Page updated: Sunday, March 22, 2020 

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. The most common symptoms of the disease are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. 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. People most at risk for severe illness are:

  • People older than 60 years
  • People with chronic medical conditions
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Pregnant people

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of coronavirus may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Can people spread the virus before they develop symptoms?

Often, with most respiratory viruses, people are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest), but there is some indication of spread by individuals who are not exhibiting typical symptoms.


Should I get tested? Who should get tested?

Testing availability is still very limited in our area. Not everyone needs to be tested.   

  • The majority of infections with novel coronavirus are mild and resolve without the need for supportive treatment. 
  • You can safely forego testing if you are able to manage your symptoms at home. 
  • Your healthcare provider will determine whether or not you need to be tested. 
  • There currently are no specific medications to treat COVID-19. Whether you test positive or negative, your healthcare provider’s advice for managing the symptoms will be the same. 

We need to preserve testing for those who most need it. This includes:

  • Healthcare workers.
  • Patients in other public safety occupations (e.g., law enforcement, fire fighter, EMS)
  • Patients involved in an illness cluster in a facility or institution (e.g., healthcare, school, corrections, shelters)
  •  Patients with severe lower respiratory illness
  •  Patients older than 60 years
  •  Patients with underlying medical conditions
  •  Pregnant women
  •  Patients with worsening symptoms

What if I am in a high risk group and want to get tested?

  • Generally, it is not recommended that people be tested unless they have symptoms of COVID-19. 
  • If you have symptoms or other concerns, call your healthcare provider to discuss whether or not you should be tested for COVID-19.
  • Not all healthcare providers are able to test for COVID-19. If your healthcare provider says you should be tested for COVID-19 but they are not able to provide the test, they can call the health department. We will work with them to find a place for you to get tested.
  • The health department does not routinely test people for COVID-19. Our offices are not designed for routine clinical services or equipped with the supplies for testing on-site.

Insurance Coverage and Costs

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

If you do not have insurance:

  • The Washington Health Benefits Exchange has a special enrollment period right now. You can visit the Health Benefits Exchange website or call 1-855-923-4633; TTY: 1-855-627-9604 for more information.
  • Call Unity Care NW’s Enrollment Office at 360-788-4633 to see what insurance you may qualify for. 

If you do have insurance: 

  • While not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19, the good news is that testing is free. Insurance companies are required to waive co-pays and deductibles for anyone requiring testing for COVID-19. More information can be found on the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner’s website.
  • Most health insurance plans will cover testing and treatment for medically-necessary services related to COVID-19. The Office of Insurance Commissioner has ordered all health plans regulated by this office to waive copays and deductibles for people requiring testing ( for COVID-19. If you are concerned about whether or not you should be tested, read the guidance from the Department of Health and call your providers first. Copays and deductibles will still apply if you need treatment.

Exposure and Treatment

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

You generally need to be in close contact with a sick person 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 6 feet of a sick person with COVID-19 for about 10 minutes,OR  
  • Being in direct contact with secretions from a sick person with COVID-19 (e.g., being coughed on, kissing, sharing utensils, etc.). 

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

You should monitor your health for fever, cough and shortness of breath during the 14 days after the last day you were in close contact with the sick person with COVID-19. You should not go to work or school, and should avoid public places for 14 days.

  • Our disease investigators are reaching out to anyone who was likely to be in close contact with any confirmed case.
  • If you were in close contact (within 6 feet for at least 10 minutes) with someone with lab-confirmed COVID-19 during their illness, follow the DOH guidelines (PDF).
  • If you have not been contacted by public health, we suggest you take the standard precautions that are recommended to all community members, including:
    • Wash your hands frequently.
    • Don’t touch your nose, mouth or eyes.
    • Sanitize frequently touched surfaces that might be touched by others with a sanitizer effective against coronaviruses.
    • Fully cover any coughs or sneezes so that no droplets escape.
    • Avoid large crowds and gatherings, or being within 6 feet of people for longer than 10 minutes.
    • Take particular care to protect people 60 years and older, people with underlying conditions and pregnant people. 
    • Preserve our health care resources for those who most need them by staying home if symptoms are mild and can be managed at home.
    • If sick, stay home for 7 days or until 3 days after symptoms have gone away, whichever is longer (minimum of 7 days).

