This website is a collaboration between ASERT and Health Care Quality Units (HCQUs). This site is designed to connect individuals with disabilities, families, professionals, and community members with resources that can best serve them in emergency situations.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide
Coronavirus is an illness that can be spread from person to person through droplets – like from coughing or sneezing. You may hear it called coronavirus, COVID-19, or novel coronavirus.
Click on the accordions below to find out more information regarding signs, symptoms, seeking medical attention, how to stay healthy, and links to additional resources.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to virus. Symptoms may include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
*Information provided by CDC website
When to Seek Medical Attention
If you have any of these emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning you.
Call 911 if you have a medical emergency: notify the operator that you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a mask before medical help arrives.
How Will this Affect Me?
The coronavirus spreads easily from person to person, so it’s recommended that people practice “social distancing.” This means staying away from other people in order to avoid catching or spreading the virus. It also means that schools may close, events may be canceled, or people may need to work from home.
This may mean that your normal daily routine will change, but this is okay. These changes are being done to keep you healthy.
What Can I do to Help Myself Stay Healthy?
- Wear a mask: if you have to go out into the community, wear a mask.
- Avoid close contact with others: keep at least six feet away from someone who is sick and avoid crowded places.
- Practice good hygiene: wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after being in a public place. Avoid touching your face.
- Cover your mouth: cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Then immediately wash your hands.
- Clean your space: clean common spaces you use such as keyboards, doorknobs, light switches, and phones.
Important Links and Trusted Sources
Pennsylvania has created a guide for dealing with COVID-19. This website includes guidance and resources, with more information and services being added as they become available. Information includes cases in Pennsylvania, accessing healthcare, and information for individuals, families, businesses, and schools.
This website is the best place to find up-to-date information about coronavirus and its impact on Pennsylvania. The website is updated daily with information on number of cases by county, information about stay-at-home orders, links to additional resources, and information on staying safe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides a wide range of information about coronavirus, including ways to stay safe, infection control, tips for caring for individuals who have coronavirus, and more.
This website provides information about coronavirus and it’s impact around the globe. Information includes country-specific information, travel advice, mythbusters, research and development, and more.
This website discusses the importance of community participation and strategies to connect and participate in meaningful ways! It provides resources from around the world to help you participate in your community while practicing social distancing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides information about coronavirus testing information, including how to decide if you should get tested, how to get tested, and what to do after being tested.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides information about daily life and coping during coronavirus while at home, in the community and in the workplace.
COVID-19 Accessible Resources
This website, developed by Georgia Tech, provides accessible versions of CDC guidance on COVID-19. Resources have been adapted into the following formats:
- Accessible Documents for Screen Readers
- ASL Resources
- Simplified Text
The “What to Know About Coronavirus” resource has been translated into the following languages:
Spanish Translation: Lo que hay que saber sobre el coronavirus
Chinese Translation: 新型冠状病毒 (COVID-19) 须知
Russian Translation: Что необходимо знать о коронавирусе (COVID-19)
Arabic Translation: ما ينبغي أن تعرفه عن فيروس كورونا (COVID-19)
Looking to learn more about the vaccine for COVID-19? These resources provide information about the Emergency Use Authorization process, what to expect before and after getting the vaccine, frequently asked questions, and many other resources with important COVID-19 vaccine information.
COVID-19 Vaccine Information
Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine Social Stories
These social stories provide a visual explanation of what to expect when getting the vaccine for COVID-19 and what you may experience after getting the vaccine. Social stories are provided in both English and Spanish, and have also been developed into videos.View Resource
Decision Making for the COVID-19 Vaccine
This resource, developed by ASERT in collaboration with Dr. Venkat from Allegheny Health Network and Dr. Migyanka from Indiana University of Pennsylvania provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine to help individuals make informed decisions.View Resource
PA Department of Health Resources
The PA Department of Health website provides information about the COVID-19 vaccine specific to Pennsylvania. Resource includes information about vaccine rollout plan, vaccine distribution, vaccine provider map, and frequently asked questions.
COVID-19 Vaccine Information in Plain Language
This resource developed by the Self Advocacy Resource and Technical Assistance Center (SARTAC) provides a plain language guide for self advocates about the vaccine. This resource was created by and for people with intellectual disabilities.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vaccine Resources
Benefits of Getting the Vaccine
This resource from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information about the benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
What to Expect at Your Vaccine Appointment
This resource from the CDC provides information on what you can expect when you go to get your COVID-19 vaccine.
FAQ: Questions by Guardians About COVID-19 Vaccine for Long-Term Care Residents
This resource, from the National Center for State Courts, American Bar Association, and National Guardianship Association, provides information for guardians about some of the most common questions surrounding vaccinations for residents of long-term care facilities.
