They should meet these three criteria before you even think about hanging out again.
As COVID-19 continues to spread across the US, the odds are increasing that you’ll know at least one person who's had the virus—and if they’re in your inner circle it raises a huge 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—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 those droplets. From there, if a person becomes infected with coronavirus, they can expect to develop symptoms within 11 days—and, depending on the severity of the illness, it can take at least two weeks to fully recover (for a mild case), or more than six weeks to fully recover for more serious cases that may require hospitalization.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, knowing when it's safe to be around someone who recently had COVID-19 depends a lot on symptoms—particularly the absence of them. While every situation is different—and the CDC recognizes this—the agency says it's safe for those who have had COVID-19 to be around others when they can meet all three criteria:
- They haven’t had a fever for three days.
- Their respiratory symptoms (like a cough and shortness of breath) have improved.
- It’s been 10 days since their symptoms started.
It's important to remember, however, that people who recover from COVID-19 can still have some lingering symptoms, like difficulty breathing, fatigue, or a persistent cough or headache, William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Health. “That doesn’t mean they’re contagious,” he says. “Some people just take longer to restore themselves to physical wellbeing.”
In other cases, if a person tested positive for COVID-19 but didn’t have symptoms, the CDC says can be around other people after 10 days have passed since they took the test.
Regardless of whether they showed symptoms or not, those who have previously had COVID-19 may want to get tested again to see if they still have the virus (if testing is readily available), the CDC says. In that situation, it’s considered OK for them to be around others if they receive two negative test results in a row, at least 24 hours apart—this is also the suggested action for immunocompromised people who have had COVID-19 who may experience symptoms for more than 10 days.
These recommendations are for all kinds of contact—even close contact like hugging or kissing (as long as they meet the CDC's criteria for being symptom-free for that specific period of time) is "generally considered OK," Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Health. "You don't necessarily have to change your behavior, as long as they pass out of that infectious period," he says.
Just a reminder, though: You still need to wear a mask and practice social distancing as much as possible when you're out in public at all—being previously infected with COVID-19 doesn't necessarily give you a free pass to disobey current recommendations, epidemiologist Supriya Narasimhan, MD, division chief of infectious diseases and medical director of infection prevention at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, in California, previously told Health. “It’s important that all of us—including those who have recovered from COVID-19—maintain these safety precautions until we stop the spread of this pandemic," he said.
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, Dr. Shaffner says.
“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,” he says. “Have those conversations so that that the patient, who has probably been feeling pretty well for a while, doesn’t rush out when the clock runs out and wants to give everyone a hug.”
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.