Frequently asked questions about coronavirus
Select a tab below to reveal information:
On March 23, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a Stay Home — Stay Healthy order. The order requires every Washingtonian to stay at home, except for people:
- Pursuing an essential activity, like shopping for groceries or going to a medical appointment. What’s opened and closed
- Getting takeout food. (Food deliveries also are permitted).
- Going to work at an essential business.
- Going outside for walks and exercise, as long as they keep 6 feet apart.
- What does it mean to stay home?
Learn more about the order: coronavirus.wa.gov
On March 28, Public Health's Health Officer, Dr. Jeff Duchin, issued a Quarantine Directive and Isolation Order to protect the health of our community and prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Quarantine Directive: Everyone with COVID-19 symptoms who has a test result pending shall remain in quarantine while waiting for the test results.
- Isolation Order: Every who has tested positive for COVID-19 shall remain in isolation until no longer infectious.
Download the local health officer orders and directives
- Local Health Officer Quarantine Directive and Amended Isolation Order – May 21, 2020
- Amended Local Health Officer Order – May 20, 2020
- Mask Directive Order – May 11, 2020
This page is subject to change as new information becomes available. Be sure to press Refresh or Reload on your browser menu to ensure you're viewing the latest version of the page.
Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new virus strain spreading from person-to-person. It is currently in the United States and many other countries, after originating in China. Health experts are concerned because this new virus has the potential to cause severe illness and pneumonia in some people — especially people over age 60 or who have weakened immune systems.
Health experts are still learning more about the spread. Currently it is thought to spread:
- through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes
- between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)
- by touching a surface or object with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes
Most coronavirus illnesses are mild with fever and cough. The vast majority of people with novel coronavirus infection do not require hospital care. A much smaller percentage of people get severely ill with lung and breathing problems like pneumonia. Elderly people and people with underlying medical conditions are at highest risk for severe disease.
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: cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or a new loss of taste or smell. 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 AM – 7 PM at 206-477-3977.
Need help finding a doctor or getting health insurance? Call the Community Health Access Program (CHAP): 1 (800) 756-5437 or the Help Me Grow Washington Hotline: 1 (800) 322-2588.
It's important that everyone take steps to reduce the spread of novel coronavirus, especially to protect those who are more vulnerable. Steps you can take to prevent spread of flu and the common cold will also help prevent coronavirus:
- wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If not available, use hand sanitizer.
- avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
- avoid contact with people who are sick especially if you are 60 or over or have an underlying health condition, like heart disease, diabetes, lung disease or a weakened immune system.
- stay home while you are sick and stay at least 6 feet away from others.
- cover your mouth/nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing
- wear a cloth mask which covers your mouth and nose, when outside your home.
If you are traveling overseas, check for the latest COVID-19 Travel Alerts and follow the CDC's Travelers' Health guidance.
Currently, there are no vaccines available to prevent COVID-19 infections.
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.
In King County, you are directed to wear face coverings over your nose and mouth while you're in an indoor public setting where you'll likely come into contact with another person. You are also directed to wear a cloth face covering while you're 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. The Health Officer's Directive relies on individual compliance; there is no penalty for not wearing a mask.
Operators and riders on King County Metro will be required to wear face coverings. Metro operators will not prevent passengers without face coverings from boarding, but recorded reminders will play on the vehicle's public address system informing riders of the face covering policy. Security officers will communicate public health guidance to riders who are not wearing a face covering or staying apart from other passengers.
To be effective, masks should be worn consistently and properly so as not to contaminate the hands or face of the user, and fabric masks should be changed when moist and washed after use. Masks that have been worn may be contaminated with infectious agents.
For more information, check out our informational page our face coverings.
King County has directed its residents to wear a cloth face covering over your nose and mouth in an indoor public setting andat outdoor public spaces where it is difficult to maintain six feet of physical distance at all times. This means you don’t need to wear a face covering when you’re outside walking, but you would be directed to wear one while at a farmers market or visiting a crowded park where social distancing is not possible to maintain. You are directed to wear a cloth face covering for the entire duration of the time you’re in either of those settings.
If we see our friends, neighbors or other community members wearing a mask, we should not assume that they have been exposed to coronavirus or any other illness. We should avoid making assumptions about why someone is wearing a mask and make sure not to stigmatize or discriminate against people who wear masks.
The CDC recommends that in communities like King County, where there is significant community-based transmission, all individuals cover their noses and mouths with a cloth face covering to prevent inadvertently spreading the COVID-19 virus while interacting with others outside their homes when they are unable to maintain six feet of distance.
It is currently unknown how long COVID-19 immunity lasts after the initial infection with disease. It may be possible to become infected with COVID-19 twice.
Testing for COVID-19
There are a number of viral respiratory germs circulating right now. We understand the desire of people who are currently sick to be tested for COVID-19, along with those who fear they may be infected with COVID-19 but are currently asymptomatic.
Public Health – Seattle & King County does not typically conduct testing. Testing is typically conducted by taking a swab at a health care provider's office.
For more information on testing, view this Public Insider post: Over 20,000 kits to be distributed by Public Health for local COVID-19 testing needs.