The resources below explore a wide range of topics, providing information designed to help keep you healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, both physically and mentally. These resources are updated frequently, so check back often for new information.
Wearing a Mask, Washing Hands and Other PPE Resources
Wearing a mask is important for helping you and others in the community stay healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Even as activities begin to open up around the state, it’s important to follow the guidelines and wear a mask when you’re in the community. Below are resources designed to help individuals with autism and their families get comfortable wearing a mask and understanding why they are important.
Wearing a Mask Social Story
This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism about wearing a mask to avoid spreading germs. The resource includes why it's important to wear a mask, as well as information about how to safely wear and remove masks. The resource is translated into Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, and Burmese. An animated version is also available.View Resource
Wearing a Mask and Communication
As a result of COVID-19, health care providers have recommended people wear masks as a way to prevent the spread of the disease. Wearing masks can be uncomfortable, and for individuals who have sensory sensitivities, it can be even harder. These resources provide a guide for families and caregivers on how to work with loved ones on getting comfortable wearing a mask, different types of masks based on individual needs, as well as information on communicating while wearing masks for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.View Resource
Wearing Gloves Social Story
This resource, developed by ASERT, provides a visual explanation of how to properly wear gloves to keep yourself safe.View Resource
Video: If People Don’t Wear Masks
This video provides do's and don'ts if you see someone not wearing a mask while out in public.View Resource
Hand Washing Social Story
This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism on how to wash hands to help stay healthy. This resource has also been translated into Russian, Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic.View Resource
How to Properly Wash Hands
This resource is a series of videos that provide information and demonstration on proper hand washing techniques.View Resource
Toolkit for Helping Your Child Wear a Mask: This resource, developed by the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities at the University of Rochester Medical Center, provides tips, information and suggestions for parents on how to help their child wear a mask during COVID-19.
Holidays and Gatherings
Celebrating the holidays this year is going to look a little different than usual. This collection of resources provides tips on how to stay connected with family and friends during the holiday season while staying safe and healthy. Resources include a one-page guide to hosting small gatherings safely, a social story for understanding changes that may happen over the holidays due to COVID, and videos with additional information and suggestions.
*Holidays in 2020 Social Story is available in English, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Burmese*
Holidays in 2020 Social Story
This social story provides a visual explanation of some of the changes to holiday celebrations that people may have due to COVID-19.View Resource
Video: Holidays in 2020
This video reviews some of the changes that you and your family may experience in 2020 as a result of COVID-19.View Resource
Safe Practices for Gathering Over the Holidays
This resource provides tips and suggestions for how to stay healthy and safe while celebrating holidays with friends and family during COVID-19.View Resource
ASERT has developed a simple reminder to keep you and your co-workers safe. If you’re an employer, you can post the flyer as a reminder for your employees. If you’re a parent, provider, or self-advocate, you can bring these to your employer and ask them to post them to help keep everyone safe at work.
Going Back to Work Social Story
This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism about going back to work after the COVID-19 pandemic. The resource includes information on what will be different at work because of the pandemic.View Resource
Check back here often for new videos with new information, tips, and suggestions for managing different aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. All videos featured here can also be found on the AID in PA website.
This video reviews ways to help manage pandemic fatigue: the stress that we all have experienced as a result of the major life changes due to COVID-19.
Additional Resources and Information
Below you will find additional resources and information for parents, caregivers, direct support professionals, and individuals with autism to manage a variety of situations related to the current COVID-19 pandemic. This section will be changing as more information and resources become available, so check back often!
During this time of change and uncertainty, it may be even more difficult supporting and taking care of individuals with autism. With businesses closed, activities canceled, and major disruptions to daily schedules and routines, some individuals with autism may struggle to cope. Below are some resources and information designed to help parents, caregivers, and direct support staff to support individuals with autism during this time.
There is a lot of information out there about coronavirus (COVID-19), and it can be overwhelming and hard to understand. Explaining the virus, and what needs to be done to stay healthy and safe, can be difficult. The resources below provide a visual explanation of coronavirus and some situations people may experience.
This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism about the coronavirus and how to stay healthy.
This social story is also available in Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic.
This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism on how to wash hands to help stay healthy.
This social story is also available in Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic.
This resource provides a visual explanation of what quarantine is, and what it means if someone has to quarantine themselves.
Wearing Gloves: Parts 1-3
These resources provide a visual explanation of why it can help to wear gloves when in the community and how to properly wear them.
COVID-19 Virtual Learning Supports
This collection of resources provides parents, caregivers, and self-advocates information on virtual learning supports available to help students during COVID-19. Some resources are available statewide while others are specific to Philadelphia and other regions of Pennsylvania.
PaTTAN: COVID 19 Pandemic Support for Education
This section of the PaTTAN website was developed to provide resources and supports for educators, families, and students during the COVID-19 situation. These supports are provided at no cost via the Bureau of Special Education, Pennsylvania Department of Education.
