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News / Health / Clark County Health

Washington Department of Health releases updated guidance for COVID-19

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 18, 2024, 4:17pm

The Washington State Department of Health released updated guidance Monday for how to protect against COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV.

The recommendations come in addition to the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which include how to prevent the spread of respiratory illness after infection and protect community members with weakened immune systems.

The most significant change is the length of time someone should stay home after showing symptoms. Previous guidance recommended people stay home for at least five full days after symptoms begin. But now, the department of health says people may return to normal activities once their symptoms get better overall, and they have not had a fever for at least 24 hours.

However, people can still be contagious even when their symptoms have improved, according to the health department. It recommends taking extra precautions, such as frequent hand-washing, physical distancing and regular cleaning.

Did you know?

  • People with COVID-19 can be contagious for 5-10 days after their illness begins.
  • People with flu can be contagious for up to 5-7 days after their illness begins.
  • People with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, can be contagious for 3-8 days after their illness begins.

Raechel Sims, a health department spokeswoman, said although there is no set frequency for updating the guidelines, the agency is continually looking at scientific developments and changes in disease patterns.

“COVID-19, influenza, and RSV emergency department visits, hospitalizations and reported positive tests have all declined over the last several weeks,” Sims said. “It’s important to remember that though COVID-19 activity is decreasing, more than a dozen people in Washington lose their lives to COVID-19 each week.”

Last week, 1 percent of hospitalizations in Clark County were COVID-19 related and 1 percent were influenza related, according to Clark County Public Health. There were no hospitalizations related to RSV last week.

People at higher risk of getting sick, such as older adults and those with weakened immune systems, should try their best to stay away from sick people for at least 10 days after their symptoms start or until they receive a negative COVID-19 or antigen test result.

The health department’s new COVID-19 and respiratory illness guidance is meant to provide recommendations, but Washington residents should follow their local health jurisdiction, workplace, business or school policies that may be more specific to that setting.

The new guidance does not apply to health care settings; people in health care settings should follow the guidance at the COVID-19 Infection Prevention in Health Care Settings webpage.

“While life is returning to normal in many ways, we must remember that for many in our community with chronic conditions and weakened immune systems, respiratory virus infections such as COVID-19, flu and RSV remain a deadly threat,” Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, chief science officer, said in a news release.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.