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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide

ASERT has put together some resources for those with autism and those who care for people with autism relating to the current Coronavirus outbreak.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide

Coronavirus Health and Safety Guide Video

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is an illness that can be spread from person to person through droplets – like from coughing or sneezing. The symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. You may hear it called coronavirus, COVID-19, or novel coronavirus.

How will this affect me?

The coronavirus spreads easily from person to person, so it’s recommended that people practice something called “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 cancelled, 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 only temporary and are being done to keep you healthy.

What can I do to help myself stay healthy?

  • 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.

What to Know About Coronavirus Spanish Translation: Lo que hay que saber sobre el coronavirus

What to Know About Coronavirus Chinese Translation: 新型冠状病毒 (COVID-19) 须知

What to Know About Coronavirus Russian Translation: Что необходимо знать о коронавирусе (COVID-19)

What to Know About Coronavirus Arabic Translation: ما ينبغي أن تعرفه عن فيروس كورونا (COVID-19)

Responding to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania

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, information for individuals, families, businesses, and schools.

PA.gov Website

Important Links

PA Department of Health: Coronavirus

CDC: Coronavirus Disease 2019

World Health Organization: Coronavirus Disease 2019

Resources and Information

Below you will find 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 schools closed, activities cancelled 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.

Talking About Coronavirus

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 can help explain what coronavirus is, how to keep healthy, and the importance of social distancing.

Social Stories


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.

Social Story


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.

Social Story

Social Distancing

This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism about social distancing and why it’s important when people are sick.

This social story is also available in Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic.

Social Story


This resource provides a visual explanation of what it means for someone to be in isolation due to coronavirus.

Social Story



This short book was designed to support and reassure children regarding the COVID-19. The book provides a way to discuss the full range of emotions arising from the current situation. The book is designed to be printed and written/drawn on.  This resource is available in multiple languages.

Mindheart COVIBOOK


Talking to Children About COVID-19: A Parent Resource

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.

NASP Website

Deaf and Hard of Hearing

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.

DHCC Website

Managing Changes

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

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:

How to Create a Social Story

Social Story Template

Visual Schedules

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:

Visual Schedule Resources


Activities to Stay Engaged

Keeping individuals active and engaged, while also limiting access to other people, can be challenging. Below are a variety of options and suggestions for keeping yourself and the people you support active!

Thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities being created online for individuals to stay engaged. From school-based activities, to online museums, zoos and more, there are plenty of options for entertainment and education!

Online Options

Home and Community

Arts and Crafts

Arts and crafts can be as simple as getting out a coloring book, or drawing pictures with crayons and paper. If you’re feeling more creative, check out some of these websites for great ideas:

Homemade Playdough

Arts and Crafts on Education.com

Science Experiments

You don’t have to be Bill Nye the Science Guy to do cool experiments in your own home. Below are some websites for ideas on simple experiments you can do at home, using things you already have!

Science Fun for Everyone

Science Bob


Cooking can be a great activity to keep people engaged, learn new skills, and a bonus is you get to eat the delicious food once you’re done!

It doesn’t have to be anything complicated. Making some “Ants on a Log” with celery, peanut butter and raisins, or putting together a new snack mix of leftover cereal and pretzels, can be simple and easy ways to get individuals involved.

You can get individuals engaged by:

  • Searching the internet for new recipes
  • Helping measure ingredients
  • Cutting up ingredients
  • Mixing or stirring things together


Dust off those board games and start playing! Simple card games, board games, and even puzzles can be a great way to pass the time. If you don’t have any of these available, get creative and make up some games of your own!

Twenty Questions, Eye Spy and other guessing games require only your imagination!

Have a home assistance like Google Home or Alexa? They have lots of games loaded and ready to go! Just ask them to play a game and let the fun begin.

Need more ideas? You can create a scavenger hunt around the house of items they need to find. Who can find them all first?

Physical and Outdoor Activities

Although we should all practice social distancing at this time, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get outside! Thankfully warmer weather means a great opportunity to get outside and enjoy fresh air.

  • Head to a local park and go for a walk or hike.
  • Play Hide and Seek in the yard.
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood.
  • Take a bike ride.
  • Have a dog? Get outside and play with them!
  • Work on your yard, spring is a great time to start gardening.
  • Go bird watching. See how many different birds you can identify in your yard or local park.
  • Take a drive around the neighborhood and go site seeing from the car.

