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CDC reveals COVID tests can show positive for 12 weeks after infection

Health care worker Kelshin Johnson, center, surveys the line of cars waiting at the COVID-19 testing center. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
December 30, 2021

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said testing for COVID-19 at the end of a quarantine period is no longer needed because PCR tests can detect the virus for up to 12 weeks after infection, even after the person is no longer contagious.

“So, what we do know is the PCR test after infection can be positive for up to 12 weeks so that is not going to be helpful,” Walensky said Wednesday during an appearance on “Good Morning America.”

“You’re not going to be transmitting during all of that period of time,” she continued. “We’ve seen that in study after study.”

In addition to the new testing guidance, the CDC also said people who test positive for the virus without any symptoms do not need to isolate for more than five days.

“We followed numerous areas of science in making this important decision. One, of course, was how the virus behaves. How much virus do you still have that you could potentially transmit after five days? We generally know that most of your transmission happens in those one to two days before you have symptoms and those two to three days after, so by the time five days of isolation has occurred, you probably have about 85 to 90 percent of all of your transmission potential behind you while you’ve been in isolation,” Walensky said.

“Importantly also in this decision is where we are in the epidemiology of this disease. Skyrocketing case numbers, as you have noted, we anticipate they could get even higher,” she continued. “And many people are asymptomatic or only mildly symptomatic, especially those who have been vaccinated or boosted, and so they very well may not be able to, or willing to, comply with ten days worth of isolation.”

Also on Wednesday, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients reiterated that “PCR tests are more sensitive than incident tests” and that “both are critical tools to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Fox News reported.

According to Patrick Emad, the vice president of clinic operations at Sameday Health, the newest variant of Omicron “doesn’t care if you’re fully vaccinated or have the booster.”

“I hope that we don’t need as much testing as we do now and life returns to normal, but the trends we are seeing are an increase in testing nationwide and a strong increase in the percentage of positive cases,” Emad said, as reported by CBS News. “It seems Omicron doesn’t care if you’re fully vaccinated or have the booster, we are still seeing breakthrough cases in people who have their triple shot, and we are here if we are needed.”