Duration of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Infectivity: When Is It Safe to Discontinue Isolation?

Clin Infect Dis. 2021 Apr 26;72(8):1467-1474. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa1249.


Defining the duration of infectivity of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has major implications for public health and infection control practice in healthcare facilities. Early in the pandemic, most hospitals required 2 negative RT-PCR tests before discontinuing isolation in patients with Covid-19. Many patients, however, have persistently positive RT-PCR tests for weeks to months following clinical recovery, and multiple studies now indicate that these generally do not reflect replication-competent virus. SARS-CoV-2 appears to be most contagious around the time of symptom onset, and infectivity rapidly decreases thereafter to near-zero after about 10 days in mild-moderately ill patients and 15 days in severely-critically ill and immunocompromised patients. The longest interval associated with replication-competent virus thus far is 20 days from symptom onset. This review summarizes evidence-to-date on the duration of infectivity of SARS-CoV-2, and how this has informed evolving public health recommendations on when it is safe to discontinue isolation precautions.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; isolation; transmission-based precautions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Public Health
  • SARS-CoV-2*