Artist rendition of coronavirus

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions

We understand that you may have questions regarding coronavirus and how it relates to the cancer care and treatment of yourself or a loved one. We have created the below frequently asked questions to help get you the answers you need.

Please remember, that Roswell Park is not testing the public for COVID-19.

As the situation evolves, please visit our COVID-19 information page for the latest information and additional details, including the latest Roswell Park policy, or call 1-800-ROSWELL.

For up to date information regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, please visit our list of frequently asked questions relating specifically to vaccine safety, efficacy and distribution at Roswell Park.

Jump to topic:

Understanding the basics

Coronaviruses are common viruses that usually cause a simple cold. Some strains of viruses can cause more severe diseases, as seen with the recent novel coronavirus disease called COVID-19. This new virus and disease were the cause of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, starting in December 2019 and has spread to many parts of the world.

People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • 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

If you are coming in for your appointment, please be honest about your symptoms as you will not be denied treatment but necessary precautions are needed to be placed. Please call your clinic ahead of time.

As with the entire COVID-19 pandemic, information about the COVID-19 vaccine is evolving. View our COVID-19 vaccine information page for answers to commonly asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Third dose plus a booster of the vaccine recommended for immunocompromised cancer patients

Even with full vaccination, cancer patients are experiencing more breakthrough infections and may be at greater risk for severe illness and complications from COVID-19. That’s why the CDC now recommends additional vaccine doses for moderately or severely immunocompromised people (such as those on active chemotherapy and transplant recipients).

In addition to the first two primary doses of the mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) cancer patients are urged to get a third full dose of the mRNA vaccine at least 28 days after the second dose — plus a booster 3 months after completing their initial three doses — for a total of four shots.  

For patients who initially received the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine, an mRNA booster is recommended 8 weeks after the initial vaccine administration due to the risk of developing thrombocytopenia and thrombosis syndrome (TTS). In most situations, Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are preferred for cancer patients over the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine for primary and booster vaccination due to risk of this potential serious adverse effect.

Roswell Park is participating in the COVID-19 & Cancer Consortium, which published the largest study of COVID-19 outcomes in people with cancer. This team, from more than 100 centers around the world, found that COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for patients with co-existing illness or who are not responding to treatment.

“While the impact of having both COVID-19 and cancer was concerning, we have good evidence that cancer patients who are fit and didn’t have a lot of additional health issues can safely continue with their planned treatments,” says Elizabeth Griffiths, MD, one of the authors on the new study.

Patients with cancer and COVID-19 have a risk of severe illness up to five times higher than people without cancer, underscoring the importance of work to develop new treatment options.

  • People are thought to be most contagious when they have symptoms, BUT some people may carry the virus even if they are not showing symptoms or only mildly ill.
  • It may be possible to catch the virus from a surface that an infected person touched (like door handles, tabletops, etc.).
  • The chances of being infected depend on whether there are infected individuals in contact with the cancer patient.

If you choose to use a mask to prevent any spread of infection, it is recommended to combine with good hand hygiene. The CDC is providing recommendations on which types of masks may work best.

Cancer patients should still avoid overcrowded situations; however, medical appointments and cancer treatments are important, and we have created a safe environment for you to continue receiving your cancer care. 

Due to increasing COVID-19 infection rates and in anticipation of cold and flu season, Roswell Park is taking the proactive step of reinstating masking in our hospital and outpatient clinical areas, including the hospital, Clinical Sciences Center, Scott Bieler Amherst Center and Niagara Falls Center. Masks will be provided.

Limit your movement in the community to activities/trips that are essential. If you must go out in public, our doctors recommend that you keep a social distance of at least six feet.

Public health authorities have enacted several restrictions for public places and businesses. It is essential that you abide by these restrictions and stay informed of the latest information by checking local public health reports.

Other precautions to take:

  • Stay home unless it is essential to go out for groceries and other supplies. If you must go out in public, practice social distancing, which means maintaining a distance of at least six feet from other people.
  • Wear a mask when in public places. The CDC is providing recommendations on which types of masks may work best.
  • Get vaccinated as soon as you can.
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Ensure you have enough supplies and medication
  • If possible, have at least two weeks of your medicines remaining at all times.
  • Check to see if your insurance allows for a 90-day supply rather than a 30-day supply.
  • If your insurance supplies 30 days at a time, do not wait until the day before to refill, but refill a week in advance each time.
  • Also consider:
    • Having medicines mailed to your home
    • Using a pharmacy drive-thru
    • Having your caregiver pick up your medicines to avoid public places
  • If you are planning holiday celebrations or larger gatherings, please take a moment to assess your risk for spreading COVID-19.

We are in this together. We need to protect each other. Follow the current measures taken by our federal, state and local authorities. The regulations change rapidly, so keep yourself and your family updated.

