Close-up of COVID molecule

Updated October 13, 2020


  • What is COVID-19?
  • COVID-19 (also known as SARS-CoV-2) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. COVID-19 is primarily spread from person to person and can cause mild to severe respiratory illness. (Source
  • What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
  • People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms, from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms typically appear within 2–14 days of exposure, though some people may never develop symptoms (also known as “asymptomatic”).

    These symptoms include:
    • - Fever or chills
    • - Cough
    • - Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
    • - Fatigue
    • - Muscle or body aches
    • - Headache
    • - New loss of taste or smell
    • - Sore throat
    • - Congestion or runny nose
    • - Nausea or vomiting
    • - Diarrhea

    The CDC recommends that you seek medical attention immediately if any of your symptoms are severe or if you have trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, and/or bluish lips or face. (Source)
  • How does COVID-19 spread?
  • COVID-19 is primarily spread from person to person. People who are in close contact (closer than 6 feet) can spread the virus. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, respiratory droplets containing the virus may be inhaled by people nearby. (Source)
  • Who is most at risk for developing severe symptoms of COVID-19?
  • Anyone can get infected by the virus, but older adults and people with underlying medical conditions (such as asthma or diabetes) are more vulnerable to developing severe symptoms. Click here for more information from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • What should I do if I feel sick or have symptoms?
  • If you feel sick or have symptoms of COVID-19, contact your health care provider before seeking care so they can advise next steps. If any of your symptoms are severe or if you have trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, and/or bluish lips or face, seek medical attention immediately. (Source)

Risk Prevention

  • What can someone do to reduce their risk of infection?
  • The best way to prevent illness and to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recommends that everyone:
    • - Stay at least 6 feet away from others.
    • - Cover the nose and mouth with a cloth face covering or mask when around other people.
    • - Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
    • - Cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue or the elbow and wash hands afterwards.
    • - Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
    • - Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
  • What types of face coverings offer the best protection?
  • The CDC advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus by preventing those who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.

    Cloth face coverings do not offer the same level of filtration as surgical masks or N95 respirators. The best protection against the virus is the use of a face covering in conjunction with physical distancing and hand washing. (Source)

    In the case of a wildfire smoke event, N95 respirators or an equivalent NIOSH-approved respirator should be provided by the employer when the air quality is unhealthy. Read more about the California wildfire smoke exposure regulation and strategies for addressing N95 shortages during a wildfire smoke event.
  • Why is a NIOSH-approved respirator important and how can I tell if the respirator is approved?
  • An approval from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) means that tests have been conducted and the respirator meets or exceeds the levels of filtration. (Source)

    NIOSH-approved respirators have an approval label on or within the packaging of the respirator (i.e. on the box itself and/or within the users’ instructions) and on the respirator itself. NIOSH-approved respirators will always have one the following designations: N95, N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99, P100. (Source)

Employer Guidance

  • Are there Cal/OSHA regulations for protecting workers from infectious diseases like COVID-19?
  • All California employers must have an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP: title 8 section 3203) to protect employees from workplace hazards. This includes airborne infectious diseases such as the coronavirus.

    For more information, please see Cal/OSHA’s recommendations.
  • What information should I give to my workers about COVID-19?
  • Cal/OSHA requires employers to provide training in a way that is readily understandable by all employees. Employees should be trained on the following topics:
    • - What COVID-19 is, how it is spread, symptoms, prevention, and when to seek medical attention.
    • - The importance of frequent handwashing with soap and water.
    • - To avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • - Coughing and sneezing etiquette, including covering a cough or sneeze with a tissue or a sleeve instead of a hand.
    • - How to safely use cleaners and disinfectants on surfaces and objects.
    • - Limiting close contact with others as much as possible and maintaining safe physical distancing.
    • - The importance of not coming to work if they have a frequent cough, fever, or difficulty breathing, or if they live with or have had close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
    • - The employer’s plan and procedures to protect employees from COVID-19 illness.
  • What can I do at my worksite to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission?
  • Consider incorporating these best practices into your daily health and safety routines.
    • - Create a plan for monitoring workers for symptoms upon arrival and throughout the workday. Be sure to keep the contact information for local medical services on hand and easily accessible should someone fall ill.
    • - Provide face coverings for your workers.
    • - Adjust operations to help workers to maintain 6 feet of physical distance from each other (e.g. stagger break times, adjust number of workers on the line, or in rows).
    • - Ensure workers wash their hands when they arrive at the worksite and frequently throughout the day. Provide soap, water, and time for this purpose.
    • - Increase cleaning and disinfection practices for frequently touched areas (such as equipment and tools) and common areas (such as restrooms and break areas).
  • Should I screen my workers before they start work/arrive at the worksite?
  • Screening workers before they enter the worksite is a strategy that could help you to identify individuals who may be infected and reduce the spread among workers. For a detailed list of screening options, click here.

    NOTE: Employers should evaluate the burdens and benefits of recording workers’ temperatures or asking them to complete written questionnaires. Review OSHA’s medical record standard in your decision making process.
  • Should I provide face coverings for my employees?
  • Employers should provide cloth face coverings to workers free of charge. While cloth masks are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) because they protect others from the wearer, workers should always be provided the appropriate PPE required by the specific job task (e.g. applying pesticides).

