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New Yorkers’ Coronavirus Questions, Answered by THE CITY

Do I have to pay rent? Are homemade masks helpful? What’s up with the federal stimulus? We tackle readers’ questions on getting through the pandemic.

People practice social distancing in DUMBO's Main Street Park during the coronavirus outbreak.
Social distancing in DUMBO’s Main Street Park, on March 27, 2020.
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.

Will I have to pay rent for April?

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

Gov. Andrew Cuomo placed a statewide 90-day moratorium on evictions through an executive order, so there will be no proceedings until at least June 20. But that 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.

Bills are also making their way through the state Senate and Assembly that would suspend rent for 90 days for tenants and small businesses. Cuomo has not shown support for the idea yet.

The New York Times and Curbed New York have 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 for 90 days.

On March 21, the governor signed an executive order requiring state-regulated banks to offer mortgage relief 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.
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 Department of Housing and Urban Development has put foreclosures on hold for 60 days for single family homes with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or with Federal Housing Administration insurance.

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?

We’ve heard from many readers that their employers are requiring them to work in conditions that go against executive orders. We’ve heard concerns about bus drivers, shelter workers, EMS workers, food delivery and mail carriers who come into close contact with others.

As you’ve probably heard, Cuomo ordered all “non-essential businesses” in the state of New York closed until further notice. If you’re not sure what’s considered “essential,” you can find the list here.

A Brooklyn postal worker takes precautions during the coronavirus outbreak.
A Brooklyn postal worker on March 23, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The governor’s 10-point safety policy requires businesses that provide essential services to “implement rules that help facilitate social distancing of at least six feet.”

The state has guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for employers that 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 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 a business is violating Cuomo’s “New York on PAUSE” 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” executive 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?

As of April 3, the CDC recommends you wear a face mask “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” like grocery stores and pharmacies, the agency said in its written guidance. The city Department of Health gave similar guidance on April 2.

The two types of face masks that you’ve probably been hearing about are surgical face masks and N-95 respirators. The thinner, looser-fitting masks, known as surgical masks, protect people against larger droplets, but smaller airborne droplets can still seep through. They are not ideal for “respiratory protection,” according to the CDC.

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

The N-95 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 COVID-19.

But, the CDC does not recommend that the public use N-95 masks. CDC officials say preventative measures like hand-washing and social distancing are more important, and healthcare workers need the N-95 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 do-it-yourself 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.

The streets in Cobble Hill were empty as people sequestered themselves during the coronavirus outbreak.
’See you soon’: The streets in Cobble Hill were empty as people sequestered themselves, March 22, 2020.
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?

The CDC says it hasn’t received any reports of pets sickened by coronavirus in the United States, and there is no reason to believe household pets are a source of infection. There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to people from pet fur or skin. So, dog-walking is okay as long as you stay six feet from others. It’s always a good idea to wash your hands before and after handling your pets, their food, waste or supplies.

What do New Yorkers get from the federal stimulus package?

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.

Want to republish this story? See our republication guidelines.


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