If you are not sick, stay home unless you need to work, perform essential errands (i.e. groceries, doctor’s appointments, pick up medications, etc.). Outdoor activities, such as walking or running, are currently allowed but must be solitary or with limited company.

Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care. Inform your medical team ahead of your visit, so they can take precautions to take care of you and protect other patients in the waiting rooms.

Cover coughs and sneezes

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Throw used tissues in the trash.
  • Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Wear a mask

  • We are providing masks to our patients and visitors, per updated guidance from the CDC about wearing such masks in public. Read more about the recommendations from the CDC.

Clean and disinfect

  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks.
  • If surfaces are dirty, clean them: Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.

Self-care (most cases):

  • If you have mild symptoms, stay at home until you’ve recovered.
  • Rest and sleep
  • Stay warm
  • Drink plenty of liquids
  • Use a room humidifier or take a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough
  • Avoid the use of steroids and other anti-inflammatory medications. Call your medical provider for guidance if you already take these medications.

Moderate to severe cases:

  • Seek medical attention and you may be hospitalized for help with oxygen supplementation
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for multiple monoclonal antibody therapies for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adult and pediatric patients. In addition, several medications used to treat other illnesses may help limit the severity of cases of COVID-19. Some medications are under investigation in clinical trials.
  • Specialized care with a team of infectious disease doctors, critical care doctors and other specialists in coordination with your cancer care team.

The FDA has a guide with what to expect for the treatment of COVID-19.

The CDC and WHO update information about the spread of COVID-19 daily, including changing conditions in the United States. 

Hospitals are rapidly shifting to adapt to the evolving demands of caring for COVID-19 patients, and Roswell Park is no exception. Roswell Park has created the COVID-19 Response Fund to support our patients, caregivers and staff during this pandemic in four vital areas - medical supplies, patient financial assistance, staff and patient support, and medical treatment and research. Your support can help purchase iPads for patients to communicate with loved ones, N95 masks for those on the front line, dinner for our health care workers after a long shift and critical research into how to prevent and treat COVID-19.

Donate today

Back to top

Roswell Park policies and information

The risk of acquiring COVID-19 in hospitals in the United States and Canada is still very low. Healthcare facilities are evaluating patients for the risk of COVID-19, and if the suspicion is high, those patients are being isolated. 

We have taken strict measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in our hospital and patient areas. These measures include:

  • No one who is sick or suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 should visit. Please read our visitor policy for more information.
  • Symptom screening upon entry - you will see signs asking you to self-screen for possible symptoms of COVID-19 or exposures to COVID-19.  If you have any of the listed symptoms,  please stop at the Information Desk for further instruction.
  • Due to increasing COVID-19 infection rates and in anticipation of cold and flu season, Roswell Park is taking the proactive step of reinstating masking in our hospital and outpatient clinical areas, including the hospital, Clinical Sciences Center, Scott Bieler Amherst Center and Niagara Falls Center. Masks will be provided.

Remember that Roswell Park is a dedicated, free-standing cancer hospital. We treat cancer patients only and do not have an emergency room where patients with flu-like symptoms might seek treatment.

Roswell Park has been proactive in protecting our community – patients, employees, volunteers, visitors, staff and vendors – to stay one step ahead of the virus. In summary, they include:

  • Symptom screening upon entry - you will see signs asking you to self-screen for possible symptoms of COVID-19 or exposures to COVID-19.  If you have any of the listed symptoms,  please stop at the Information Desk for further instruction
  • Reminding visitors, caregivers, employees, students and volunteers not to come to Roswell Park if they are experiencing fever, cough, congestion, difficulty breathing or other cold or flu symptoms
  • Reducing the number of people on our campus by using virtual patient visits when possible
  • Educating our community across various platforms so they can arm themselves with facts, not fear

If your care team feels that an upcoming appointment, procedure or surgery can or should be rescheduled, they will be contacting you directly. Virtual visits are also being offered for certain appointments.

Read our blog if you have more thoughts about rescheduling your appointment.

Depending on your diagnosis, types of treatment, current disease status and other medical conditions, you may be eligible for a virtual visit with your Roswell Park provider. Instead of coming to campus for a traditional face-to-face appointment, you will connect by video chat.

Examples of situations in which a virtual visit may be an option for you include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Your provider believes that a discussion of your laboratory tests, CT or PET scans or biopsy results can be fully accomplished by video chat.
  • Your treatment involves oral chemotherapy drugs or targeted therapies and you are tolerating the therapy well and your dose remains the same. 
  • You are on long-term follow-up and do not want to postpone your visit.

If you are in remission after completing chemo-immunotherapy or chemotherapy and are on long-term follow-up, we may be able to postpone your visit until summer. We hope the COVID-19 pandemic will be over by then.

