CHARLOTTE – We all know what happens when you suspect you might have COVID-19: you quarantine, and you likely get tested. But what happens next? Novant Health Physician Dr. Ray Feaster weighs in on when it’s safe to break your quarantine and what happens after you’ve recovered.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, have had close contact with someone who has tested positive, or has tested positive yourself, it’s important to self-quarantine to avoid spreading the virus. According to Dr. Feaster, the duration of that quarantine period depends on a few critical factors.
“If you have come in contact with a known positive, you can assume that you are positive and self-quarantine for 14 days,” says Feaster. Many people who have been in contact with someone who is COVID-positive will want to get tested themselves, recognizes Feaster, but it’s important to realize you may not get an accurate result immediately. “If you decide to get tested in order to come off quarantine sooner, it is important to wait at least 8 days after the exposure to ensure adequate time for an accurate test,” says Feaster.
If you yourself test positive, the length of your self-quarantine depends on whether you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. “If you yourself test positive and you are asymptomatic, you should self-quarantine for 10 days from the date of your positive test,” says Feaster. “If you are symptomatic, it should be 10 days from the day that symptoms began.” One critical symptom to track is fever: anyone experiencing fever should continue to quarantine until they are fever-free for 72 hours without medication, even if it extends their quarantine.
It’s tempting to get tested again after your quarantine period is over, but Feaster recommends against it. “We strongly discourage repeat testing after the quarantine period is up as the test could still remain positive, yet you are no longer contagious,” says Feaster. Repeat testing can not only be misleading but also places increased strain on an already taxed medical system. In fact, even in cases where an employer requires a doctor’s note to return to the office, the determining factor is not a negative test. “In that note, we specify that the patient has isolated for the required time and can return to work or school,” says Feaster. “Repeat testing is not needed.”
But what about so-called “long haulers” who experience lingering symptoms of COVID-19 for weeks or even months? Feaster is clear: once your quarantine period is over (based on the criteria specified above), you are safe to break your isolation. “Patients with prolonged symptoms are typically not contagious beyond the usual 14-day period as long as they are improving,” says Feaster. “If they are not improving, then they likely need additional or on-going medical attention.”
Although you are safe to break your isolation after the required quarantine period, it’s a mistake to assume that you are “safe” once you’ve had COVID-19. “Having been infected with COVID-19 previously does not provide immunity,” says Feaster definitively. “In fact, we have seen cases of re-infection.”
Exactly what happens regarding antibodies and immunity post-virus is still unclear. Many patients who have had COVID-19 do not develop detectable antibodies. Furthermore, the presence of COVID-19 antibodies is not proof of immunity as it’s unclear if the antibodies tested for are specific to COVID-19 or are related to other strains of coronavirus, like the ones that cause the common cold.
One thing is clear, though: after recovering from COVID-19, you should resume following all the cautionary measures we’ve become accustomed to in the past year. After you have completed your self-quarantine, you should resume normal masking and social distancing practices, and you should definitely still get vaccinated when you are eligible.
Despite clear guidance on the appropriate duration of quarantine to prevent infecting others, it has become somewhat commonplace to fear those who have recovered, avoiding them far longer than the recommended isolation period. “I have heard of several instances of ‘COVID-shaming’ or discrimination,” says Feaster. “It is based on unfounded fears and lack of knowledge,” she continues. “Once someone has completed their recommended quarantine period, isolation is no longer necessary. EVERYONE, however, should continue the universal precautions of masking, social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings.”
In closing, Dr. Feaster encourages everyone to remember that the effects of COVID are far-reaching and more than simply physical. “This pandemic has wreaked havoc on the mental health of many, including our elderly and children,” says Dr. Feaster. “Please be mindful of the value of counseling services, which can be offered virtually.”