Arizona Disbands Coronavirus Modeling Team as State Nears 10,000 Cases

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By Jessica Swarner

May 6, 2020

The state’s number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise Wednesday, reaching 9,707 and 426 deaths. 

Rep. Ruben Gallego on Wednesday called for a team of university researchers to ignore a recent order from the state to stop their work on coronavirus models. 

The congressman accused the state of making its decision to disband the team of 23 Arizona State University and University of Arizona researchers based on Gov. Doug Ducey’s efforts to reopen the economy rather than public safety. 

“I fear that Ducey’s effort to obstruct and halt your work is a politically driven decision aimed at suppressing valuable information that may cast doubt on his preferred reopening policies,” Gallego said in a statement. 

RELATED: People Will Be Hurt: Trump Calls For Americans to Risk Health to Salvage Economy

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) had sent a letter to the team Monday asking them to disband their work on projecting the state’s coronavirus outcomes, according to ABC 15.  

The letter from Steven “Robert” Bailey, chief of the ADHS Bureau of Public Health Statistics, said the agency had asked for a “pause” on all modeling work. Bailey did not give a reason as to why, but did mention the need for this work could come up again in late summer or early fall as flu season approaches. 

In a statement to ABC 15, an ADHS spokesperson said the team’s work had been paused because the state determined the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was a better source for projections. 

“The reason that ADHS is pausing the internal modeling is, as we have said before, we are looking at several national models and have determined that FEMA is the most accurate to help us develop and implement public health interventions to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak,” the agency’s statement read. 

In the letter to the modeling team, Bailey also wrote that the state had decided to revoke the scientists’ access to special data sets they had been using to create reports for the state. 

Gallego said the researchers should demand the state continue to provide access to their special data. And, he said, if the state refuses, the researchers should continue their work based on publicly available data. 

Healthcare advocacy group Honest Arizona also criticized the decision and called on Sen. Martha McSally to get involved in getting the modeling team reinstated. 

Arizona has seen much tension in recent weeks between people who want businesses to reopen as soon as possible and public health experts who say the state isn’t ready. 

The state’s number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise Wednesday, reaching 9,707 and 426 deaths. Daily deaths are also rising are now in the 30-range, where last week, they averaged around 20.

Guidelines released by the White House recommended states not begin reopening efforts until after seeing at least a two-week downward trend in cases and deaths. 

Despite not yet meeting this and other criteria, Arizona began a gradual reopening of businesses this week. Retail stores were allowed to open for pick-up Monday, and they will be able to open their doors to customers Friday as long as they follow social distancing guidelines. 

RELATED: Why States Like Arizona Are Seeing a Bigger Push to Reopen Than Others

Barbershops and salons will also be allowed to open Friday, with restaurant dining rooms being able to welcome customers starting Monday. 

There are also some businesses around the state that chose to reopen over the weekend despite the governor’s orders. 

Gallego emphasized that the state’s modeling team is vital to finding the balance between public safety and economic needs. 

“Your work provides valuable insight that public health experts need to make informed decisions that will ultimately save lives and prevent needless economic disruption,” he said. 

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.



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