COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions

How Does Coronavirus Spread?

People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. [1] Studies have also shown that the virus can survive in the air in some settings.

Who is at Greatest Risk of Contracting Coronavirus?

Currently, those at greatest risk of infection are persons who have had prolonged, unprotected close contact with a patient with symptomatic, confirmed COVID-19 and those who live in or have recently been to areas with sustained transmission. [2]

Who is at Risk for Severe Disease from COVID-19?

While we are still learning about how COVID-2019 affects people, older persons and persons with pre-existing medical conditions appear to develop serious illness more often than others. 

Those who should exercise increased caution include people who:

  • Are over 65-years-old
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have heart disease
  • Have lung disease
  • Have cancer
  • Are currently going through chemotherapy
  • Have diabetes 
  • Are immunocompromised 
  • Are or may be pregnant (please note: it is currently unknown what effects COVID-19 may have on pregnancy or babies born following COVID-19 infection)

What Are the Symptoms of COVID-19?

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Dry cough 

Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don't feel unwell.

Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.[3]

COVID-19 Symptoms

If you are showing signs of any of the above symptoms - even if you think it's a common cold or flu - please speak with your healthcare provider.

How Long Does COVID-19 Live On Surfaces?

It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).

If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.


We’ve heard precautions of droplet exposure, 6’ social distancing, etc. The greatest risk is in that area because when a person coughs or sneezes there are droplets expelled of different sizes that can be breathed in by, or land in the mouth, nose, or eyes, of a person close by. Larger droplets released in the air will not travel far because of gravity. There’s a certain percentage of very small aerosols that can remain suspended in air and travel further. That’s what we call airborne exposure. That’s why ventilation and use of an N95 mask is important. 

What's the difference between different types of masks? Which one should I be using?

Surgical Masks vs N95 Respirators

Surgical MaskN95 Respirator
Testing and ApprovalCleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Evaluated, tested, and approved by NIOSH as per the requirements in 42 CFR Part 84
Intended Use and PurposeFluid resistant and provides the wearer protection against large droplets, splashes, or sprays of bodily or other hazardous fluids. Protects the patient from the wearer’s respiratory emissions.Reduces wearer’s exposure to particles including small particle aerosols and large droplets (only non-oil aerosols).
Face Seal FitLoose-fittingTight-fitting
Fit Testing RequirementNoYes
User Seal Check RequirementNoYes. Required each time the respirator is donned (put on)
FiltrationDoes NOT provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles and is not considered respiratory protectionFilters out at least 95% of airborne particles including large and small particles
LeakageLeakage occurs around the edge of the mask when user inhalesWhen properly fitted and donned, minimal leakage occurs around edges of the respirator when user inhales
Use LimitationsDisposable. Discard after each patient encounterIdeally should be discarded after each patient encounter and after aerosolgenerating procedures. It should also be discarded when it becomes damaged or deformed; no longer forms an effective seal to the face; becomes wet or visibly dirty; breathing becomes difficult; or if it becomes contaminated with blood, respiratory or nasal secretions, or other bodily fluids from patients.

Click here for a doanloadable PDF copy.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  |  National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Should we use homemade masks? Are they good protection?

Unfortunately, homemade masks are insufficient to protect nurses and other health care workers from becoming infected if exposed to a patient with the COVID-19 virus. Homemade masks cannot prevent exposure to small viral particles. The outcome will be a greater risk of becoming infected themselves and greater risk of infecting everyone else around them -- patients and other health care staff.  It is the responsibility of health care employers to provide proper personal protective equipment to all their staff – at a minimum N95 respirators and full gowns, goggles, gloves, and other protective clothing.

What if there isn’t enough PPE?

That’s a very real possibility. Shortages are happening everywhere around the country. Hopefully it will be addressed in the near future. In the interim, we have to look at protocols put in place by employers policies. Everything is being constantly reevaluated. If there’s fewer protections, we have to reduce protections in other ways to keep you safe while you’re providing care.

How do I know if my worksite is prepared to treat COVID-19 patients?

Use the Workplace Checklist here. If you feel your workplace is unsafe or unprepared, speak with your union steward or contact your Local.

Will I still get paid if I'm forced to quarantine due to COVID-19 infection or suspected exposure?

