Experts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are advising people who are mildly sick with what might be COVID-19 to call a doctor about the symptoms but stay home. That’s because of the scarcity of tests for the novel coronavirus, even in the Seattle area, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.

Knowing the symptoms of COVID-19 is important, but medical providers say they need to save tests and treatment right now for the sickest of the sick. They also say a trip to a clinic or hospital could be dangerous because of possibly getting exposed to the virus or spreading it.

If you develop a fever, cough and shortness of breath, the CDC says, call your doctor. Get immediate help if you have “emergency warning signs” such as trouble breathing, chest pain or pressure, confusion, or “bluish lips or face.”

But numerous Seattle-area residents have said they’ve called their health care provider with those symptoms and been told to stay home, isolate and come back only if they get worse.

Priority for testing goes to health care workers, first responders and those who are part of a known illness cluster in a nursing home, shelter, school or other facility.

The CDC recommends that if you aren’t in one of those categories, you should stay home and set up a network of people who can help you, along with a backup in case your helpers get sick too.

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As of Monday, CDC officials recommend the following steps for people who think they are sick:

  • Stay home. Do not go to work, school or public areas.
  • Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing or taxis.
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home.
  • Stay away from others. As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. Use a separate bathroom if possible.
  • If possible, have another person feed your pets.

People who feel sick and want to be tested should call — not show up to — their doctor, said Dr. Jeffrey Duchin of Public Health — Seattle & King County. For those who don’t have a regular doctor, Duchin suggested calling — not visiting — a hospital or emergency room.

Duchin said the lack of tests put Seattle-area public health officials at a disadvantage from the beginning: They were chasing a disease that had a six-week head start.

The value of testing is shifting, he said. In the early days of the outbreak, public health officials wanted to know if a seemingly isolated case of a Snohomish County man who got sick after a trip to China had infected anyone else. Now “we have enough testing to know that we have widespread disease in the community,” Duchin said.

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