How Long Are You Contagious With COVID-19? Here's What to Know as BA.5 Subvariant Circulates

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Have you recently experienced a bout of COVID-19, but are still testing positive despite following federal recommendations for isolation and masking? With the quickly-spreading BA.5 subvariant expanding, people may be receiving positive test results even longer than with other subvariants.

If you get a positive test result after the isolation and mask-use period, does that mean you're still contagious?

Under the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, people who test positive for COVID-19 are advised to isolate for five days, when a person is said to be the most contagious. After that, if their symptoms have improved, they can leave home, but must partake in strict mask use for an additional five days.

According to Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, the risk of spreading COVID drops significantly after Day 10, including for those who have lingering symptoms.

"If you're mostly feeling well, especially if what is still kind of lingering is a cough or a little bit of cough tends to be the last thing to go away after any virus, it is unlikely that you are still spreading disease," the doctor explained.

A recent Boston University study revealed that just 17% of people were likely still contagious six days after their first positive tests. A University of Chicago Medical Center study published earlier this year contradicted CDC recommendations. It found more than 40% of vaccinated health care workers still tested positive for COVID-19 five to 10 days after their symptoms began.

According to the CDC, data suggests patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 remain infectious no longer than 10 days after symptom onset. Those with severe-to-critical illness stemming from a COVID infection likely aren't infectious 20 days after symptoms first begin.

People can still test positive months after contracting COVID-19, especially when using a PCR test.

"They keep picking up dead virus in your nose for sometimes for weeks, but you can't grow that virus in the lab," Arwady previously said. "You can't spread it but it can be positive."

After the 10 days have passed, if you still don't feel well, Arwady recommends you continue to wear a mask and take another COVID test.

"If it is negative, that's another piece of information that suggests you're very unlikely to be contagious at that point," she said. "So, you know, no test is 100% just like no vaccine is 100%. But those tests are pretty good..."

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