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As Covid cases tick up, here are latest CDC guidelines for testing and isolation

Daily Covid cases are up 11% in the last two weeks, though many new cases aren't included in those tallies. If you're exposed or test positive, here's what to do.

Covid cases are rising in the U.S. for the first time since July, an early sign of a potential fall-winter wave.

Average daily Covid cases have risen 11% in the last two weeks, according to NBC News’ tally. The country is recording around 39,000 new cases per day, on average, though many cases detected via at-home rapid tests aren't included in that tally. Covid deaths are down 9%, but around 280 people are still dying of Covid every day.

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about masking, testing and isolation haven't changed much since the CDC last updated its recommendations in August. But as the virus continues to spread, here's what the agency recommends in regards to masking, testing and isolation.

When to wear a mask

  • Since February, the CDC has based masking guidelines on three metrics: new Covid cases, hospital capacity and hospital admissions. Given that, the agency currently does not suggest masks for the majority of U.S. counties. You can check your county's risk level and see whether masks are needed using the CDC's online tool. Immunocompromised people and those in their households should wear masks if they live in counties with a medium risk level. 

When to test

  • Get tested immediately if you have symptoms or five full days after you were exposed to someone who tested positive.
  • Consider testing if you've been in high-risk settings or before spending time around someone with a high risk of severe Covid, especially if your area has a medium or high risk level based on the CDC's metrics.

If you've been exposed to someone who tested positive

  • Wear a mask around others, regardless of your vaccination status.
  • If symptoms appear, get a test as soon as possible. If you are symptom-free, take a test after five full days (the date of your exposure is considered day zero).
  • The Food and Drug Administration recommends that people with a known exposure who test negative take a second test 48 hours later. If negative again, test a third time after another 48 hours. (The FDA does not offer guidance about whether to repeat tests if you don't have a known exposure, but the CDC notes that multiple negative tests can increase confidence in the result.)
  • If you previously tested positive for Covid within 30 days or less of your exposure, you do not need to test unless you develop symptoms.
  • Those who tested positive between 31 and 90 days before their exposure should take a rapid test — not a PCR test — regardless of whether they have symptoms. (PCR tests may stay positive for up to 12 weeks.)

If you have Covid symptoms

  • Isolate until you're able to get tested. If the test is negative, you can end your isolation, but the FDA recommends taking a second test 48 hours after the first.

If you test positive

  • Isolate for at least five days after your positive test (details about when to leave isolation can be found below).
  • Wear a high-quality mask around others through day 10 unless you test negative on two rapid tests administered 48 hours apart. If you continue to test positive beyond day 10, the CDC recommends you continue masking.
  • Avoid being around people who are at high risk of severe Covid until at least day 11.

While isolating with a Covid infection

  • If you live with others, try to stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. Wear a mask around anyone else in the household, wash your hands often, clean surfaces regularly and avoid sharing items like utensils or towels. Open windows and turn on fans to improve airflow. Consider filtering the air in your home, either via your HVAC system or by using a portable air cleaner. A CDC tool can help you figure out how to adjust ventilation settings.
  • Stay hydrated and rest. You can take over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol, to relieve symptoms like fever or muscle aches.
  • People at high risk of severe disease should seek treatment quickly. Test to Treat locations offer prescriptions for antiviral pills. The National Institutes of Health prefers Paxlovid, although Test to Treat sites also offer Lagevrio, another FDA-authorized pill. Either must be taken within the first five days of symptoms.
  • Go to the hospital if you develop severe symptoms, including trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, or pale, gray or blue skin, lips or nail beds.

When to leave isolation

  • You can end isolation five full days after your first positive test if you have no symptoms or if your symptoms are clearing up and you are fever-free for 24 hours without taking medication. (If you were asymptomatic, consider the day you were tested to be day zero. If you had symptoms, day zero is the day your symptoms started.) Prolonged loss of taste or smell should not prevent you from ending isolation, since those symptoms can last weeks or months.
  • You can also end isolation after five days if you take a rapid test on day five and it comes back negative.
  • If you still have a fever or your symptoms have not improved after five days, keep isolating until they improve.
  • If you continue to test positive beyond day 10, do not end isolation until you have two sequential negative tests taken at least 48 hours apart. PCR tests are not useful for testing out of isolation.
  • Isolate through day 10 if you have a weakened immune system, were hospitalized or have moderate illness symptoms such as shortness of breath. People with severe illness should consult their doctor before ending isolation.
  • If your symptoms worsen after you end isolation, restart your isolation at day zero.