests, we think they should remain in isolation until they've had two consecutive days with negative test results. Or, they can leave isolation on the 10th day after their symptoms began.

Is it possible to have Covid and test negative? ›

However, false negatives can occur for a number of reasons, including people being tested too soon after exposure to the virus (which may not let enough of the virus build up to a level that is detectable), differences in how well the coronavirus is able to make copies of itself in one person compared to in another ...

Can U Get Covid back to back? ›

Reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 means a person was infected, recovered, and then later became infected again. After recovering from COVID-19, most individuals will have some protection from repeat infections. However, reinfections do occur after COVID-19.

What happens if I still test positive for Covid? ›

If you have a positive coronavirus test result, try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 5 days after the day you took your test, or from the day your symptoms started (whichever was earlier). You should count the day after you took the test as day 1.

How long does Omicron symptoms last? ›

How long do omicron symptoms last? Most people who test positive with any variant of COVID-19 typically experience some symptoms for a couple weeks.

When can I return to work after a positive Covid test UK? ›

If you have a positive COVID-19 test result, try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 5 days after the day you took your test.

Can you test negative for Covid and still be contagious? ›

You can have COVID-19 and spread it to others even if you do not have symptoms. Your COVID-19 test can be negative even if you are infected. Most people do not test positive for the virus until days after exposure. You may also be exposed to the virus afteryou are tested and then get infected.

Can I have Covid without a Fever? ›

Many people who are infected have more mild symptoms like a scratchy throat, stuffy or runny nose, occasional mild cough, fatigue, and no fever. Some people have no symptoms at all, but they can still spread the disease.”

Why is rapid test negative? ›

RATs may be negative in the early stage of infection, so those who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 should seek further testing and assessment immediately if their RAT is negative. Additional information: A negative rapid antigen test does not rule out COVID-19. Repeat the test 24-48 hours later.

How do you get over Covid fast? ›

To care for yourself, follow these steps:
  1. Keep a daily routine, such as taking a shower and getting dressed.
  2. Take breaks from COVID-19 news and social media.
  3. Eat healthy meals and drink plenty of fluids.
  4. Stay physically active.
  5. Get plenty of sleep.
  6. Avoid use of drugs, tobacco and alcohol.

Can you get Covid 3 times? ›

In fact, with the highly infectious omicron variant in circulation, it's becoming less unusual to have COVID-19 three times — or even four.

Videos

1. After testing positive for COVID-19, when can I stop self-isolating?
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2. WATCH: How long should I wait to go out after testing positive for coronavirus?
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3. How long can you test positive after a COVID-19 test?
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4. Here's how long to quarantine after testing positive for COVID
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5. CDC updates guidance on 5-day isolation if you test positive
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6. Ask a Nurse - COVID-19 Edition: I tested positive and finished isolation, should I re-test?
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