Pima County Health Department official explains COVID-19

Pima County Health Department answers questions about COVID-19

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - As COVID-19 continues to spread, so do questions and misinformation.

Officials with the Pima County Health Department is continuing to monitor the virus within the county.

So far, there have been no confirmed cases in southern Arizona and only known person in the state with COVID-19 has recovered.

But their office has been flooded with calls this week from many residents wanting to know how to prepare for a pandemic.

“Anything new and unknown is scary,” said Dr. Bob England, interim director of the Pima County Health Department.

So far, 79 people and their contacts with travel history to China have been tested in Pima County.

“A very small number had some kind of infection or some kind of cold and all those people were tested and were fine,” England said.

Health department officials are looking at their pandemic preparedness plans. England said, with this weeks news sounding, office phones have been ringing with people searching for information.

"Don’t freak out." said Dr. England. "It’s not as bad as our preparations have been made for.”

England said many people are fearing the novel coronavirus because there are still plenty of unknowns. However, many are worried because of how many people are sick right now.

"I think people think it’s a lot more deadly than it is and that makes sense because the numbers would indicate that. But, keep in mind that not everybody infected is getting tested yet. What’s happening is only the sickest people are getting tested, so the severity of the disease looks way worse than it actually is. The mortality rate that people have been talking about being around 2 percent may be 50 times less that and if it is, that puts it right in line with the regular, seasonal flu.”

The virus itself may be new, but it’s symptoms and side effects are fairly common.

“Two years ago, in this country we lost 80,000 Americans to the flu. The flu we have a really good preventative measure for, it’s called a vaccine and we have a hard time getting people to take it,” England said.

It’s similarity to the flu means they’re treating prevention the same way.

Department officials said they are going to be giving the same messages that they do during the cold and flu season.

“I’ll bet people will pay more attention to those messages this time around because people are concerned about this,” England said.

When it comes to preventative measures, some aren’t as effective as you may think, including masks. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a tweet Feb. 27, 2020:

“CDC does not currently recommend the use of face masks to help prevent novel #coronavirus. Take everyday preventive actions, like staying home when you are sick and washing hands with soap and water, to help slow the spread of respiratory illness.”

England agrees, especially when it comes to N-95 masks.

"For the general public these make very little sense because if you don’t have it completely air tight and perfectly fitted around you, then air is going to come in around the side because it’s too thick to go in the front,” he said.

The recommendation is the same for basic surgical masks. They only help if you are already sick and if you are healthy, they could actually do more harm than good.

“If somebody else is in your vicinity is coughing, you need to be worried about the spray that comes out and that lands on your mask. Now you’ve got that goop with that virus sitting right in front of your mouth,” England said.

While there are still unknowns surrounding COVID-19, health officials urge people to get the right information to separate fact from fiction.

“I don’t want to make light of this. It’s not going to be pretty, we’re going to have some people die if it spreads around this country, but it’s probably going to be in the range of a worse-than-usual flu season, perhaps,” England said. "If you don’t get too terrified of the flu, you shouldn’t be more worried about this.”

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