CWA Healthcare Worker Alert COVID19

As the current COVID-19 situation evolves, things are moving at a rapid pace and situations change daily. As such, we will do our best to keep you as informed and prepared as possible.

UPDATE MARCH 30: Register here for our Healthcare Worker Town Hall Call coming up on Wednesday, April 1.

UPDATE MARCH 24: Take action now by signing the petition to President Trump to use the National Defense Production Act to its fullest extent in order to produce the protective equipment we desperately need.

UPDATE MARCH 23: Did you miss the Town Hall Call for CWA Healthcare Workers? Listen here. 


UPDATE MARCH 19: A message from CWA National President Chris Shelton on the COVID-19 Pandemic


About the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

In December 2019, a newly identified coronavirus, known as COVID-19, emerged, spreading infection in humans.

What We Know About the Virus

A coronavirus, which is a large family of viruses that can infect animals and/or humans. COVID-19 is similar to the viruses that cause SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). 

By the Numbers

Cases of the virus have since been reported in more than 150 other countries on every continent. As of March 18, 2020, there have been 206,893 confirmed cases worldwide, with 8,272 deaths, while 82,889 people have recovered. 
In the United States, there have been more than 6,200 confirmed cases, with New York currently reporting the highest number of confirmed cases. 

New York State Laws in Response

As of March 19, 2020, New York State has enacted new laws regarding:

  • Unemployment Insurance
  • Paid Family Leave
  • Workers' Compensation
  • Emergency Paid Leave
  • Emergency Unpaid Leave

Click here for a summary of the New York State COVID-19 Sick Leave Law


(click to enlarge)

Our Response

CWA has been in close contact with members and all of our employers on a daily basis, and we're working to ensure that our healthcare workers are protected and can feel secure going to work and providing care. Employers must be prepared to keep you and your patients safe.

CWA has been working obtain PPE, additional testing capabilites, and safer guidelines from the CDC for weeks. We’re in touch with Governor Cuomo's office and advocating on all three issues.

Read our letter to Governor Cuomo here.

Read the Union Letter to Congress signed by CWA, AFL-CIO, AFT, UAW, Teamsters, and others.

We are working to ensure that our members don’t lose any wages if they’re quarantined or become ill related to COVID-19.

Time and attendance monitoring and disciplines should be put on hold until this crisis is averted.

While the CDC has provided guidelines and materials, there are three pieces that we strongly disagree with them on that we want our members to be aware of:

  • We disagree with the CDC that a surgical mask is an acceptable alternative to a N95 respirator.
  • We disagree with the CDC that a healthcare provider who has been exposed to a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case should continue to work. If you have been infected with the virus, you may be contagious before you show any symptoms for it. It is therefore strongly recommended that any worker who has been exposed should self-quarantine. 
  • We disagree with the CDC that the virus can't be transmitted through the air. Studies have shown that small particles may remain in the air.

CWA's priority is the safety of our members, and we're working hard to make sure that you have the most clear, accurate info for how to protect yourself, your family, and your patients during this time. We won’t stop with the fight to protect our members and our patients. 

Read our CWA District 1 Healthcare Worker Alert & Priorities for more information on what we're doing right now to protect members.

Is your facility prepared? Go through the COVID-19 checklist.

Contact Your Local

Do you have concerns about your workplace or your personal safety? Contact your CWA Local:

  • Local 1091: 973-992-6568
  • Local 1101: 212-633-2666  |  718-823-7330
  • Lcoal 1103: 914-939-8200
  • Local 1104: 516-420-8390
  • Local 1111: 607-733-1111
  • Local 1118: 518-869-1118  |  866-625-1118
  • Local 1122: 716-633-2211
  • Local 1123: 315-476-1123
  • Local 1126: 315-736-1126
  • Local 1133: [email protected]
  • Local 1168: 716-639-1168  |  [email protected]
  • Local 1180: 212-226-6565

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 Contracticting 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]

COVI19 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.

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

Surgical mask vs n95

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

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.


Zhejiang University Hospital Handbook of COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment

OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 

WHO Report on Home care for patients with COVID-19 presenting with mild symptoms and management of their contacts (March 17)

WHO Report on Infection prevention and control during health care when novel coronavirus (nCoV) infection is suspected (January 25)

Crisis Services & Coping With Stress

Managing Anxiety in an Anxiety-Provoking Situation

Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks

Taking Care of Your Behavioral Health: Tips for Social Distancing, Quarantine, and Isolation

COVID-19 and Your Mental Health

Resources to Support Mental Health and Coping with the Coronavirus

If you or someone you know is in urgent need of someone to speak to, there is help available. 24-hour access to trained disaster crisis counselors providing supportive counseling, including information on common stress reactions and healthy coping:

  • National Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990  |  Text: "TalkWithUs" to 66746
  • National Text Line: Text “Got5” to 741 741 to text with a counselor
  • Erie County Crisis Services: 716-834-3131
  • Erie County Addiction Hotline: 716-831-7007

Take Action

As things continue to change and move rapidly with this developing crisis, there are several ways that you can take action right now on both the State and Federal levels.

President Trump must use the National Defense Production Act

President Trump has the power to make a difference but has failed to do what needs to be done to keep workers and patients safe. Through the National Defense Production Act (NDPA) the President can mandate the immediate production of all the personal protective equipment, tests, and ventilators we need to respond to the crisis and protect healthcare workers — but so far he's refused to do so and instead has announced vague and confusing measures to "leverage" manufacturers into producing insufficient amounts of supplies. Sign the petition now to tell the President that he MUST use the NDPA to its fullest extent to get us the equipment we need!

NYS Tax the Rich

New York budget officials say that we're facing a $4-7 billion revenue shortfall, but we cannot cut our way out of a deficit in the face of a pandemic that threatens our communities. With so much wealth in this state, there's a better way to close the budget gap. By taxing the richest 1%, we can raise the revenue we need to put towards our healthcare system and other vital public services.

Raise your voice now to tell our Legislators: stop the cuts and increase revenue to weather this crisis!

CWA is urging the House and Senate to immediately pass the P.A.I.D. Leave Act, a comprehensive bill to provide all workers with paid sick days and family leave, in response to the current coronavirus crisis, and to have these benefits in place for workers and families to deal with future crises and life events. The bill was introduced on Tuesday by Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).

"Nobody should be forced to go to work while sick or capable of spreading a disease during a pandemic," said CWA President Chris Shelton. "Congress must immediately act to give all workers paid sick days and paid family leave to stop the spread of COVID-19. Working people across the country and across the world are looking to their elected officials to use their power and provide leadership in this time of crisis. Our legislators have an opportunity to act now and save lives by passing this bill."

Send a message to your members of Congress telling them to support the bill at