A view of the Secretariat Building, with Members States’ flags flying in the foreground, at United Nations headquarters in New York. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Answers to some UN-specific questions for NY personnel 

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    How does COVID-19 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. This is why it is important to stay more than 2 meters (6 feet) away from a person who is sick. As COVID-19 can live on hard surfaces like metal, plastic, and cardboard, we recommend thoroughly wash your hands after being in public places and touching door handles, shopping carts, elevator buttons, etc., after using the bathroom, and before preparing food.

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    What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

    The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, loss of smell and taste, 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 by phone or via telehealth service. If you have severe symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, or chestpain call 911.

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    How do I know if it is COVID-19 or just the common flu?

    COVID-19 often causes symptoms similar to those a person with a bad cold or the flu would experience. And like the flu, the symptoms can progress and become life-threatening. As COVID-19 is highly spread in New York, your doctor is more likely to suspect coronavirus than flu at this time. Management for mild symptoms is the same for flu or COVID-19. More information can be found in the section “I’m Sick”.

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    Can the virus that causes COVID-19 be transmitted through the air?

    Studies to date suggest that the virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through contact with respiratory droplets rather than through the air. See previous answer on “How does COVID-19 spread?”

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    What can I do to protect myself and prevent the spread of disease?

    Protection measures for everyone

    If you are no essential worker, stay home and follow the requirements of your city/county.

    You can reduce your chances of being infected or spreading COVID-19 by taking some simple precautions:

    • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.
    • Maintain at least 2 meters (6 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Why? When someone coughs or sneezes, they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.
    • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.
    • Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately and wash your hands. Why? Droplets spread virus. By following good respiratory hygiene, you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.
    • Stay home. If you feel unwell, strictly stay home even if you are an essential worker. Follow the directions of your local health authority. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention by phone or using telehealth and call 911 if you have shortness of breath or experience severe symptoms. Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on the situation in your area. This will also protect you and help prevent spread of viruses and other infections.
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    I am well and asymptomatic. Should I use a mask when I am outdoor for essential services (for example, to buy groceries)?

    Yes, in line with the recommendation of the local health authorities, covering mouth and nose when in public to prevent potential transmission of COVID-19 is advised. We recommend wearing, when outside, a mask if available or a face covering (homemade masks, scarf, bandana, or piece of clothing) if not available. Medical-grade masks, such as surgical masks and N95 masks, should be reserved for health care professionals and other first responders.

    Also, remember that the most effective ways to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 are to frequently clean your hands, cover your cough with the bend of elbow or tissue, stay home and, when outside your home, maintain a distance of at least 2 meters (6 feet) from everyone. (See Basic protective measures against the new coronavirus).

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    How likely am I to catch COVID-19?

    COVID-19 is widely spread in New York area and it is highly possible to catch COVID-19 when outside your home or if engaging in non-essential gatherings of any size, even in your home. Be sure to comply with any local restrictions on travel, movement or gatherings. Cooperating with disease control efforts will reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.

    COVID-19 outbreaks can be contained and transmission stopped, as has been shown in China and some other countries. Unfortunately, new outbreaks can emerge rapidly.  

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    Are pregnant women more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus and will it harm the fetus?

    We do not have information from published scientific reports about the susceptibility of pregnant women to COVID-19. Pregnant women experience immunologic and physiologic changes, which might make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19.

    The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly by close contact with an infected person through respiratory droplets. Whether a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can transmit the virus that causes COVID-19 to her fetus or neonate by other routes of vertical transmission (before, during, or after delivery) is still unknown. For more information, visit the WHO guidance on pregnancy: www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-on-covid-19-pregnancy-childbirth-and-breastfeeding.

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    What is the risk of my child becoming sick with COVID-19?

    Based on available evidence, children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults. While some children and infants have been sick with COVID-19, adults make up most of the known cases to date. You can learn more about who is most at risk for health problems if they have COVID-19 infection on CDC’s current Risk Assessment page. Children who contracted COVID-19 have shown to shed COVID-19 in their stools for a few weeks, even if they did not show any symptoms. We strongly encourage that elderly or people with underlying conditions do not change diapers or attend to bathroom needs.

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    Are the symptoms of COVID-19 different in children than in adults?

    No. The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in children and adults. However, children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms. Reported symptoms in children include cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported. It’s not known yet whether some children may be at higher risk for severe illness, for example, children with underlying medical conditions and special healthcare needs. There is much more to be learned about how the disease impacts children.

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    Should I worry about COVID-19?

    Illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults. However, it can cause serious illness: about 1 in every 5 people who catch it need hospital care. It is therefore quite normal for people to worry about how the COVID-19 outbreak will affect them and their loved ones.

    We can channel our concerns into actions to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities. First and foremost, among these actions is regular and thorough hand-washing and good respiratory hygiene. Secondly, keep informed and follow the advice of the local health authorities including any restrictions put in place on travel, movement and gatherings.

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    Who is at risk of developing severe illness?

    While we are still learning about how COVID-19 affects people, older persons and persons with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes) appear to develop serious illness more often than others. 

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    Are antibiotics effective in preventing or treating COVID-19?

    No. Antibiotics do not work against viruses, they only work on bacterial infections. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, so antibiotics do not work. Antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment of COVID-19. They should only be used as directed by a physician to treat a bacterial infection.

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    Are there any medicines or therapies that can prevent or cure COVID-19?

    While some western, traditional or home remedies may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of COVID-19, there are no currently approved medicines that can prevent or cure the disease. WHO does not recommend self-medication with any medicines (except over the counter medications to control pain and fever), including antibiotics, as a prevention or cure for COVID-19. However, there are several ongoing clinical trials that include both western and traditional medicines. As such, should you be hospitalized for a severe case of COVID-19 you may be offered to be treated with medications currently on trial.

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    Is there a vaccine, drug or treatment for COVID-19?

    Not yet. To date, there is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-2019. However, those affected should receive care to relieve symptoms. People with serious illness should be hospitalized. Most patients recover thanks to supportive care.

    Possible vaccines and some specific drug treatments are under investigation. They are being tested through clinical trials. WHO is coordinating efforts to develop vaccines and medicines to prevent and treat COVID-19.

    The most effective ways to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 are to frequently clean your hands, cover your cough with the bend of elbow or tissue, stay home and, when outside your home, wear a mask or face cover and maintain a distance of at least 2 meters (6 feet) from everyone. (See Basic protective measures against the new coronavirus).

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    Until when should I wear a mask after recovering from an illness with respiratory symptoms?

    In order to avoid infecting others, you should use a mask for as long as you are still coughing or sneezing. You should only stop after a complete recovery, which means:

    • At least 14 days have passed since any symptoms have completely stopped.
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    I am looking after someone who is ill with suspect or confirmed COVID-19. What precautions should I take?

    Visit the section “Home Care and Isolation” for a detailed guidance

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    How long is the incubation and transmission period for COVID-19?

    The “incubation period” means the time between catching the virus and beginning to have symptoms of the disease. Most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from 1-14 days, most commonly around five days.

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    Can humans become infected with the COVID-19 from an animal source?

    Possible animal sources of COVID-19 have not yet been confirmed. To protect yourself, avoid direct contact with animals and surfaces in contact with animals. Ensure good food safety practices at all times. Handle raw meat, milk or animal organs with care to avoid contamination of uncooked foods and avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products. If possible, should you be sick, arrange another household member to care for your pets. Alternatively, ensure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after touching your pets or handling their water and food.

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    How long does the virus survive on surfaces?

    COVID-19 can live on hard surfaces like metal, plastic, and cardboard for at least 24-72 hours and possibly for days. Accordingly, we recommend thoroughly wash your hands after being in public places and touching door handles, shopping carts, elevator buttons, etc., after using the bathroom, and before preparing food.

    If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple household detergent or disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after touching a surface that may be infected. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose, especially with unwashed hands.

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    How can I get tested for COVID-19?

    Visit the section “COVID-19 Testing in New York” for a detailed guidance

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    What alternatives do I have if there are no hand sanitizers available? Can I use other alcohol like ethyl or liquor?

    Hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds is the most effective way to clean your hands and it is preferred to hand sanitizers, even when available. Liquor is not effective against coronavirus. For an alcohol-based hand rub to be effective, it must have an alcohol content of 60% to 95%.

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    Can people who recover from COVID-19 be infected again?

    We know that for similar coronaviruses, infected people are unlikely to be re-infected shortly after they recover. However, because the immune response to COVID-19 is not yet understood, it is not yet known whether similar immune protection will be observed for patients who have recovered from COVID-19.

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    Is it safe to receive a package?

    Yes. The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.

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    Is there a connection between COVID -19 and environment temperature?

    It is not known yet if weather and temperature changes impact or has any connection with COVID-19. At this time, it is not clear or known if the spread of COVID-19 will decrease when the weather becomes warmer.

