Here's How Long COVID Stays In Your Body

An illustration of a white person in profile with no facial features surrounded by a pink background and COVID virus particles


Key Takeaways

  • How long COVID-19 stays in the body varies from person to person. Generally, people are no longer contagious about 10 days after the onset of symptoms. 
  • A recent study found that people can be shed the virus for as long as 83 days, underscoring the importance of frequent testing, quarantining, and isolation practices.
  • Infectious disease experts reaffirm that the best defense against COVID is vaccination. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus now accounts for 99% of COVID cases in the United States. With the holiday season in full swing, gatherings with loved ones could end up being incubators for the virus—including any new variants that emerge.

To help curb the spread, you have to understand how long you remain able to give the virus to someone else. In other words, how long does COVID last in your system?

Here’s what experts told Verywell about how long COVID stays in your body, as well as what you need to know to prevent transmission.

Individual Differences

According to Kristen Nichols, PharmD, BCPS, BCPPS, BCIDP, an infectious disease specialist, the length of time that people have COVID varies from person to person.

“Most people with mild to moderate illness are no longer contagious 10 days after the onset of symptoms,” said Nichols. “But it can be longer for patients who have experienced severe illness, or for patients with weakened immune systems.”

That could be the case for people who continuously experience COVID symptoms for weeks or even months after infection—what’s been termed “long COVID.”

For example, in one recent study, most of the participants still had symptoms such as fatigue and cognitive dysfunction more than seven months after they got sick.

While the viral load of COVID appears to peak in the first week of illness, viral shedding from the upper respiratory tract has occurred up to 83 days later.

Getting a Positive COVID Test

Nichols said that if you test positive but do not have symptoms, you “should isolate for 10 full days from the positive test.”

If you have had COVID, you can start seeing other people after certain criteria have been met:

  • It’s been at least 10 days since your symptoms started
  • You’ve gone at least 24 hours without a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications 
  • Your symptoms are getting better and you do not have any new symptoms

Quarantine vs. Isolation

According to the CDC, quarantine is when you separate yourself from other people because you were in close contact with someone with COVID—even if you do not feel sick.

If you are quarantined, you will need to stay home for at least 14 days after you saw the person who was sick with COVID, stay apart from other people, and watch for symptoms (such as a fever or shortness of breath).

What do you do if you’ve been vaccinated and you get exposed? Jennifer Haythe, MD, associate professor of medicine and co-director of Columbia Women’s Heart Center, told Verywell that if you are fully vaccinated, “you do not need to quarantine unless you develop symptoms” and that “you should test five to seven days after exposure.”

What If I'm Fully Vaccinated?

According to the CDC, if you are fully vaccinated and exposed to someone with COVID, you do not need to quarantine unless you have symptoms.

However, the CDC states that fully vaccinated people who were in close contact with a person who has COVID “should get tested 5-7 days after their exposure, even if they don’t have symptoms, and wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until their test result is negative.”

Isolation is when you avoid other people because you might have been exposed to someone with COVID but you are not sure, and you are not sure if you could be sick.

While you are isolating, the CDC recommends that you:

  • Monitor your symptoms 
  • Stay in a separate room from other people who live in your home
  • Use a separate bathroom, if possible
  • Avoid contact with others in your home, including your pets
  • Do not share personal items, such as cups, towels, and utensils
  • Wear a mask if you have to be around other people

Testing and Retesting

Nichols recommended waiting until you have had at least two COVID negative tests, 24 hours apart, to resume any activities that involve you being in the public and around other people.

If you test positive for COVID, Nichols said that someone should not go out in public until they have met all the CDC’s criteria “even if their 10th day of isolation has passed.”

However, Nichols also cautioned that PCR tests sometimes produce positive COVID test results even when a person is unlikely to be shedding the virus.

“Since there is so much variation, we don’t know for sure,” said Nichols. “If someone continues to test positive after their isolation period is ‘up’ and suspects that they are no longer contagious, they should speak with their healthcare provider to determine the appropriate amount of time to remain in isolation.”

While getting tested frequently, isolating, and quarantining can help curb the spread, experts agree that vaccination is the best defense.

“The best way to avoid getting COVID-19 is to be vaccinated,” said Haythe. “It is safe and very effective at preventing transmission and serious illness and hospitalization.”

If you’re hoping to celebrate with loved ones in the coming weeks, there are steps that you can take to keep everyone safe. Haythe said that “prior to getting together indoors with family and friends for the holidays, consider having everyone tested using rapid at-home tests.”

What This Means For You

The amount of time that COVID stays in the body varies from person to person. That’s one reason why it’s important that you take steps to protect others if you are ill or think that you were in contact with someone who might have been.

If you have COVID or might have been exposed to someone who does, you can help curb the spread of the virus by staying away from others, monitoring your symptoms, and getting tested.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Davis HE, Assaf GS, McCorkell L, et al. Characterizing long COVID in an international cohort: 7 months of symptoms and their impact. EClinicalMedicine. 2021;38:101019. doi:10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.101019

  3. Cevik M, Tate M, Lloyd O, et al. SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV viral load dynamics, duration of viral shedding, and infectiousness: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Microbe. 2021;2(1):e13-e22. doi:10.1016/S2666-5247(20)30172-5

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quarantine and isolation. Updated October 19, 2021.