There’s New Advice about Testing and Quarantine: What Do You Need to Know
This information is current as of this posting. For the latest recommendations and guidance, see What to do if you are Sick or Possibly Exposed webpage.
There is new national guidance about COVID-19 isolation and exposure and new recommendations about at-home COVID testing. So what do you need to know if you are exposed or get sick? Here’s a closer look at some of the updates.
The CDC updated its exposure and isolation guidance
If you are exposed to (come into close contact with) a person with COVID-19, you should wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask when around others for 10 full days after the exposure. You should also get tested for COVID-19 at least 5 days after the exposure.
NOTE: The CDC no longer recommends quarantining at home if you were exposed to someone with COVID-19. Quarantine is different from isolation. It is still recommended that those sick with COVID-19 isolate at home away from others.
If you test positive for COVID-19, you should stay home and away from others for at least 5 full days after your symptoms began (the date you started to feel sick being day 0); if you never have symptoms, day 0 would be the date you took your test. You may leave isolation on day 6, but must wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask when around others in public or in your home through day 10.
If you experience moderate or severe symptoms when you are sick (e.g., experienced difficulty breathing, needed to be hospitalized) or are immunocompromised, you should isolate for 10 full days. Those that experienced severe illness and those that are immunocompromised should consult with a doctor prior to ending their isolation.
On August 11, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it is encouraging repeat testing for those who have been exposed and who had a negative at-home COVID test result, regardless of whether you have COVID symptoms.
By now, many of us have likely used an at-home antigen test at some point during the course of the pandemic. This kind of test detects proteins, called antigens, from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It can be self-administered at home and results are ready within 15-30 minutes.
There’s no arguing that these tests are often more convenient and accessible. However, they are less accurate than molecular (PCR) tests that you would get at a clinic or pharmacy, which return lab-analyzed results.
The FDA based these new recommendations on the latest study results from people with likely Omicron infection showing that repeat testing after a negative at-home test result increases the chance of an accurate result.
So what should I do if I test negative?
If you plan to use at-home COVID tests, be sure to have several tests on hand so you can test more than once. The FDA recommends people use multiple tests over a certain period, ideally 48 hours apart.
If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19, take at least three antigen tests in a row (waiting 48 hours in between each test). If all three are negative, you most likely do not have COVID at that time. It is important, however, to continue masking and monitoring for symptoms for the full 10 days after your exposure as it is possible that you may become sick within those 10 days.
PHMDC recommends anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms isolate and get a PCR test. If you are unable to, you should contact your primary care provider. Anyone experiencing symptoms may also choose to use the serial at-home testing method outlined by the FDA.
Visit At-Home OTC COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests for a list of all FDA-authorized home tests and for more information about who can use a test and for what ages.