CWA has been working with our employers to ensure that no one will lose any pay related to a COVID quarantine or illness. We’re reviewing the latest New York State and Federal legistation on paid sick leave related to COVID-19 quarantine and illness, and analyzing the impact that it’ll have on our members.

What is an essential employee?

Someone who has to go to work in order for their facility/department to continue functioning. Police, fire, utilities and healthcare operations are just a few examples.  Health care operations include any business that provides research or lab services, hospitals, walk-in healthcare facilities, mental health services, elder care, medical wholesale and distribution, home healthcare workers and aids, doctors and dentist offices, nursing homes, those that provide medical supplies and equipment. Within each operation there are specific job titles that employers will look at to decide if they’re essential or not. 

What we are finding for the most part, is that  layoffs or eliminations of any healthcare workers is minimal.  We have not had any healthcare workers deemed non-essential at this point. Most employers are seeing redeployment of staff as a better approach for dealing with excess staff.  If you have any questions regarding your designation or about whether you might be laid off, contact your local, they will make sure your questions are answered.

How will my work rules be changed, especially downsizing and layoffs?

Our legal counsel has been very clear that during a state of emergency our contracts remain in effect. We checked with NLRB, and  they were very clear that even during WWII strikes were banned but contracts remained in effect. That doesn’t mean that work rules will not change - there may be redistribution of staff depending on facility needs. If a workplace wants to make changes to wages, benefits, etc, they need to be talking to the union.

We’re working diligently on pay issues.  We want to make sure that no one loses money as the result of quarantine or illness related to COVID-19.  We’re making great progress with a number of our employers. Our goal is no loss of pay if you’ref out of work due to COVID.

We’ve gotten almost all of our employers to agree that during this crisis they will be lenient and handle attendance and tardiness on a case by case basis.

Telecommuting policies? Will people be allowed to work at home if their job permits?

Yes. Many employers were told that they have to cut down the number of people in specific work locations, face to face meetings have been cancelled in almost all of our facilities and we’re doing just about everything by phone. Where it’s possible for people to work from home, they are. Our business office, clerical, backroom clerical, utilization review, etc is all work that is being done from home. If you think your position or job responsibilities are such that you could work from home, contact your local.

Can we refuse to take care of COVID-19 patients due to our own personal health issues?

We're working on getting clear, explicit answers from each employer on this issue.  We’re being told by employers that if there’s a concern that your underlying medical condition or pregnancy would make it impossible to care for a COVID-19 patient, you should immediately let your supervisor know your concern and reach out to your Local.  Most administrations are willing to work with employees. Our number one goal is to have people be able to continue to go to work and feel safe while there. If you are in a position where you feel you’re unsafe, you have rights under FMLA, and/or the NY Paid Leave Act, Your local can help you access those benefits. Some people have spoken with their doctors and their doctors are putting them on Disability. People have not been questioned when going out on Disability.

If I have to quarantine at home, will I be paid for that time?

We’ve been trying to get all employers to come out with consistent rules on pay treatment.  Many employers are waiting for federal and state be interpreted.  Emergency fed fam leave, emergency paid sick leave for yourself, emergency paid sick leave as defined under fed law if you have to care for others. NYS has done the same, expanded the Family Leave Act. 

For employers with one hundred or more employees as of January 1, 2020, each employee who is subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation issued by the State of NY, the department of health, local board of health, or any governmental entity duly authorized to issue such order due to COVID-19, shall be provided with at least fourteen days of paid leave during any mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation.  This sick time should not come from an employee’s accrued benefits.

Will there be mandation?

In NYS Governor Cuomo has declared a state of emergency. Once he did that there’s things that must go in place to supply hospitals with personnel. One of the laws that changed was the law making it illegal to mandate registered nurses to work overtime.  In other words, you may be mandated.  Every employer is going to decide whether or not they are going to mandate employees to remain at work at the end of their shift.  We believe that most employers are considering mandation to be an absolute last resort. Our advice at this point is to pack a bag with your necessities (incl clothes, medications, anything you may need) and carry it with you. Mandation could be a few hours or longer period. Make sure you provide for yourself, have childcare in place, have an emergency number to call.