Can I come out of quarantine after a negative test?

If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, you already know that you should quarantine. But if you get tested, and it’s negative, is it safe to come out early? Unfortunately, it’s not. Here’s why.

Tests are most accurate early in infection

Your viral load is highest when you are early in the infection. A high viral load means a test is more likely to correctly show a positive result. Most people begin to show symptoms 4-5 days after infection. Viral load is highest on or before the onset of your symptoms. A positive test during this time almost certainly means you are infected with COVID-19.

You can still be infected even if you test negative

So if your test is negative, can you come out of quarantine? The CDC currently recommends quarantining for 14 days, regardless of a negative test. False negative tests are common, especially just after an exposure because viral load is low (but rising). The same is true late in infection when viral load is low (and falling). 

A 14-day quarantine is still the recommendation, even with a negative test.

It’s hard for anyone to stay isolated for so long. It’s a good idea, before it happens, to have a plan in place. Make sure you have enough food to last you, or that you know how to get food delivered. Stock up on some books or movies, video chat with your friends and family, and stay active.


Last update: October 9, 2020, 1:15 pm ET
Science review: GSN, JAB