The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated a guidance to clarify that people can continue to test positive for COVID-19 for up to three months after a diagnosis and not be infectious to others.
The agency released a statement on Friday correcting a series of media reports claiming that a person would have a three-month period of immunity from reinfection from the novel coronavirus.
“The latest data simply suggests that retesting someone in the 3 months following initial infection is not necessary unless that person is exhibiting the symptoms of COVID-19 and the symptoms cannot be associated with another illness,” Friday’s statement read.
As The Hill and others had originally reported, the guidance issued earlier in August had appeared to be the first public acknowledgment that there may be a specific period of immunity from a COVID-19 reinfection. The report noted that previous research indicated antibodies in a recovered patient fade over a few months, though it was not specifically determined whether there was a period of protection from subsequent infection.
The source of the confusion came from CDC guidance about quarantining for those who have been in contact with a COVID-19 patient. The guidelines noted that those who have had the virus in the past 90 days do not have to follow the same recommendation of self-quarantining for 14 days.
“People who have tested positive for COVID-19 do not need to quarantine or get tested again for up to 3 months as long as they do not develop symptoms again. People who develop symptoms again within 3 months of their first bout of COVID-19 may need to be tested again if there is no other cause identified for their symptoms.”
There has been debate in the medical community over whether those who contract coronavirus could be infected a second time. As the Washington Post reported last month, there have been a number of reports of those who suffered secondary infections, but there is still no consensus on whether these cases are truly a separate infection or just a re-emergence of the same illness. Experts have also said that some who believed they were positive with an asymptomatic case may have actually been given false positives the first time, which is believed to have happened in a series of cases initially seen as secondary infections in South Korea.
Experts have noted that it is difficult to make conclusions based only on this anecdotal evidence.
“You can’t extrapolate those anecdotal, first-person observations to the entire population and make sweeping conclusions about how the virus works,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, told the Washington Post.
As The Hill reported, a CDC spokesperson said that while there may be a time of immunity after the virus runs its course, it is still important that these individuals take proper social distancing precautions like wearing masks and proper washing of hands until more is known about long-term immunities.