Symptoms and Testing

With the wide and swift spread of COVID continuing, it is vital that we all understand the basic symptoms, as well as when and how to get tested.

The most common symptom is a loss of taste and/or smell, followed by fever for many symptomatic cases.  Outlined below are the other symptoms, and it is important to note that carriers of the disease do not need to show any symptoms to transmit it.

Testing varies by location and there are several options for the kind of test you can take (and thus the amount of time for results.)  But in all cases, testing is to sparse for the need and vitally important to controlling and understanding the spread.  Information about testing appears below.

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the region and throughout the world, we all must remain vigilant. The changes we have had to make to routines and daily life are extremely hard, but these changes are even more important now and in the future. We must stop the spread of this new and dangerous virus. The more steps you and your family can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the safer you will be.

This article outlines the basic information about symptoms and testing.  Don’t miss the other areas of the Health and Safety Handbook, including General Information about COVID-19 and Safe Business Operations.

And for more information about personal health and wellness, please see our other Personal Health and Safety articles…

This article is a part of the Health and Safety Handbook [link forthcoming], which is one section of the COVID-19 HANDBOOKS FOR THE CREATIVE SECTOR.  Check back regularly for new articles and updated information like this on Personal Health and Safety and other refreshed articles from the Handbook.


People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness.  They may appear as soon as two days after exposure to the virus, or as many as 14 days. 

If you contract the virus, it is entirely possible that you may have no or only mild symptoms. But it is also possible that you may have severe, even life-threatening symptoms.  This is true for people of all ages and health conditions, though older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing the more serious complications from COVID-19 illness.

People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • 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 comes from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and does not include all possible symptoms. The CDC will continue to update this list as knowledge progresses.  CDC Symptoms and Health Information

Who should get tested?

Seattle and King County is now recommending that anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms or close contact with someone who has COVID-19 be tested right away. Contact a healthcare provider to discuss the need for testing.

If you have been in close contact for a combined total of 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period with someone who has COVID-19, it’s important to get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms. 

It’s best to get tested 5 – 7 days after that exposure and no earlier than 48 hours, unless you develop symptoms. It typically takes 5-7 days after exposure for the test to report more accurate test results. If you develop symptoms, get tested as soon as possible. Learn more on this “What to do” factsheet.

According to the CDC, you should get tested for COVID if any of the following are true:

  • If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19
  • If you have had close contact (within 6 feet) with someone with a confirmed COVID-19 infection for a total of 15 minutes or more.
  • If you have been asked or referred to get testing by a healthcare provider, local or state health department.

Testing as soon as possible after symptoms appear is important to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to family, friends, and the community.  If you have symptoms like fever, cough or shortness of breath, the best thing to do is to stay at home and contact your doctor or local health care provider.

For more information, visit Public Health’s COVID-19 testing page.

You may consider using the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker, which is an interactive clinical assessment tool that will assist individuals ages 13 and older, and parents and caregivers of children ages 2 to 12 on deciding when to seek testing or medical care if they suspect they or someone they know has contracted COVID-19 or has come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

You may also choose to visit a virtual clinic such as the following:

If you do get tested, you should self-quarantine/isolate at home pending test results and follow the advice of your health care provider or a public health professional.

More information about symptoms, testing centers, results and reasons for testing is available at Seattle-King County Public Health, and at the Washington State information on testing for COVID-19.

How to Get Tested

Most testing is completed through healthcare providers. You should call your healthcare provider if you feel sick, live in the same household as someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Each healthcare system has its own testing processes. Many providers require appointments to prevent overcrowding and to be sure that they have supplies.

If you need to be tested and don’t have a provider who can do the test, check out the list of FREE testing locations in King County or call the King County COVID-19 call center from 8 AM – 7 PM at 206-477-3977.


  • If you test positive, know what protective steps to take to prevent others from getting sick.
  • If you test negative, you probably were not infected at the time your sample was collected. The test result only means that you did not have COVID-19 at the time of testing. Continue to take steps to protect yourself.
Photo by Dennis Wise/University of Washington

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