iStock/Getty Images

Your COVID-19 questions, answered.

Kristin Schwab Mar 26, 2020
iStock/Getty Images

This post was updated on May 15, 2020.

There’s so much news out there right now when it comes to the novel coronavirus that it can be hard to find clear answers to important economic questions. At Marketplace, we’re tracking what the outbreak means for your personal finances and the economy at large. We’ve compiled a list of FAQs here that we’ll update regularly.

My supermarket’s shelves are empty. Are we running out of food?

Short answer: no. Grocers rely on a supply chain that goes from factories to warehouses to stores, with lots of trucks in-between. If you can’t find rice, beans and canned foods it’s probably because of logistics. In fact, the country’s food system has up to four months of these staples squared away.

What’s happening with taxes this year?

Tax Day, April 15, has been moved to July 15. It means you can file anytime between now and then. More than 70% of Americans get a tax refund, but if you owe the government money, you’ll have until mid-July to pay. This only applies to federal taxes. Your state filing deadline depends on where you live.

I’ve been furloughed. What does that mean and what can I do?

A furlough is a temporary layoff. Your pay and benefits during the furlough will depend on your employer. In the meantime, you’re eligible for unemployment benefits through your state — this now includes people who are self-employed, though many have not been able to collect full benefits. Many states have waived the waiting period for collection, but those systems are also overrun by applications. Unemployment benefits vary by state, but the clock on the number of weeks you can collect starts immediately, so experts suggest filing as soon as you can.

Will I be getting a check from the government?

The Senate has approved a bill that grants $1,200 to individuals who reported up to $75,000 on their 2018 tax returns or, if they’ve already filed, their 2019 returns. Meanwhile, $2,400 will be sent to couples who filed joint taxes and made up to $150,000. Payments will be reduced for those making more than those amounts. Financial assistance will not be granted to individuals making more than $99,000 and couples earning more than $198,000.

What options do I have if I’ve lost health insurance?

About 27 million Americans may have lost their employer-based health insurance because of the pandemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Options for those who are newly unemployed include coverage under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, COBRA and short-term health plans. We break them down in our insurance guide.

Is it even worth applying for jobs right now?

Many industries are seeing hiring freezes. But some actually need more workers right now. According to LinkedIn, some of the most in-demand jobs include store associate, health care specialist, warehouse manager and delivery driver.

I need to buy a face mask. How do I choose the right one?

Tons of retailers have stepped in to make face masks, although they vary in quality — that is, if they arrive at all. Delays are common. Look for a mask with multiple layers, made from fabrics that are easy to wash and tightly woven, with a high yarn count. For more details on how to pick the right mask from a reputable maker, check out our mask-buying guide.

How hard will it be to get the economy up and running again?

It depends on how long this lasts, but it won’t be like pushing a start button. Consumers drove 70% of the economy before it came to a near standstill. When we get out of this, people will still need new dishwashers and shoes, but that won’t make up for the impact the shutdown has had on businesses like restaurants. And it will take time to see how COVID-19 will affect consumer confidence when it comes to bigger ticket items, like cars and homes.

I’m feeling coronavirus overload. What are some ways to take my mind off of all this?

The list of companies offering free books, movies and concerts is growing each day. Here’s a list of our favorites, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s live cams, because who doesn’t love penguins?

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

Read More


As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.