What should I do if I’m sick?

If you are sick and have symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, and fever, stay home except to get medical care.

  • If you are sick and have mild symptoms, stay home and take care of yourself as you would for a cold or flu. Stay home away from others until 72 hours after the fever is gone and symptoms are better AND it has been seven days since the start of symptoms.
  • If you have severe symptoms and need medical care, call ahead to your regular provider before going into a clinic or other health care facility.
  • Do not go to the emergency room. Emergency rooms need to be able to serve those with the most critical needs.
  • If you need emergency medical care, call 9-1-1.

What should I do if I was in close contact with someone with COVID-19 and get sick? 

If you get sick with fever, cough or shortness of breath (even if your symptoms are very mild), you likely have COVID-19. 

  • You should isolate yourself at home and away from other people. 
  • If you do not have a high-risk condition but want medical advice, call your healthcare provider and tell them you were exposed to someone with COVID-19. Your healthcare provider can help you decide if you need to be evaluated in person or tested.

If you have conditions that may increase your risk for a serious infection (e.g. age 60 years or older, are pregnant, or have medical conditions) contact your physician’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.

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

Stay home except to get medical care. You should restrict activities outside your home, except for getting medical care. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis. 

Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home.  

  • People: As much as possible, you should stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. Also, you should use a separate bathroom, if available.  
  • Animals: 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 facemask, if possible. 

When should I wear a mask?

We are not recommending that people wear masks when they are in public.  Masks can be useful in some settings to prevent someone who has a respiratory illness from spreading respiratory droplets to others. That’s why we recommend that people who are sick put a mask on if they are waiting in a clinic or must go out in public. 

If you are sick and unable to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then people who live with you should not be in the same room with you, or they should wear a facemask if they enter your room.

What is the treatment for novel coronavirus?

There are no specific treatments for COVID-19. However, you can do some things to relieve your symptoms, including:

  • Take pain and fever medications (caution: do not give aspirin to children).
  • Use a room humidifier or take a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough.
  • If you are mildly sick, you should drink plenty of liquids, stay home and rest.
  • If you have severe symptoms and need medical care, call your regular healthcare provider before going to the clinic. If you need immediate care, call 9-1-1.

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 10 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.

We also know that there are people infected with COVID-19 in our community who will not be tested, so people in our community will come in contact with COVID-19 and not be aware of it.

I know I had contact with someone with a positive case. 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 10 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?

We know that COVID-19 is most likely to be transmitted when people have been with someone infected with COVID-19 for at least 10 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 as to the steps to take to protect themselves and the community.

If during our investigation with a person who has lab-confirmed COVID-19 we learn of a time during their infectious period that they may have put the general public at an increased risk of infection, we will release this information to the public as soon as we have the information.

Everyone should be aware that there is a baseline of risk for all of us since we know that there are people infected with COVID-19 in our community that will not be tested and people in our community will come in contact with COVID-19 and not be aware of it. We know our most effective strategies are those for everyone in our community and not based on test results. Please see our website for things everyone can be doing to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

Ways to limit the spread of COVID-19

How can I keep my children safe and healthy while schools are closed?

Though the Health Department recommends that gatherings be avoided when possible, these guidelines for informal gatherings of children and youth while schools are closed will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 when families need to share resources for childcare.

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 (e.g., bus,  taxi,ride share).
    • Maintain distance of approximately 6 feet, or 2 meters, from others.
  • Do not go to work unless you are feeling well and it is for an essential function. 
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in a lined trash can; 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 to 95% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. 
    • Soap and water is preferred if hands are visibly dirty.
    • 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.
  • Clean all “high-touch” surfaces such as 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 a household cleaning spray or wipe, according to the label instructions. Labels contain instructions for safe and effective use of the cleaning product including precautions you should take when applying the product, such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use of the product.

When is it safe to discontinue home isolation after illness?

For individuals with symptoms who are confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 and are directed to care for themselves at home, discontinue home isolation under the following conditions:

  • At least 3 days (72 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 At least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
  • Individuals with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 who have not had any symptoms may discontinue home isolation when at least 7 days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test and have had no subsequent illness.

Additional information for your household members, intimate partners, and caregivers at