PA Department of Education: Resources for School Communities During COVID-19
Coronavirus (COVID-19) mitigation efforts have required school communities to work within changing, complex circumstances and unprecedented situations. Content on this page is updated regularly and covers topics such as:
- School guidance
- School sports guidance
- Answers to FAQs
- Messages to school communities
- Orders and waivers
- GEERS fund
- CARES Act
This guide from the National Association of School Psychologists provides guidelines for talking to children, information on keeping the conversation age appropriate, suggested talking points, and additional resources. The Parent Resource is available in multiple languages.
The Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre has created a page on their website dedicated to COVID-19 and providing updates. They continue to add videos to this page with new information every few days.
This website provides information about communication supports for children and adults with complex communication needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) have dedicated websites with up to date information and resources for provider agencies, families, and individuals regarding changes to services and programs due to COVID-19.
The Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) have dedicated websites with up to date information and resources for provider agencies, families, and individuals regarding changes to services and programs due to COVID-19.
For individuals who thrive on routines and schedules, being quarantined may mean changes to their normal daily activities. There are different ways to help individuals manage these changes, including:
Social stories can be a great way to explain changes or new situations to individuals. There are many different social stories out there about COVID-19, including ones developed by ASERT (see above).
One simple way to create a social story is by using Microsoft PowerPoint or similar presentation software. Use each slide to add text and images to tell the story. These can then be shared online or printed and reviewed with individuals.
The following resources can help you develop your own social stories:
Visual schedules are a great way to help individuals understand what to expect. When there are changes in routine or activities, creating a visual schedule can help the individual understand the changes and know what is coming next. The following resource provides information on visual schedules, how to create them, and how to use them with individuals who have autism.
While families are at home practicing social distancing or self-quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic, difficulties involving family members may occur as a result of individuals being outside of their typical routines and feeling confined inside the same space. Use these resources as a guide to help handle various difficult situations.
Services and Supports
Many services and supports have been disrupted for individuals and families due to social distancing and restrictions on services that can be provided.
Thankfully, requirements for certain services have been lifted, allowing providers to continue some services remotely, through phone or video calls. This is referred to as “telehealth,” and a wide range of services from medical appointments to behavioral health to supports coordination is able to be provided in this way at this time.
COVID Guidelines for Providing In-Home Supports: Providers and Families
These resources, developed by the PA Department of Human Services and Department of Education, provide guidelines for families and service providers on how to safely provide in-home services and supports to children.
The Council of Autism Service Providers
The Council of Autism Service Providers is a non-profit association of for-profit and not-for-profit agencies serving individuals with autism spectrum disorders. They have created a number or resources for providers around telehealth.
Maintaining both physical and mental health throughout this time is important for all individuals: parents and caregivers, direct support professionals, and individuals with autism. The resources below focus on ways to stay physically healthy, what to do if you are not feeling well, and ways to maintain your mental health during periods of social isolation.
- Wash your hands often
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Don’t touch eyes/nose/mouth
- Clean surfaces frequently
- Stay home when sick
- Avoid sick people
Social distancing means staying away from close contact with other people in social situations.
This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism about social distancing and why it’s important when people are sick.
If You Feel Sick
If you have mild symptoms:
Please stay home. If you feel worse, contact your healthcare provider.
If you have severe symptoms:
If you have fever over 100 degrees, shortness of breath and cough, call your healthcare provider.
If you do not have a health care provider, call your local health department or 1-877-PA-HEALTH
If you still need help, call your local emergency department.
Easy Read Guide for Self-Advocates
This resource, from the Council for Intellectual Disability, provides an easy-read guide for self-advocates to understand viruses and things they can do to stay healthy.
Dealing with the coronavirus and its impacts can be stressful. Fears about the illness, trying to stay healthy, making sure you’re prepared, and following all precautions can be overwhelming. Add in the recommendations for social distancing, and it can take a toll on mental health.
For individuals who already experience anxiety, the current situation can make it even worse. Taking care of your mental health, as well as those around you, is just as important as maintaining physical health. The tips below can help individuals with autism, parents, caregivers, and direct support staff all maintain good mental health during this time.
Anxiety and Stress
Mental Health and Coping
This resource from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides tips and resources for managing anxiety and stress related to COVID-19.
Supporting Individuals with Autism and Anxiety
This resource collection from ASERT provides information on how to support individuals with autism and anxiety. Information includes general tips, managing panic attacks, and relaxation strategies like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, imagery, and grounding techniques.
Disaster Distress Helpline
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.
Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
Deaf/Hard of Hearing: text “TalkWithUs” to 66746, or
Spanish Speaking: 1-800-985-5990 and press “2”, or
From the 50 States, text “Hablanos” to 66746, or
From Puerto Rico, text “Hablanos” to 1-787-339-2663
Crisis Text Line
988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis.
