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Arizona gears up coronavirus testing

Why masks may work against you
Posted at 8:23 PM, Mar 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-05 14:42:55-05

TUCSON, Ariz. - As coronavirus concerns kick up, the State of Arizona is geared up to test samples and confirm cases. But state and local health experts say while the virus should be taken seriously, simple precautions can protect you----and other steps like masks may actually work against you.

One of the biggest changes in the state response is the ability to test for COVID-19 at the state level. Before, tests were sent to the Centers for Disease Control.

As of Monday, 26 people have been tested, one was positive for the virus and one test is still waiting for results.

State Health Director Dr. Cara Christ says the state has the ability to test about 450 specimens each day. Results usually come in the same day or overnight.

Pima County's interim Health Director Dr. Bob England says hospitals take the specimens but local departments decide which ones the state should receive for coronavirus testing.

It's based on symptoms, how severe they are and whether the patient's history includes travel to a coronavirus hot spot like China.

While COVID-19 can be deadly to someone weakened by some other condition, Dr. England says for most people COVID-19 is a mild illness. But that means people not sick enough to come to the attention of the health system can be walking around, spreading the virus.

He compares the numbers to the number of flu cases never reported to public health systems.

“So, two years ago, how many of your listeners know that probably 200, 250 people in Pima County died from the flu, was a pretty bad year. Most years, maybe 50 or so people died from the flu -- every year -- and we don't shut down schools or shutter businesses or cancel events.”

Dr. England says people desperate for face masks are not getting good protection, they're getting a false sense of security.

“In fact, they may do more harm than good. A lot of people who aren't used to wearing them fidget with them all the time so they're putting their hands in their face a lot. They don't change them often enough. They won't change them when the mask gets wet, for example, it isn't working anymore.”

The state health director says she has a family with young children and she does not see the need to stock up on food and water. She suggests buying hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes but not buying so much that there's not enough to go around.