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Most guidelines say it’s safe to see friends and family again 10 days after a positive test. Getty Images
  • Experts say a person who has recovered from COVID-19 should wait at least 10 days from the date of a positive test before going out in public again.
  • They note that recovery periods can vary from person to person in terms of length and how people feel.
  • Experts say that even after recovering, people should still wear masks and observe physical distancing when in public.

It’s a question being asked in homes across the United States as well as the rest of the world: When is it safe again to be near someone who’s had COVID-19?

Like other infectious diseases, recovery time can vary from person to person, but experts recommend people follow the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“It is now generally thought that about 10 days after the test that’s positive, if you have no symptoms, no fever, you can be considered no longer contagious,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, told Healthline.

The CDC says a safe time for a person recovered from COVID-19 to be around others depends on a number of factors.

Those who’ve had COVID-19 and had symptoms can be around other people at least 10 days since onset of symptoms if they’ve had at least 24 hours without a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications. They should also wait until symptoms have improved.

For those who tested positive but had no symptoms, they can be around other people 10 days after the positive test.

People who are immunocompromised should talk to their doctor about whether they need to stay isolated for more than 10 days. Those in this category can be with others after receiving two consecutive negative test results at least 24 hours apart.

Experts say recovery is complex and doesn’t necessarily mean a person feels completely well.

“The symptoms can last quite some time so it’s not complete recovery, it’s resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications with progressive improvement or resolution of other symptoms,” Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California Davis Children’s Hospital, told Healthline.

“Just like with many other infectious diseases, some people recover very quickly and aren’t infectious to others and then in others the viral replication might linger on,” Blumberg said. “In general, I would follow these guidelines as a starting point for when you would consider going out but if you are still significantly symptomatic… for example having coughing or sneezing, it would be uncomfortable being out in public, people are going to treat you differently. Even if you’re not infectious I’m not sure people would appreciate that.”

Even if a person has recovered from COVID-19, experts advise they still be cautious when venturing outside of their home.

“Once someone is cleared per CDC guidelines, they should take the same precautions as everyone else since we just don’t know how long immunity lasts,” Dr. Jaime Friedman, a pediatrician in San Diego, told Healthline. “They can be out of isolation but should continue to maintain distance with others in public and wear a face covering.”

Although there have been reports of some people developing COVID-19 twice, experts say it’s likely that if you are infected with the illness you are immune for a period of time.

But scientists don’t yet know how long COVID-19 antibodies will last in a person who has developed the disease.

“When you get infected with a virus your body’s immune system responds to it and responds to it very distinctively,” Schaffner said. “The body creates proteins that are called antibodies that actually fight the virus by engulfing it and not permitting it to attach to any new cells. This will bring your viral infection to a close because the virus cannot propagate itself any further in your body. These very specific antibodies, the immune system retains that memory and these antibodies persist in your bloodstream for varying periods of time.”

“Different virus’ antibodies last different periods of time,” he added. “We didn’t know how long the COVID virus antibodies would last. We thought at least a year. That’s still more or less in the scientific mainstream, but it remains to be tested.”

Even if a person has recovered from COVID-19, experts advise against visiting with others indoors.

“I would be cautious about visiting with anyone inside the home. The virus spreads more easily when people are in close contact for an extended period of time, especially when indoors,” Friedman said.

“The safest contact with someone who you’re not quarantined at home with is contact that is outside, 6 feet apart, with everyone wearing a mask,” she added. “Significant exposure is considered less than 6 feet apart from someone for 15 minutes or more. Physical contact like hugging or kissing or sharing utensils is also considered significant exposure and should be avoided.”

Blumberg argues misinterpretation of social distancing guidelines has resulted in a spike in cases across the United States.

“At the end of May when some of the social distancing guidelines were relaxed, many people interpreted that as they no longer had to be careful and we saw an increase in visiting between households indoors, having parties, having gatherings, having social events and I think that’s directly lead to the increased number of cases that we’re seeing in many places. People are not following the science. They are following politics instead and that’s lead to a lot of confusion,” he said.

Schaffner urges people to listen to experts and follow their advice around physical distancing and wearing masks.

“Listen to the public health authorities, listen to the physicians. Listen to people who have genuine knowledge about this. Unfortunately, the wearing of masks and the response to the virus has become very politicized in this country,” he said.

“It’s fair to say that in most of the country, in most of the United States, we are struggling. We are not making good progress,” Schaffner added. “The virus is progressing, but the control efforts are not. It’s beyond a shame. It’s a scandal, it’s a disappointment, it’s profoundly sad. Beyond that, there are families who have lost family members. These were preventable deaths, preventable hospitalizations.”

Blumberg says all individuals, whether currently infected with COVID-19, recovered, or a friend or family member of someone in recovery, need to do their part to keep the community safe.

“This is the new normal and people just need to get used to it. It’s being a good community member. It’s caring about others within your family, within your community, within your state, and within your country to follow these recommendations and be hygienic. It’s the safe thing to do and it’s the right thing to do,” he said.