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Updated on September 28, 2021 (Updated "Top 3" questions.)
We also have frequently asked questions about testing, vaccines, and safe reopening
Link/share this page at kingcounty.gov/covid/FAQ

Top 3 FAQs

Who can get a booster dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine?

The CDC recommends booster doses of Pfizer* vaccine for people who have completed two doses of Pfizer at least 6 months ago, and are:

The following people may also receive a booster shot of Pfizer vaccine at least 6 months after receiving two doses of Pfizer vaccine based on their individual benefits and risks:

*NOTE: The FDA has authorized third doses of Moderna only for people who have significantly compromised immune systems, such as those receiving cancer treatments or organ transplants. Additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have not yet been authorized. More information: Who is Eligible For a COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shot? | CDC

Booster doses are available at Public Health's Kent, Auburn, Downtown Seattle, or Bellevue Eastgate vaccination clinics (drop-in vaccinations available, no appointment needed), and at pharmacies and clinics across the county and state. COVID-19 vaccines are free and do not require health insurance.

If I had COVID, why should I get vaccinated? Don't I already have immunity?

After being infected with the coronavirus, you will develop antibodies and some immune protection. The amount of protection can vary significantly among different individuals. Experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again.

Recent research published by the CDC found that people who had survived COVID-19 in Kentucky and remained unvaccinated were more than twice as likely as vaccinated survivors to become reinfected.

The bottom line: Vaccines offer a more predictable protection, and they will likely last longer.

What activities and events will require vaccine verification beginning October 25th?

Beginning October 25, people ages 12 and older will be required to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result to enter bars, restaurants, gyms, large sporting events, and other indoor and outdoor events and establishments in King County. This requirement will help to protect customers and workers, protect our health care system, and prevent business closures as the Delta variant continues to spread in King County.

For more information, see the vaccination verification web page and read this Public Health Insider blog post.

COVID-19 Variants

View the most up-to-date information on variants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

All viruses mutate (change) over time, and the virus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 is no exception. Over the past year, the virus has evolved into strains that are different from the original virus. There are many variants, but some are more concerning than others. Some of the variants of concern are:

  • Alpha variant, first identified in the United Kingdom (UK) (B.1.1.7 variant)
  • Beta variant, first identified in South Africa (B.1.351 variant)
  • Gamma variant, first identified in Brazil (P.1.)
  • Delta variant, first identified in India (B.1.617.2)
  • Epsilon variant, first identified in California (B.1.427/9)

All variants of concern have been found in multiple states in the United States, including Washington state.

If you are unvaccinated, the new variants definitely pose an increased risk. They will spread more rapidly than previous variants in communities where vaccination rates are lower. This is true of the Delta variant as well as other variants of concern.

COVID-19 variants can cause more severe illness, be more transmissible (spreads more easily), and more likely to evade vaccine. Each of the variants differ in each of these traits. For more information about individual variant characteristics, view the CDC's variant classification.

As the virus continues to mutate, we will likely see more variants with increasing transmissibility that become the most dominant variants in the community. This is what we have seen with other variants of concern to date, which are currently much more prevalent than the original virus that was circulating earlier in 2020.

Because these strains are more contagious, they could be harder to control. Faster spread means more people get infected, leading to more COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and more deaths in a shorter period. A rapid increase in people with COVID-19 can quickly overwhelm our healthcare system's ability to respond to COVID-19 illnesses and other, unrelated serious conditions.

To date, vaccines appear to significantly reduce the risk of infection and greatly reduce the risk of severe disease for all variants. Vaccines are the best protection we have against the virus.

For the Delta variant, in particular, it appears that two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer mRNA vaccines (being fully vaccinated) provide strong protection. If you've received either of these vaccines, make sure to get the second dose: partial vaccination may be less effective against the Delta variant.

Scientists continue to research how effective the mRNA vaccines and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be against new variants. For specific information about how each variant effects vaccine efficacy view the CDC's variant classification.

The Delta variant is one of the coronavirus "variants of concern" in the U.S., which is highly contagious and will probably become the country's most common coronavirus strain. The best way to protect yourself and your community from the Delta variant is to get fully vaccinated — making sure to get both doses if you get Pfizer or Moderna.

The biggest danger from the coronavirus variants is to people who are not vaccinated. If you're not fully vaccinated, you can protect yourself and others by continuing to wear a mask, physically distancing, and getting tested quickly after COVID-19 symptoms or exposure.

All variants of concern have been detected in Washington and King County. As new variants of concern are identified, they are quickly detected in Washington and King County. Learn more about the presence of the AlphaBetaGamma variants in our blog.

Washington Department of Health (DOH) is tracking variants in our state. DOH issues a weekly report on how common different variants are in the community, which changes from week to week.

