Page updated: Thursday October 25, 2020 at 3:03 p.m. 

Reopening Whatcom County

What does it mean to be in Phase 2?

Whatcom County is currently in Phase 2 of reopening, as detailed in the Safe Start plan.The Safe Start Plan has 4 phases, with counties moving from Phase 1 (most restrictive) to Phase 4 (least restrictive) as conditions allow.

On July 23, Governor Inslee announced changes to the Safe Start Plan for county-by-county phased reopenings due to high rates of COVID-19 transmission throughout the state. Changes to the Safe Start plan include new restrictions that will be phased in on 7/25, 7/30, and 8/6. 

Whatcom County will remain in Phase 2 of the Plan until further notice. The phased approach to reopening is a strategy to dial back restrictions slowly so that individuals and businesses have time to adjust and we can monitor outcomes to make sure we can all stay safe. For the latest information on what is open in each Phase, visit the Washington State Coronavirus Response page.

What is the “Safe Start” plan?

“Safe Start” is Washington’s four phase reopening plan for Washington. Businesses, non-profit workers, and employees with questions can visit our Resources for Businesses and Organizations page or submit an inquiry to the state’s Business Response Center.

As we reopen Whatcom County remember:

  • It’s still safest to stay home.
  • When leaving home, physical distancing of at least six feet is still required.
  • Using face coverings in any shared public or private space, both indoors and outdoors, is now required.
  • Employees must use face coverings while at work unless they work alone or have no in-person contact with others, or they have a health condition which prevents them from using a face covering.
  • High risk populations should continue to stay home as much as possible and avoid public places.  

To find out more, visit Whatcom Unified Commands Safe Start page.  Details are at

What is the difference between Safe Start and quarantine?

Safe Start is the plan for the phased approach to reopening Washington’s economy safely. Following the guidance for each phase of safe Start is a way for all of us to reduce the general risk to ourselves and to others. Whatcom County is currently in Phase 2. You can learn more about what is open in each phase on the state’s coronavirus website. In addition to following the guidance for Phase 2 it’s still important to: 

  • Stay home as much as possible.  
  • If you go out, stay six feet apart, wear a face covering and wash your hands.
  • Stay local.

Quarantine is for individuals who we know have had direct exposure to the virus by being a close contact of someone with confirmed COVID-19. Typically a close contact is defined as someone who has spent 15 minutes or longer within six feet of someone who was contagious with COVID-19. Someone self-quarantining stays home and limits interactions with others, including those in the home. This is important because a person can be contagious before symptoms begin. People who cannot isolate or quarantine safely in their home, can stay at the county’s isolation/quarantine facility at no cost to them. We will help arrange for a stay at the facility. For more information about the difference between Stay Home, Stay Healthy, self-quarantine, and self-isolation see our fact sheet

If I think a business is not complying with the Safe Start plan what can I do? 

If you believe a business is not operating in a way that complies with the governor’s Safe Start guidance, you can submit an anonymous report. (Guidelines for enforcement for the Governor’s order (pdf)).  

Workplace safety and health complaints about your workplace or job site should be submitted to the  L&I Call Center: 1-800-423-7233

 Only call 911 for emergency situations.

What’s the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) situation in Whatcom County? 

  • The state has been working on obtaining and distributing PPE throughout Washington. Information about PPE supplies and distribution, including a breakdown by county is available on the state coronavirus website.
  • In June, Whatcom Unified Command provided 100,000 masks to help local businesses reopen. These masks are being distributed by area Chambers of Commerce. Please visit the Bellingham Regional Chamber website to check available supplies.

Antibody Testing

What is an antibody test, and how could it be used during the COVID-19 pandemic?

An antibody test, also known as a serological test, looks for antibodies in the blood that suggest to us if a person has been exposed to a virus or bacteria. Your immune system makes antibodies when you are fighting off viruses and bacteria.

In the future, antibody testing may be able to reliably tell us several important things:

  • If someone who has previously been infected with COVID-19 is immune from future COVID-19 illness.
  • How long immunity from COVID-19 lasts.
  • Whether or not someone had COVID-19 in the past. 

However, scientists need to study antibody testing and COVID-19 immunity further to answer some important questions:

  • How reliable and accurate are antibody tests? There are dozens of antibody tests being marketed in the United States that haven’t been fully validated yet. Some tests are more accurate than others, and some can’t be compared to each other. We simply don’t know at this point that those tests are giving valid information.