If the weather’s bad or you prefer to stay inside you can still stay active! There are plenty of online videos to get moving while inside. YouTube is a great place to find free workout videos for kids, teens and adults. Here are a few to check out:

For Kids

P.E. with Joe

Cosmic Kids Free Yoga

For Adults

FitOn App

Yoga with Adrienne

School Resources

All schools in Pennsylvania are closed through at least March 27th, 2020. While some school districts are providing students with activities to stay busy, not all districts may be able to provide those resources to their students. The websites below provide free access to a wide range of school activities for those parents interested in keeping their children active and engaged during this break.

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.

Physical Health

Healthy Habits

  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Don’t touch eyes/nose/mouth
  • Clean surfaces frequently
  • Stay home when sick
  • Avoid sick people

Washing Hands

  • Wet hands
  • Apply soap
  • Scrub for 20 seconds (long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice
  • Rinse under water
  • Dry with clean paper towel

This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism on how to wash hands to help stay healthy.

Social Story

Social Distancing

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.

Social Story

If You Feel Sick

If you have mild symptoms:

Please stay home. If you feel worse, contact your health care provider.

If you have severe symptoms:

If you have fever over 100 degrees, shortness of breath and cough, call your health care 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.

Online and Drive Through Screening

Many places are beginning to offer “drive through” testing sites, or online options, to be screened for coronavirus. Call you insurance company or healthcare provider to find out more about options available to you.

Mental Health

Dealing with the coronavirus and it’s 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.

CDC Website

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.

ASERT Website

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.

SAMHSA Website

Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
Deaf/Hard of Hearing: Text “TalkWithUs” to 66746, or
TTY  1-800-846-8517
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

Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Crisis Text Line trains volunteers to support people in crisis.

For those in Pennsylvania: text “PA” to 741741

For specific concerns about COVID-19: text “HOME” to 741741

For more information visit:

Crisis Text Line

Ways to View Media Coverage

This article from the American Psychological Association provides tips and information on how to view the media coverage and information around COVID-19 without becoming overwhelmed and anxious.

Five Ways to View Coverage of the Coronavirus

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.

How I See It: Coping with Coronavirus

Social Isolation

Phone, Text, and Videochat

Call or text friends, family and loved ones. You may not be able to see each other in person, but you can still call, text, or videochat to stay in touch.

Stay Active

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:

How to Create a Social Story

Visual Schedule Resources

The Department of Human Services (DHS) and 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.

Department of Human Services Website

MyODP.org Website

Changes to Community Participation Support Service

As a result of COVID-19, certain changes are being made to services and supports within the Office of Developmental Program (ODP) waivers.

  • Older Adult Day Facilities, Adult Training Facilities, and Prevocational Facilities have been closed.
  • Requirement for providers to support individuals in the community for 25% of the time has been suspended.
  • Providers may continue to offer community participation in the community within guidelines established by the Governor around “social distancing.”
  • Staff may be moved to other service areas to meet essential functioning needs of those programs. For example, staff from day facilities that have been closed may be shifted and used in residential and home-based settings to meet the needs of individuals who are now at home.
  • Staff need to be trained on ISP’s and health and safety needs of individuals before working in new settings. Providers are encouraged to use remote training and nursing support to meet these training requirements.
  • For providers of facility-based CPS, the service can now be provided in private homes.
    • For individuals who receive this service and have family/caregivers who are employed in essential roles like healthcare, first responders, or human services, and are reliant on CPS for coverage during work hours, providers should work to offer CPS services in the home.
  • If a provider only offers CPS services, they are encouraged to contact other local provider agencies to see how they can provide staff to supplement staffing of those providers to maintain essential functioning.
  • CPS may also be provided as On-Call and Remote Support, as long as the individual is not receiving another service at the time. Provider agencies are encouraged to explore this option, and check individuals ISP’s to make sure there isn’t an overlap in services before providing remote supports.

For more information, please view the webinar hosted by Deputy Secretary Kristin Ahrens on MyODP.org

Internet Access

Staying connected while engaging in social distancing is important. Internet access is a valuable service during this time: allowing people access to information about COVID-19, access to school-related information, creating social connections to others, and access to other important resources.

However, not everyone has internet access in their homes, and for some individuals with low incomes or fixed budgets, adding an internet connection may not be possible. To help with this, some companies are offering free internet access to low income individuals.

Comcast Internet Essentials

For all new customers, Comcast is offering 2 months of free internet access. For existing Internet Essentials customers, they are increasing internet speeds at no cost. The program costs $9.95 per month, plus tax. There is no contract, no credit check, and no installation fee. You may qualify if you are eligible for public assistance programs such as the National School Lunch Program, Housing Assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, and others.

Comcast Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots are also open and free to use by anyone.

