Going Back to Work After Contracting COVID-19

Caesar Djavaherian, MD, MS, FACEP
March 16, 2022
4 mins

Testing positive for COVID-19 can be very stressful. Fortunately, if you are fully vaccinated (which includes receiving your booster shot), you can probably expect mild symptoms (if any) that can be treated at home. (For more on that, read “Recovery Road: The Best Ways to Treat COVID-19 at Home.”) But even so, a positive result poses logistical challenges — an important one being an inability to go to work. In this post, we’re answering a few questions about going back to work after contracting COVID-19. 

+ I’ve contracted COVID-19 — how long do I need to isolate? 

The CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says that you should isolate for five days from when your symptoms begin. This means that if your symptoms began on Monday, that’s day zero. Tuesday is day one, and so on — and Saturday (day five) is your last day in isolation — if the following statements are true:

1. Your symptoms are resolved or improving 

2. You haven’t had a fever in the past 24 hours

3. You wear a well-fitting mask (an N95 is recommended) while around people for an additional 5 days (at least). 

Note that if you become severely ill with COVID-19 or have a compromised immune system, you might need to isolate longer. If you have any concerns about your symptoms or how you are recovering, make an appointment to talk with your healthcare provider. (Carbon Health provides both virtual and in-person appointments for your convenience.)

+ I tested positive for COVID-19 but never developed symptoms — what about me?

In this case, you should count your five days of isolation from the day you tested. That day is day zero. 

+ So when can I go back to work after having COVID-19? 

The answer to this question can vary, depending on the policies of your employer. For example, Carbon Health’s policy is a little more conservative than the CDC recommendations: 

We advise our employees that they may return to work after five days if:

1. They have no symptoms, or their symptoms are minimal and resolving,

2. They receive a negative COVID-19 test result (antigen test preferred). 

If a Carbon Health employee is still sick or tests positive again on day five, we ask them to stay home for a total of 10 days. 

Note that members of Carbon Health’s Contact Tracing team may be able to brief you on your employer's return-to-work policy — but when in doubt, please check with your employer before heading back to your work site or office. 

+ What do I do if I recovered from COVID-19 and completed isolation but keep testing positive? 

It’s not uncommon for people to continue testing positive for weeks after they have recovered from COVID-19 — we see this a lot. NAAT (PCR) tests are very sensitive and can detect pieces of dead virus. This does not mean you are still contagious to others. 

Once you have met all the aforementioned isolation criteria, you can consider yourself out of isolation. There is no need to test for the next 90 days, as long as you don’t develop new symptoms — even if you are exposed.

+ Which type of COVID-19 test should I take — antigen or NAAT (PCR)?

It might help if we break this up into two categories:

1. Clearance Test: This is a test you take after having COVID-19, when you want to determine whether it’s safe to resume normal activities. 

If you’ve already tested positive and are seeking a negative test for clearance to end isolation, then an antigen test is the way to go. You can take a NAAT (PCR) test for this as well, but, as mentioned, you may test positive even after it is safe to resume normal activities. 

2. Diagnostic Test: This is a test you take to determine whether you have COVID-19. 

If you are taking a test because you’ve been exposed or because you have symptoms, then a NAAT (PCR) test is the better way to determine whether you’ve contracted COVID-19. 

I tested positive for COVID-19; should I get a confirmatory test? 

If you tested positive for COVID-19, we typically suggest treating this result as a true positive and beginning isolation. This is especially true if you have symptoms or were recently exposed.

If, however, you tested positive with an antigen test and don’t have any symptoms or known exposure, we do suggest that you get a confirmatory NAAT (PCR) test to rule out a false positive. 

I recently recovered from COVID-19 and completed my isolation, but now other people in my home have become sick with COVID-19. What should I do?  

If you have completed isolation and are within 90 days of testing positive, you do not need to test or quarantine again as long as you don’t develop any new symptoms. Yes, this is true even if you are exposed to your household.

+ When am I eligible to get the COVID-19 booster after testing positive?

Once you have recovered and completed isolation, you are eligible to receive a vaccine booster.

Have more questions about COVID-19? Make an appointment today with a Carbon Health healthcare provider. It’s easy to find one using the Carbon Health app or website.  

Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published. But note that our knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 are developing and changing very rapidly; if you have questions or concerns about COVID-19 precautions, treatments, and vaccinations, please talk to your healthcare provider.

Caesar Djavaherian, MD, MS, FACEP

As Carbon Health’s Chief Innovation Officer, Caesar Djavaherian, MD, MS, FACEP, guides clinical innovation through product development, service expansion, and partnerships with transformative companies working to improve the healthcare ecosystem. He is an emergency medicine physician, a former high school teacher, and a reformed academic researcher. Caesar co-founded Direct Urgent Care to deliver technology-enabled urgent care throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He has practiced at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the University Hospital of Columbia, and Weill Cornell Medicine. In his spare time, Caesar advises healthcare startups, cheers on the Warriors, tries various HIIT workouts, and daydreams about what the future of health will look like.