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Updated on September 20, 2022: Top 3 FAQ #1, COVID-19 variants questions #3 and #4.

See frequently asked questions about testing and vaccines.

Find definitions of COVID-19 terms and more information in our COVID-19 glossary.

Link/share this page at kingcounty.gov/covid/FAQ

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Top 3 FAQs

Should I wait to get a booster? When is the best time?

No, don’t delay getting a booster if you are eligible to get one.

Booster shots for ages 5-11

Children ages 5 through 11 should get a booster dose at least five months after completing the primary Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine series. A booster dose is not authorized for young children who received the primary Moderna vaccine series.

Booster shots for ages 12+

Moderna and Pfizer updated COVID-19 boosters are now available. The updated boosters, also called "bivalent" vaccines or the "Omicron booster", protect against the most common variants right now (Omicron BA.4 and BA.5) and the original variants of COVID-19.

Everyone ages 12 and older should get an updated booster:

  • After completing their primary vaccine series AND
  • At least 2 months since the last vaccine or booster dose

Why am I getting a negative test when I have symptoms?

It is possible to get a negative at-home test even if you have symptoms for a couple of possible reasons:

  1. Your immune system could be fighting the virus. That could prevent the virus level in your body from getting high enough for a COVID-19 test to detect. But if your immune system can’t continue to fight off the virus, you might be positive later. That’s why it’s important to repeat the test 4 to 5 days after your symptoms start. Many brands of tests come with two tests for this purpose.
  2. You might not have collected enough nasal drainage when you swabbed. Carefully follow the instructions on the box to make sure that there is enough sample material from your swab.

How do I get treatment for COVID-19?

If you are at high risk for being hospitalized for COVID-19, get tested soon and treated early. Anti-viral pills or other treatment options may lower the chances of your illness getting worse if you take them within 5 days of symptoms. Treatment is free, regardless of insurance or immigration status.

Here are three ways to get treatment:

  1. Speak to your healthcare provider first. They can give you a prescription that you can get filled at participating pharmacies or anywhere anti-viral pills are available.
  2. Schedule a telehealth visit. If you do not have a health care provider or if a provider can’t see you within 48 hours, contact Washington State Department of Health at 1–800–525–0127, then press # or go to doh.wa.gov/Covid19Telehealth to schedule a free telehealth appointment, available in 240 languages. Patients without the ability to have a video visit can have a phone visit. If you have already been tested, you may bring your test result from an at-home (antigen) test or a testing site to your telehealth visit. The test should be taken in the treatment window within 5 days of the onset of symptoms.
  3. Visit a Test to Treat clinic to receive testing and treatment in one visit. To find a clinic, enter your zip code into the Test to Treat locator or call 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 888-720-7489) to get help in English, Spanish and more than 150 other languages.

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, including the COVID-19 virus. The changed versions of the virus are called variants. There are many variants and they are labeled using Greek letters. Some are more concerning than others. Those that the CDC considers "variants of concern" are ones that they closely monitor and that require specific public health actions. They may spread more quickly, cause more severe disease, or may be better at getting past the body’s immune defenses.

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. Booster shots have shown to be highly effective in protecting against severe illness, hospitalization and death from the Delta and Omicron variants.

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. Booster shots have shown to be highly effective in protecting against severe illness, hospitalization and death variants. Updated boosters are now available that protect against the most common variants right now (Omicron BA.4 and BA.5) and the original variants of COVID-19. Vaccines are the best protection we have against the virus.

COVID-19 is still present in our communities. The best protection is to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Updated booster shots are now available that protect against the most common variants right now (Omicron BA.4 and BA.5) and the original variants of COVID-19.

Those who are not up to date on their vaccinations can help protect themselves and others by continuing to wear a snug-fitting mask correctly according to current guidance, physically distancing from others, frequently washing their hands, and following the isolation and quarantine guidance.

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. to 5 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.

If you test positive for COVID-19 or are at higher risk from the disease, getting COVID-19 treatment early can help to protect from severe illness and hospitalization. Ask your healthcare provider to see if treatment is recommended for you.

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. to 5 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

If you test positive, health investigators known as contact tracers will reach out to help determine when you got sick and who you might have exposed. Your phone will identify the caller as "WA Health." You may also receive a text message.

Contact tracers will work with you to let your close contacts know what precautions to take and where to get a free test. They will not reveal your identity nor ask about your immigration status.

Contact tracing is a time-tested way to limit the spread of contagious diseases. If you get called, please answer. We need your help in stopping the spread of the virus to the community.

Here is more information about what to expect when they call.

View this infographic: What is 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.

Those who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate for five days. People in isolation 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 isolate.

We've found that people who are asked to isolate 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, and especially during the first 5 days. 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. to 5 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.

Domestic travel

Testing is no longer required for travel within the US or when entering the US, but it is important to check COVID-19 Community Levels for your destination before you go and follow local guidelines.

International travel

Travelers are no longer required to show a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 prior to boarding a flight to the U.S. CDC continues to recommend that those travelers boarding a flight to the U.S. get tested for current infection with a viral test as close to the time of departure as possible (no more than 3 days) and not travel if they are sick.

Testing may be required for travel to countries outside of the US.

See full guidance for international travel on the CDC website.

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, 2021, 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 several times a week on the COVID-19 summary 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

  • King County COVID‑19 Call Center
    Contact the call center at 206‑477‑3977 with medical questions related to COVID-19. The call center is available daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and isolation and quarantine requests can be made during that time.

    If you need language interpretation or online help, contact the call center and say your preferred language when connected. If you have a disability and need accommodation, contact the call center or email publichealthaccommodations@kingcounty.gov.

  • Non-medical questions about COVID-19, including compliance and business-related issues?
    Contact King County COVID-19 Business and Community Information by submitting a written inquiry or report online.

  • 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.