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    Can I catch the virus from being in an enclosed space (i.e. grocery store, pharmacy, bus, subway) in close proximity to someone who doesn’t have respiratory symptoms?

    COVID-19 is widely spread in New York area and it is highly possible to catch COVID-19 when outside your home or if engaging in non-essential gatherings of any size, even in your home. Be sure to comply with any local restrictions on travel, movement or gatherings. Cooperating with disease control efforts will reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19. When outside your home, wear a mask or face cover and maintain a distance of at least 2 meters (6 feet) from everyone. Should you be an essential worker and need to commute using public transportation, ensure to maintain a distance of at least 2 meters (6 feet) from everyone during your commute. Should this not be possible, wait for the next train, bus, or ferry. Avoid touching your face, nose, and eyes, especially while in public spaces, like a grocery store or while commuting. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as soon as returning home or reaching your work or destination.

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    Should I start avoiding people of Asian descent and their businesses?

    The virus can affect anyone regardless of nationality, race and color. The Organization will not tolerate discrimination and encourages everyone to promote culturally appropriate and empathetic community engagement and to detect and rapidly respond to negative public perceptions and counter misinformation.

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    When should we identify ourselves as "being sick" and when should I stay at home if I am an essential worker?

    Fever, tiredness, and dry cough are the most common symptoms. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, loss of smell and taste, or diarrhea. If you experience any of these symptoms you must stay home even if you are an essential worker. Should you be sick, visit the section “Home Care and Isolation” for a detailed guidance.

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    One of my colleague was/is sick with respiratory symptoms or other symptoms typically associated with COVID-19 infection. What steps can we take to protect ourselves and our community?

    As COVID-19 is widely spread in the New York area, contracting COVID-19 is possible whether or not you interacted with a colleague who was/is sick. This is especially relevant if you are an essential worker and leave the house often. We recommend that you are watchful for any symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19 infection. Should you be sick, visit the sections “I’m Sick” and “Home Care and Isolation” for a detailed guidance.

    DHMOSH request that everyone who has a confirmed positive test report this to the UN medical service at osh@un.org.  This is a confidential address managed by medical service staff. Your result will never be released to the workplace. We will use the information to guide the overall management in the HQ, and to update senior management anonymously about total cases.

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    What is the process for evaluating the criticality of official travels?

    Travel on official business that has not been initiated, should be deferred or cancelled unless considered critical. 

    It is unlikely that anything other than critical travel will be approved, and is dependent in large part on access to flights and visa restrictions. No matter where you are coming from or going to, it is likely you will be quarantined. For any questions on travel contact the HQ Clinic travel medecine service at msdnurses@un.org

    As the outbreak evolves, it can be difficult to predict the situation globally, and it would be prudent to make contingency arrangements should the need arise. Feel free to consult us further at osh@un.org as needed.

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    Does the UN have any specific guidelines for meeting / mass gathering organizers and participants during the COVID-19 outbreak?

    As of 22 March 2020, non-essential gatherings of any size are not allowed in New York.

    • All non-essential meetings must take place via VTC or similar online platforms.
    • For essential meetings during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Division of Healthcare Management and Occupational Safety and Health (DHMOSH) recommends to keep the number of participants as low as possible, to allow remote participation whenever possible, to maintain a distance of at least 2 meters (6 feet) from everyone participating in the meeting, to minimize the length of meeting to the shortest time possible, and to aerate the meeting area before and after the meeting. Also, all participants should wash their hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after the meeting, should avoid touching their face, nose, or eyes, and should not shake hands.  
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    I am feeling anxious, depressed, isolated or overwhelmed with work and family responsibility. Where can I find support?

    We are here to support, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at osh@un.org You can also visit the “Wellness” section of this website for psychosocial resources.

    You can always reach out to a mental health professional for a confidential consultation by phone or video, either a UN staff counsellor or an external treatment provider. Contact us if you have questions. For information about external tele-health services, see the health insurance section on this website

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    I am worried that one of my family members or I will develop a severe COVID-19 infection. Where can I find support?

    We are here to support, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at osh@un.org You can also visit the “Wellness” section of this website for psychosocial resources.

    You can always reach out to a mental health professional for a confidential consultation by phone or video, either a UN staff counsellor or an external treatment provider. Contact us if you have questions. For information about external tele-health services, see the health insurance section on this website

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    I have a routine medical appointment, should I cancel it?

    We recommend that you reach out to your provider and discuss the possibility to reschedule non-urgent medical appointment to a later time.

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    Have medical insurance related questions?