ASU to keep modeling for COVID-19 after ADHS asked the University to ‘pause’

The University's latest estimates recommended stalling reopening until the end of May

ASU will continue providing Arizona-specific COVID-19 modeling to the public despite instructions from the Arizona Department of Health Services to "pause" the work, the University confirmed Wednesday.

ASU and UA were asked to stop modeling as Gov. Doug Ducey announced plans to begin reopening parts of the state, including barbershops, salons and dine-in restaurants. 

READ MORE: Ducey announces new plans to reopen businesses amid COVID-19 pandemic

ASU's model says peak infections will not begin until mid-May, and azcentral called the model "the most robust public model in Arizona." The pause notice was sent to the researchers in an email from ADHS on Monday evening. 

ADHS has chosen to continue using only the modeling from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that has not been publicly released, according to azcentral.

The University said it is still committed to continuing its work and will also make information and updates open to the public. 

ADHS told ASU and UA researchers that their research was no longer necessary and to halt their efforts, according to an email statement from ASU. The team comprises 24 professors from the two universities.

ASU said that ADHS had originally contacted ASU and UA researchers to model estimates for COVID-19 cases, hospital and ICU beds, ventilators and economic impacts. 

Ducey spokesperson Patrick Ptak told azcentral that the state has been looking at multiple models, and that they have "been able to see which models are accurate — which match the actual facts and are most useful — and which are not.”

Ptak also said that ADHS director Cara Christ made the decision to halt studies "after reviewing all the data." 

Ptak did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The State Press Thursday morning. ADHS also did not reply to a request for comment. 

Tim Lant, director of program development at the Biodesign Institute, is heading an Arizona-specific mathematic model researching the expected behavior of the coronavirus.

The most recent modeling report from Lant and his team predicted the peak of infections in Arizona to come mid-May. The same report reflected a hospital peak in late May. That is, if social distancing and state-wide closures remain in place.

“I can say, scientifically, no, it's not safe to reopen unless you're planning on, you know, shutting down again after a couple of weeks, and we can help figure out what the appropriate amount of time is to stay open before we shut down,” Lant told azcentral in an article published April 23.

ADHS Bureau Chief Steven (Rob) Bailey told ASU and UA in an email Monday evening to stop the modeling, according to ABC 15. The email did not give any reason as to why the team was being asked to stop research, but it did say the team may be called upon again in late summer or early fall.

Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix) posted a letter to ASU and UA's presidents asking them to ignore Ducey's decision and continue their work. Calling the request "politically driven," Gallego also asked the universities to demand continued access to data sets that had previously been made available to the researchers.  

Ducey's decision has also been criticized by other lawmakers in Congress, including Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Sinema tweeted Wednesday that she was grateful for ASU's decision to continue modeling.

"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 the re-opening — is concerning and disappointing," Sinema's tweet said.

Arizona state Rep. Kelli Butler called the decision to pause research "incredibly troubling" in a tweet on Tuesday. 

UA has yet to comment on the status of its involvement in the project.


Reach the reporter at gmlieber@asu.edu or follow @G_Mira_ on Twitter. 

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