Anyone who is experiencing even mild COVID-like symptoms should isolate themselves away from others and call their healthcare provider. Getting tested as soon as possible is important to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The most concerning symptoms are cough or shortness of breath. But if you have two or more of the following symptoms, you should also call to be evaluated for a test:
- Fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell
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.
If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, it’s important to take action quickly and follow the instructions on the "What to do" factsheet. People who live in the same household or are in close contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 should also be tested, even if they don’t have symptoms.
Most testing is completed through healthcare providers. You should call your healthcare provider if you feel sick, live in the same household as someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Each healthcare system has its own testing processes. Many providers require appointments to prevent overcrowding and to be sure that they have supplies.
If you need to be tested and don’t have a provider who can do the test, please don’t delay. Call the King County COVID-19 call center, which is open 7 days a week 8 AM – 7 PM, at 206-477-3977.
Public Health – Seattle & King County does not typically conduct testing. Testing is typically conducted by taking a swab at a health care provider's office. Call ahead before visiting your healthcare provider.
Federal, state, and local Public Health response to COVID-19
We are not currently conducting traditional contact tracing for COVID-19 cases. A couple of weeks after the first COVID-19 cases were identified in King County, we found that we needed to pivot away from contact tracing for all cases in favor of population level strategies. We focus on population level strategies include social distancing, tele-work, school closures, cancellations of large gatherings, etc. while focusing our limited resources on responding to COVID-19 in high risk settings such as long-term care facilities, shelters, and among healthcare workers.
Washington State Department of Health currently conducts all case investigations. As part of case investigation, DOH screens confirmed cases for whether the individual worked or lived in a high-risk facility such as a long-term care facility, homeless shelter or healthcare facility and we focus our local follow-up there, including working with the facility on infection control, if needed.
On January 31, 2020, the U.S. federal government announced that the COVID-19 situation was a Public Health Emergency.
Since then, the federal government has announced a number of quarantine measures, including suspending entry of foreign nationals who have visited one of the following countries in the past 14 days:
- European Schengen area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City)
- United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland)
- Republic of Ireland
In addition, U.S. citizens, residents and their immediate family members who traveled to China are being given a health screening upon entry at eleven designated airports. They are allowed to continue on to their final destination if they do not have any symptoms of illness and will undergo up to 14 days of self-quarantine to ensure they have not contracted the virus.
The federal government is frequently updating its Travel Alerts and may add travelers returning from other countries to the list of who should be monitored.
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.
- 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. For 14 days from their last possible exposure, 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.
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.
Yes, people in self-quarantine are not sick and can still have contact with their household members. Should they develop any symptoms, they are asked to quickly and safely isolate from all others, including those in their household, and to contact their medical provider.
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.
Currently, all international travelers arriving into the US should stay home for 14 days after their arrival. At home, they are expected to monitor their health and practice social distancing. To protect the health of others, these travelers should not to go to work or school for 14 days.
For more information, check out CDC’s Travel Guidance.
COVID-19 in King County
COVID-19 case and death counts are updated daily on the COVID-19 dashboard. We expect the case count to double every 22-23 days and more cases to be identified as testing becomes more widely available.
Although most of the cases will be mild or moderate, the infection can cause serious illness and there is a potential for many people to become ill at the same time, overwhelming our healthcare system. If that happens, people requiring care may not be able to get it when they need it. Every King County resident has a responsibility to each other to make sure our community collectively lessens the impact of this disease.
Anyone who is sick should stay home. Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19, as well as their close contacts, should follow Public Health guidance addressing what to do if you have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 or are worried that you do.
Public Health has issued several measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19. We strongly encourage everyone to avoid all non-essential contact with others in the community regardless of whether they are young and healthy or not.
Additionally, the Governor has closed schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year and has issued a Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order that prohibits all gatherings and closes all but essential businesses.
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.
On March 23rd, Governor Jay Inslee announced a statewide order that requires everyone in the state to stay home called Stay Home, Stay Healthy. The order requires every Washingtonian to stay at home, except for people:
- Pursuing an essential activity, like shopping for groceries or going to a medical appointment. See what's opened and closed.
- Getting takeout food. (Food deliveries are also permitted.)
- Going to work at an essential business.
- Going outside for walks and exercise, as long as people keep 6 feet apart from others.
- What does it mean to stay home?
For more information on the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order, visit www.coronavirus.wa.gov.
Public Health and the Governor's Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order asks everyone to avoid all non-essential contact with others in the community, regardless of whether they are young and healthy or not.
- Stay at home as much as possible. What does it mean to stay home?
- Limit trips for groceries, gas and other essentials.
- If you must go out to pursue an essential activity, stay at least 6 feet away from others at all times and consider wearing a cloth mask which covers your mouth and nose.
- Continue to practice healthy hand hygiene, cough into their sleeves, stay home when sick, and disinfect high-touch surfaces both inside and outside their home.
- Do not buy more than you need. Many are overstocking on products that sick neighbors, healthcare providers, and emergency providers need like hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Leave some for your neighbors!
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:
The Washington State Dept. of Health has established a call center to address questions from the public.
If you have questions about what is happening in Washington state, how the virus is spread, and what to do if you have symptoms, please call 1-800-525-0127 and press #.