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Are masks effective? Is it worse than the flu? A COVID-19 Q&A with a UW doctor

Dr. Helen Chu, an infectious diseases specialist at UW Medicine answers our questions about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

SEATTLE — The 2019 novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, originated in Wuhan, China late last year. It wasn't a household name before that, but it is now.

More and more people continue to be diagnosed with the virus in the United States and globally. So it's important to know the facts and how you can protect yourself. 

In this interview, Dr. Helen Chu, an infectious disease specialist at UW Medicine, goes over how COVID-19 is spread and what precautions we can take when traveling. 

First, the symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to other respiratory illnesses, said Chu. Mild symptoms can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, the symptoms can be pneumonia. 

Currently, there is no vaccine for COVID-19. People who are sick can be admitted to the hospital and undergo "supportive treatment," Chu said, which can involve receiving fluids and other methods. 

People who are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 is the same as the flu. People with weakened immune systems and underlying health conditions are more at risk to get the virus. However, health officials say the current risk to the general public remains low. 

As far as prevention, Chu said washing your hands frequently and with soap and water is one of the best things people can do. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and wiping down surfaces with alcohol wipes helps kill the virus.

People who are sick should also stay home from school or work and contact their doctor if they are worried about having symptoms of COVID-19. 

When it comes to face masks, Chu said there's not enough information to yet to determine if masks are extremely effective. 

“The face masks there’s not a lot of data on whether or not face masks are useful to keep you from getting sick. We know that if you are sick and you wear a mask you protect others around you, but I don’t know that we know,” said Chu.

Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering has put together an interactive map with live updates that tracks the spread of COVID-19 cases. 

Additional resources:  

Segment Producer Derek Haas. Watch New Day Northwest 11 AM weekdays on KING 5 and streaming live on KING5.comContact New Day. 

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