When Is It Safe to Be Around Someone Who’s Recovered from COVID-19?

Experts say most people are not contagious 10 days after a positive COVID-19 test. Getty Images
  • New guidelines from the CDC say people can leave isolation after having COVID-19 for 5 days if they wear a mask.
  • The guidelines also say a person can resume their regular routine 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19.
  • Experts say people are usually not contagious 10 days after a positive COVID-19 test.
  • Experts add that you should take into consideration if people are vaccinated and if there are any individuals at high risk in your social circle when making plans for a gathering.

It’s a question being asked in homes across the United States and the rest of the world: When is it safe again to be near someone who’s had COVID-19?

Like other infectious diseases, recovery time can vary from person to person. But experts recommend people follow the recently updated guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“According to the recent revision of the CDC guidelines, if someone has had COVID-19, they can, after 5 days, come out of isolation and put on a mask,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, told Healthline.

“It’s based on the data now solidly accumulated, that one sheds the most virus for the day or two preceding illness, and then for the first couple, or maybe three, days of the illness when you’re most symptomatic,” he added.

Under the guidelines, those who have presumed or confirmed COVID-19 must stay at home in isolation for 5 full days, with the day zero being the first day symptoms appeared or the day of a positive test for those without symptoms.

Following the 5-day isolation period, they may leave their home but must wear a mask for an additional 5 days.

Experts say the change from 10 days isolation makes sense, given most people are no longer infectious with COVID-19 at 10 days.

“The first day of infection if they’re asymptomatic… there’s a 60 percent transmission risk, whereas at 5 days, there’s about a 10 to 20 percent transmission risk. So it decreases over time,” said Dr. Dean Blumberg, the chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of California Davis.

“The 10 days that the CDC was originally using was a relatively conservative estimate. And for the vast majority of people, they weren’t infectious after 10 days,” he added. “Shortening it to 5 days with the recommendation then to mask when you’re around others after that… that will mitigate risk of further transmission,” he added.

Gauging the situation

Schaffner said the guidelines are reasonable, but also rely on people doing the right thing and wearing a mask.

“The CDC guidelines in this regard are pretty solid. They reduce the risk very substantially of transmission, and also permit individuals wearing a mask to go back out into the world and engage in normal activity. It really depends on the person wearing the mask,” he said.

“Now, if you were in the circumstance where you were trying to protect one or more people who had extraordinarily high risk of serious disease — older [adults], people with diabetes, lung disease, people who are immunocompromised — you might… want to be more cautious than that,” Schaffner added.

Blumberg said people may need to adjust their plans to gather and socialize because of the Omicron variant.

“People need to re-evaluate their current activities during this time… especially with such an intense transmission. And, of course, we’ve all deferred so much for so many for so long that it’s hard to continue deferring. So it’s a difficult balancing act,” he said.

Knowing the vaccination status of visitors or friends and family, or asking for everyone to take a rapid antigen test (RAT) may help you stay safe during the Omicron surge.

“(RATs) can be quite useful for individuals who want that extra reassurance that they’re not infectious to others. When you’re gathering together, when you’re not going to be masked because you’re eating or drinking, that is a time when you’re relatively high risk for transmitting to others and even people with asymptomatic carriage may transmit,” Blumberg said.  

The CDC advises that, when planning social events, it’s best to consider meeting outdoors or in well ventilated spaces. Staying 6 feet apart and wearing masks also help to avoid transmission.

While masks are not generally required outdoors, the CDC says people should consider wearing them in areas with high levels of COVID-19, in crowded outdoors situations, or in situations that involve close contact with people who haven’t been fully vaccinated.

Schaffner said the approach with social interactions varies based on whether those involved have been vaccinated or not.

“We can interact with each other, being mindful. The big divide is vaccination. I would not want to be within 10 feet of an unvaccinated person… Since we have people in our family who are at high risk, I don’t want to be the vehicle of bringing home that virus to them. An individual’s vaccination status is key,” he said.

Schaffner suggested establishing some ground rules before having a gathering. That may involve ensuring that only those who are vaccinated attend or agreeing to wear masks.

“Establish the ground rules in a very nice declarative fashion, and put it in the context of the current hazard,” he said.

“I’m quite straightforward. If you’re running some sort of group gathering of any kind, whether it’s religious, business, or just recreational and family, I would not allow unvaccinated people to attend,” Schaffner added.

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