  • What kind of long-term immunity do people have to COVID-19 after an infection? There isn’t yet enough scientific information to tell us how long immunity lasts in people who have been infected. With many diseases, immunity can wane over time for various reasons. We need to study this more before we can say that an antibody test proves immunity to COVID-19 in the long run.

 Right now, antibody tests can not be used to confirm whether or not someone has COVID-19. We are continuing to monitor this new science with hope that antibody testing will be another tool to prevent spread of COVID-19.

Are COVID-19 antibody tests available in Whatcom County?

Some providers are offering COVID-19 antibody testing. Currently, COVID-19 antibody tests do not tell people that they won’t get sick again. We need a better understanding about what kind of long-term immunity people have to COVID-19. There isn’t yet enough scientific information to tell us how long immunity lasts in people who have already been infected. With many diseases, immunity can wane over time for various reasons. 

Scientists need to study this more before we can know if an antibody test is actually proof of immunity to COVID-19 in the long run. There is still a lot to learn about what these tests really tell us.

Should I get an antibody test?

At this time, we do not recommend antibody testing as a reliable way to check for immunity or recovery from COVID-19. No one should draw definite conclusions about their protection from COVID-19 based on currently available antibody tests. 

While antibody testing holds a lot of potential, it doesn’t yet give us the kind of reliable information we need. Given the inaccuracies in the available tests and the uncertainty about what the test results mean for immunity, the test results are not yet a good source of information for us to base our public health decisions on. More work is needed on this kind of testing in the coming weeks and months. 

The Virus and Its Symptoms

What is coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a new virus called SARS-CoV-2. Most people with COVID-19 will have mild disease, but some people will get sicker and may need to be hospitalized.

How severe is COVID-19?

The vast majority of people with novel coronavirus infection do not require medical care or hospitalization. A much smaller percentage of people get severely ill with respiratory problems like pneumonia. According to the CDC, people most at risk for severe illness are:

  • People older than 65 years
  • People with chronic medical conditions
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Pregnant people

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of coronavirus may include:

  • 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

Can people spread the virus before they develop symptoms?

Yes. COVID-19 can be spread by individuals who are not exhibiting typical symptoms. In some cases, the individual may not have developed symptoms yet, and in other cases, people may carry and spread the virus without ever experiencing symptoms.


At this time, there is no specific treatment recommended for COVID-19.

  • We understand that many community members are worried about trying to find ways to treat or prevent COVID-19. It’s important to know that there is currently no treatment of COVID-19. As a community, the most effective way to limit the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home and to limit contact with others.
  • The best prevention steps for individuals are:
    • If you feel sick with any COVID-19 symptoms, get tested and stay home.
    • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, wash your hands often with soap and water, and clean frequently touched surfaces and objects. 
    • Get plenty of rest, drink fluids, eat healthy foods, and manage your stress to help prevent getting COVID-19 and recover from it if you do.
  • Never make medicine from household products. Ingesting household products not intended for human consumption is harmful and can be deadly.
  • Always follow guidance from a medical professional. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, call your doctor, get tested, and stay home. If you are having an emergency, call 911 and let them know you have symptoms of COVID-19.
    • The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
      • 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 
    • More information on what to do if you are sick is available from the CDC.

Exposure & Illness

I’m afraid I might have been exposed, what should I do?

You generally need to be in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 to get infected. Close contact includes:  

  • Living in the same household as a sick person with COVID-19.  
  • Caring for a sick person with COVID-19. 
  • Being within six feet of a sick person with COVID-19 for about 15 minutes. 
  • Being in direct contact with secretions from a sick person with COVID-19 (e.g., being coughed on, kissing, sharing utensils, etc.).

If you’ve been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 you should self-quarantine, monitor your symptoms, ask your healthcare provider to order a test and follow this guidance from the Washington State Department of Health.

What should I do if I was in close contact with someone with COVID-19 but I am not sick?

Our disease investigators are reaching out to anyone who was likely to be in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Follow these guidelines from the Washington State Department of Health if you were in close contact with someone with lab-confirmed COVID-19 (within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes): 

  • While they were sick. 
  • In the days before they got sick.

It can take up to 14 days from the time of exposure until your symptoms appear. If you develop any symptoms of COVID-19, even mild ones:

  • Contact your healthcare provider.
  • Get tested as soon as symptoms appear.
  • Stay home for at least 10 days and until 24 hours after your fever has gone away completely and other symptoms have improved, whichever is longer (minimum of 10 days).

