When Is It Safe To Be Around Someone Who Has Recovered From COVID-19?

You might be able to hang out again sooner than you think, depending on a few things.

Chances are, if you don't already, you will know someone who has had COVID-19. And if they're in your inner circle, it raises a question: When is it safe to be around someone who has had COVID-19?

First, a quick refresher: COVID-19 passes from person to person mainly through respiratory droplets and airborne particles—so when someone coughs, sneezes, talks, or even sings in close range to someone else, the other person risks being infected with the virus. From there, an infected person may or may not develop symptoms. Many people with COVID-19 can expect to develop symptoms within 2-14 days, with most developing symptoms by day five.

Depending on the severity of the illness, it can take a week or two to recover from mild illness or more than six weeks for more serious cases that may require hospitalization. Some people who had COVID-19—regardless of its severity—will experience new or ongoing symptoms that last weeks or months; this is considered "long COVID."

As of March 2022, for someone who's had close contact with a person who has COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) recommendations depend on the exposed person's immunity, either from vaccination or from having had the virus (natural immunity), as well as symptoms.

For example, if you were exposed to COVID-19 and are up-to-date on your vaccinations or if you had COVID-19 (and it was confirmed using a viral test) within the past 90 days, you do not have to quarantine. But you do need to watch for symptoms until 10 full days have passed since your exposure, and wear a mask for those 10 days when you're around other people, whether in your home or in public.

If you are not up-to-date on your vaccines (including not being vaccinated at all and never having the virus, or you had it more than 90 days ago) and you're exposed to COVID-19, the CDC recommends you quarantine for a full five days after the date of your exposure. During the five days of quarantine, it is recommended you wear a mask around others in your home and get tested at least five days after your exposure, whether you develop symptoms or not. The CDC also says you should take precautions until day 10 after exposure by wearing a mask inside your home or in public, and ideally, avoid traveling during those 10 days if possible.

If you test positive for COVID-19 or develop symptoms—regardless of vaccination status—the CDC says you should stay home (quarantine) for at least five days and isolate yourself from others in your home. If you have to be around others in your home, wear a mask. You can end isolation after five full days following your positive COVID-19 test (or onset of symptoms) as long as you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and your symptoms are improving.

If you tested positive and have no symptoms, you can end isolation after five full days. And like the other situations, you still want to take precautions through day 10 by wearing a mask in your home and out in public, and avoid traveling until those 10 days have passed.

Anyone who has been exposed to COVID-19—or tests positive—and has a weakened immune system or is considered at higher risk of severe illness, however, may need to isolate for at least 10 days, and should check with their doctor before ending isolation. And of course, anyone who is experiencing emergency symptoms of COVID-19 should call 911 immediately.

It's important to remember that people who recover from COVID-19 can still have some lingering symptoms, like difficulty breathing, fatigue, or persistent cough or headache, William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Health. "That doesn't mean they're contagious," said Dr. Schaffner. "Some people just take longer to restore themselves to physical wellbeing."

When someone is finally feeling well enough to start being around people again, it's also important to consider their comfort levels about being in public—and yours about being around them. That's why it's a good idea to at least have a conversation about your comfort levels in advance, said Dr. Schaffner.

"Some people are going to be a little extra careful for a while, and there is nothing wrong with that as long as the former patient knows that you're being a little extra careful," said Dr. Schaffner.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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