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Do I Need to Get Tested? Tips for Travelers this Holiday Season

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With the holidays fast approaching, and COVID-19 still present in our communities, many are wondering how to safely plan for events and travel, especially when people of all ages—and vaccination statuses—may gather in one household.

Given the high levels of vaccination in most communities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not requiring testing before holiday gatherings or travel unless you have symptoms or close contact with someone who has COVID-19. If you are traveling to Hawaii or internationally, please refer to CDC travel guidance for international travel

Although it is not required, Public Health—Seattle & King County does not discourage anyone, including those who are vaccinated, from getting tested prior to gatherings and travel as an extra safeguard.

As you make plans for the holiday season, follow CDC guidelines for travel and safer ways to celebrate. And remember, the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk and keep your friends and family safe is to get vaccinated.

Holiday travel guidelines

travel safe graphicTesting is not required before or after domestic travel if you are fully vaccinated. If you are planning to travel, the CDC still recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated.

Testing after travel

  • For fully vaccinated people:You are not required to get tested before or after domestic travel. You should still follow all other travel recommendations and isolate and get tested if you develop symptoms. During travel, if you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you should get tested 5–7 days after exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms. It is also important to wear a mask indoors in public until your test result is negative.
  • For unvaccinated people:If you are unvaccinated, you should get a viral test 3–5 days after travel AND stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel. You should also isolate and monitor for symptoms for a full 14 days and seek repeat testing if symptoms develop. See CDC guidance for unvaccinated travelers.

If you have symptoms or have been exposed

Whether you have been vaccinated or not, if you’ve been around someone who has a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, you should get tested 5–7 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms.

If you are vaccinated you do not need to quarantine after an exposure, but you should continue to monitor for symptoms for 14 days following an exposure and if you develop symptoms isolate immediately and consider re-testing. If your test is positive, you should isolate for 10 days.

It is important to note that if you are unvaccinated and are exposed, in addition to getting tested you will need to quarantine for 14 days, even if you do not have symptoms.

Ways to get tested for COVID-19

  • Start with your healthcare provider. A healthcare provider should provide a test if you have symptoms or a known exposure or refer you to get tested at another facility. Verify costs with your provider before you go.
  • Rapid (antigen) self-tests can be purchased in stores or pharmacies and online. Results are ready within 15–30 minutes and are a good option if you need a test right away for holiday events, after travel or other non-urgent testing need. See the self-testing pageon our website for more information.
  • Free testing sites in King County are open to anyone regardless of immigration or insurance status. Priority testing is given to those with symptoms or immediate risk for COVID-19. Advance appointment recommended. Find the complete list of locations here.

What do I need to bring to my appointment?

  • Insurance card if you have insurance. If you have insurance, please provide this information and the lab will bill them. You will not be charged for the test. You do not need to have insurance or a doctor’s note to schedule a test.
  • A well-fitted mask. As healthcare facilities, masks are required at all indoor and outdoor testing locations regardless of vaccination status.
  • Testing is available regardless of your citizenship/immigration status. Photo ID is not required.

How and when do I get my results?

  • All of King County’s test sites use an online results portal. After you take a test, you will be given instructions on how to check your results online.
  • Results may take up to 72 hours.

Do King County testing sites meet travel requirements?

  • If you need a test for travel, King County sites cannot guarantee that you will receive a result within 72 hours of departure or that the test will meet the requirements of your destination. For testing options that specialize in travel testing, visit the Travel and COVID-19 testing options through the Port of Seattle.
  • If you plan to travel out of country, see CDC guidance and testing requirements for international travel.

Holiday hours for King County-operated testing sites

Please note that all free King County-operated sites will be closed on November 25 for the Thanksgiving holiday and some sites will be closed the day after Thanksgiving. Check our website for holiday hours through January 1, 2022.

Additional information and guidance on COVID-19 testing can be found on our website.

Originally published November 17, 2021 in Public Health Insider.