- Arizona ended the work of a team of scientists who predicted that the peak of its outbreak had not yet arrived.
- The experts, from Arizona universities, were making models for the state, and had predicted that the peak could come on May 22 or later.
- But the state’s health department stopped their work hours after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey announced some businesses can reopen this week, ABC 15 Arizona and the Arizona Republic reported.
- The state now says it will rely on other sources of information and on federal modelling.
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Arizona ended its work with a team of experts who predicted the virus has not yet peaked in the state, even as the governor moves to lift restrictions.
ABC 15 Arizona and the Arizona Republic reported that that the state’s health department asked its modeling team to stop their work on Monday night, the day before President Donald Trump visited the state.
The order came hours after Doug Ducey, the state’s Republican governor, announced that he was lifting some restrictions on businesses, including salons and restaurants, in the coming days.
He said he had “confidence that we are going in the right direction.”
But the modeling team, made up of at least 23 volunteer experts from Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, had predicted in late April that peak of the outbreak in the state hasn’t arrived yet — and could come on May 22 or later.
The University of Arizona.
In an email seen by ABC 15, Steven Bailey, Arizona Department of Health Services’ bureau chief for public health statistics, said in an email to the modeling team: “We’ve been asked by Department leadership to ‘pause’ all current work on projections and modeling.”
He said the team may be reassembled in late summer or early fall, but did not give a reason for why the team’s work was being stopped, ABC 15 reported.
Officials in Arizona said they would use other information, including information from federal agencies, both The Washington Post and the Arizona Republic reported. The federal projections are not available to the public.
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Dr. Cara Christ, director of the state Department of Health Services, told the Arizona Republic: “We just asked them to take a pause for a little bit.”
“We are continuing to get updated FEMA models and we think that that is really representative of where we are.”
The move comes as Trump pushes for states to reopen, even while acknowledging that this could lead to a higher death toll.
Ducey, the state’s governor, had previously extended a stay-at-home order to May 15. He changed course on Monday May 4, announcing that he would let businesses open before then.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey talks to officials during the coronavirus outbreak in Phoenix in March 2020.
David Wallace/The Arizona Republic via AP
Experts are concerned at the ending of the modelling team. Josiah D. Rich, an epidemiologist at Brown University, told the Post that “the approach seems to be ‘Shoot the messenger — and quick.’”
Bailey, the Arizona health official, had previously said that the researchers would have “full, unfettered access to confidential . . . data from the Department,” the Post reported.
“This is a situation that is unprecedented in living memory, and it is going to become rapidly more dire in the coming days,” he wrote in previously unreported correspondence.
“I cannot, therefore, overemphasize the importance of what we are requesting here.”
Bailey declined to comment to the Post.