How we investigate COVID-19
Disease detectives are on the case
In some ways, disease investigation is a lot like detective work. We need to look at many pieces to complete the puzzle and diagnose people who are ill.
Sometimes, we have all the pieces. Sometimes, we need more. For COVID-19, the investigation begins with a patient’s symptoms.
We can’t confirm COVID-19 by symptoms alone. That requires a test from a healthcare provider.
If a person tests positive for COVID-19, the provider notifies public health. With that notification comes an investigation process by public health experts.
We first check in with the person who tested positive to see how they are. We ask the person to stay home and continue to check in with them. We work with them to better understand when their symptoms started and where they may have been during their contagious period.
We also ask the person about close contacts who would be at highest risk for getting COVID-19. Close contacts include someone who:
- Lives in the same household as a sick person with COVID-19.
- Cares for a sick person with COVID-19.
- Was within 6 feet of a sick person with COVID-19 for about 10 minutes.
- Was in direct contact with secretions from a sick person with COVID-19.
We notify close contacts at highest risk and ask them to stay home from school and work, and not participate in social gatherings for 14 days.
We also notify agencies that may be affected as the investigation unfolds. If you were ever identified as a close contact, someone from the health department would connect with you.
People with COVID-19 usually have three symptoms:
- Shortness of breath.
These symptoms are usually mild but can be severe.
Symptoms can take two-14 days to appear, so it’s important to monitor them over time. People with these symptoms should stay home, separate themselves from others at home, and watch their health closely.
Testing for COVID-19
Laboratory testing for COVID-19 is rapidly increasing throughout the state. As we test more people, we will see an increase in cases. However, the decision to test a person is still made on a case-by-case basis.
Your healthcare provider decides if you need to be tested. When contacting a healthcare provider about testing, it’s best to call first so they can prepare for your visit.
Vaccine and treatment
COVID-19 is a new virus and we are still learning about it. Right now, there is no vaccine. The National Institute for Health is working quickly to develop one. Fortunately, 80 percent of people who get COVID-19 have mild symptoms and will usually recover at home.
For now, prevention is the best form of treatment. It’s important you take added precautions to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
Follow basic steps to help stop the spread of the virus:
- Wash your hands with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your face, mouth and eyes.
- Stay home if you have a fever or cough or experience shortness of breath.
- Cover sneezes and coughs with your elbow.
- Disinfect frequently used surfaces such as tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, mobile devices and keyboards.
- Avoid sharing personal items like water bottles, eating utensils or towels.
- Avoid large social gatherings and crowds.
For more tips on protecting yourself against COVID-19, check out our blog post.
Visit us at tpchd.org/coronavirus for our latest guidance and updates.
- Updated: 03/16/2020
We invite your comments but will delete those with profanity, personal attacks, derogatory statements, ads or promotional material. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department does not provide personal medical advice; please contact your health care provider.