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Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) Information for Workers

What is coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses; some cause illness in people, others only in animals; some animal coronaviruses can infect people. Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new disease caused by a coronavirus that has not been previously seen in humans. It is caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2).

How can I become infected?

  • Research is ongoing, and new information is still coming in, but as of March 17, 2020, it is believed people can become infected:
    • By being coughed or sneezed on by an infected person; respiratory droplets are produced, which can land in mouths or noses of people nearby.
    • By touching a contaminated surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
      • NIH research suggests that the virus is stable on surfaces for several hours to several days: up to 24 hours on cardboard and wood, up to 72 hours on stainless steel and plastic.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild to severe respiratory illness, and can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms may begin between 2-14 days after exposure. Some people infected with the virus experience no symptoms, but can still transmit the virus to others.

Is there a vaccine?

As of March 2020, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19.

How can I protect myself at work?

  • WASH YOUR HANDS often and with soap, for at least 20 seconds. Washing your hands is more effective than hand sanitizer.
    • You have the right to access the bathroom whenever you need to, including to wash your hands (29 CFR 1910.141).
    • Handwashing with soap and water is significantly MORE EFFECTIVE than using hand sanitizer. To avoid the spread of COVID-19, hand sanitizer is not a sufficient substitute for handwashing, and should only be used as a last resort. Hand sanitizer should have at least 60% alcohol.

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  • If possible, avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you cannot avoid contact with people who are sick, do avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces (using regular household cleaning supplies).

Do I need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE?)

Workers in some sectors may have increased risk of occupational exposure to COVID-19. It is the employer’s responsibility to conduct a hazard assessment of the workplace and of the workers’ tasks (29 CFR 1910.132(d)). The need for PPE is determined based on the hazard assessment. If PPE is deemed necessary, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide it to the employee at no cost (29 CFR 1910.132(h), as well as to provide training on how to use the PPE correctly (29 CFR 1910.132(f)).

What should I do if I feel sick?

  • Do not come in to work.
    • Under NYC’s Paid Sick Leave Law, you are guaranteed up to 40 hours of sick leave per year. You might have more sick time under your union contract or employer’s policy.
    • You do not need a doctor’s note until you are out for 3 or more consecutive days.
    • Ask your union what to do if you are sick but have run out of sick time.

 Who can I contact for more information?

  • Centers for Disease Control:
    • English/Spanish 800-232-4636
    • Other Languages 877-696-6775
  • NYS Department of Health Novel Coronavirus Hotline: 888-364-3065

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