You do not need to call to find out if you’re eligible for a virtual visit. If this is an option for you, your Roswell Park providers will let you know directly. To take advantage of seeing your doctor in a virtual visit, we will need your email address.  If you are already registered on MyRoswell – Roswell Park’s patient portal, we will use the same email you used to register; you can always change your email by visiting MyRoswell and changing it in your account.  If you prefer not to register at this time, your care team will still need your email when scheduling your virtual visit.  While a portal account is not required for a virtual visit, we encourage all of our patients to take advantage of the many features the patient portal has to offer; if you are interested, you can register at today!

How to prepare for a virtual visit

  • Yes, donors are needed more now than ever — regardless of vaccination status.
  • If you are feeling well and eligible to donate based on all other criteria, please consider donating. Our patient need for blood products is ongoing and significant.
  • Feeling well has always been a donation requirement and we will continue to screen all current and new donors. Please DO NOT present to donate with any cold or flu symptoms.
  • As far as travel, we continue to follow our normal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Nothing new has been added for the screening of blood/platelet donors at this time related to travel.
  • There is NO waiting period to donate after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Masks are still required inside the Donor Center.

If you have any questions regarding your travel or possible exposure to COVID-19, please contact us prior to donating at 716 845-8275.

Donating during COVID-19

Our team of healthcare providers continues to work very hard to deliver excellent care to all our patients. You still have access to your care team — our nurses, physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and pharmacist — to ensure your treatments and medical care are not interrupted. In addition, we continue to deliver your treatment in the safest conditions and minimize your exposure to the COVID-19. In order to better take care of you, our team may contact you to confirm appointments or postpone them for a later time if medically appropriate. Depending on your diagnosis, current disease status, your treatment and your other medical conditions, you may be eligible for one of the following types of appointments:

  • Standard face-to-face appointment: This appointment type is necessary for all new patients to our service, if those currently in active chemotherapy or immunotherapy treatment, patients in a clinical trial, and those who are not feeling well or have concerns of  a recurrence. Other situations may apply, and we will involve you and your loved ones in the discussion. For face-to-face appointments, we request that you bring only one person with you.
  • Virtual visits: This type of appointment is available if you would like to stay home and talk to your healthcare provider to review laboratory studies, CT or PET scans, biopsy results, etc.  A virtual visit appointment is suitable for patients whose therapy involves oral chemotherapy drugs or targeted agents (for example ibrutinib, venetoclax, lenalidomide, etc.) that are well-tolerated, and the dose of the medicine is stable. Laboratory testing will be ordered one week before your virtual visit and may be done at any convenient Quest laboratory, or at the the time of a CT or PET scan appointment. Virtual visits may be appropriate for some patients in clinical trials using oral medications and patients on long-term follow up who do not want to postpone their visit.

If you are in remission after completing chemo-immunotherapy or chemotherapy and are on long-term follow up, we could postpone your appointment to the summer. We hope that by then the COVID-19 virus will be eradicated.

These measures will help us deliver excellent care to our patients while continuing the social distancing that is necessary to control the spread of COVID-19.

If you need additional information, call 716-845-2300.

Back to top

Travel restrictions

Advisories and restrictions on travel both in the U.S. and internationally are evolving as the spread of the virus evolves. Please visit the New York State website and also Roswell Park's information for patients page for the latest information on these guidelines for both patients and visitors of Roswell Park. 

We currently recommend that cancer patients:

  • Do not travel. It is best to postpone nonessential travel. We also highly suggest that cancer patients’ immediate household contacts should postpone non-essential travel.
  • Avoid crowds. The level of risk varies by country and area, and it is changing quickly.

Travel restrictions and recommendations are likely to change over time. Check frequently for updated recommendations on travel from these sources: 

It is best to avoid contact for 14 days with individuals who returned from an area where they could have been exposed to COVID-19, especially if you and/or the individual were not fully vaccinated prior to the exposure. Consult with the CDC guidelines if you have received your COVID-19 vaccination. If the individuals remain healthy after 14 days, contact can be resumed.

If avoiding contact is not possible, it is recommended to:

  • Practice frequent handwashing or hand sanitizer use.
  • All household members should avoid touching their eyes, mouths, and noses.
  • Cough and sneeze etiquette should be practiced

Back to top

What to do if you develop symptoms

There are many different causes for fever, cough, shortness of breath, and flu-like symptoms.

If you have mild symptoms, call our nurse triage team at 716-845-2300 to find out what to do next. If you are coughing or have a fever and have access to a mask, wear it when you go out to the hospital or a clinic appointment, to avoid infecting others.

If you have a cough or fever and access to a mask, put on a surgical mask on when going to the hospital or a clinic appointment to avoid spreading the infection to anyone else.

If you have only mild symptoms your physician may not want you to come to the clinic, so talk with your cancer care team FIRST before going out in public, coming to a hospital or clinic.

