AFT Resources on the coronavirus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first U.S. case of a new coronavirus on Jan. 21, in the state of Washington. The CDC and the World Health Organization are working to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus (2019-nCoV) believed to have begun in Wuhan, China. The U.S. is the fifth country outside of China to report cases of the virus. The AFT has developed a fact sheet outlining CDC guidelines that will help healthcare workers to recognize symptoms of the virus and recommended precautions healthcare workers should take to protect themselves and their community.


CoronavirusThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization are working to contain a rapidly developing outbreak of a novel (new) coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China. The first case in the United States was diagnosed on Jan. 21 in a man who had traveled from China. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand have also reported cases. The virus is believed to have been transmitted from animals to humans, but person-to-person spread appears to be occurring. The CDC is working with the Department of Homeland Security to funnel all travelers from Wuhan to five airports (Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, JFK in New York and San Francisco) for screening.


The coronavirus causes fever and lower respiratory illness—cough and difficulty breathing, resulting in pneumonia. Preliminary information indicates that persons older than 60 and those with underlying illness are at higher risk of severe disease and death, but information is still lacking on the scope of the illness. While the disease appears to be very infectious, it does not appear to be as deadly as SARS and MERS, earlier corona-type viruses.  The CDC has developed a diagnostic test that it will share with domestic and international partners. No vaccine or specific treatment is yet available; care is supportive.

For AFT Nurses and Health Professional members and employers

Coronavirus: How to be prepared
Download this special bulletin for healthcare workers.

The CDC recommends that healthcare providers screen patients for infection from the coronavirus. If a patient has:

  1. Fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness and history of travel from Wuhan; or close contact with a person under investigation within 14 days;
  2. Fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illness and close contact with a person with confirmed coronavirus illness within 14 days.
  3. Fever may not be present in some patients, such as the very young, elderly, immunosuppressed, or those taking fever-reducing medication. Clinical judgment should be used to guide testing in these cases.

Providers should immediately notify hospital infection control and the local/state public health department. The CDC will help public health departments to safely collect, store and ship specimens. Currently, diagnostic testing can only be done at the CDC. Local labs should not attempt testing. View additional CDC guidance on collection and handling of specimens.

Protections for healthcare workers

We do not yet know exactly how the virus is transmitted, but the CDC recommends infection control and personal protective equipment (PPE) for airborne, droplet and contact transmission—large and small infectious material can be inhaled or absorbed through mucous membranes.*

Patients with suspected coronavirus illness should immediately be given a surgical mask and placed in isolation, preferably in a negative pressure room.

Personnel working with patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus illness should use standard precautions, contact precautions and airborne precautionsuse of an N95 or stronger respirator, nitrile gloves, gown and facial shield to protect the eyes, nose and mouth from splashes. Handwashing protocols are critical to prevent the spread of infection.

Workers must be medically cleared to use a respirator and should receive refresher training on donning and doffing PPE. Those using filtering face piece respirators, such as disposable N95s or N100s should have been fit tested. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule on respirators gives you the right to demand training and fit testing.

Information for educators

Coronavirus: How to be prepared
A special bulletin for teachers and school staff.

Get information about what teachers, paraprofessionals, school nurses and custodians can do to safeguard against the virus, as well as what schools can do regarding ventilation and preventive schoolwide and districtwide policy.

Important practices include excluding children with fever and respiratory symptoms from school until symptoms are resolved; isolating sick children from the general school population when they do attend school; stepping up education and providing good reminders (posters, etc.) in classrooms and to parents on the current infection control policies; ensuring good hand hygiene (give students additional time and opportunities to wash their hands, instruct students to use soap and water); reminding students to avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands; and consider using disinfectant on high-use areas such as doorknobs. For complete information and details, see the full bulletin.

Help your students understand infectious disease and find tools to protect yourself and your community on AFT’s Share My Lesson online collection of lesson plans and resources. You’ll find everything from news program videos to research projects and analyses of past epidemics.

Information for travelers

The CDC is warning against all nonessential travel to China, and the U.S. State Department has increased their advisory to Level 4—no travel to China. 

You can continue to monitor travel advisories from the CDC at Novel Coronavirus Information for Travelers.

AFT Nurses and Health Professionals will continue to monitor the outbreak and provide additional materials to help members protect themselves and their communities.

*Union leaders should make information requests on the employers’ infection control plan and occupational health preparedness plan. See our toolkit at for more information


For more information on infection control practices, visit the CDC isolation precautions page.

For information on OSHA respirator and PPE requirements, visit OSHA infectious diseases.

For videos on how to properly don and doff respirators, visit the NIOSH website and search for "respirator." 

  • Go here for more information on the CDC response.
  • Go here for more information on all human coronavirus types.