Providing Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Results - DSP COVID-19 Experiences

Additional Hours Worked Per Week

Respondents reported the average number of hours worked per week in January 2020, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The intent of this was to understand the impact on the number of work hours and staffing patterns before the pandemic. In January 2020, 5% of DSPs worked less than 15 hours per week, 12% worked 16 to 30 hours per week, 45% worked 31 to 40 hours per week, 26% worked 41 to 50 hours per week, and 13% worked 51+ hours per week. Respondents were asked how many additional hours they now worked per week as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The results are depicted in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Percentage of respondents working additional hours per week due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Additional hours






31 or more


Twenty nine percent worked one to 15 additional hours per week, 10% worked 16 to 30 additional hours per week, and 15% worked 31 + additional hours per week. Forty five percent did not work any additional hours per week due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two percent were laid off, furloughed or the program in which they worked was closed. Participants were also asked to check all that apply to a list of ways that the pandemic impacted their work schedule. The following reasons were offered:

  • 34% working more hours per week,
  • 33% working the same hours per week,
  • 30% working different shifts,
  • 29% working in different settings,
  • 18% working less hours per week,
  • 2% working remotely/telehealth/virtual
  • 2% furloughed/laid off/unemployed/facility closed, and
  • 2% had other work schedule changes.

Other schedule changes included: additional responsibilities/different roles, worked with different staff/worked alone more, on-call, no travel/less travel/extra travel, safety protocols for pandemic (additional cleaning, PPE assignments, etc.), hard to get paperwork/office work done, and new employees struggled to start a job in a pandemic.

Pandemic Impact on Turnover

When asked whether they were short-staffed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 26% of DSPs said their organization was more short-staffed than before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 34% were short-staffed before the COVID-19 pandemic and continued to be equally short-staffed. Forty percent were not short-staffed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twenty-six percent of respondents said their organization was more short-staffed than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figure 6. Frequency of respondents who knew someone who left direct support due to the pandemic, and reasons cited that their coworkers were no longer working

Nearly half (42%) of DSPs said that they know of staff who left their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked the reason(s) their coworkers were no longer working, 34% feared becoming infected, 25% had childcare issues, 13% feared they would infect others, 9% had tested positive for COVID-19, 3% were furloughed/laid off/unemployed/facility closed. These reasons are depicted in Figure 6. Twenty seven percent selected “other” reasons than those listed. Other reasons included earning more through claiming unemployment than when they were working, reduced hours, family reasons (e.g., caring for someone with health/age/school issues), anxiety/stress, moved, additional responsibilities or different roles, working with different staff or working alone more, found another job, had a second job, lack of personal protective equipment provided, budget cuts, lack of support from employers, passed away/died, and military/active duty.

Hiring Practices During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In spite of staff shortages and additional stresses caused by staff leaving their positions due to the pandemic, less than ¼ of DSPs (22%) reported new staff had been hired during the COVID-19 pandemic. When new staff were hired because of the pandemic, 28% said new staff received typical orientation and preservice training, 45% said they received the typical orientation and pre-service training as well as safety training related to the pandemic, and 27% said the typical orientation and preservice training were not done.

Provision of Personal Protective Equipment and Safety Measures

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is used by people to protect themselves and others from contracting COVID-19. It is supposed to be used by all essential workers. PPE was in short supply as the pandemic began. At the time of this survey, practices related to providing and using PPE were in flux. Respondents were asked to report on the provision of gloves and types of facemasks provided. Figure 7 depicts the provision of these types of PPE as reported by respondents.

Figure 7. Types of personal protective equipment (PPE) provided to respondents

Eighty four percent of DSPs said their employer provided gloves, 54% received homemade face masks, 48% received medical grade face masks or face shields, 10% received home repair style face masks. Sixteen percent said other personal protective equipment was provided by their employer. Many DSPs commented that they received a mask but only got a limited supply (sometimes one) that was intended to last for weeks or longer. There were also comments that the face masks did not fit well, and many said that masks and/or other pieces of PPE were available but only if someone had COVID-19. Other PPE provided by some employers included: gowns/lab coats/ponchos, goggles/safety eyewear, shoe covers, full PPE, hair/beard covers, bandanas for masks, garbage bags for gowns, hand sanitizer, disinfecting spray/wipes, cleaning supplies, thermometer, nothing/none. Some respondents also commented that they brought/made their own PPE, were given money to purchase their own PPE, were expected to reuse of PPE,  were given PPE but it arrived late, and that PPE was available but only if someone had COVID-19. Survey administration occurred early in the pandemic.

Other safety measures were provided by some employers. Participants reported the types of safety measures put into place by their employers. The safety measures reported included:

  • 72% posted signs on proper handwashing,
  • 67% were provided training on health and safety,
  • 66% had temperatures taken before shifts,
  • 59% posted signs on social distancing,
  • 10% provided access to COVID-19 testing, and
  • 10% said other safety measures were provided by their employer.

Other safety measures provided by employers included: communication (e.g., blogs, hotline), emails/surveys/questionnaires about their health/symptoms, checklists/guidelines for cleaning, extra cleaning, additional cleaning supplies, different schedules to minimize contact, work from home, closed facility/program for now, social distancing, visitor restriction, and taking client temperature.  Some said there were no safety measures provided.