The quandary of prolonged positive COVID tests

Published: Mar. 5, 2021 at 4:30 PM EST
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y (WCAX) - Some jobs and many hospitals or nursing homes require a negative COVID-19 test to enter. But what if you keep testing positive long after your infectious? Kelly O’Brien looked into the issue of prolonged positives.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been cases where a person will test positive and will continue to test positive long after their two-week isolation, even though they are healthy.

“This does happen and it’s frustrating,” said Dr. Wouter Rietsema, an infectious disease specialist at CVPH in Plattsburgh. “We’ve seen it in young, healthy employees, and we’ve seen it in people hospitalized. We have just seen it in a variety of people.”

He says the persisting positive tests are the result of cells that continue to shed the virus. “There were cells that incorporated the virus that are still themselves breaking down and releasing bits of genetic material,” Rietsema explained.

He says in most cases, the virus still living in your body is not considered a threat after 10 days in isolation, which is why there are no requirements to get a test after the 10 days by local health departments in New York who monitor COVID in the community.

“There is no need for a follow-up test, we know there is no need,” Rietsema said. But there are exceptions, like for those who are hospitalized. “People that are severely ill may shed viable virus longer.” He said those cases are moved to 20-day isolation.

Rietsema says if you absolutely want to avoid a possible prolonged positive, there is one simple way to do it. “We know there are plenty more eligible people out there and these vaccines are miraculous -- I really believe that -- and people need to go get vaccinated,” he said.

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