Frequently Asked Questions

COVID-19 Basics

What is COVID-19?
  • COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new, or “novel” coronavirus that was not identified in humans before December 2019. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that usually cause mild respiratory illnesses such as the common cold. Some coronaviruses have caused more severe illness, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
  • Most people will recover on their own, but some people can develop more serious complications, such as pneumonia, and require medical care or hospitalization. Older people and people with chronic illnesses are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.
  • The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is spreading from person to person and the number of cases detected in Washington, nationally, and in other countries is growing.
  • The risk of COVID-19 is not connected to race, ethnicity or nationality. Share accurate information with others to keep rumors and misinformation from spreading.
How does the coronavirus spread?

It is most commonly spread from an infected person to others through:

  • in the air by coughing and sneezing,
  • close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands,
  • touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands,
  • rarely, fecal contamination with coronavirus present.

People are thought to be most contagious when they are the sickest, though some spread is possible before people show symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms ​may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms or combinations of symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Other less common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
What should I do if I have COVID-19 symptoms?

Take precautions anytime you feel sick by staying away from others and wearing a face mask if you must get within six feet of someone else. Contact you doctor and let them know that you think you have COVID-19 symptoms and would like to get tested for the virus.

We have guidance available for people who have or think they may have COVID-19:

What is the treatment?

There are some medications available that have been shown to decrease the duration and severity of symptoms in patients hospitalized for COVID-19.

More information: What are oral antivirals? (PDF)

How can I protect myself and others?

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting and spreading coronavirus:

  • Find a COVID-19 vaccine
  • Wear a face mask
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water aren't available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Stay six feet away from others.
  • Follow recommendations from your local health department.

For people who are immunocompromised or unable to be vaccinated for COVID-19, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) may provide protection.

More information: What is a pre-exposure prophylaxis for COVID-19? (PDF)

Face Coverings

Where can I find information about face coverings and masks?

Learn about our state's guidance, mandates, and orders.

You and Your Family

What should I know if I'm pregnant?

Pregnant people may be at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and should do what they can to stay healthy and avoid getting COVID-19. For more information see our Pregnancy, Birth, and Caring for your Newborn page.

How can I take care of myself and loved ones during this time?
What can I do to help?

Everyone can do their part to help us respond to the COVID-19 outbreak:

Can mosquitos or ticks carry or spread the virus that causes COVID-19?

To date there has been no data to suggest that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be carried or spread by mosquitos, ticks, or other vectors. The main way that COVID-19 spreads is from person to person.

What should I know about COVID-19 and my pets?

The primary means of people becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is through person-to-person spread. Based on limited data available, the risk of animals, including pets, of spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people is considered to be low. In some situations, people can spread the virus to animals. Because of this, people with COVID-19 and in home isolation should avoid direct contact with pets, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding. If possible, a household member should care for pets in the home. If a person with COVID-19 must care for pets or other animals, they should wear a mask and wash their hands before and after interacting with them. If an animal becomes sick, contact a veterinarian.

Getting Tested

Should I get tested?

See our Testing for COVID-19 webpage.

What is a confirmed case?

A confirmed case is defined as a person who has tested positive for 2019 novel coronavirus.

What is a close contact?

A close contact is a person who has been within about six feet of a person with confirmed novel coronavirus infection for a prolonged period of time or has had direct contact with secretions from a person with confirmed novel coronavirus infection. The definition of “close contact” used in Washington is the same as the CDC definition.

Travel during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Can I travel?

Follow all CDC travel requirements and recommendations. Check for any travel restrictions that state, local, or territorial governments may have in place.

More FAQ pages