Coronavirus FAQ: Can I test out of isolation?

April 21, 2021

When an individual tests positive for COVID-19, CDC guidelines dictate those people must isolate for at least 10 days beginning with the first day of symptoms or the day of test if individual is asymptomatic. Individuals who have been placed in isolation cannot test out of isolation.

The notion of testing out of isolation may be confused with testing out of quarantine. Under CDC quarantine guidelines, individuals who are placed in quarantine — generally people who believe they may have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19 or have been identified as a close contact through contact tracing — may be able to test out if they are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms after five to seven days in quarantine. Penn State’s contact tracing team will work directly with students in quarantine to discuss test out options. Employees in quarantine can contact Occupational Medicine for consultation.

Individuals who are in isolation are COVID-19 positive. They cannot leave isolation for a minimum of 10 days and may have to isolate longer if they are symptomatic. Symptomatic individuals have to stay in isolation until they have experienced no fever for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication, and after symptoms have improved. 

Individuals in isolation are strongly urged not to attempt to take another COVID-19 test or multiple tests in order to end their isolation early. People who contract COVID-19 — regardless of whether they have or have not received a vaccine — can experience symptoms anytime within the 10-day timeframe and may transmit the virus to others. Trying to test out of isolation only wastes testing resources, disrupts the contact tracing process and distorts overall test numbers that local and state officials rely on to make informed decisions in mitigating the pandemic, as all COVID-19 test results are reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  Even if an individual receives a negative test result while in isolation, they still must stay in isolation for the minimum of 10 days, in compliance with CDC guidance.

While Penn State’s Testing and Surveillance Center, or TASC, has received provisional Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certification to process the more accurate polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, COVID-19 tests, many third-party vendors use the less accurate rapid tests. Individuals in isolation who choose a rapid test from an outside vendor may receive a false negative result because their infection has transitioned to a different stage that is not as easily detected using the rapid test.

In addition to observing the guidelines associated with isolation and quarantine, as well all other COVID-19 safety guidance, individuals are also strongly encouraged to comply with contact tracing efforts.


Last Updated April 21, 2021