You may be asked to get tested to determine if you have COVID-19 but aren’t showing symptoms. The test should be performed between 3 and 7 days from your last exposure. However, even if you test negative, you will still need to quarantine because it can take up to 14 days for the infection to develop.

If you have conditions that may increase your risk for a serious infection contact your healthcare provider’s office, and tell them that you were exposed to someone with COVID-19. They may want to monitor your health more closely or test you for COVID-19.

If you have not been contacted by us it means you were likely not a close contact. If you think you were a close contact, you can call us at (360) 778-6000. If you think you were at risk of exposure, we also suggest you take the standard precautions and cleaning recommendations for all community members: 

  • Stay home and monitor your health for fever, cough and shortness of breath for 14 days after the last day you were in close contact with the person who has COVID-19. 
  • Do not go to work and avoid all public places for 14 days.

What should I do if I am an essential worker and I had close contact with someone with COVID-19 while they were ill but I am not sick?

In some situations, employees in critical infrastructure who have been a close contact of someone diagnosed with COVID-19, may be allowed to return to work during their quarantine period. This may only be done in consultation with WCHD. If this applies to you, your employer must contact the Whatcom County Health Department's Business Response Team. They will provide assistance and information about what to do.

If you are an essential worker you can continue to work, provided you don’t have symptoms and the following steps are taken:

  • Pre-screen: have temperature and symptom check daily before starting work.
  • Regular self-monitoring for symptoms under the employer’s occupational health program.
  • Wear a mask: use at all times at work.
  • Social distance: maintain 6 feet of separation, or more, from other people as duties permit.
  • Clean and disinfect work spaces frequently.
  • Do not share headsets,  phones, food or drinks.
  • Clean and disinfect ‘high touch’ areas, like door handles and light switches, frequently. 

Follow these steps for 14 days from the time you were exposed.  If you develop symptoms, notify your employer and leave work immediately.  For more information, see guidance from the CDC and the Washington State Department of Health. Essential workers include state & local law enforcement; 911 call center employees; hazardous material responders; janitorial and other custodial staff; and workers in food and agriculture, critical manufacturing, informational technology, transportation, energy and government facilities. 

What should I do if I’m sick?

  • If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, even mild ones, call your healthcare provider and ask to get tested. For more information on how to get tested visit our COVID-19 testing page
  • Stay home and take care of yourself as you would for a cold or flu. Stay home away from others until 24 hours after the fever is gone and symptoms are better AND it has been ten days since the start of symptoms.
  • If you can’t isolate or quarantine safely at home, you can stay at the county’s isolation/quarantine facility at no cost to you. We will help arrange for a stay at the facility.
  • If you have symptoms and need medical care, call ahead to your regular provider before going into a clinic or other health care facility.
  • If you need emergency medical care, call 911.

If you develop any of these emergency warning signs* for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest.
  • New confusion or inability to arouse.
  • Bluish lips or face.

*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

Call 911 if you have a medical emergency: Notify the operator that you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a cloth face covering before medical help arrives. 

What should I do to keep my infection from spreading to my family and other people in the community? 

If you have COVID-19, stay home except to get medical care. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis. 

Self-isolate:separate yourself from other people and animals in your home:

  • As much as possible, you should stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home, if possible, use a separate bathroom.
  • You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while sick.
    • When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. 
    • If you must care for your pet, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a face mask, if possible.

What should I do if I am sick with COVID-19 and am pregnant or caring for a baby?

So far, pregnant people do not appear to be at greater risk for illness and complications from COVID-19 than other adults. Your healthcare provider will provide specific guidance for labor, delivery, and caring for your baby if you are sick. For additional information, the Washington State Department of Health has published guidance for Pregnancy, Birth, and Caring for Your Baby with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 (also in Spanish). For more resources, visit our Topics page

Guidelines for Returning to Work after Illness or Exposure

How do I know if I was exposed?

I was exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19, when can I go back to work?

The return to work procedure for (non-healthcare) workers who are close contacts of someone diagnosed with COVID-19 varies between critical infrastructure workers (who work for essential businesses) and workers at non-essential businesses.

