• By Deb Balzer

What you need to know if you test positive or negative for COVID-19

January 25, 2022

Are you waiting for your COVID-19 test results and wonder what you need to do next? Mayo Clinic COVID-19 diagnostic experts provide some helpful guidelines to walk you through the next steps. It all depends on the type of test and your results.

Next steps after testing positive with polymerase chain reaction test

If you test positive for COVID-19 using a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test, follow these guidelines, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, to determine what you need to do:

  • Isolate for at least five days. You can end isolation after five full days if you are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and your other symptoms have improved. Day 0 is your first day of symptoms. NOTE: You should also check with your employer, school district or public health department for exact isolation guidelines for you and/or your family if you test positive for COVID-19 as those guidelines may be different.
  • If you test positive for COVID-19 and never develop symptoms, commonly referred to as being asymptomatic, isolate for at least five days and wear a mask around others at home. Day 0 is the day the sample was collected for a positive test result.
  • Contact your health care team to let them know you tested positive for COVID-19 so it can be documented in your health record. 
  • At the end of isolation, wear a properly fitted surgical/procedural mask in public settings.
  • If you still have a fever, regardless of how many days you've been in isolation, continue to stay home and monitor your symptoms until you no longer have a fever.
  • You may need to have a negative COVID-19 test result, either a PCR or at-home antigen test before you can return to work or school. Check with your employer, school district or public health department to determine if this is needed.

If you test negative for COVID-19 using a PCR test, you are likely not infected, provided you do not have any symptoms.

If you do not have symptoms of COVID-19 and do not have a known exposure to a person infected with COVID-19, you do not need to quarantine. Continue to wear a surgical/procedural mask in all public settings.

Next steps after testing positive with at-home antigen test

If you take an at-home COVID-19 antigen test and your results indicate you are positive for COVID-19, Mayo Clinic answers some common questions to help determine your next steps.

Can I trust the results of an at-home antigen test?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, take an at-home antigen test and it is positive, you likely have COVID-19 and should isolate at home according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Sometimes an at-home COVID-19 antigen test can have a false-negative result. A negative at-home test is not a free pass if the person taking the test has symptoms.

If you use an at-home test that comes back negative, and you do have symptoms that persist or get worse, it’s a good idea to get a lab-based PCR test for COVID-19 and influenza. You also should stay home and isolate until you get the PCR test results back. The antigen test may have missed an early infection.

How long do I need to stay in isolation if I test positive for COVID-19 using an at-home antigen test? Is isolation time the same for a PCR test?

Generally, if you are positive for COVID-19 by either the antigen or PCR test, you will need to be in isolation for a minimum of five days from the onset of your symptoms and/or a positive test for COVID-19.

Do I need to have another PCR COVID-19 test completed before I return to work or normal activity following the five days of isolation?

You may need to have a negative COVID-19 test result, either by a PCR or at-home antigen test, before you can return to work or school, depending on specific requirements for the organization and where you live.

Should I let my local health care team know I tested positive for COVID-19 with an at-home antigen COVID-19 test?

Yes. You should let your local care team know that you tested positive for COVID-19 using an at-home antigen test. This will ensure your care team can help you with any COVID-19 related care needs if you continue to have prolonged symptoms of COVID-19 or if you need to seek additional care related to COVID-19.

Do I need to take another at-home COVID-19 antigen test to make sure I'm negative after a certain amount of time to make sure I no longer have COVID-19 before I return to normal activity?

No. If you no longer have symptoms after five days or are fever-free for at least 24 hours without using a fever-reducing medication, you do not need to take another COVID-19 test to confirm you are no longer positive, unless you have been directed to by your workplace or school. However, if your symptoms persist longer than five days, you should remain isolated until you no longer have symptoms for at least 24 hours.

Does my entire household need to be tested to make sure they are not positive following my positive at-home COVID-19 antigen test?

No. If others in your household do not have any COVID-19 symptoms, they do not need to be tested. However, if they experience symptoms, they also should be tested.

If someone in my family also tests positive using an at-home COVID-19 antigen test, do I need to quarantine again even though I've already had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis?

If you have a member in your household that tests positive for COVID-19, and you also tested positive for COVID-19  within the last 90 days, you do not need to quarantine, according to guidance from the CDC.

For a PDF version of the test chart.


Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date

For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

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