Call or text 988 for help
For more information visit:
How I See It: Coping with Coronavirus
How I See It is a series on PAAutism and ASDNext. In each installment, we ask people in the Pennsylvania autism community – individuals, family members, professionals and more – to share their thoughts on a particular topic.
This month’s topic is coronavirus – specifically, ways that they are dealing with social distancing, anxiety, isolation, and staying healthy.
Get S.A.F.E and be S.O.U.N.D
A resource for parents experiencing stress during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
Are you finding that your family is experiencing more stress than usual due to heightened emotions and social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis? Do you need a guide to help you respond and process these situations? Remember, an escalated parent cannot de-escalate a child while in a heightened state, themselves. Use this resource as a tool to practice S.A.F.E and S.O.U.N.D!
How to Create a Coping Zone
A tool for managing family stress during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
While practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis, family members may experience more stress than usual. One mechanism to combat stressful situations for families inside their homes would be to create a coping zone. A coping zone is an area inside a home where a family member can retreat to in times of high stress (i.e. their sibling with autism is having a hard time). It also acts as a private area where the individual can practice coping techniques and self-care when a stressful situation arises. Together with your family, use the 6 steps below to individualize a coping zone inside your home, and decide together how and when they could best utilize this space as a coping skill in stressful situations.
Stand Up Against Stressors
While families are staying inside to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s likely that parents will experience additional stressors than usual. In order for parents to uphold healthy and safe lifestyles for their families, they must practice maintaining their own wellness first! Use the wellness strategies below to stand up against the stressors in your life that you can control.
Coping with Coronavirus
These resources provide some tips and suggestions for individuals and families to deal with some of the new situations brought about by COVID-19 like social distancing, isolation, and planning for care.
Supporting Siblings Through COVID-19
This resource, developed by ASERT, provides helpful tips and information for parents on supporting siblings of individuals with disabilities during COVID-19.
Processing Emotions and Relaxation Techniques
Dealing with the stay-at-home order is a stressful and confusing change for many. Everyone is experiencing the impact of the disruption in our daily routine. This can result in difficult emotions. For individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities, it may be even more difficult to understand and process these strong emotions. This resource highlights some ways to help people process their feelings.
Well-Being in Isolation: Daily Checklist
This resource provides a checklist of activities that can be done to help maintain your mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Phone, Text, and Videochat
There are plenty of activities that you can do to stay engaged while you’re at home. Read a book, catch up on favorite shows, do a puzzle, or start a new hobby. For more ideas on ways to stay active while at home, check out the “Supporting Individuals” section of this page.
Develop a Routine
While your normal daily routine may be disrupted, it doesn’t mean you can’t create a new one. Get up at a regular time each day, change your clothes, and start your day as normal. Create a schedule of activities to provide some structure to your days. Make sure to include exercise and plenty of good foods to help keep you healthy.
Social stories and visual schedules can help when developing new routines. For more information on how to use these tools, visit the following resources:
Responses to Grief
Grief is a strong emotion caused by a loss. This loss can include losing a person, a thing, an experience, a job, loss of social connections, or even loss of routines before COVID-19. Everyone experiences grief differently. This resource describes common examples of ways people react to grief. You might recognize some of these reactions in yourself or your loved ones.
Unfortunately, in this time of financial uncertainty, there may be people out there who look to take advantage of others. There are scams around the stimulus checks provided by the government. The following resources provide information on how to identify potential scams, and what to do if you get caught in one.
This resource provides tips and suggestions for making sure that you’re getting the best and most trustworthy information related to coronavirus. There is information for the general community as well as self-advocates.
These resources, developed by ASERT, provide information for self-advocates on potential scams around economic stimulus checks being sent as a result of COVID-19, as well as scams around the 2020 Census.
*This resource provides information for individuals with disabilities to ensure equal care and services during COVID-19.
Health Care Quality Units
The eight Health Care Quality Units (HCQU’s) across the state are developing and sharing COVID-19 resources for individuals supported through ODP. To access their information and resources, visit the websites for each of the regions below:
Milestone HCQU West: Check out Milestone HCQU West’s app that includes lots of great information and resources, including ASERT’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide. Download the app by visiting the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store and searching “Pocket HCQU.”
|What to Know About Coronavirus
|Download file: Coronavirus
|What to Know About Coronavirus: Spanish Translation
|Download file: Coronavirus: Spanish
|What to Know About Coronavirus: Russian Translation
|Download file: Coronavirus: Russian
|What to Know About Coronavirus: Chinese Translation
|Download file: Coronavirus: Chinese
|What to Know About Coronavirus: Arabic Translation
|Download file: Coronavirus: Arabic
This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.