Is Only A 5 Day Isolation Safe If You Have COVID-19?

For two years, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that those with COVID-19 should isolate for 10 days. Now, that recommendation has changed. Recently, new guidance was issued, changing the quarantine period to only 5 days. Research has given further clarity into how COVID-19 is transmitted, now showing that transmission happens far earlier during infection, according to the CDC.

However, not all health experts agree. For example, the National Nurses United (NNU) union released a press release expressing its extreme dissatisfaction with the new guidance, saying that the shortened isolation period would spread the Omicron variant faster. However, the research provided by the CDC shows that infection more or less peaks just before the onset of symptoms, meaning that a negative antigen test signifies that the infection has ended. With these varying opinions, you may be wondering if 5-day isolation is safe if you have COVID-19.

Research concludes that the new guidelines are safe

The new guidance suggests that those with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days. If symptoms are resolving — defined as having no fever for 24 hours — you can stop isolating and wear a mask for 5 days around others, explains the CDC. This recommendation was based on a 2020 review published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which looked at over 100 studies. Researchers concluded that, in general, the contagiousness of people ranges from two to three days before the onset of symptoms and eight days after symptoms emerge.

Other research supports the CDC's recommendation. A 2022 study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases tracked COVID-positive students who were instructed to do daily swabbing and symptom screening for 10 days. Researchers found that the majority of the students no longer tested positive after 5 days, although 17% were still positive — all of whom were fully vaccinated. Masking was considered vitally important by the research team, considering the 92 students who remained positive after five days.