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New Yorkers’ Coronavirus Questions, Answered by THE CITY

Social distancing in DUMBO's Main Street Park, on March 27, 2020.
Social distancing in DUMBO’s Main Street Park, on March 27, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Help THE CITY cover the coronavirus crisis: What are your questions, concerns and experiences?

Hundreds of readers have reached out to THE CITY with questions about the coronavirus pandemic. Here are the answers we found for some of the most common questions.

We realize these issues are changing quickly, so we will do our best to update this page as we get more information. In the meantime, keep asking away.

Do I have to pay my rent right now?

The short answer is yes, even if you lost your job because of the coronavirus.

On April 10, Mayor Bill de Blasio called on the Rent Guidelines Board to enact a rent freeze for the nearly 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in New York City. The board is expected to meet and make a decision by late April.

And on March 20, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide 90-day moratorium on evictions through an executive order, so there will be no proceedings until at least June 20. But that still doesn’t suspend the requirement to pay rent.

Any New Yorker who does get an eviction notice, or who sees or experiences an eviction being executed by the City Marshals, should report it to the Bureau of City Marshals within the Department of Investigation at (212) 825-5953.

If you live in NYCHA public housing or receive a Section 8 voucher and have lost income due the pandemic, you may be eligible for a rent reduction. NYCHA residents who end up with a loss of income for at least two months should request an income recertification through the NYCHA Self-Service Portal or through their local management office. Those receiving a Section 8 voucher via the Department of Housing Preservation and Development should email DTRAI@hpd.nyc.gov to seek lower rent due to lost income.

Could this change?

Maybe. Housing Justice for All, a coalition of housing advocacy organizations, is pushing for a statewide rent freeze. The group is also organizing a rent strike for May and is trying to mobilize one million New Yorkers.

The bills in the state Senate and Assembly that propose to suspend rent for 90 days for tenants and small businesses have not moved out of committee.

On April 7, a new bill was introduced in the state legislature that proposes to extend Cuomo’s  90-day moratorium on evictions for an additional six months on top of what Cuomo, after the State of Emergency eventually ends, whenever that may be.

Curbed New York has published answers to additional questions about tenant rights in the era of coronavirus.

Have you received an eviction notice or do you have other rent related issues or questions? Let us know.

What if I can’t afford my mortgage payments right now?

You may be able to get your payments waived.

On March 21, the governor signed an executive order requiring state-regulated banks to offer mortgage relief for 90 days (until June 20) to those experiencing financial hardship because of the pandemic. If banks don’t comply, they could face fines for “unsafe and unsound business practice,” the order says.

The relief only applies to residential mortgages, not loans for commercial or multi-family properties, The Real Deal reported.

A moment of fresh air in lower Manhattan, on March 27, 2020.
A moment of fresh air in lower Manhattan, on March 27, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

If you can’t make mortgage payments because of a loss of income due to the coronavirus crisis, you need to contact your mortgage holder to arrange a pause or decrease in your payment amount, known as a forbearance. Here’s more information about how to do that from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

If you have a federal loan on a multi-family property through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and have been hurt financially by the coronavirus crisis, you can get a break on your mortgage as long as you don’t evict any tenants during the pandemic, officials announced on March 23.

Meanwhile, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has put foreclosures on hold until May 17 for single family homes with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or with Federal Housing Administration insurance. Search to see if your mortgage is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

If you’ve contacted your bank about your mortgage or are facing other issues, let us know.

Will my utilities stay connected while the city is on “PAUSE?”

They should — service shut-offs have been suspended during the coronavirus crisis.

At the recommendation of the state Department of Public Service, National Grid, ConEdison and other major utilities companies agreed that gas, electricity and water will be kept on for all New Yorkers during the coronavirus pandemic, Politico reported.

Also, the state has required utility companies to put off rate increases that were scheduled for April 1, the governor announced on March 25.

If you see a rate increase, let us know.

I’m an “essential worker.” What are my protections?

The “New York State on PAUSE” executive order is still in effect, meaning all “non-essential businesses” in the state of New York are closed until further notice.

If you’re not sure what’s considered “essential,” you can find the list here.

All essential businesses and entities are now required to provide their employees with face coverings to wear while in contact with customers or the general public. According to Cuomo’s executive order, businesses must provide the face coverings or masks to their employees, cost-free.

A Brooklyn postal worker on March 23, 2020.
A Brooklyn postal worker on March 23, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidelines for health care professionals and for all other essential workers who are deciding when to go back to work.

Under the new guidance, workers who have or suspect they have COVID-19 can return to work after at least three days have passed since their recovery — which is defined as having no fever and an improvement in respiratory symptoms — and if seven days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

The CDC says the best way to safely determine when to return to work is to be tested. The CDC advises employees can return to work if they have no fever, have seen an improvement of respiratory symptoms and have tested negative for COVID-19 twice — and the tests have to be 24 hours apart. That said, testing remains hard to come by, as it is still being prioritized for people with moderate to severe symptoms.

THE CITY has reported about what to do when you recover from COVID-19, including guidance from public health experts.

The CDC also has guidelines for employers, which provide detailed instructions on how to clean and disinfect surfaces, best practices for social distancing in the workplace, and ways that workplaces can “support respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has also released a lengthy guide on what workplaces should be doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

If you are an essential worker and commuting to work, we’d like to hear from you. Talk to us here.

What do I do if I think my employer or another business is violating Cuomo’s “New York on PAUSE” executive order?