  • If you work in a business that is considered non-essential you should quarantine as soon as you know you have been exposed. We will likely recommend you get tested between three and seven days after exposure. If you do not test positive, you will remain in quarantine until you are released from your quarantine by the health department.  Quarantine generally lasts 14 days from the date of exposure.  
  • If you work in a business that is essential you may be allowed to return to work during your quarantine period under certain circumstances. We will work with you and your employer to provide information, support and technical assistance to help you return to work safely. When not at work, you must still remain in quarantine until you are released from your quarantine by the health department.

I was sick with COVID-19. When can I go back to work?

All non-healthcare workers (essential and non-essential businesses) who are diagnosed with or identified as probably having COVID-19, must be excluded from work and may not return until they are released from isolation by the health department.

Workers diagnosed with COVID-19 who are:

  • Symptomatic must remain in isolation until:
    • It’s been at least 24 hours with no fever, without using fever-reducing medication, and 
    • Their symptoms have improved, and 
    • For at least 10 days from symptom onset.
  • Asymptomatic must remain in isolation
    • For at least 10 days from the date of your first positive COVID-19 test, and 
    • They have had no subsequent illness. 

In all cases, a public health nurse will notify people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and their close contacts, of isolation or quarantine duration and when they may return to work. If you meet the criteria to be released from isolation, a negative test is not required to return to work.

I tested positive for COVID-19, and I’m a healthcare worker. When can I go back to work?

For healthcare workers with mild to moderate illness, you may return to work when:

  • At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared and, 
  • At least 1 day (24 hours) has passed since the resolution of fever without the use of fever- reducing medications and 
  • Symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) have improved.

For asymptomatic healthcare workers:

  • At least 10 days have passed since the date of your first positive viral diagnostic test.

For healthcare workers with severe to critical illness, or who are severely immunocompromised: 

  • At least 20 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
  • At least 1 day (24 hours) has passed since the resolution of fever without the use of fever- reducing medications and 
  • Symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) have improved.

You should also:

  • Wear a facemask at all times while in the healthcare facility until all symptoms are completely resolved or until 14 days after illness onset, whichever is longer.
  • Be restricted from contact with severely immunocompromised patients (e.g., transplant, hematology-oncology) until all symptoms are completely resolved or until 14 days after illness onset, whichever is longer

Some healthcare workers may experience prolonged cough as a result of respiratory viral infection, which may continue after isolation has ended. Those workers should wear a face mask until their cough resolves or their health returns to normal.

I was exposed to someone with COVID-19, and I am a healthcare worker. What should I do? 

You should actively monitor for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection, but can return to work provided you:

  • Adhere to cough etiquette and hand hygiene
  • Wear a facemask at all times while in the healthcare facility until 14-days after the date of exposure.

If you start to experience symptoms, you should go home immediately and contact your healthcare provider.

Do I need a negative test to return to work?

Unless you are severely immunocompromised or have experienced a serious case of COVID-19, a negative test result should not be required to return to work. Instead, allow at least 10 days since symptom onset (or date of test for asymptomatic individuals), at least 24 hours since resolution of fever (without medications), and significant improvement of other symptoms.

Insurance Coverage and Costs

I’m worried about costs, how much does testing cost if I do/don’t have insurance?

If you do have insurance: 

  • If you are concerned about whether or not you should be tested, read the guidance from the Department of Health and call your healthcare provider first.
  • Most health insurance plans will cover the cost of testing for COVID-19. Insurance plans regulated by the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner are required to waive co-pays and deductibles for anyone requiring testing for COVID-19. 
  • Check with your insurance provider about coverage for testing and associated visits. 
  • If you believe you have wrongly been charged for a COVID-19 testing-associated visit, you can file a complaint with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.  
  • Most health insurance plans will cover testing and treatment for medically-necessary services related to COVID-19. If you need medical treatment for COVID-19, copays and deductibles will still apply.

If you do not have insurance:

  • All uninsured Washington residents can see if they qualify for special enrollment in the The Washington Health Benefits Exchange or Apple Health. You can visit the Health Benefits Exchange website or call 1-855-923-4633; TTY: 1-855-627-9604 for more information. 
  • Unity Care NW and SeaMar community health centers have state-trained insurance navigators for the state Healthplan Finder website. Call their offices to ask for help.
    • Unity Care NW’s Outreach and Enrollment Office: 1-360-788-2669 
    • SeaMar: 1-855-289-4503; Monday - Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Healthcare providers and facilities offering testing and treatment for individuals who are uninsured can apply for reimbursement through the Health Resources and Services Administration. Make sure to tell your provider you do not have insurance and ask if they have a reimbursement program. 
  • If you have been exposed or have symptoms and do not have a healthcare provider or insurance, call us at 360-778-6100 between 8:30 and 4:30 Monday through Friday for assistance. 

