Frequently Asked Questions About Coronavirus (COVID-19)

This information answers some frequently asked questions about the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19). This information was last updated April 9, 2020.

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What is the coronavirus?

There are many types of coronaviruses. The type of coronavirus in the news right now is coronavirus (COVID-19). COVID-19 causes mild to severe respiratory (breathing) problems. It can cause serious problems, especially in older people and people with other health problems, including cancer.

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How does COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 spreads from person to person through droplets when a person with it coughs or sneezes close to another person, like the way the common cold or flu spreads.

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What are the signs of COVID-19?

COVID-19 causes cold or flu-like symptoms. These may include fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.

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What is MSK doing to protect patients and staff?

  • We are screening all MSK patients for signs of illness and exposure to COVID-19.
  • We have put a policy in place at all of our clinical locations that requires all patients and staff to wear a mask.
    • We are giving masks to every patient when they enter our facilities and requiring masks be worn at all times.
    • Staff working in MSK clinical facilities will wear a mask at all times in public spaces, including hallways and elevators.
  • We have taken steps to implement social distancing around the institution, like removing furniture, to ensure that staff and patients can maintain safe distances of at least 6 feet apart.
  • We have instituted guidelines for staff on both business and personal travel that are in effect until further notice.
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Will MSK be canceling any appointments?

For the health and safety of our patients and staff, MSK is rescheduling some appointments. If one of your appointments is being rescheduled, a member of your healthcare team will call you.

We understand it can be stressful to have a visit, treatment, procedure, or surgery rescheduled. Please know these decisions are being made by your doctor along with the rest of your healthcare team after carefully reviewing your medical care and needs. Your appointment will only be rescheduled if your healthcare team determines that it is safe.

If you have any questions or concerns about your upcoming appointment or about coming to MSK, please contact your healthcare team.

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What do I need to do if I am going to an appointment or visiting MSK?

If you have cold or flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing, body aches, or chills), you must call your MSK doctor’s office before coming to MSK, even if you have an appointment. Tell them about your symptoms.

Effective Friday, March 20, 2020, at 12:01 am, we will no longer allow patients to have visitors, with very limited exceptions. This change is consistent with a recent health advisory issued by the New York State Department of Health. The new visitor policy applies to all MSK inpatient and outpatient locations. Learn more about the changes to our visitor policy.

To help minimize the spread of COVID-19, we have also closed some of our entrances and facilities during this time. If you are coming to Memorial Hospital, we kindly ask that patients be dropped off at our main entrance at 1275 York Ave. (between 67th and 68th streets).

We have temporarily closed the Sillerman Center for Rehabilitation and the Bendheim Integrative Medicine Center. The MSK Ralph Lauren Center in Harlem and the MSK Counseling Center will be closed until May 1. Additionally, the Brooklyn Infusion Center will suspend its Saturday hours in April. 

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Will MSK offer telemedicine (televisits) for patients as an alternative to in-person visits?

MSK offers televisits now and we are planning to offer more. A televisit is when your healthcare provider uses technology to care for you without you having to travel to their office. During your televisit, you and your healthcare provider will see and talk with each other using a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Talk with your healthcare provider about whether a televisit is an option for you. Learn more about televisits by visiting

In addition, MSK has shifted some of its education and support groups to an online format through Virtual Programs. This includes all Resources for Life After Cancer programs as well as other support groups, including our caregiver and bereavement groups.

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What should I do if I may have been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19 ?

If you were notified by your local health department of a potential exposure to someone with COVID-19 and have no symptoms, call your MSK doctor’s office to tell them about the exposure. They will give you instructions on what you should do. If you have cold or flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing, body aches, or chills), you must call your MSK doctor’s office before coming to MSK. Your doctor’s office will give you instructions so we can deliver care to you safely.

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How can I protect myself from getting COVID-19?

You can protect yourself from COVID-19 the same way you would from other respiratory infections, such as the common cold or flu.

  • Wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
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I noticed my patient chart says that “coronavirus” was detected in my lab tests. Does that mean I may have COVID-19?

No, it does not. The routine tests done at MSK test only for the types of coronavirus that have been around for a long time, like the types that cause the common cold. If you have been tested for COVID-19 at MSK, your results will display separately as COVID-19.

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Are there special concerns for people with cancer?

People with cancer often have weakened immune systems. Having a weak immune system makes it harder for the body to fight off diseases, so it’s important for people with cancer and their family members to closely follow steps to protect themselves, especially when it comes to frequent handwashing. We recommend you speak with your doctor if you have concerns about your risk for COVID-19 being higher as a result of current or past cancer treatment.

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Is MSK recommending that patients restrict all international travel?

MSK is encouraging all patients to follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which can be found on its website. The CDC is closely monitoring COVID-19 outside the United States and is issuing country-by-country advisories regarding the level of risk for Americans planning to travel internationally.

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How do I stay up to date on the latest developments about COVID-19?

Continue checking this webpage for MSK updates as well as the MSK patient portal, MyMSK. In addition, MSK is in close contact with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to share updates and receive the latest information. You can also keep up to date and learn more by visiting the COVID-19 pages of the CDC ( and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene ( websites.

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Your feedback will help us improve the information we provide to patients and caregivers. We read every comment, but we’re not able to respond. If you have questions about your care, contact your healthcare provider.

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