Exposure and Illness

Last updated: January 12, 2022 at 4:05 p.m.

Links to a document that explains the guidelines for isolation and quarantine for COVID-19

Isolation and Quarantine Guidelines

What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Quarantine is for someone who:

  • Has received a positive COVID-19 test, or
  • Has symptoms of COVID-19.

People in isolation need to avoid contact with all others, including household members. If possible, people in isolation should stay in a separate room, use a separate bathroom, and have meals prepared for and brought to them. 

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.

When do I need to quarantine?

You'll need to quarantine yourself in your home away from non-household members if you come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Close contact is defined as being within six feet of a person with COVID-19 for a total of about 15 minutes within a 24-hour period.

The following guidance is for the general population and was updated as of December 28, 2021.

  • Quarantine and isolation guidelines for certain workplaces and congregate living settings may also be different. Refer to Guidelines for Returning to Work to learn more.
  • Quarantine and isolation guidelines for K-12 schools have been updated, but please be patient during the transition to the new guidelines.

If you are fully vaccinated and have had a booster shot:

  • If you do not have symptoms of COVID-19, you do not need to quarantine. Wear a mask around others, including your household members, for 10 days after the date of your exposure.
  • If you do have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate yourself from others to avoid getting them sick, and get tested for COVID-19.
  • We recommend you get tested 5 days after your date of exposure.

If you are not fully vaccinated OR if you are fully vaccinated but haven’t had a booster shot and it has been six months since your last Moderna or Pfizer shot or two months since your Johnson and Johnson shot:

  • Quarantine for five days after your exposure. If you don’t develop any symptoms or if your symptoms go away before day 5, you can end your quarantine. Get tested on day 5 if possible. Wear a mask around others, including your household members, for 5 more days.
  • If you have any symptoms after day 5, assume you have COVID-19 and isolate. Get tested for COVID-19.

You can also view a summary sheet (PDF) of this information.

When do I need to isolate?

You'll need to isolate yourself away from others, including household members, if you test positive for COVID-19, regardless of your vaccination status.

The following guidance is for the general population and was updated as of December 28, 2021.

  • Quarantine and isolation guidelines for certain workplaces and congregate living settings may also be different. Refer to Guidelines for Returning to Work to learn more.
  • Quarantine and isolation guidelines for K-12 schools have been updated, but please be patient during the transition to the new guidelines.

You must isolate for 5 days after receiving a positive COVID-19 test (rapid antigen or PCR).

  • If you don't have any symptoms of COVID-19, or if your symptoms go away after 5 days, you can end your isolation. 
  • You must wear a mask around others for the next 5 days after your period of isolation ends.
  • If you have symptoms, continue staying home until they go away. 

If you experience symptoms of COVID-19 while you're in isolation, take care of yourself as you would for a cold or flu. 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.
  • Confusion.
  • Bluish lips or face.

*This list is not all-inclusive. Talk to your medical provider about any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19:

  • If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, even mild ones, get tested as soon as possible. If you can't get tested right away, assume you have COVID-19 and follow the isolation guidelines above.
  • Get tested even if you're fully vaccinated.
  • The date of your COVID-19 test will determine the starting date for your period of isolation. For more information on how to get tested, visit our COVID-19 testing page

You can also view a summary sheet (PDF) of this information.


Report a Positive Test Result

When the number of COVID-19 cases surges, contact tracers can’t always keep up. If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, you may not get a call from a contact tracer.

If you received a positive PCR test (lab-based test):

  • Your test results are automatically reported to us.
  • Tell your close contacts that you tested positive.
  • Follow the current isolation guidelines.
  • If you choose to, you can fill out this survey to tell us more about your situation. Survey data helps us track how the disease is spreading in our community.

If you received a positive rapid, at-home test (antigen test):

  • Report your results by filling out this survey. If you prefer, you can also call the Washington State COVID hotline to report your results at 1-800-525-0127, then press #. Language assistance is available.
  • Tell your close contacts that you tested positive.
  • Follow the current isolation guidelines.


Guidelines for Returning to Work

In most cases, you do not need a negative test to return to work. The exceptions are:

  • Staff (and students) who are participating in a Test to Stay program at their school – Your school will provide more information.
  • Health care professionals – Get details about the requirements for health care professionals from the CDC.

Some employers may also choose to require a negative test before you go back to work. You can talk with your employer about how to arrange for a test if they require one.

