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How long does President Trump need to isolate after testing positive for COVID-19?

The president was diagnosed with coronavirus late on Oct. 1 and will need to isolate for at least 10 days. Close contacts will need frequent tests.
The White House is seen in Washington, DC, October 2, 2020. SAUL LOEB / AFP via Getty Images

President Donald J. Trump confirmed that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus and said that they would be going into isolation as recommended by medical experts.

With the 2020 presidential election just weeks away and another debate between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden scheduled for mid-October, many are asking one question: How long will the president be isolated for?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that in cases where people have mild to moderate symptoms, isolation should last for about 10 days after symptoms begin. The isolation period should not end until the patient has been fever-free for at least 24 hours.

"If you have symptoms, it starts a 10-day clock," said Dr. Kristin Dean, a family practice physician and the medical director of virtual care provider Doctor on Demand. "It's 10 days after the onset of symptoms, and you have to be afebrile or without a fever for at least 24 hours, and you have to be feeling better. Those are the criteria we look for with somebody who actually has symptoms and has been diagnosed with COVID-19."

In a segment on TODAY, NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres told Savannah Guthrie that the president should remain in isolation until at least Oct. 12.

According to chief of staff Mark Meadows, the President is experiencing mild symptoms. The first lady posted on Twitter that she and her husband are "feeling good."

In some cases, symptoms can last for more than 10 days; in these situations, the CDC says that isolation should be extended until symptoms end and infection control experts should be consulted.

Some people may be exposed to the coronavirus and test positive but never develop symptoms. The CDC says that this demographic should isolate for 10 days from the date of their first positive test.

However, experts warn that a negative test does not mean that someone shouldn't quarantine if they were exposed to someone who did test positive for the virus, since COVID-19 has an incubation period of up to 14 days.

It's important to draw a distinction between isolation and quarantine. While quarantine has served as an umbrella term for the social distancing and stay-at-home efforts of most Americans over the past few months, it actually has a specific definition: According to the CDC, quarantine applies to people who have been in the presence of the virus but have not fallen ill.

"Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick," according to the CDC. "Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick."

Quarantine VS. Isolation
TODAY illustration

Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Southern California, told NBC News that the best time to get a test is about five to seven days after an exposure.

"If you’ve just been exposed, it’s very unlikely that even if you’re incubating that you’re going to test positive," Butler-Wu said. "There’s just not enough time."

This means that those who have been in close contacts with Trump — including his family, government officials, and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden — should quarantine as much as possible in the coming days and continue to monitor for symptoms.

Dr. Joseph Petrosino, director of molecular virology and microbiology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told NBC News that those who have potentially been exposed should be retested at least every 48 hours over the next two weeks. Many White House senior officials are tested daily for the coronavirus.

“Everyone known to be in close contact with positive individuals should self-isolate until this period is over,” he said.