When should you get tested for COVID-19 after the holidays?

As long lines wrap testing facilities, Houston-area doctors are providing guidance on the more effective and optimal time to wait before getting tested.

HOUSTON – As long lines wrap testing facilities, Houston-area doctors are providing guidance on the more effective and optimal time to wait before getting tested.

Houston Methodist’s Medical Director of Microbiology, Dr. Wesley Long, said people who are symptomatic should get tested right away. People without symptoms but believed they were exposed, should wait five days after the last day of exposure to get tested for COVID-19.

“If you go get tested the next morning or even the day after, oftentimes that’s too early and the test is likely to be negative. Even if you’ve been exposed and perhaps contracted COVID-19, the test won’t be positive yet,” Long said.

That’s because he said it takes time for the virus to replicate enough to be detectable. So, if someone believes they were exposed on Dec. 25, the optimal date to get tested would be Dec. 30 if the person is not showing symptoms and believed they were exposed on Christmas Day.

“If you’re asymptomatic and you continue to be asymptomatic, you really need to wait until that fifth day to get tested,” Long said.

Coincidentally, the CDC has just shortened its recommended quarantine for those exposed to COVID-19. For people unvaccinated or who had their second dose more than six months ago without a booster, the CDC now recommends you should quarantine for five days followed by strict mask use for an additional five days. On the other hand, individuals who were exposed but had the booster, do not need to quarantine but should wear a mask for 10 days after exposure.

As for those who test positive for COVID-19, the CDC says you should isolate for five days as well, followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days.

Dr. Long said now is also a good time to get the booster, saying the Omicron variant is very contagious.

“Now is the best time to get the booster if you’re eligible,” Long said.