When you have covid, here’s how you know you are no longer contagious

(Paul Hanna/Bloomberg)
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Update: This article was updated Aug. 11 with revised guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

You’ve got covid-19. When can you exit isolation? If you do resume activities outside your home, can you be sure you’re no longer contagious?

It’s complicated. Be forewarned: Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are nuanced but a little confusing.

On Aug. 11, those guidelines were reissued by the CDC, and there are some new wrinkles — as we’ll explain below — but one thing did not change: You do not need a negative coronavirus test to exit isolation. This has been a contentious issue. Several infectious-disease experts said they believe patients with covid should have a negative antigen test — which gives results within minutes — before exiting isolation. The CDC continues to leave that as an option and does not explicitly recommend it.

The important thing to consider, experts say, is that every person and every case of covid is unique. There is no hard-and-fast rule for how sick a person will get or how long a person remains infectious. The guidelines offer a general framework, but patients should take into account their circumstances, priorities and resources to assess risk.

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