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If you test positive for COVID-19 or are exposed

COVID-19 cases are once again rising, and the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which appears to spread more quickly than previous variants but results in milder disease, is fueling the surge.

The rising number of cases has led to a slew of questions about the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, including what to do if you test positive for the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for how long people should quarantine or isolate after a possible exposure to COVID-19 or if they test positive for SARS-CoV-2 in general, the CDC recommends people isolate for at least five days after they test positive. If after day five their symptoms are improving or they have remained asymptomatic, they can leave isolation and wear a mask around others, the CDC says.

Boosted and recently vaccinated people do not need to stay at home if they are possibly exposed to the coronavirus but should wear a mask for 10 days. People who are unvaccinated or have gone more than six months since receiving an mRNA vaccine or two months since the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should stay at home for at least five days and then wear a mask around others for five additional days, the CDC says.

The CDC. Dr. Rochelle Walensky has said the guidelines come amid changing understanding of the virus’s transmissibility and the rise in omicron cases. We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science, she said Dec. 27 in Michigan, the state health department said it wouldn’t be following the relaxing guidelines, and the White House’s top adviser on the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the CDC was very well aware of the pushback. Fauci is head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, separate from the CDC.

How long is someone contagious after they test positive for COVID-19?

The exact amount of time someone is contagious after a positive test can vary depending on a number of factors – such as whether they are symptomatic or how long after exposure they tested positive.

The CDC says most transmission of the coronavirus occurs within one to two days before the onset of symptoms and two to three days after in an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Walensky said that 80% to 90% of a person’s transmissibility is believed to occur within that five-day period before symptom onset and after.

When is the best time to test for the coronavirus after symptoms start?

The CDC says that if you develop symptoms, get tested immediately and isolate until you receive the results. If you do not develop symptoms, the CDC says, you should test at least five days after exposure. While testing before or after may still detect the presence of the coronavirus, five days after exposure is the optimal time, according to the CDC.

A negative antigen test, however, should be presumptive in most cases, the CDC says, and may require additional confirmation. Antigen tests work best when a person’s viral load is highest, meaning a test early on in an infection or at a later stage may lead to a negative result, according to the CDC. If someone receives a negative antigen test early on an infection, they may be contagious later and would test positive.

Molecular PCR tests are more sensitive and can detect traces of the virus over a longer period during the course of an infection. They are part of a larger class of tests called nucleic acid amplification tests, or NAATs. Though some PCR tests can be performed at home, most are administered at clinics, doctors’ offices, hospitals or large-scale testing sites.

What does a COVID-19 positive self-test result mean?

If someone tests positive for the coronavirus, regardless of vaccination status, the CDC says they should stay home and isolate for at least five days. After five days, if that person remains asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving, they can leave home if they wear a mask around others to reduce the risk of transmission, the CDC says.

CDC guidance before the late December update said people who were positive should isolate for 10 days starting on the first full day after developing symptoms.

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