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Symptoms and Exposure

Deciding when a child is too sick to go to school and too sick for after school programs can be a difficult decision for parents to make. When trying to decide, use these guidelines to help make the best decision.

Page Last Updated February 13, 2023

Students and staff with new onset of respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms, such as cough, fever, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, or other symptoms of COVID-19, should stay home and get tested for COVID-19. Follow the DOH What to do if you have COVID-19 symptoms flowchart.

COVID-19 Symptoms

  • Fever of 100.4 or above
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache



  • The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to avoid exposure to others. Regardless of your COVID-19 vaccine status, if you have symptoms, stay home and get tested.

COVID Test Results

People with COVID-19 symptoms should stay home until they have the results of their testing.

  • Negative Results: If you have COVID-like symptoms and receive a negative test result, consider retesting every 24-48 hours through at least 5 days after your symptoms started. You may return to school when you have had no fever within the past 24 hours (without medication) and your symptoms have improved.
  • Positive Results: See isolation guidance below and notify the school right away.



Students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 should stay home for at least 5 days and isolate from others in the home in order to avoid spreading COVID-19 to others. Day 0 is the first day of symptoms. For people without symptoms, day 0 is the day of the positive viral test. See Isolation and Quarantine Calculator for additional information.

You can leave isolation after 5 full days if:

  • Your symptoms have improved, AND
  • You have had no fever within the past 24 hours (without medication)

When resuming normal activities after the end of the 5-day isolation period (days 6 through 10):

  • Wear a mask around others at home and in public
  • Avoid people who are immunocompromised, health care settings and other high-risk settings

If a student or staff member is unable to wear a mask, they should continue to isolate for a full 10 days, or follow the test-based strategy as outlined in What to do if you test positive for COVID-19 to determine when to leave isolation and remove their mask.



Regardless of vaccination status, students and staff who are potentially exposed to COVID-19 should take the following steps as detailed in the DOH What to do if you have been exposed to COVID-19 flowchart:

  • Monitor for symptoms AND
  • Test 3-5 days after exposure, AND
  • Consider retesting 24-48 hours after your first test, AND 
  • For 10 days after your last exposure:
    • Wear a mask when you are around others indoors
    • Do not go places you are unable to wear a mask 
    • Avoid people at high risk for severe disease 
  • See DOH What to do if you were potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19 for more information

If the exposed student or staff member develops new symptoms, they should:

  • Immediately isolate at home, or where they currently reside, AND
  • Get tested for COVID-19

If the exposed individual tests positive, they should follow the DOH What to do if you test positive for COVID-19 guidance.

WA DOH Symptoms and Exposures Flowchart (PDF)


Learn More About WA DOH Requirements and Guidance for K-12 Schools

To learn more about Washington State Department of Health requirements and guidance for K-12 Schools, please review the Guidance to Prevent and Respond to COVID-19 in K-12 Schools and Child Cares.