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Phase 3 of the Healthy Washington Plan

King County is currently in Phase 3 of the state’s Healthy Washington Roadmap to Recovery plan, which will allow for more activities to resume, including indoor dining at 50 percent capacity.

For more details about the Healthy Washington plan, please visit the Governor’s Healthy Washington site.

All people in Washington state age 12 and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Learn how to get vaccinated in King County, read more about vaccination for youth, and view Public Health's Vaccine Strategy.

Updated on April 14, 2021 (Updated information and guidance throughout all sections.)
We also have frequently asked questions about Testing and Vaccines
Link/share this page at www.kingcounty.gov/covid/FAQ


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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.

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

I have heard a lot about new COVID-19 variants in the news. What is a variant?

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 slightly different from the original virus. There are many variants, but some are more concerning than others. Three variants of concern are:

  • the B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the United Kingdom (UK) variant;
  • the B.1.351 variant, also known as the South African variant because it originated there; and
  • the P.1 variant, first identified in Brazil.

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

Are the variants more dangerous?

The B.1.1.7 variant is more transmissible. This means that it spreads more easily from one person to another. There is still no clear evidence that this variant causes more severe disease or is more deadly in people who get it. Scientists are learning more every day and information continues to change rapidly. We've heard news coming out of the UK that suggests the variant could be more severe but there is still uncertainty about whether this is accurate.

Because the new strain is more contagious, this means that it 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, and that is dangerous. 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.

The other two variants may also spread more easily but at this time there is no evidence they cause more severe illness either.

What do these variants mean for vaccine effectiveness?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the currently authorized Moderna and Pfizer vaccines appear to be effective against the B.1.1.7 variant. It does appear that the B.1.351 and P.1 variants can reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines, but the vaccines still provide strong protection against severe illness and death. Vaccine effectiveness is something that the scientific community is monitoring. Scientists continue to research how effective the vaccines will be against other new variants.

Are the variants in Washington state and King County?

All three variants of concern have been detected in Washington and King County. In King County, the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant was first detected on January 29, 2021, and has since been detected in a growing number of test samples. The B.1.351 (South Africa) variant was detected on February 22, 2021, and the P.1 (Brazil) variant was detected on March 11, 2021. Learn more about the presence of the B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1 variants in our blog.

How widespread are the variants of concern in King County?

Most labs are unable to do the specialized testing for the variants, so only a small fraction of positive COVID-19 tests are sampled to check for the variant. For this reason, we do not have enough data to be able to estimate how many cases of the new variants are present in King County.

How do we protect ourselves and our community from the new strains?

The appearance of these variants of concern in King County is a wake-up call. While their presence does not change what we know works to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it does reinforce the need for everyone to be even more diligent: wear a mask correctly, wash your hands, keep your distance from others, and avoid crowded places with poor ventilation. It is more important than ever that we continue to consistently take steps to prevent the spread of the virus and this variant.

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 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.

It's important that everyone take steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The following can protect you and others:

  • Wear a snug-fitting mask with at least 2 layers. Make sure it covers your mouth and nose.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others outside of your home.
  • Avoid group gatherings and poorly ventilated spaces.
  • Limit non-essential trips out of the house and minimize contact with others who don't live with you, especially if unvaccinated.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Stay away from others who are sick. Stay home if you are sick or showing symptoms.
  • Fewer, shorter and safer interactions are crucial.
  • Cover your mouth/nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.
  • Get vaccinated, if possible.

If you must travel, check for the latest COVID-19 Travel Alerts and follow the CDC's Travelers' Health guidance.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines, after large scale clinical trials with tens of thousands of volunteers to ensure they are both safe and effective.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines.

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.

The Washington Department of Health requires anyone in Washington State to wear a cloth face covering in public when unable to stay 6 feet away from others.

You are directed to wear face coverings over your nose and mouth while in an indoor public setting where you may be within 6 feet of someone who does not live with you. You are also directed to wear a cloth face covering in an outdoor public setting – like a farmers market or a crowded park – where it is difficult to maintain six feet of physical distance at all times.

A face covering is not needed when you are outside walking, exercising, or otherwise outdoors if you are able to regularly stay 6 feet away from other people who do not live with you.

To protect yourself, 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, including DIY face covering instructions and business signage resources, visit kingcounty.gov/masks.

The CDC recommends that in communities like King County and Washington State, where there is significant community-based transmission, all individuals cover their noses and mouths with a cloth face covering to prevent spreading COVID-19.

We know people with COVID-19 may not show symptoms and can still spread the virus to others. Recent research indicates wearing a face covering can significantly reduce the spread and incidence of COVID-19.

We have made progress slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, but most people do not have immunity to the disease and remain susceptible. As a community, a surge of new cases could make many more people ill and overwhelm our health care system’s ability to treat those with serious complications of the disease and non-COVID related emergencies.

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 should get tested for COVID-19:

  • Anyone experiencing COVID-like symptoms, regardless of vacination 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 do not need to be tested following 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

COVID activity remains high in King County. It is important that we continue to avoid socializing indoors, limit our gatherings and discretionary activities, wear masks, keep interactions brief, and practice social distancing so we can continue to slow the virus' spread.

King County is following the State’s Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery Plan. For current COVID-19 guidance and restrictions, including what’s open, see the Current COVID-19 Guidance page.

We know what stops the spread and we need to do more of what we know works right now:

  • Wear a snug-fitting mask around people who you don't live with (even close friends and family)
  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Limit the number, size and frequency of gatherings—particularly inside—and increase indoor ventilation.
  • Get a test at the first sign of illness or if you've been around someone with COVID-19.
  • The safest option is to avoid gathering with people outside your household
  • Get vaccinated, if eligible

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

Public Health has issued several measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19. We strongly encourage everyone to:

  • Wear a snug-fitting mask around people who you don't live with (even close friends and family).
  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Limit the number, size and frequency of gatherings—particularly inside—and increase indoor ventilation.
  • Get a test at the first sign of illness or if you've been around someone with COVID-19.
  • The safest option is to avoid gathering with people outside your household.
  • Get vaccinated, if eligible.

We need everyone to slow the spread of COVID-19. Minimize in-person contact. Take distancing and ventilation seriously. Wear a mask or cloth face covering. Wash your hands often. Fewer, shorter and safer interactions are crucial.

Public Health continues to work with state and local partners to coordinate on what is best for our community, continuously monitor the situation, and adapt as necessary to the changing circumstances.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines, after large scale clinical trials with tens of thousands of volunteers to ensure they are both safe and effective.

Washington state is receiving very limited quantities of COVID-19 vaccines. We expect supplies to increase gradually and COVID-19 vaccines should be more widely available to anyone who wants to be vaccinated in spring or summer 2021.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines.

We strongly encourage everyone to:

  • Wear a snug-fitting mask around people who you don't live with (even close friends and family)
  • Stay home as much as possible
  • Limit the number, size and frequency of gatherings—particularly inside—and increase indoor ventilation
  • Get a test at the first sign of illness or if you've been around someone with COVID-19
  • The safest option is to avoid gathering with people outside your household
  • Get vaccinated, if eligible

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.
COVID-19 Question and Answer BotCOVID-19 Question and Answer Bot