Do You Need to Retest After a Positive COVID-19 Result?

If you test positive for COVID-19 and isolate for five days, you don't need to retest if your symptoms have cleared or are improving. Just wear a face mask for five additional days while around others.

However, if you want to remove your mask early, you can opt to retest. Two consecutive negative results 48 hours apart is proof that you are no longer contagious.

This article explains when to retest after a positive COVID test and explores special situations where retesting may be valuable.

Woman taking at-home Covid test

AzmanL / Getty Images

What to Do If You Test Positive for COVID-19

If you test positive for COVID-19, with or without symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you stay home and isolate for at least five days. If you have moderate to severe symptoms, isolate for at least 10 days.

According to the CDC:

  • Day 0 is either the first day you tested positive or the first day you had COVID symptoms regardless of when you tested positive.
  • Day 1 is the first full day of isolation.
  • Day 5 is the last day of isolation if you never had symptoms or your symptoms are improving and you've been fever-free for at least 24 hours without fever medications.
  • Day 6 is the first day you can stop isolating. However, a high-quality mask should be worn around others.
  • Day 10 is the day you can stop wearing a mask.

Restarting at Day 0

If you had no symptoms but develop symptoms within 10 days of testing positive, you would restart the clock at day 0.


The CDC guidelines do not apply to moderately or severely ill people with COVID-19 or those with weakened immune systems.

  • Immunocompromised people should isolate for at least 10 days.
  • People who are severely ill may need to isolate for up to 20 days.

Do I Need to Retest After Getting COVID-19?

If you follow the CDC guidance—isolating yourself and wearing a face mask as recommended—there is no need to retest yourself for COVID-19. You can remove your mask and continue life as normal.

However, if isolation is ended and you want to remove your mask early, the CDC suggests that you retest yourself twice before doing so.

To do so correctly:

  • You need to use an authorized rapid antigen test, available as a nasal swab.
  • You need to take two tests 48 hours apart to ensure an accurate result.
  • You need two consecutive negative results before masking is discontinued.
  • If either result is positive, you should continue masking until you are able to get two consecutive negative results 48 hours apart.

If you don't have access to antigen tests, the CDC recommends you continue to mask until day 11.

At-Home COVID Testing

Every household can order four free at-home COVID tests at

What If a PCR Test Is Positive?

There are different tests used to detect COVID-19.

Antigen tests, available over the counter, detect proteins on the surface of the virus itself. Another test called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), performed in a lab, detects the genetic material of the virus and is often used to confirm a positive antigen test result.

Antigen tests are far less sensitive than PCRs. With a PCR, you can continue to test positive for weeks or even months after an antigen test delivers a negative result.

So if you are re-testing to see if your infection has passed, a positive PCR does not mean that you are contagious. Although minute amounts of the virus may be detected, they may not be at levels capable of infecting others.

What If an Antibody Test Is Positive?

In addition to antigen and PCR tests, there are antibody tests that detect proteins produced by the immune system in response to COVID-19.

Despite being given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the early part of the pandemic, COVID antibody tests are not used in the same way today.

According to the CDC:

  • Antibody tests should not be used to determine if someone has COVID-19.
  • Antibody tests should not be used to assess a person's immunity to COVID-19 given that scientists do not know how long or robust these protective antibodies are.

COVID antibody tests have other limitations. Among them, it can take one to three weeks before there are enough antibodies for the test to detect. By that time, many other people could have been infected.

Today, antibody tests are used for population-based research. They are also sometimes used to aid in the diagnosis of multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS), a rare but severe complication of COVID-19 in adults and children.

Should I Retest If Re-Exposed to COVID?

If you tested positive for COVID-19 within 90 days and were re-exposed to the virus, you may or may not need to be retested. It depends on how long ago you tested positive and whether or not you have symptoms.

According to the CDC, you should be retested if:

  • You tested positive for COVID within 30 days and have COVID symptoms.
  • You tested positive for COVID within 31 to 90 days and have COVID symptoms.
  • You tested positive for COVID within 31 to 90 days and do not have COVID symptoms.

Antigen testing is recommended. If the result is negative, repeat testing should be done.

You should NOT be retested if you tested positive for COVID within 30 days and do not have COVID symptoms.

Window Period for Antigen Testing

The window period for a COVID antigen test is five days. This means that it takes that amount of time for the virus level to be high enough that a test can detect it. Testing before then may lead to a false-negative result.

Can My Employer Require COVID Retesting?

Several workplaces have implemented COVID-19 screening to prevent the spread of the virus. However, the CDC advises against policies that require employees to have a negative COVID result before they can return to work.

Instead, the CDC recommends the same isolation and masking policies it has in place for the general population.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers who put mandatory COVID-19 testing in place must ensure that the testing is job-related and consistent with a business necessity. The purpose should be to identify current infections.

Does a Continued Positive Result Mean I Have Long COVID?

Long COVID, also known as post-COVID syndrome, is a chronic condition in which people continue to have symptoms three months after the onset of the initial symptoms or a positive COVID test result.

Symptoms of long COVID may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep problems
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in smell or taste
  • Changes in the menstrual cycle

Long COVID is diagnosed based on clinical signs and symptoms. There are no tests used to diagnose the syndrome, and repeat testing has no value in determining whether or not you have long COVID.


The CDC does not recommend repeat COVID-19 testing for people who have isolated and recovered from the infection, unless they want to remove their face mask earlier than advised. In such cases, you need two consecutive negative tests performed 48 hours apart.

The CDC does not recommend repeat testing for returning to work. Instead, workplaces should adhere to the same isolation/masking recommendations for the general population.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it possible to be infected with two different COVID-19 variants at the same time?

    It's not common, but there have been case reports of people who have been diagnosed with two COVID variants at the same time.

  • Do I need to retest a positive COVID test for travel?

    You'll need to check the testing requirements for your destination. You may need to show a negative COVID-19 test to enter a country or come back to the country you traveled from. If you test positive for COVID-19 while you are traveling, you will need to follow the guidelines for isolation, testing, and treatment where you are.

12 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. Massetti GM, Jackson BR, Brooks JT, et al. Summary of guidance for minimizing the impact of COVID-19 on individual persons, communities, and health care systems - United States, August 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71(33):1057-1064. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7133e1

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quarantine and isolation.

  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Get free at-home COVID-19 tests.

  5. UT Southwestern Medical Center. Clinical guidance for recovered/previously positive COVID-19 patients.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim guidance for SARS-CoV-2 testing in non-healthcare workplaces.

  7. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. What you should know about COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other EEO laws.

  8. World Health Organization. A clinical case definition of post COVID-19 condition by a Delphi consensus, 6 October 2021.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Post-COVID conditions.

  10. Yomogida K, Zhu S, Rubino F, Figueroa W, Balanji N, Holman E. Post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection among adults aged ≥18 years - Long Beach, California, April 1-December 10, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(37):1274-1277. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7037a2

  11. Samoilov, Kaptelova, Bukharina, Shipulina, Korneenko, Saenko, Lukyanov, Grishaeva, Ploskireva, Speranskaya, & Akimkin. (2021). Case report: change of dominant strain during dual SARS-CoV-2 infectionBMC Infectious Diseases21(1), 1–8. doi:10.1186/s12879-021-06664-w

  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Travel.

By Christine Zink, MD
Dr. Christine Zink, MD, is a board-certified emergency medicine with expertise in the wilderness and global medicine. She completed her medical training at Weill Cornell Medical College and residency in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She utilizes 15-years of clinical experience in her medical writing.