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Symptom-Based Strategy to Discontinue Isolation for Persons with COVID-19

In the context of community transmission where continued testing is impractical, available evidence at this time indicates that an interim strategy based on time-since-illness-onset and time-since-recovery can be implemented to establish the end of isolation. Practical application of a symptom-based strategy cannot prevent all infections.

At this time, data are limited regarding how long persons shed infectious SARV-CoV-2 RNA after infection. Key findings are summarized here.

  1. Viral burden measured in upper respiratory specimens declines after onset of illness (CDC unpublished data, Midgely 2020, Young 2020, Zou 2020, Wölfel 2020).

  2. At this time, replication-competent virus has not been successfully cultured more than 9 days after onset of illness. The statistically estimated likelihood of recovering replication-competent virus approaches zero by 10 days (CDC unpublished data, Wölfel 2020, Arons 2020).

  3. As the likelihood of isolating replication-competent virus decreases, anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgM and IgG can be detected in an increasing number of persons recovering from infection (Wölfel 2020).

  4. Attempts to culture virus from upper respiratory specimens have been largely unsuccessful when viral burden is in low but detectable ranges (i.e., Ct values higher than 33-35[1])(CDC unpublished data).

  5. Following recovery from clinical illness, many patients no longer have detectable viral RNA in upper respiratory specimens. Among those who continue to have detectable RNA, concentrations of detectable RNA 3 days following recovery are generally in the range at which replication-competent virus has not been reliably isolated by CDC (CDC unpublished data, Young 2020).

  6. No clear correlation has been described between length of illness and duration of post-recovery shedding of detectable viral RNA in upper respiratory specimens (CDC unpublished data, Midgely 2020, Wölfel 2020).

  7. Infectious virus has not been cultured from urine or reliably cultured from feces (CDC unpublished data, Midgely 2020, Wölfel 2020); these potential sources pose minimal if any risk of transmitting infection and any risk can be sufficiently mitigated by good hand hygiene.

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