COVID-19 FAQs

Page updated: March 28, 2021 at 2:22 p.m. 


Reopening Whatcom County

Businesses, recreation sites, and venues are open at full capacity (provided they meet workplace safety requirements). 

Effective March 12, 2022 masks are optional in most settings for people above five years of age. Everyone in Washington must wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth in health care settings, long-term care settings, and correctional and jail settings. See or Masks and Face Coverings page for more information.

Vaccines are still our best defense against COVID-19, but no vaccine is 100% effective and masks provide an additional layer of defense against highly transmissible new variants. See our masking page for more details. 

To find out more, visit www.coronavirus.wa.gov.

How can I get PPE? 

  • 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 Washington State coronavirus website.
  • Masks are being distributed to local businesses by area Chambers of Commerce. Please visit the Bellingham Regional Chamber website to check available supplies.

Insurance Coverage and Costs

How much does testing cost?

If you have insurance: 

  • 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. However, if you’re seeking testing for travel or another reason not related to COVID-19 illness, your insurance company may charge you. The CDC currently advises against travelling for any reason if you aren’t fully vaccinated.
  • 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 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 Sea Mar community health centers have state-trained insurance navigators for the state Health Plan Finder website. Call their offices to ask for help.
    • Unity Care NW’s Outreach and Enrollment Office: 1-360-788-2669 
    • Sea Mar: 1-855-289-4503; Monday - Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Disease Investigation and Reporting

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

In January 2022, the Whatcom County Health Department turned over general case investigation and contact tracing to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). We are still investigating outbreaks in schools, long-term care facilities, and businesses. 

In February 2022, DOH announced that it was changing its approach to case investigation and contact tracing. Instead of reaching out to every person who tests positive for COVID-19, Washington will focus CICT efforts on four key areas:

  • Outbreak Investigation.
  • Case investigations in high-risk settings.
  • Targeted case investigations among those at risk of more severe illness.
  • Targeted case investigations among those with unusual illness presentation.

If you have questions, you can call us at 360-778-6100.

What happens when a contact tracer calls me?

Contact tracers, or case/contact investigators (CCIs) call people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 and their close contacts. 

They talk with each person who has received a positive COVID-19 test to find out:

  • 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.

CCIs will ask a few identifying questions: 

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Address 
  • Phone number

CCIs will never ask for your: 

  • Financial information.
  • 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.

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

Data regarding confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our community can be found on our COVID-19 Data Dashboard. We protect private health information and only share limited details about COVID-19 cases.

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 few 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. 


About COVID-19 Variants of Concern

What are Variants of Concern?

Variants of concern are newly evolved strains, or variants, of COVID-19 that may be more highly transmissible, cause more severe illness, or resist antibodies generated from previous infection or vaccination. New variants make up the vast majority of new COVID-19 cases in Washington state. 

As of December 27, 2021, there are only two variants currently classified by DOH as Variants of Concern. Those variants are:

  • Delta, or B.1.617.2, first detected in India in September 2020. This variant transmits more easily than previously identified variants. The CDC has more information about the delta variant.
  • Omicron, or B.1.1.529, first detected in South Africa in November 2021. First identified in the U.S. in December, there's still a lot that's unknown about this variant. Omicron spreads more easily than other variants and is currently the predominant strain in Washington State. The severity of illness associated with this variant is unclear at this time. The CDC believes this variant spreads more easily than previous variants, like delta.

The emergence of new variants further emphasizes the importance of getting vaccinated for COVID-19, and for getting booster. Vaccines provide strong protection against severe COVID-19 illness. For more information about new COVID-19 variants, visit DOH's COVID-19 Variants page.

How can I protect myself from new COVID-19 variants?

The good news is that all the prevention strategies we know work against the original COVID-19 strain work against these variants too. Take the following precautions to protect yourself against variants of concern:

  • Get vaccinated for COVID-19. The vaccines are all very effective at preventing infection, severe illness and death, even with variants of concern. Widespread vaccination will also help prevent the development of new, potentially more serious variants of concern. Immunity from vaccine does wane over time, but getting a booster helps improve your immunity to the virus. 
  • If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, then masks, physical distancing, and limited social gatherings (especially indoors) are your best defenses against variants of concern.