Variants of concern are much more common now than the original virus which was circulating in 2020.

COVID-19 is still present in our communities. The best protection is to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Those who are not fully vaccinated can help protect themselves and others by continuing to wear a snug-fitting mask correctly according to current guidance, physically distancing from others, and frequently washing their hands.

General information

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new virus strain (novel coronavirus) that spreads from person-to-person that has not been previously identified. It is currently in the United States and most other countries in the world. Health experts are concerned because this new virus spreads easily and has the potential to cause severe illness and pneumonia in some people — especially people over age 60 or who have weakened immune systems.

COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person. Some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus.

COVID-19 may also be spread by a person touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. This is not thought to be the main way this virus is spreading.

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads very easily between people in the following ways:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (generally being within 6 feet (2 meters) for a combined total of 15 minutes or more over the course of 24 hours).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby or be inhaled into the lungs.
  • COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.

Health experts are still learning more about the spread and severity of illness COVID-19 causes.

Most COVID-19 illnesses are mild with fever and cough. The vast majority of people with novel coronavirus infection do not require hospital care. A smaller percentage of people get severely ill with lung and breathing problems.

Older adults and people of any age with underlying health conditions are at an increased risk for severe illness. Severe illness means that someone with COVID-19 may require hospitalization, intensive care, a ventilator to help them breathe, or they may die.

The CDC has identified that people within the following groups may be at an increased risk for getting COVID-19 or severe illness, regardless of age: racial and ethnic minority groups; people who are pregnant or breastfeeding; people experiencing homelessness; people with disabilities; and people with developmental and behavioral disorders.

The CDC offers resources to help support those needing extra precautions.

People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19: fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea. This list is not all possible symptoms. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

If you test positive for COVID-19, isolate away from others and follow the instructions at kingcounty.gov/nextsteps.

If you have COVID-19-like symptoms, contact your regular doctor first. Do not go to the emergency room. Emergency rooms need to be able to serve those with the most critical needs. If you have difficulty breathing, it doesn’t mean you have novel coronavirus, but you should call 911.

If you're over 60 and you have underlying conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease, come up with a plan with your doctor to identify your health risks for coronavirus and how to manage symptoms. Contact your doctor right away if you do have symptoms.

If you have symptoms and you were exposed to someone confirmed to have the virus, call your health care provider. If you do not have a healthcare provider, call the King County COVID-19 Call Center between 8 a.m.-7 p.m. at 206-477-3977.

Need help finding a doctor or getting health insurance? Call the Community Health Access Program (CHAP) at 1-800-756-5437 or the Help Me Grow Washington Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.

  • Get vaccinated if you are eligible, and encourage others. When more people are vaccinated, each community is better protected. Vaccination is free and available at many locations: kingcounty.gov/vaccine
  • Whether or not you are vaccinated, please wear masks in indoor public settings like grocery, retail, theaters, and entertainment establishments. See the Masking guidance page for more information.
  • Businesses have the option of requiring customers to wear face masks.
  • Masks will continue to be required, regardless of vaccination status, in higher risk congregant settings like healthcare facilities, long-term care facilities, adult family homes, and homeless service sites, and places where many people are not yet able to be vaccinated, like childcare and schools.
  • Choose outside as a location for activities that involve people who are unvaccinated. The risk of spreading COVID-19 is much lower outside than inside.
  • Improve indoor air ventilation and filtration. We have learned how easily the virus spreads indoors, especially in crowded spaces. Businesses and all organizations with indoor facilities should ensure good air ventilation and filtration. More information available at Improving Indoor Air.
  • Get tested if you have symptoms or an exposure. COVID-19 is still spreading, and the new variants are even more contagious. Getting tested allows you to take steps to protect family and friends. Testing is free.
  • Support unvaccinated people in protecting themselves by respecting their need to wear masks, physically distance, and avoid indoor gatherings.
  • Travel increases risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. If you are planning to travel, check for the latest COVID-19 Travel Alerts and follow the CDC's Travelers' Health guidance.

There are no medications specifically approved for COVID-19. Most people with mild COVID-19 illness will recover on their own by drinking plenty of fluids, resting, and taking pain and fever medications. However, some cases develop pneumonia and require medical care or hospitalization.

Whether or not you are vaccinated, please wear masks in indoor public settings like grocery, retail, theaters, and entertainment establishments. See the Masking guidance page for more information.

  • Masks protect children, those with medical conditions, and anyone who cannot be vaccinated.
  • Any organization may choose to continue requiring masks. Employers should require masks for anyone who has not been vaccinated.

Wear face coverings properly. Your mask should cover your nose and mouth at all times. Always wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer before you put on a face covering and after removing it. Change your face covering when it gets moist. Wash your face covering after each use.

