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

(Paul Hanna/Bloomberg)

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.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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