If you know your place of work is a “nonessential business,” yet your employer is still requiring you to come into work, or if you feel someone at your work has violated labor laws related to the coronavirus or the governor’s “PAUSE” order, you can file a complaint here with the state’s Department of Labor.

What happens if I get sick? Will I get paid sick leave?

Short answer: It depends on where you work.

Under a new law passed earlier this month, all workers in New York State have job protection for the length of the quarantine — meaning, your boss can’t fire you if you miss work because you or a loved one is sick.

But whether you can get paid for sick days is more complicated.

According to the state, most employees will get compensation “by using a combination of benefits, which may include new employer-provided paid sick leave … Paid Family Leave and disability benefits.”

What does that mean? Here’s the breakdown from the governor’s office:

• Workplaces with 10 or fewer employees with a net income of less than $1 million in 2019 do not have to give paid leave, but have to ensure their workers get Paid Family Leave and disability benefits.

• Workplaces must give five days of paid sick leave if they have 10 or fewer employees and make more than $1 million a year; or have between 11 and 99 employees.

• If you’re a public employee or your workplace has 100 or more workers, you get at least 14 days of paid sick leave under the new law.

It’s important to note: The new sick leave benefits put in place because of the pandemic do not apply to employees who are able to work remotely, according to the state.

State Senator Jessica Ramos, the sponsor of the sick leave bill, said in a tweet that it is “far from perfect” and told Gothamist it doesn’t go far enough for freelancers and “app workers.”

“If you don’t have an employer, then you don’t have a person to pay your sick leave,” she told the news site.

For questions about paid sick leave, you can call 311 and say “Paid Safe and Sick Leave,” according to the Office of Emergency Management.

If you’re having issues navigating getting paid sick leave, let us know.

What can be used effectively as a mask? What should people do if they can’t find masks?

On April 15, Cuomo announced that all New Yorkers will be required to wear masks or facial coverings in public where social distancing is not possible. This includes public transit, grocery stores and crowded sidewalks. The executive order went into effect on April 17.

The two types of face masks that you’ve probably been hearing about are surgical face masks and N95 respirators. The thinner, looser-fitting surgical mask creates a barrier for larger droplets, but smaller airborne droplets can still seep through. They are not ideal for “respiratory protection,” according to the CDC. Surgical masks are believed to help slow the spread of the virus by preventing people who may be infected and not know it from transmitting it to others.

A woman lower Manhattan wears a surgical mask during the morning commute, March 5, 2020.
A woman lower Manhattan wears a surgical mask during the morning commute, March 5, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The N95 respirators have an advantage over cloth and surgical masks: They filter 95% of airborne particles, including viruses and bacteria, making them the best protection against transmitting or catching COVID-19.

But, the CDC does not recommend that the public use N95 masks. CDC officials say preventive measures like hand-washing and social distancing are more important, and health care workers need the N95 masks on the frontlines.

The dire shortage of medical supplies and protective gear at city-run hospitals in New York has left many people wondering how they can help. You can read our story on how to donate protective equipment to hospitals here.

Are homemade masks helpful at all?

Are DIY masks ideal? No. Are they better than no protection at all? Yes.

For simple directions on how to make a face mask from a piece of cloth and two rubber bands, watch this video from the CDC of the surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Adams, creating a covering in less than 45 seconds.

For more information about sewing or making handmade masks, read this article from The New York Times and this piece by The Philadelphia Inquirer about the pros and cons of making masks, including whether they are effective and where you can find a pattern for making them.

Have the social distancing guidelines changed? What do I need to know when I’m outside?

For the most part, they’ve stayed the same. According to the New York City Department of Health, social distancing “involves staying home and creating space between you and others.”

The main spread of the virus is believed to be by person-to-person contact, so staying at least six feet away is the going rule.

'See you soon': The streets in Cobble Hill were empty as people sequestered themselves, March 22, 2020.
’See you soon’: The streets in Cobble Hill were empty as people sequestered themselves, March 22, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This means New Yorkers are allowed to go outside, as long as they’re maintaining the six-foot distance from others. The fresh air and change of scenery is good for you, but you should avoid closely interacting with other people while outside.

What about handling pets and dog-walking?

Some strains of the coronavirus are “zoonotic,” meaning it is possible for animals to become infected via close contact with humans, according to the World Organization for Animal Health. But, further evidence is needed to understand if animals and pets can contribute to spreading the virus back to humans. Based on current evidence, the virus is spread through human to human contact.

The CDC says they are aware of the small number of animals that have been infected with coronavirus, and because of this are advising people who are sick with COVID-19 to isolate themselves from their pets as they would other members of their family.

Dog-walking in public spaces is okay as long as you stay six feet from other people and pets. It’s always a good idea to wash your hands before and after handling your pets or their food, waste or supplies. As of April 6, dog runs in NYC are closed until further notice.

What do New Yorkers get from the federal stimulus package?

On Wednesday April 15, the IRS began distributing the first round of stimulus checks to over 80 million people. The agency has launched a web portal that allows taxpayers to update their direct deposit information and check the status of their payment.

A version of the online tool will be released in Spanish in a few weeks, according to the IRS.

A few readers asked us how the federal stimulus package, which the Senate passed on March 25, might help their situation. A single adult with a valid Social Security number and no children whose gross income is $75,000 or less should get the full $1,200. For others, The Washington Post created a tool that calculates how much stimulus you should expect.

And The New York Times wrote a piece answering numerous questions about the stimulus checks, unemployment, and student loans.

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