A person diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID-19 should avoid all contact with cancer patients. The cancer patients or their family members should let their clinical team know they have been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. The cancer patients should be monitored for symptoms and contact their clinical team if they develop fever, cough or shortness of breath.

To get COVID-19 you need to have had close contact with a person ill with COVID-19. Close contact includes:

  • Living in the same household as a sick person with COVID-19,
  • Caring for a sick person with COVID-19,
  • Being within 6 feet (or 2 meters) of a sick person with COVID-19 for about 10 minutes, or
  • Being in direct contact with secretions from a sick person with COVID-19 (e.g., being coughed or sneezed on, kissing, sharing utensils, etc.).

Being indoors, such as a classroom or hospital waiting room, with a sick person with COVID-19 and remaining more than 6 feet away, does not put you at a higher risk of getting sick. Additionally, briefly walking by or being briefly in the same room as a sick person with COVID-19 does not put you at a higher risk of getting sick.

Stay home and avoid contact with others for 14 days from close contact with a person ill with COVID-19.

  • Please keep at least 6 feet distance from others.
  • Monitor your health and be aware of the most common signs of COVID-19: fever, cough, or shortness of breath.
  • If you get a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, before seeking health care call ahead to the facility and tell them your situation. They will give you instructions on how to get care without exposing other people to your illness.

If you have more questions about staying home or practicing social distancing, please contact your local health department.

Take these steps to monitor your health while you stay home and practice social distancing:

  • Take your temperature with a thermometer two times a day (once in the morning, once at night) and watch for fever.
  • Watch for cough or trouble breathing.
  • If you get sick with fever (100.4°F/38°C or higher), cough, or have trouble breathing, contact your primary care provider or the Erie County Department of Health for advice on getting medical care.
  • If you are mildly ill, isolate at home (stay away from others) during illness. Get rest and drink plenty of fluids. Learn more about what else can I do when sick.
  • If you have a doctor’s appointment or are seeking care, call your doctor’s office and tell them you may have COVID-19 due to your recent contact and your symptoms. Put on a facemask and perform hand hygiene before you go in to keep other people in the office or waiting room from getting sick.

Stay home and avoid contact with others for 14 days from last contact.

  • If there are others in your household, try to limit contact by staying in a specific room. Use a separate bathroom, if available.

Do not take public transportation such as buses, trains taxis, or ride-shares during the time you are monitoring your health.

Avoid all public spaces, public activities, and group gatherings during the time you are monitoring your health.

If necessary, the Erie County DOH  can ensure that your basic needs (for example, food and medication) are being met.

  • A family member or friend who did not have any COVID-19 exposures may bring items to your door, but must stay at least 6 feet away from you and may not enter the home.

Keep your distance from others (about 6 feet or 2 meters) and WASH or SANITIZE HANDS FREQUENTLY.

Download our guidelines

If you develop the below symptoms that could be consistent with a severe case of COVID19, seek medical attention immediately. Concerning symptoms include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

If you are receiving active chemotherapy or chemo-immunotherapy and develop respiratory symptoms or unexplained fevers please contact your clinical care team at Roswell Park immediately.

In medicine there are no absolutes. However, based on reports from other countries with COVID-19 infections, some patients have a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19:

  • Older adults (any one older than 65 years of age). Infographic
  • People who have one or more serious underlying medical conditions like:
    • Heart disease
    • Diabetes
    • Lung disease such as asthma, COPD, emphysema
    • Patients with HIV infection and low CD4 counts

Pregnant women experience changes in their bodies that may increase their risk of some infections. With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, women have  a higher risk of developing severe illness. It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illnesses.

The data regarding harm of the virus to the fetus/baby during pregnancy is limited. However, the medical literature suggests that the COVID-19 is not passed to the baby during pregnancy nor does it cause known medical problems in the baby.

What should I do about the COVID-19 vaccine?

New York State has put out a guide about what to know regarding the COVID-19 vaccines:

What about breastfeeding?

Much is unknown about how COVID-19 is spread. Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza (flu) and other respiratory pathogens spread. In limited studies on women with COVID-19 and another coronavirus infection, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), the virus has not been detected in breast milk. However, we do not know whether mothers with COVID-19 can transmit the virus via breast milk. For additional information about breastfeeding guidelines, check the information provided by the CDC.

We hope to get more information as we learn more regarding this topic and we encourage you to discuss your concerns about COVID-19 with your obstetrician. 

Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Finding healthy ways to cope  with this stress will help make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger. Take these steps to reduce stress:

  • Stay informed and prepare to manage home confinement or COVID-19 exposure or infection. Share accurate information with your family and friends.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Take time to unwind. Do activities you enjoy (board games, reading a book, etc.).
  • Connect with others using social media, texting, phone or video. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Call us if stress interferes with your daily activities for several days in a row. We can provide additional tools to help you in these difficult times.

Back to top