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As of January 18, 2021, all older adults in Washington state over the age of 65 are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. People 50 and older who live in multigenerational households are also eligible if they meet certain conditions. Due to limited supply of vaccine, not everyone will be able to access a vaccine right away. Access will improve as the supply chain widens and providers in King County receive more doses.

Learn how to get vaccinated in King County, read more about the expanded vaccination eligibility, and view Public Health's Vaccine Strategy.


Updated on February 25, 2021 (updated information in questions #3 and #4)
A basic FAQ also available in PDF format
Link/share this page at www.kingcounty.gov/covid/FAQ


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General information

Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new virus strain spreading 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. Two of these are the B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the UK variant, which originated in the United Kingdom (UK) and the B.1.351 variant, also known as the South African variant because it originated there. Both have been found in multiple states in the United States, including Washington state.

Another variant that is noteworthy appears to have originated in Brazil. At this time, this variant has not been detected in 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 variant 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?

In January 2021, the B.1.1.7 variant was first detected in cases from Snohomish and Pierce counties in Washington state. Soon after, it was also detected in a case from King County. The B.1.351 variant has also been detected in King County. Other variants of concern have not been detected in King County or Washington as of February 23, 2021.

Which variants have been detected in King County?

The B.1.1.7 (UK) variant was first detected in a case in King County on January 29, 2021, and has since been detected in a growing number of test samples. More recently, the B.1.351 (South Africa) variant was detected on February 22, 2021. Learn more about the presence of the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants in our blogs.

How widespread are the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants 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 this new strain?

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.

COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning how it spreads and the severity of illness it causes. The CDC has also 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 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 COVID-19. The following can protect you and others:

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

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 the first COVID-19 vaccines. Multiple other vaccines are under development and several are in large scale clinical trials with tens of thousands of volunteers to ensure they are both safe and effective.

Very limited quantities of COVID-19 vaccines will start to arrive in Washington state before the end of 2020. 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.

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.

Testing for COVID-19

Seattle and King County is now recommending 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.

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.

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. Anyone with these symptoms should call their provider to be evaluated for a test:

  • Cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever or chills, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea.

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 in close contact for a combined total of 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period with someone who has COVID-19, it's important to get tested, even if you don't have symptoms. It’s best to get tested 5 – 7 days after that exposure and no earlier than 48 hours, unless you develop symptoms. 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. Learn more on this "What to do" factsheet.

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, check out the list of FREE testing locations in King County or call the King County COVID-19 call center from 8 AM – 7 PM at 206-477-3977.

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 AM – 7 PM 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.

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:

  • Brazil
  • China
  • Iran
  • 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

On September 14, 2020, the United States removed requirements to direct certain international flights to designated airports for screening. Other public health measures are now prioritized including health education and self-monitoring for passengers; testing and response to reports of illness on airplanes, maritime vessels, and at land-border crossings; and country-specific risk assessments to assist passengers in making informed decisions about travel-related risk.

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.

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, Public Health recommends the following:

  1. Stay in quarantine for 14 days after your last contact. This is the safest option.
  2. If this is not possible, stay in quarantine for 10 days after your last contact, without additional testing.
  3. If the first two options are not possible, stay in quarantine for 7 full days beginning after your last contact AND after receiving a negative test result (get tested no sooner than day 5 after your last contact). This option depends on availability of testing resources and may not be recommended in some settings.
  4. Follow these recommendations even if you have received the COVID-19 vaccine. While experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide in real-life conditions, our continued use of all COVID-19 precautions will help to end this pandemic.

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. until 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.

On November 13, 2020, Governor Inslee released a COVID-19 Travel Advisory for non-essential travel. People arriving in Washington from other states, including returning Washington residents, should self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. Interactions should be limited to immediate family members.

Additionally, everyone in Washington is encouraged to stay home or in their region and avoid non-essential travel to other states or countries.

Other public health measures are now prioritized including health education and self-monitoring for passengers; testing and response to reports of illness on airplanes, maritime vessels, and at land-border crossings; and country-specific risk assessments to assist passengers in making informed decisions about travel-related risk.

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

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 now in Phase 1 of the State’s Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery Plan, announced by Governor Inslee on January 5, 2021. In Phase 1, we will continue to operate as we have been under the current temporary restrictions with some additional fitness, entertainment and sports activities allowed at a limited capacity.  

To move to Phase 2 of the Healthy Washington plan and reopen more businesses and activities, our region must meet four metrics associated with regional hospital capacity and admissions, case rates and test positivity.

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

  • Wear a 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

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

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 avoid all non-essential contact with others in the community regardless of whether they are young and healthy or not.

Now more than ever, 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 the first COVID-19 vaccines. Multiple other vaccines are under development and several are in 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.

Public Health and the Governor's Office asks everyone to avoid all non-essential contact with people you don’t live with, 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, stay at least 6 feet away from others at all times.
  • Fewer, shorter and safer interactions are crucial.
  • Wear a cloth face covering when you are at any indoor or outdoor public space where you are within 6 feet of others.
  • Continue to practice healthy hand hygiene, cough into 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:

On holidays or special occasions, the safest option is to avoid gathering with people who you don't live with. As you make your plans, follow the recommendations and restrictions that have been put in place  for Phase 1 of the State’s Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery Plan.

  • Everyone is encouraged to stay home or in their region and avoid non-essential travel to other states or countries. See related blog from the Public Health Insider: Testing and traveling during the holiday season.
  • Anyone arriving from other states or countries, including returning Washington residents, should self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival.
  • For Phase 1, the Governor has temporarily prohibited indoor gatherings with people who you do not live with. You can gather outside with no more than 10 people who do not live with you and limited to two households.

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

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 #.

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