The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out new guidance this month on retesting and quarantining for people who have been infected with the coronavirus.
The latest information suggests that a person is likely protected for up to three months once they’ve recovered from COVID-19. During that period, the CDC said, people who had COVID-19 might still continue to test positive, but they may not be infectious to others.
“People who have tested positive for COVID-19 do not need to quarantine or get tested again for up to three months as long as they do not develop symptoms again,” the CDC said. “People who develop symptoms again within three months of their first bout of COVID-19 may need to be tested again if there is no other cause identified for their symptoms.”
However, the agency clarified that this does not mean is that people who’ve had COVID-19 are immune from the disease for three months, nor does it affect a person’s antibodies.
“This science does not imply a person is immune to reinfection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the 3 months following infection,” the CDC said in a statement. “The latest data simply suggests that retesting someone in the 3 months following initial infection is not necessary unless that person is exhibiting the symptoms of COVID-19 and the symptoms cannot be associated with another illness.”
There’s still not much we know about COVID-19 antibodies and reinfection. Since the virus is still so new, experts can’t say for certain how long someone can expect to be immune to the virus after they’ve been sick.
Previous research does suggest that three months may be the duration of immunity. A study from China published in June found that a significant number of COVID-19 patients showed a decrease in immunity levels around two or three months after infection. However, the study size was small and examined only asymptomatic patients.
Other experts believe what’s more likely is that antibodies wane over time but there’s still some level of protection. This is thanks to cells in charge of activating the body’s immune response, called B cells and T cells, which essentially “remember” how to fight off the virus and may re-trigger antibodies if a person is exposed to the virus again.
“When the body generates an immune response [to a virus], T cells remember in case of a possibility of future reinfection, so that if presented with the virus again your body recognizes it and knows how to handle it,” Christine Bishara, an internal medicine physician and founder of From Within Medical in New York, recently told HuffPost.
Experts have also noted that those who have reported being reinfected with COVID-19 may actually just not have fully recovered from their first infection.
What This New Guidance Means For Us
Does the new CDC guidance suggest that you’re free to return to your pre-pandemic life for a few months after you’ve recovered from COVID-19? Nope, sorry.
While experts say it’s pretty unlikely you’ll be reinfected, it’s not 100% impossible. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with COVID-19, there’s also a chance you could still be contagious depending on where you are in the course of the illness. People with mild cases can potentially spread the illness for about 10 days after symptoms first appear. Those with more severe cases may be infectious for about 20 days after the initial signs of the illness.
To reiterate, the new CDC guidance applies to those who have recovered.
Until there’s a vaccine ― and maybe even beyond that point ― experts say it’s important to exercise health precautions like wearing a mask, social distancing, washing your hands frequently and staying home if you feel sick. These actions are just generally vital to overall public health during the pandemic.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.