Demystifying the COVID-19 incubation period

You don’t need to be asymptomatic in order to be COVID-positive and near-symptomless.

Viruses are very tiny; it takes time for them to travel through your system and do their miniature bidding. The waiting period between contraction and symptomatology is called incubation. Here are a few fast facts.

What does “incubation period” mean, anyway?

The medical definition of “incubation period” is simply the time between becoming infected and coming down with symptoms. If you get COVID-19 on Monday and didn’t start to feel sick until Saturday, the virus can be said to be incubating for those five weekdays.

A pathogen’s incubation period, in some cases, also determines more than its established presence in a host. Infectiousness is another attribute to consider—it may be much more difficult to pass the virus on before it has replicated itself, saturated your system, and broken the surface, so to speak. Prognosis, the length and severity of the illness overall, may also be entwined with the way that the organism moves and grows within its victim.

COVID isn’t unique in this regard; other illnesses like smallpox and the H1N1 virus also incubate, and the notion of using quarantine as a defense against widespread outbreak is not a new one.

Why does the COVID-19 incubation period even matter?

The COVID-19 Pandemic is actually one phenomenon where the virus at hand’s incubation period is especially relevant. Why?

SARS-CoV-2 has entrenched itself deeply into our global legal system—the virus’s incubation period is the reason that things like travel mandates, city-wide lockdowns, and other aggressive provisions like these have been employed so widely against it.

Plans like these include two facets: encouraging the ill and contagious to cloister themselves in quarantine, and monitoring and restricting the movement of the uninfected. Both of these needs have been designed and built around what is understood to be a common timeline of infectiousness between COVID victims.

It’s been said that a COVID-positive patient is most contagious a few days before the onset of symptoms, as well as a couple of days after this time. We advise that you self-isolate during these two critical periods if you’re concerned for yourself and those around you.

Incubation period and COVID testing

COVID’s incubation period also comes into play when it comes to COVID-19 testing. You may have heard that testing too soon could potentially result in a false negative.

For this reason, the experts always recommend waiting at least five days before testing yourself.  The same applies doubly to one taking an antibody test—it may take your system up to three weeks to produce enough antibodies to trigger a positive result.

One common piece of advice for those operating in a high-risk occupational environment is to simply test often. When in doubt, a confirmatory test a couple of days after the first one is one of the best ways to rule out a false negative.

What is the incubation period of COVID-19?

According to the CDC, the COVID incubation period may end up being up to 14 days after exposure, and approximately four to five days on average. This reality serves as a testament to the importance of things like COVID testing and contact tracing—through these services and the information that they provide for the public, the individual is able to plan their own movement accordingly.

Still have questions?

Gone are the days of crowded waiting rooms, daunting hospitals, and cold exam tables. At Rume, we offer care on your terms, where and when you need it, including telemedicine, drive thrus, and popups. You’ll get quick results and trusted insights.