For more information, visit kingcounty.gov/masks.

It is currently unknown how long COVID-19 immunity lasts after the initial infection with disease. Cases of reinfection with COVID-19 have been reported but remain rare. We are still learning more about COVID-19 reinfection. Learn more from the CDC.

Vaccines for COVID-19

For questions and answers about COVID-19 vaccines, please visit our vaccines frequently asked questions (available in multiple languages).

Testing for COVID-19

Public Health recommends that anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms or close contact with someone who has COVID-19 be tested right away. Contact a healthcare provider to discuss the need for testing or visit one of the Open Access testing sites.

Testing as soon as possible after symptoms appear is important to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to family, friends, and the community.

For more information, visit Public Health's COVID-19 testing page.

The following people should get tested for COVID-19:

  • Anyone experiencing COVID-like symptoms, regardless of vaccination status or prior infection.
  • If you have been in close contact for a combined total of 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period with someone who has COVID-19, even if you don’t have symptoms.
    • Fully vaccinated people with no COVID-19 symptoms should get tested and monitor for symptoms after an exposure to someone with COVID-19.
    • People who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 3 months and recovered do not need to get tested following an exposure as long as they do not have new symptoms.
  • Anyone traveling and who are not fully vaccinated.
  • Anyone asked or referred to get tested by their healthcare provider.

It is important to isolate yourself as soon as you develop symptoms, even before you are tested, because if you have COVID-19, you are already contagious.

It typically takes 5-7 days after exposure for the test to report more accurate test results. If you develop symptoms, get tested as soon as possible.

If you have a doctor or healthcare provider, call them to be evaluated for a test.

If you don't have a healthcare provider, free or low-cost testing is available at several King County locations, regardless of immigration status. Multiple languages are spoken and phone interpretation is available at each site. You can also call the King County COVID-19 Call Center at 206-477-3977 from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. for assistance. If you need an interpreter, say the name of your language.

Federal, state, and local Public Health response to COVID-19

Contact tracing is part of the overall strategy to control the spread of COVID-19 in our community. By identifying those who had close contact with someone with COVID-19, we can let them know that they should get tested and quarantine themselves.

Case interviews and contact tracing is primarily done by Public Health – Seattle & King County with support from WA Department of Health. Most of the callers are county staff but you may receive a call from state volunteers or the National Guard.

You will be asked demographic questions about your date of birth, address, gender at birth, race and ethnicity, occupation, your COVID-19 illness, how you think you were exposed to COVID-19, places you visited, and who you have come into close contact with. Any information they collect will only be shared with public health professionals who are working to contain the virus. The caller can also help connect you to any support you might need.

You will NOT be asked about your immigration status, social security number, finances, or marital status. Do not provide this information to someone who is calling you for a case interview or contact tracing.

Learn more about contact tracing.

Quarantine is put into place to prevent the possible spread of an infectious disease from someone who may have been exposed to the disease but is not yet sick. When people are quarantined, they are kept separate from others until they are out of the period when they could get sick. During that time, health officials track their health so that if they do develop symptoms, they can get them to a healthcare provider quickly for evaluation, testing if needed, and care.

Yes.

  • Quarantine is for people who are not currently showing symptoms but are at increased risk for having been exposed to an infectious disease. Quarantine is for people who could become sick and spread the infection to others.
  • Isolation is used for people who are currently ill and able to spread the disease and who need to stay away from others in order to avoid infecting them.

When people are in self-quarantine, they have no symptoms, but because there is a possibility that they might have been exposed, they stay away from others in public settings. People in self-quarantine cannot go to work, school, or any public places where they could have close contact with others. Public health departments direct them in how to monitor their health so that should they develop symptoms, they can be quickly and safely isolated from all others, including those in their household.

If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and you have no symptoms, visit our Isolation and Quarantine page to learn how long to quarantine.

We've found that people who are asked to self-quarantine want to do whatever they can to remain healthy, prevent others from becoming ill, and are very cooperative with our recommendations.

You should keep apart from others, even in your household, as much as possible. Stay away from others, even if you are not showing symptoms, because the virus can spread before symptoms appear. If you have no safe place to stay apart from others, King County can help. Call the COVID-19 Call Center at 206‑477‑3977. The line is open from 8 a.m.-10 p.m.

Isolation and quarantine sites are available to provide isolation and quarantine assistance to help residents who are not able to isolate and recovery in their own home. Examples of people who may need this assistance include people who cannot safely isolate from a family member who is elderly or medically fragile, or people experiencing homelessness. Individuals can only be placed into the King County sites after a health professional with Public Health has determined that they need isolation or quarantine.

King County isolation and quarantine facilities are not available for individuals needing to quarantine due to travel.

