Common 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.
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.
People who have been diagnosed with novel coronavirus have reported symptoms that may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus:
- Difficulty breathing
If you have symptoms like cough, fever, or other respiratory problems, 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 both your health care provider and our King County Novel Coronavirus Call Center at 206-477-3977.
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
- stay home while you are sick and avoid close contact with others
- cover your mouth/nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing
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.
Anyone who is ill should wear a mask in public or around others.
While staying apart from other people is our best protection against COVID-19, non-medical masks may help limit the spread of COVID-19. Before deciding to wear a mask, Public Health recommends people keep two considerations in mind:
- Medical masks should be reserved for healthcare providers who are on the front lines working to protect us all. We have had shortages of those masks – and it's critically important that our healthcare workers have the equipment they need to do their jobs.
- Non-medical mask use (e.g., homemade fabric masks) does not replace the need to follow guidance to stay home and limit our contact with others. It does not replace frequent hand washing, avoiding touching the face, and staying away from people who are ill. These are the most important steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 illness.
Wearing a fabric mask can help prevent the spread of infection to others when the mask is worn by someone who already is infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, even if they don't have symptoms. The mask will block infectious droplets from spreading when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes and, to a lesser degree, speaks.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 this Public Health Insider post.
People wear masks for a variety of reasons, including to avoid pollen and air pollution, as a courtesy to others when they have the common cold, and for other cultural and even social reasons. This is an acceptable use of face masks.
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 choose to wear masks.
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.
Not everybody who feels ill needs to be tested, particularly if you have mild illness. Healthcare providers determine who should be tested. While testing is becoming more available, there are still limitations in the ability to quickly collect and process tests.
If you are sick with fever, cough or shortness of breath and are in a high risk group, call your healthcare provider to discuss whether you should be tested for COVID-19.
- People at high risk for complications from COVID-19 are:
- People older than 60 years
- People with chronic medical conditions
- People with weakened immune systems
- Pregnant people
Other people with mild illness who are concerned about their health can call their healthcare provider to discuss COVID-19 testing and other possible reasons for their illness.
While testing is becoming more available, there are limitations in providers’ capacity to obtain samples and process lab results rapidly.
When the test was first released, it was only approved for emergency use. This has recently changed as more testing capacity is becoming more available. Now, if you have symptoms and are high risk, we encourage you to call your health care provider and have a conversation with them about whether it makes sense for you to get tested for COVID-19. Your provider will determine whether testing is recommended.
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
Public Health provides instruction to people who meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing to take precautionary measures until test results are known. Precautionary measures include isolating themselves from others, typically by staying at home, monitoring themselves for symptoms, and by taking their temperature twice daily. We contact them each day to talk about their health status. This allows us to rapidly detect any potential signs of infection and get the person evaluated quickly if needed, minimizing the risk of spread.
We also ask anyone who is a close contact of someone who meets the criteria for testing to monitor their health and let us know immediately if they develop any illness. They can stop monitoring for symptoms when the person tests negative for coronavirus infection. Should the person test positive, the close contacts would stay separated from others and we would check in with them daily to watch for symptoms.
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 been in China (effective 2/2/20) and Iran (effective 2/29/20) within the past 14 days.
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.
Passengers returning to the United States who have been in mainland China within the previous 14 days will have a health screening by the CDC at eleven designated airports.
The airports to which all flights carrying passengers from China will be funneled are:
- SeaTac International Airport (SEA)
- John F. Kennedy (JFK)
- Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- Daniel K. Inouye (HNL)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta (ATL)
- Washington Dulles (IAD)
- Dallas Fort Worth (DFW)
- Detroit International (DTW)
- Newark Liberty Airport (EWR)
COVID-19 in King County
COVID-19 is spreading in King County, with over one thousand cases reported to date. We expect the case count to double every 5-7 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.
This is a quickly changing situation. Check Public Health's coronavirus page for frequent updates on the local situation and the Washington Dept. of Health's website for daily updates for Washington state.
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 until late April 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 23, Governor Jay Inslee issued a Stay Home—Stay Healthy order which will be effective for a minimum of two weeks. 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.
- 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!
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 #.