Public Health

How long am I contagious with coronavirus COVID-19?

Mira Research Team18 Nov 2020

How long am I contagious with coronavirus COVID-19?


There is still a lot of unknown information about COVID-19; however, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released guidelines on when it is okay to begin seeing people again after having COVID-19.  

If you have COVID-19 or believe that you have COVID-19, the best thing to do is to isolate yourself immediately. You should self-isolate if you have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 or if you are experiencing symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19.

You may also want to get a PCR or antigen diagnostic test. See our article for more information on how long after exposure you should get a test for COVID-19. However, false-negative test results are positive, so a negative test result does not necessarily rule out the chance of having coronavirus. In this article, we outline guidelines to follow if you have COVID-19 or had close contact with an infected individual.


How contagious is coronavirus COVID-19? How long am I contagious for with coronavirus COVID-19?

Coronavirus is an infectious disease that is spread predominantly through respiratory droplets that are produced when we breathe, speak, sing, or cough. This virus is considered a highly contagious disease and appears to spread more easily than other viruses such as the flu. In addition, people who are asymptomatic can spread COVID-19 to others. 

Researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health explain how contagious COVID-19 may be. Public health experts use R0 to signify how many people someone with a specific virus will typically infect. 

For context, the R0 from the 1918 flu was estimated to be between 1.4 and 2.8. Researchers are now predicting the R0 for COVID-19 may be 5 or 6. This means that in some regions of the United States., each person with COVID-19 can infect 5-6 others.

Since COVID-19 is so contagious, it is very important to continue to wear cloth face coverings or face masks in public, avoid large gatherings, and practice social distancing. Most importantly, if you are feeling sick or have had close contact with someone who is positive for COVID-19 make sure to self-isolate. 




When can you be around others after having COVID-19? 

In general, you should self isolate for 10 days if you were positive for COVID-19 and 14 days if you had close contact with someone who had COVID-19. There is a 14 incubation period for the virus. In addition, if you have COVID-19 and then recover, getting two negative PCR tests in a row at least 24 hours apart is usually a sign that you are likely, not contagious.


When is coronavirus most contagious?

Researchers estimate people are the most contagious one to two days before symptoms onset. It's believed that coronavirus can be contagious between 48 and 72 hours before a person begins to experience symptoms. On average symptoms appear 5 days after becoming infected.

What if you test positive after recovering from COVID-19?

Even if you recovered from COVID-19, you may continue to test positive on a PCR test for 3 months. However, as long as you meet the criteria outlined below, the CDC reports that you will not be contagious. Studies show that the viral material being picked up on tests is not infectious.


If you think or know you had COVID-19 and experienced symptoms

If you experienced some of the symptoms of COVID-19, such as shortness of breath, fever, loss of taste, sore throat, or fatigue, the CDC recommends that you follow these guidelines. You can safely see others when you have met all three of the following criteria: 

  1. 10 days have passed since the onset of your first symptoms
  2. 24 hours have passed without having a fever (without using fever medication, such as Ibuprofen)
  3. Your symptoms are generally improving (other than a loss of taste or smell, which can persist for an extended period of time)

In order to protect your family, friends, and community members, you should follow these guidelines even if your COVID-19 test came back negative. 


If you tested positive for COVID-19 but didn’t have symptoms

If you tested positive for COVID-19, but you are not experiencing symptoms, you should follow these guidelines: 

  1. You may resume seeing people after 10 days have passed since your first positive test result
  2. If you begin to experience symptoms, follow the guidelines in the section above, meaning that you need to wait 10 days since your symptoms first appear before seeing anyone


If you were very ill with COVID-19 or have a severely weakened immune system (immunocompromised) due to a health condition or medication

If you get very ill with COVID-19, you may need to self-isolate for up to 20 days to ensure that you can safely interact with others. In these situations, it is best to reach out to a health care provider or your local health department to assist in this decision-making.  

If you do not regularly see a health care provider, a membership with Mira may be able to help. For only $25/month, you will get discounted rates for urgent care visits, laboratory testing, and prescriptions. If you get a membership with Mira, you can make an appointment with a physician at an urgent care facility to talks about your safest plan after having COVID-19. 


If you’ve been around a person with COVID-19

 If you were exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, it is important that you self-isolate for 14 days after your most recent exposure. Even if you get a negative test result, it is best to stay home for two weeks if possible. 

The following people are exempt from this recommendation: those who had COVID-19 in the past three months, fully recovered, and are not experiencing any symptoms. 


If you are a healthcare professional

Healthcare professionals should follow all of the aforementioned guidelines if symptomatic, asymptomatic, or exposed to COVID-19. 


Is COVID-19 more contagious in the winter months? 

Most viruses, such as the flu, are more contagious in the winter for a few reasons: 

  1. We spend more time indoors in close proximity to others
  2. We have less vitamin D intake
  3. Cold air may be more conducive to the spread of viruses

In addition, this winter we will not only be dealing with coronavirus but the common cold and flu as well. Read our article for more information on differentiating between the flu, a cold, and coronavirus. 



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