I was exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19. When can I go back to work?

As of Dec. 28, 2021, isolation and quarantine guidelines for the general population and most workplace settings have changed. Those changes DO NOT apply to the following settings:

  • Commercial maritime settings such as commercial seafood and cargo ships
  • Crowded work sites where physical distancing is not possible due to the nature of the work, such as in warehouses, factories, and food packaging and meat processing facilities
  • Correctional facilities
  • Healthcare settings
  • Homeless shelters and transitional housing
  • Temporary worker housing
  • Childcare facilities 
  • In addition, K-12 schools and some institutions of higher education have their own isolation and quarantine guidance. Check with your administration for guidance 

If you work in any of the settings listed above except healthcare settings, follow the quarantine guidelines below. For healthcare guidelines, see the following sections.

  • If you're unvaccinated, you should quarantine as soon as you know you have been exposed. We will likely recommend you get tested between 3 and 7 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 but can be as short as 7 days depending on your circumstances.  
  • If you are fully vaccinated, you should get tested 3-5 days after your exposurDone Editinge, even if you don’t have symptoms. You should isolate for 10 days if your test result is positive or you develop symptoms.

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

As of Dec. 28, 2021, isolation and quarantine guidelines for the general population and most workplace settings have changed. Those changes DO NOT apply to the following settings:

  • Commercial maritime settings such as commercial seafood and cargo ships
  • Crowded work sites where physical distancing is not possible due to the nature of the work, such as in warehouses, factories, and food packaging and meat processing facilities
  • Correctional facilities
  • Healthcare settings
  • Homeless shelters and transitional housing
  •  Temporary worker housing
  •  Child care
  •  In addition, K-12 schools and some institutions of higher education have their own isolation and quarantine guidance. Check with your administration for guidance. 

If you work in any of the settings listed above except healthcare settings, follow the isolation guidelines below. For healthcare guidelines, see the following section.

  • Symptomatic workers must remain in isolation until:
    • It’s been at least 24 hours with no fever without using fever-reducing medication.
    • Your symptoms have improved.
    • It's been at least 10 days since your symptoms started.
  • Asymptomatic workers must remain in isolation until: 
    • It's been at least 10 days from the date of your first positive COVID-19 test.
    • You have had no further symptoms.

You do not need a negative test to return to work unless specified by your employer.

Isolation and Quarantine Guidance for Healthcare Workers

As of December 23, 2021, the CDC has updated interim guidance for managing healthcare personnel with COVID-19 infection or exposure. Refer to these guidelines for the most recent updates. 

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?

In most cases, you do not need a test to return to work. The exceptions are:

  • Staff (and students) who are participating in a Test to Stay program at their school – Your school will provide more information.
  • Health care professionals – Get details about the requirements for health care professionals from the CDC.

Some employers may also choose to require a test before you go back to work. You can talk with your employer about how to arrange for a test if they require one.


COVID-19 Symptoms and Severity

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

This list is not all-inclusive. The CDC continues to update their list of symptoms as more becomes known about COVID-19.

How severe is COVID-19?

Many who get COVID-19 do not require medical care or hospitalization, but some 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

The virus has grown less predictable as new variants evolve. Younger people are being hospitalized at much higher rates than they were with previous strains of the virus. While most people with COVID-19 recover and return to normal health, some patients can have symptoms that can last for weeks or even months after recovery from acute illness. Even people who are not hospitalized and who have mild illness can experience persistent or late symptoms. Learn more about long term symptoms on the CDC’s website.

COVID-19 vaccines protect against the worst disease outcomes from the virus. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and find a vaccine provider near you on our vaccine page

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.



Preventing COVID-19 Infection

The best way to prevent you or others from being infected with COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. All COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are effective at preventing both infection and spread of the virus. 

Added layers of protection will help keep you safe and prevent others from getting sick. 

  • Wear a mask in all public indoor settings, and in any private indoor setting where you can't be certain everyone in attendance is fully vaccinated.
  • Wear a mask in public outdoor settings where physical distancing is not possible or realistic and you don't know the vaccination status of others. This is required at outdoor events with 500 or more attendees but recommended for any crowded situation outdoors. 
  • Practice healthy habits by washing your hands and covering your coughs and sneezes.
  • Watch for symptoms and get tested if you think you have been exposed.