Arizona health department changes decision on COVID-19 modeling

May 7, 2020, 2:36 PM | Updated: 7:51 pm

(Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool)...

(Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool)

(Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool)

PHOENIX — A day after saying it no longer needed researchers from state universities to predict the spread of COVID-19, the Arizona health department reversed course.

The Arizona Department of Health Services said Thursday its partnership with the university coronavirus modeling team was being extended.

The Arizona State and University of Arizona researchers delivered a model April 20 that the health department said it was pleased with.

“Understanding the demands on their time, we let them know that we were putting the modeling project on pause until we could bring them back to assist with modeling COVID-19 resource requirements during the influenza season,” the department said in a statement Thursday.

“Since then, the universities and team members have expressed a willingness to continue doing this work.”

The reversal came following an onslaught of criticism after Wednesday’s announcement that the partnership was ending.

The department said Wednesday it would rely on “real-time, Arizona specific data” that can be found on its COVID-19 data dashboard.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) was among those criticizing the announcement, issuing the following statement before the decision was reversed:

The governor’s choice to disregard the science that should be the basis of Arizona public health policies – and the White House’s guidelines for reopening – is concerning and disappointing. I’m grateful that Arizona State University and the University of Arizona will continue this work, and I plan to rely on their findings and conclusions in my work to keep Arizonans healthy, safe, and economically secure.

A health department spokesman said Wednesday the research team finished its work last month, right as the team’s leader, Dr. Timothy Lant of Arizona State Univeristy, had urged gradually reopening Arizona’s economy in late May.

Last month, Lant told KTAR News 92.3 FM that timeline would be the best to avoid a possible spike in coronavirus cases in Arizona.

“We’ve estimated a range of 2,000 to 4,000 deaths by Aug. 1 in scenarios where we reopen without mitigation,” Lant said.

However, Gov. Doug Ducey has allowed gradual reopening now, including for retailers on Friday and restaurant dining rooms on Monday, while ordering social distancing and constant disinfecting of their areas.

In a tweet, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) blasted Ducey for his “politically motivated” ending of the team.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Peter Samore contributed to this report.

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Arizona health department changes decision on COVID-19 modeling