Internet Essentials


Altice internet providers Suddenlink and Optimum are offering 60 days of free internet service for households with K–12 or college students. Internet speeds are up to 30 Mbps if you do not already have access to a home internet plan. To sign up, call 1-866-200-9522 if you live in an area with Optimum internet service, or call 1-888-633-0030 if you live in an area with Suddenlink internet service.

Charter Spectrum

Households with students K–12 or university students can sign up for a new Charter Spectrum internet account to get the first two months of internet with speeds up to 100 Mbps for free. Installation fees will be waived for those who qualify for the offer. Call 1-844-488-8395 to enroll.

Spectrum Wi-Fi hotspots are also currently open and free to use.

Government Subsidy

There are government subsidies that can help with your internet bill, and many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer low-income internet programs. These inexpensive internet plans, income based programs, and low-income family plans help reduce the cost of staying connected.

FCC Lifeline Program

Food and Lunches

Food Banks

Many community food banks are remaining open throughout the statewide shutdown of nonessential businesses. For individuals or families who have limited resources, or who aren’t working due to the statewide shutdown, local food banks can be a great source for food supplies.

211: Get Help from the United Way of Pennsylvania has a section dedicated to food/meals where you can search for resources in your community. They even have a section specific to those impacted by COVID-19.

211: Get Help Website

School Lunches

It’s recognized that some families rely on no- or low-cost lunches provided through school. With schools closed for at least two weeks, this means that some families no longer have access to these lunches. Pennsylvania sought and received approval from the Federal government to allow schools the option to distribute meals at no cost while schools are closed. Pennsylvania Department of Education is partnering with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, other state agencies, the American Red Cross, and public and private partners to expand these efforts.

Please contact your local school district for information about availability of free lunches.

Unemployment Benefits

Many places of employment are providing their workers with paid time off for work closures due to coronavirus. However,  if leave isn’t available, workers may apply for unemployment benefits.

Pennsylvanians are eligible for unemployment compensation in the following scenarios:

  • Your employer temporarily closes or goes out of business due to COVID-19
  • Your employer reduces your hours because of COVID-19
  • You have been told not to work because your employer feels you might get or spread COVID-19
  • You have been told to quarantine or self-isolate or you live/work in a county under government-recommended mitigation efforts

For faster processing, unemployment claims should be submitted online.

If you believe you have been exposed to the coronavirus while at work, you may be eligible for workers compensation as well. To check if you are covered you should:

  • Notify your employer to file a typical “disease-as-injury” WC claim, which requires you to provide medical evidence that you were exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace.
  • Notify your employer to file an “occupational disease” WC claim, which requires you to show that COVID-19 is occurring more in your occupation/industry than in the general population.

For more information visit:

Office of Unemployment Compensation Website

Insurance Information

The Department of Health has created a page with information related to insurance coverage for COVID-19. For more information on testing coverage, health services, and help lines visit:

Coronavirus Insurance

Additional Resources

Autism Speaks: What should the autism community know about the coronavirus outbreak?

Council for Intellectual Disability: Viruses and Staying Healthy

Health Care Quality Units

The Health Care Quality Units (HCQU’s) across the state are developing and sharing COVID-19 resources for individuals supported through ODP. The HCQU’s below have dedicated information related to COVID-19:

Central PA Health Care Quality Unit

Milestone HCQU West 

Check out ASERT’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide featured on their new app! Download the app by visiting the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store and searching  “Pocket HCQU.”

KEPRO Southwestern PA HCQU 

Philadelphia Coordinated Health Care

Eastern PA Health Care Quality Unit

South Central PA Health Care Quality Unit

Northeastern PA Health Care Quality Unit

Milestone HCQU Northwest

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Other downloads

Name Description Type File
Coronavirus What to Know About Coronavirus pdf Download file: Coronavirus
Coronavirus: Spanish What to Know About Coronavirus: Spanish Translation pdf Download file: Coronavirus: Spanish
Coronavirus: Russian What to Know About Coronavirus: Russian Translation pdf Download file: Coronavirus: Russian
Coronavirus: Chinese What to Know About Coronavirus: Chinese Translation pdf Download file: Coronavirus: Chinese
Coronavirus: Arabic What to Know About Coronavirus: Arabic Translation pdf Download file: Coronavirus: Arabic
Coronavirus Coronavirus Social Story pdf Download file: Coronavirus
Coronavirus Handwashing Social Story pdf Download file: Coronavirus
Coronavirus Social Distancing Social Story pdf Download file: Coronavirus
Coronavirus Changes to Community Participation Support (CPS) During COVID-19 pdf Download file: Coronavirus

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.