COVID-19

Ending isolation: A guide to recovering from COVID-19 at home

Michelle Abad
Ending isolation: A guide to recovering from COVID-19 at home
Should I take another test after my symptoms resolve? When can I see my friends? Rappler answers these and other common questions.

MANILA, Philippines – With the highly contagious Omicron variant still causing surges all over the country and the world, many who evaded COVID-19 in the past two years of the pandemic may have gotten it this time around.

From hundreds in December 2021, daily new cases escalated to records of more than 30,000 within a few weeks. Omicron infections have mostly been tagged as mild, but the surge has still put pressure on hospitals, especially with admissions comprised mostly of the the unvaccinated.

The Department of Health (DOH) earlier called the peak of the ongoing surge by the end of January. While other countries’ experiences have shown that Omicron may peak faster than previous variants, experts aren’t so sure, considering the Philippines’ context.

“These are countries with very high vaccination rates and levels of immunity, which we don’t have,” epidemiologist Dr. John Wong told Rappler.

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Follow these steps if you’re exposed to or test positive for COVID-19

Follow these steps if you’re exposed to or test positive for COVID-19

Were you part of January’s surge, or preparing for the unfortunate event of getting infected? Here are some things to know about recovering from COVID-19 and ending isolation.

Is my recovery affected when other household members test positive?

It’s possible for multiple members of a family to get COVID-19 at the same time, or contract the virus from each other. Can they isolate together? 

Yes, according to family medicine specialist Dr. Aileen Espina from the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC).

“Cohorting is allowed,” Espina, who advises families on their isolation setups, told Rappler in a phone interview. This is where the negatives stay together, while the positives have their own bubble.

But what happens when the known healthy individuals begin showing symptoms?

Say there are three individuals in a household – a mother, father, and son, all fully vaccinated. The father and son begin showing symptoms around the same time and test positive for COVID-19, while the mother feels fine.

The father and son have mild symptoms, which begin to resolve by around the fourth day since onset. Then, the mother starts showing symptoms. This is when their sickness timelines merge.

By the father and son’s day seven, or the time they end isolation according to the latest DOH guidelines, symptoms are mostly resolved. But the mother is still sick. Can the mother reinfect them?

She cannot, because the virus has run its course in the recovered patients, the HPAAC said. 

“COVID-19 being a virus is self-limiting. Kusa siyang mawawala kasi lalaban ang immune system (It will resolve on its own because the immune system will fight it), especially if you are vaccinated,” said Espina.

How long am I infectious for COVID-19?

Citing studies by the World Health Organization, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Singapore Ministry of Health, the DOH said infected people are most infectious just before they develop symptoms, and early in their illness.

Sa ikapitong araw nito sa katawan, higit na bumababa ang tsansa nitong makahawa. Tuluyan na itong hindi nakakahawa pagsapit ng ikasampung araw at higit pa,” the DOH said.

(On the seventh day of the virus’ presence in the body, chances of infecting others significantly drop. It will no longer be infectious on the 10th day forward.)

The isolation period for moderate to severe cases, as well as the immunocompromised, is longer. The periods also vary based on vaccination status.

Patients who were hospitalized are also given discharge instructions, which will help in returning to live with others at home.

Should I retest myself once my symptoms resolve?

The DOH said repeat testing is no longer needed as long as you complete isolation, and meet the following criteria:

  • If asymptomatic – Did not experience any symptoms in the 10 days since getting tested 
  • With mild symptoms – Did not experience any symptoms and considered clinically recovered in the last three days 
  • If severe or critical – Did not experience any symptoms and considered clinically recovered in the last three days 

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said around 10% or less recovered individuals still test positive for COVID-19 after two weeks, since RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests detect remnants of the virus. However, they are no longer infectious at this point.

When can I get a COVID-19 booster after recovery?

In general, fully vaccinated adults may receive boosters at least three months after the second dose of AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer, Sinovac, or Sputnik vaccine, or at least two months after Janssen. (READ: Thinking of getting a booster shot? Here’s useful information)

According to the DOH, as long as you have completed your prescribed isolation period and have gone 24 hours without fever with no aid from fever medications, you may receive your COVID-19 booster. 

How do I disinfect my home?

It’s always important to constantly disinfect high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, and dining tables. There has yet to be conclusive evidence on how long COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but other coronaviruses have been known to survive on surfaces for a few hours up to several days, depending on various conditions.

“If you suspect that a surface is infected, clean it with disinfectant; clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wash them with soap and water, and, if possible, minimize touching your eyes, mouth, or nose,” the DOH advises.

The HPAAC also advises washing clothes and bed sheets upon recovery, and segregating medical waste. Medical waste can be sprayed with disinfectant in case segregation is not possible. Disinfection misting and deep cleaning services may not be necessary.

When can I see my friends again?

The HPAAC advises that a recovered individual should only see their friends, or people outside their households, when the entire household is cleared.

“Ideally, you can only see people again when the whole household is cleared. Ibig sabihin, lahat ng isolated, lumaya na; lahat ng quarantined, lumaya na (Meaning, all those who isolated have completed the isolation period, and all those quarantined have completed the quarantine period),” said Espina. (QUIZ: How well do you know COVID-19 pandemic terms?)

Local government units monitoring you and your household’s situation may also supply clearances that certify you have finished isolation.

When can I exercise?

There is no hard rule on how many days a patient needs to wait before they can exercise, but it’s important to listen to your body. 

“Start slow. Don’t shock your body and go on a marathon immediately. Also consider your level of physical fitness from before you got sick, and then slowly go back to your routine,” said Espina in a mix of English and Filipino. 

“Give your body time to heal…. It’s okay to stop and take a break,” she added.

What about reinfection?

Complete immunity from COVID-19 after recovery is a misconception, according to the DOH. The dynamics change further with emerging variants, which health experts continuously study.

According to a report by Dr. Ken McIntosh of the Boston Children’s Hospital’s infectious diseases division, the risk of reinfection within the first several months after initial infection is low. However, “the risk of reinfection may be greater with the Omicron variant,” he wrote.

Health Undersecretary Vergeire said that in one case the DOH monitored, three weeks after the patient got infected with Delta, the individual got sick again – this time with Omicron.

Some studies have also suggested that reinfections are milder than initial infections. Still, health authorities remind recovered individuals to keep wearing masks and observe safety precautions. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.