As more children remain in classrooms across Chicago and omicron cases continue to surge through the city, people are asking how long they’ll be contagious after contracting COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance last month, shifting the timing for isolation and quarantine as some experts say the time frame when people are most contagious is earlier.
“It is taking less time from when someone is exposed to COVID to potentially develop infection. It is taking less time to develop symptoms, it is taking less time that someone may be infectious and it is, for many people, taking less time to recover. A lot of that is because many more people are vaccinated,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said the changes from the CDC come as “the omicron variant continues to spread throughout the U.S. and reflects the current science on when and for how long a person is most infectious.”
So what is the period where someone with COVID is most contagious?
Here’s what we know.
When Are People with COVID Most Contagious?
The CDC says that its guidelines were updated to reflect growing evidence that suggests transmission of COVID-19 often occurs one to two days before the onset of symptoms and during the two to three days afterward.
“This has to do with data from the CDC that really showed after seven days there’s virtually no risk of transmission at this point,” Arwady said. “And in that five-to-seven-day window, you know, there’s some depending on whether people have been vaccinated, underlying conditions, etc., but the risk drops a lot and the feeling is that in the general population, combined with masking, etc. the risk really is very low.”
For those without symptoms, CDC guidance states they are considered contagious at least two days before their positive test.
When is the Best Time to Get Tested After Exposure?
The CDC states that anyone who may have been exposed to someone with COVID should test five days after their exposure, or as soon as symptoms occur.
“If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19,” the guidance states.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said that incubation times could be changing, but those who test early should continue testing even if they get negative results.
“We might be learning that the time of incubation might be a little shorter. So maybe you’d be testing at two days,” Ezike said. “Obviously if you’re symptomatic, you test right away. But you know, if you want to test at two days, but that negative test… the two days should not make you think, ‘Oh good, I’m clear,’ you know? You might want to test again and of course symptoms you cannot ignore – scratchy throat, headaches, all kinds of symptoms – anything new can be a symptom of this new illness.”
How Soon Might Symptoms Appear?
According to earlier CDC guidance, COVID symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after someone is exposed to the virus.
Anyone exhibiting symptoms should get tested for COVID-19.
How Long Should you Quarantine or Isolate?
First things first, those who believe they have been in contact with someone who has COVID and are unvaccinated should quarantine. Those who test positive, regardless of vaccination status, must isolate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s the difference between the two:
Those who have been within six feet of someone with COVID for a cumulative total of at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period should quarantine for five days if unvaccinated, or if they are more than six months out from their second vaccine dose, according to updated CDC guidance issued Monday.
Once that period ends, they should partake in strict mask use for an additional five days.
Previously, the CDC said people who were not fully vaccinated and who came in close contact with an infected person should stay home for at least 10 days.
Prior to Monday, people who were fully vaccinated — which the CDC has defined as having two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — could be exempt from quarantine.
Those who are both fully vaccinated and boosted do not need to quarantine if they are a close contact of someone with COVID, but should wear a mask for at least 10 days after exposure. The same goes for those who are fully vaccinated and not yet eligible for their booster shot.
Local health authorities can also make the final determination about how long a quarantine should last, however, and testing can play a role.
Illinois’ health department said it will adopt the CDC revised guidelines on isolation and quarantine for COVID.
In Chicago, those who travel to or from certain parts of the country and are unvaccinated must…