    Employers should establish and communicate a company policy for face covering use at their worksite and incorporate this policy into their Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP).

    The best protection against the virus is the use of cloth face coverings in conjunction with physical distancing and hand washing. (Source)
  • Are there alternatives to N95s that I can provide to my workers?
  • Workers should always be provided the appropriate PPE required by the specific job task (e.g. applying pesticides).

    Because N95 respirators are being prioritized for medical personnel first, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has provided the following alternatives for N95 respirators (English/Spanish). Cal/OSHA has provided the following strategies for addressing N95 shortages during a wildfire smoke event.
  • How can I implement "social” or “physical” distancing in the agricultural workplace?
  • Physical distancing of at least 6 feet or 2 meters is recommended as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 since it is spread from person to person. Consider how you can implement physical distancing practices in your workplace and engage workers in the process.

    The CDC Guidance for Agriculture recommends the following options:
    • - Reduce crew sizes, stagger work shifts, mealtimes, and break times, and have farmworkers alternate rows in fields.
    • - Materials (such as harvesting buckets) and produce should not be transferred directly from one worker to the next but instead placed at a central transfer point. Cleaning and disinfecting protocols should be followed.
    • - Consider cohorting (grouping together) workers who share housing or transportation. This can increase the effectiveness of altering normal shift schedules by making sure that groups of workers are always assigned to the same shifts with the same coworkers.
    • - Install shields or barriers, such as plastic or Plexiglass between farmworkers, when a 6-foot distance between farmworkers is not possible.
    • - Remove or rearrange chairs and tables or add visual cue marks in employee break areas to support physical/social distancing practices between farmworkers.
    • - When providing mandatory training, such as pesticide safety training, provide it outside, in smaller than usual groups, with participants 6 feet apart.
  • What should I do if an employee gets sick, has symptoms while at work, or has been exposed to COVID-19?
  • If an employee becomes sick at work:
    • - Separate the worker from others at the workplace immediately and send the worker home. Give the worker information about how to prevent the spread of the virus at home, such as these recommendations from the CDC, and how to access medical services and testing.
    • - Employers must immediately (within one business day) provide a written notice to all employees, and the employers of subcontracted employees, who were on the premises at the same worksite to inform them of potential exposure (Source). Maintain confidentiality and do not disclose the name of the infected worker (as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)).
    • - Encourage exposed workers to get tested and stay home if they develop symptoms. Employers must also provide information regarding COVID-19-related benefits and share their disinfection and safety plan per the CDC Guidelines (Source).
    • - Cal/OSHA recommends that employers establish procedures to notify local health officials upon learning that someone has a COVID-19 infection. If there are 3 or more confirmed cases at the worksite, Cal/OSHA requires employers to notify local public health agencies within 48 hours.

      Several California counties are participating in the Housing for the Harvest program to provide temporary hotel housing to agricultural workers who need to isolate due to COVID-19. Find more information here.
  • When should an infected or exposed worker return to work?
  • Return-to-work guidance differs by county in California. Employers should check with local county officials to request more information (e.g. how many days the employee must be symptom-free and if they need to obtain a negative test result before they can return to work, etc.).

    General recommendations from the California State Government advise those who have had close contact with someone who tested positive to quarantine at home for at least 14 days.
  • ​Should I provide sick leave or make changes to my sick leave policies?
  • The CDC advises employers who do not currently offer sick leave to some or all of their employees to draft non-punitive “emergency sick leave” policies.

    ​Employers who do offer sick leave should consider modifying policies to make sure that ill workers are able to stay home from work and are not penalized for taking sick leave. Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that workers are aware of and understand these policies.

    For more information about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), see this page from the U.S. Department of Labor.

    For more information about paid sick leave in California, see this chart from Cal/OSHA.

    For more information about workers’ compensation, see this chart from the Labor & Workforce Development Agency.
  • Do I have to record or report COVID-19 illnesses in the workplace?
  • Yes, according to Cal/OSHA, California employers are required to record work-related fatalities, injuries, and illnesses, including COVID-19, in their Log 300 if it was caused from work-related exposure or occurred at work and resulted in one of the following:
    • - Death
    • - Days away from work (for recording purposes, this excludes days in quarantine)
    • - Restricted work or transfer to another job
    • - Medical treatment beyond first aid
    • - Loss of consciousness
    • - A significant injury or illness

    Due to the limited availability of tests, a case is recordable even if a positive test result is not available if it meets any one of the listed criteria, such as resulting in days away from work. Cal/OSHA recommends erring on the side of recordability.

    Note: An injury or illness is presumed to be work-related if it results from events or exposures occurring in the work environment unless an exception in section 14300.5(b)(2) specifically applies.

    Employers with more than 10 workers must also immediately (within 8 hours) report to Cal/OSHA any serious illness (including COVID-19), serious injury, or death of an employee that occurred at work or in connection with work. For reporting purposes, if the employee became sick at work, it does not matter if the illness is work-related.

    For more information about recording and reporting, see Cal/OSHA's FAQs for Recording and Reporting Requirements for COVID-19 Cases.