Responding to Needs of People Experiencing Homelessness

What is Whatcom County doing to support people who are without a home?

On March 16, Whatcom County received $905,821 from the Washington State Department of Commerce for emergency housing made necessary by the COVID-19 outbreak. These funds have been used for:

  • Creating isolation and quarantine housing.
  • Increasing sanitation in existing homeless housing.
  • Supporting the relocation of the Lighthouse Mission’s Drop-In Center to their temporary locations, first at Bellingham High School on March 20 and then to 1530 Cornwall Avenue on July 17.
  • Motel rooms to provide shelter for families that would otherwise be sleeping in their cars or outside.
  • Additional support for non-profit housing agencies to increase the amount of rental assistance they provide to prevent new households from becoming homeless.

Many non-profit housing agencies expanded services in response to our community’s urgent housing and support needs, but have lost revenue due to the pandemic. You can support these agencies with contributions made directly from their websites.

Wearing a Cloth Face Covering (Cloth Mask)

Where can I find information about using cloth face coverings?

When should I wear a cloth face covering?

On June 26, 2020, a statewide order began requiring individuals to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces such as stores, offices and restaurants in Washington State. The order also requires face coverings outdoors when you can’t stay six feet apart from others. This order was expanded on July 23 to include all shared spaces associated with residential settings, such as apartment complexes and condominiums, as well as congregate living facilities.

Learn more about these requirements from the Washington State Department of Health and the Washington State Coronavirus Response website

Washington State residents and visitors must wear face coverings in most public settings. Wear a face covering when you are at any indoor or outdoor public space where you may be within six feet of someone who does not live with you.

Public spaces include:

  • Stores that sell food and beverages, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, and farmer’s markets.
  • Retail stores, such as auto supply stores, hardware stores, and garden stores. 
  • Restaurant take-out businesses. Employees who prepare, carry out, and deliver food must wear masks.
  • Buses, rideshares, and other forms of public transportation.
  • Workplaces for manufacturing, agriculture, construction, and other trades.
  • Outdoor public settings when you cannot maintain six feet of distance between yourself and others.

This order will remain in effect until it is repealed or replaced by the Secretary of Health, or until it is ended by the Governor.

Beginning June 8, most employees are required to wear a cloth facial covering or face mask, except when working alone in an office, vehicle, or at a job site. 

  • Exceptions include individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, or who communicate with someone who relies on language cues such as facial markers and expression and mouth movements as a part of communication
  • Employers are required to provide cloth face coverings to their employees, unless their exposure dictates a higher level of protection. 
  • More information about these requirements can be found by visiting the state Department of Labor & Industries’ Coronavirus Facial Covering and Mask Requirements or their Which Mask for Which Task guide.

Disease Investigation and Reporting

Investigating where and how people could have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 is an important function of public health in managing this outbreak.

We are working to identify and advise those people who have had close contact with confirmed cases.

  • Disease investigations include talking with a lab-confirmed case about:
    • Where they were during their infectious period.
    • Who they may have had contact with for more than 15 minutes in a space of less than 6 feet.

Once we know this information, we reach out to each person who is a close contact to:

  • Let them know of their potential exposure to the disease.
  • Give them instructions about how to prevent infecting others.
  • Explain what they can do to take care of themselves.

Case Contact Investigators ask close contacts a few identifying questions: 

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Address 
  • Phone number

Case Contact Investigators do not ask: 

  •  Any financial information.
  • Any personal identifying information beyond name, address, contact information and date of birth.
  • Immigration status.
  • Social security number.
  • Fees or payment associated with contact tracing.

For more information on how to avoid scammers, visit Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information: Help COVID-19 contact tracers, not scammers.

To find out more see our  COVID-19 Case Investigation fact sheet.

I know I had contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Why haven’t I been contacted?

Identifying close contacts and informing them to stay home and monitor for symptoms is an important public health response. We make these contacts as soon as possible.

  • You are only considered a close contact if you have been with a confirmed case within six feet for more than 15 minutes.
  • If you were a close contact of a confirmed case, you can expect a call or other communication from one of our staff. They will talk with you and tell you what to do next. If you have questions, you can call us at 360-778-6100.

