Q: Do I need a negative COVID-19 test to return to work?
A: It depends on whether you have symptoms and what your employer’s policy is. Some people may continue testing positive and be eligible to return to work because the coronavirus can continue to show up in tests even when the risk of infecting other people has passed.
In May, the Texas Department of State Health Services released guidelines for when employees who get COVID-19 can safely return to work. DSHS presented two options. First, an employee can return to work if 10 days have passed since their first positive test and they have had no symptoms since receiving that test result. Second, an employee can return if they have received two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
The virus that produces COVID-19 can continue “shedding,” or producing new copies, for weeks after it first infects someone. One study conducted by the Singapore Academy of Medicine found that 70% of COVID-19 patients continue to test positive 15 days after they first become ill. But the Singapore study found that a repeated positive test does not necessarily mean the person remains at risk of infecting others.
David Gonzales, director of the Victoria Public Health Department, said this is a phenomenon Victoria County officials have seen as well. He said local officials are advising individuals to monitor their symptoms after they test positive. If someone goes 72 hours without symptoms and 10 days have passed after they first fell ill, they are likely no longer at risk of infecting others, Gonzales said.
“We’re seeing that, in different cases, individuals are testing positive well after the infectious period,” he said. “From my understanding, there’s enough virus in the system for the test to pick it up, but they’re not at risk of transmitting the virus.”
So, if you test positive, wait 10 days, go three days without symptoms and get approval from your employer, you should be able to safely return to work.