Learn more from the King County Dept. of Community and Human Services.

CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel. Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. For more information, check out CDC's Travel Guidance.

Proof of negative test for air travelers entering the United States: As of January 26, 2021, all travelers into the United States from another country will be required to get tested no more than 3 days prior to flying. This includes U.S. citizens and residents. Travelers will need to show proof of a negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline prior to boarding.

Some countries are conducting exit screening for all passengers leaving their destination. Before being permitted to board a departing flight, you may have your temperature taken and be asked questions about your travel history and health.

For more information about the CDC requirement, visit Testing and International Air Travel.

We recommend limiting non-essential travel to reduce the spread of COVID-19, even if vaccinated.

If you choose to travel, visit our Travel during COVID-19 page for the latest recommendations and requirements.

COVID-19 in King County

As of June 30, Washington removed most COVID-19 restrictions. Learn more about Washington's reopening at www.kingcounty.gov/safereopen.

But COVID-19 is still here and more contagious variants are spreading. Protective measures (including vaccination, wearing masks, improved indoor ventilation, and getting tested as needed) continue to be crucial to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.

The best protection is to get a COVID-19 vaccine. It's free, safe and effective. Visit our website for community vaccination sites (updated frequently): www.kingcounty.gov/vaccine.

COVID-19 case and death counts in King County are updated daily on the COVID-19 dashboard.

  • Get vaccinated if you are eligible, and encourage others. When more people are vaccinated, each community is better protected. Vaccination is free and available at many locations: kingcounty.gov/vaccine
  • Even vaccinated people may choose to continue wearing masks in public places. Some may choose to continue wearing a mask if they are at increased risk for severe infection, have an underlying health condition, or are in close contact with someone at increased risk. Others may choose to continue to wear a mask to show support for mask-wearing by unvaccinated people or because they feel more comfortable doing so. Some people also wear masks to protect themselves from other respiratory illnesses or allergens.
  • Businesses have the option of requiring customers to wear face masks.
  • Masks will continue to be required, regardless of vaccination status, in higher risk congregant settings like healthcare facilities, long-term care facilities, adult family homes, and homeless service sites, and places where many people are not yet able to be vaccinated, like childcare and schools.
  • Choose outside as a location for activities that involve people who are unvaccinated. The risk of spreading COVID-19 is much lower outside than inside.
  • Improve indoor air ventilation and filtration. We have learned how easily the virus spreads indoors, especially in crowded spaces. Businesses and all organizations with indoor facilities should ensure good air ventilation and filtration. More information available at Improving Indoor Air.
  • Get tested if you have symptoms or an exposure. COVID-19 is still spreading, and the new variants are even more contagious. Getting tested allows you to take steps to protect family and friends. Testing is free.
  • Support unvaccinated people in protecting themselves by respecting their need to wear masks, physically distance, and avoid indoor gatherings.
  • Travel increases risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. If you are planning to travel, check for the latest COVID-19 Travel Alerts and follow the CDC's Travelers' Health guidance.

Community members continue to voice concerns about how xenophobia (discrimination based on national origin) and racist actions are impacting their neighborhoods, families, and businesses. This has had a devastating impact on our Chinese and Asian communities.

We know at times like these, racial and ethnic communities experience increased acts of racism, racial profiling and violence. We realize that the way we approach enforcement will require considering and eliminating any negative impact on these groups.

Part of King County’s response to COVID-19 has included an Equity Response Team (ERT) to review equity impact in the decision-making process. The ERT makes actionable recommendations to leadership in order to reduce harm. Racism and other forms of discrimination are called out explicitly and the ERT will continue to assess how this enforcement, as well as other decisions and actions, will hold King County accountable to our “Fair and Just” principles.

We want to reiterate that King County will not tolerate hate and discrimination of any kind by anyone. If you are aware of any issues, please report this information to these resources:

On holidays or special occasions, the safest option is to limit the number of people in a gathering, especially if unvaccinated.

For current COVID-19 guidance and restrictions, see the Current COVID-19 Guidance page.

King County COVID-19 Call Centers

  • Medical questions related to COVID-19?
    Contact the call center between 8 a.m.‑7 p.m. at 206‑477‑3977
  • Non-medical questions about COVID-19 including compliance and business related issues?
  • Need isolation or quarantine for COVID-19?
    Contact the call center between 8 a.m.-10 p.m. at 206‑477‑3977.
  • General questions about COVID-19 in Washington State
    Contact the Washington State COVID-19 Information Hotline at 1‑800‑525‑0127.
  • Send us an email* using our online form or email us directly at coronavirus@kingcounty.gov
    *Due to a large number of incoming emails regarding COVID-19, we may not be able to respond to you immediately.
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