If you were a close contact of a confirmed case while they were at the hospital, you can expect to have someone from the hospital contact you. The hospital infection prevention team does the contact investigation work for hospital employees, patients and visitors. They are able to use electronic medical records to see who was in the waiting room at the same time as the confirmed case.

What details do you share about a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 in our community?

COVID-19 is most commonly transmitted when people have been in close contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19. This means spending at least 15 minutes within 6 feet of that person. Because of this, we concentrate our case investigation activities on those people that had close contact with a confirmed case for a prolonged period of time. We work diligently to contact the individuals and the organizations that meet the close contact definition and advise them on how best to protect themselves and the community.

Why aren’t you reporting the numbers of patients who have recovered?

We get this question a lot. The main reasons are:

  • People who have tested positive for COVID-19 are not required to report to the health department or to their healthcare provider when they have recovered. 
  • It’s likely that many people are recovering without even realizing that they’ve even been infected. Some people who become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 show little or no symptoms and therefore are not tested in the first place. Since we can’t know how many people have been infected, we can’t know how many have recovered, and any data we give on recovery rates would be inaccurate. 

Ways to limit the spread of COVID-19

What can I do to help reduce COVID-19 from spreading to my family and other people in the community?

If you are not experiencing symptoms and have not been exposed to a confirmed case:

  • You should restrict activities outside your home and practice social distancing. 
    • Avoid public transportation, if possible (e.g., bus,  taxi, ride share).
    • Maintain distance of approximately 6 feet, or 2 meters, from others.
    • Only spend time with up to five people outside of your household in a week.
    • Use a cloth face covering when in indoor and outdoor public spaces.
  • Do not go to work if you are sick. 
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. 
    • Throw used tissues in a lined trash can, and immediately clean your hands as described below.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 
    • If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items such as dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water and dried before use by others.
  • Prevent the spread of COVID-19 by making a plan to clean and disinfect your home or business regularly.  
    • Clean and disinfect all “high-touch” surfaces daily using an EPA-approved cleaner to kill germs. Some examples of high-touch surfaces are counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables. Also, clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool, or body fluids on them. Use these guidelines from the CDC to know what to clean, what to disinfect, and how often. 
    • Check out our factsheet for guidance and information 

When is it OK to stop home isolation after having COVID-19?

If you have been directed to care for yourself at home because you have had symptoms of COVID-19, or a confirmed case, you can stop home isolation under the following conditions:

  • At least 24 hours have passed since recovery (you no longer have a fever and are no longer using fever-reducing medications and, your respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) have improved) and,
  • It has been at least 10 days since your symptoms first appeared.

If you have had a  laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, but have not had any symptoms, you can  discontinue home isolation when:

  • At least 10 days have passed since the date of your first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test and, 
  • You have not developed any symptoms of illness.

Additional information on preventing the spread of COVID-19 for your household members, intimate partners, and caregivers is available from the CDC.  

What are effective (and inexpensive) ways to improve air flow/ventilation in workplaces to reduce the spread of COVID-19?

Since COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through aerosols (i.e., airborne droplets that are inhaled), the layout and design of a building, as well as occupancy and type of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, can all impact potential airborne spread of the virus. 

Although Improvements to ventilation and air cleaning cannot on their own eliminate the risk of airborne transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, there are recommended precautions to reduce the potential for airborne transmission of the virus. 

These precautions include increasing ventilation with outdoor air and air filtration as part of a larger strategy that includes: 

  • Social (physical) distancing. 
  • Wearing cloth face coverings or masks 
  • Surface cleaning and disinfecting., 
  • Handwashing, and other precautions. 

By themselves, measures to reduce airborne exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 are not enough since airborne transmission is not the only way exposure to SARS-CoV-2 could potentially occur.

Information for  HVAC maintenance professionals, building ventilation managers, and FAQs about indoor air and COVID-19 are available from the EPA. 

Who is responsible for paying for HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) system improvements needed for a business to operate safely in a commercial rental property?

This will depend on the particular lease that was negotiated. The lease may specify that either the tenant or the landlord is responsible for all HVAC expenses, though most frequently there is a clause indicating they share responsibility. 

In most cases, the lease will exempt the landlord from having to pay for building improvements required because of COVID-19 because the pandemic will be considered a “force majeure” (i.e., an unavoidable or unforeseen act that prevents the landlord and/or the renter from performing obligations in the lease). Even so, it is important for renters and landlords to discuss safety measures that are needed and negotiate how they will be funded.