Arizona health officials renew partnership with COVID-19 modelers amid disbandment controversy

Arizona state health officials announced that a partnership between them and COVID-19 modelers from the state's public universities is now renewed, following a controversy over news that the team was disbanded by the state.

According to a statement FOX 10 received Thursday afternoon from Chris Minnick with the Arizona Department of Health Services, state health officials have communicated with the modeling team, and there will now be an ongoing partnership to continue providing models.

"Our initial request for the team was to produce the model that they delivered on April 20," the statement read. "We were very pleased with the model they provided. 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."

Officials say the participating state universities, along with the team members, expressed a willingness to continue with the work.

"We are grateful for their dedication, and we look forward to an ongoing partnership," read the statement.

News of team disbanding sparked criticism

Earlier in the week, there were reports that the modeler team was disbanded, prompting criticism from some lawmakers and health experts.

"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 doubts on his preferred reopening policies," Rep. Ruben Gallego wrote in a letter to the modelers on Wednesday.

On Monday, Gov. Ducey announced that barbers and salons in the state can reopen on May 8, while restaurants can resume dine-in operations on May 11. Arizona has been under a stay-at-home order since March 31. The order was extended to May 15 on April 29.

In the same statement, Rep. Gallego also urged the team to ignore Gov. Ducey's directive.

"I urge you to reject Governor Ducey's order to stop your modeling work, and I urge you to demand continued access to Ducey's 'special data sets,'" Rep. Gallego wrote. "If the Governor's Office continues to restrict its 'special data sets' from both you and the general public, please continue your research and modeling based on publicly available information."

On his blog, Will Humble with the Arizona Public Health Association also spoke out on the reported decision by state officials.

"[Monday] night’s action to disband the Arizona COVID-19 Modeling Working Group begs the question of whether the Modeling Working Group was discontinued because they had been producing results that were inconsistent with messaging and decisions being made by the executive branch," Humble wrote.

State officials respond to criticisms

On Wednesday night, FOX 10 received a statement from Minnick. In that statement, Minnick wrote that the department appreciates the work of the team, which was established to provide an additional epidemic model for consideration.

The model, according to Minnick, was completed on April 20.

"With months of data now available, we have shifted our primary focus from predictive models to using all of our real-time, Arizona specific data to assess the health of our healthcare system and evaluate the trend of our cases to make decisions that are best for Arizona," Minnick wrote.

Models show different trajectory for Arizona during COVID-19 pandemic

On April 22, FOX 10 reported on how different pandemic models are painting different pictures for the COVID-19 pandemic in Arizona.

At the time, officials say under a model they developed with experts from Arizona State University (ASU) and University of Arizona (UArizona), the state is estimated to have a peak need for 600 hospital beds and 300 ICU beds around May 22. That projection was based on data officials received two weeks prior to April 22.

According to a model by, also known as the U.S. Interventions Model, if all restrictions are lifted in Arizona as of Thursday, hospitals would overload on May 31, and there would be a total of 39,000 deaths from COVID-19 by August 3, 2020.

Based on current trends, however, the same model notes that hospitals would not overload in the next 90 days, and that 4,000 people are expected to die from COVID-19 by August 3

LIVE: Interactive Coronavirus case data and map


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COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

Right now there's one big difference between flu and coronavirus: A vaccine exists to help prevent the flu and it's not too late to get it. It won't protect you from catching the coronavirus, but may put you in a better position to fight it.

To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.

And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.

In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Stay home when you are sick.

Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Additional resources

Coronavirus (COVID-19) - How it spreads, symptoms, prevention, treatment, FAQ (In Spanish/En Español)

Arizona COVID-19 Response - Public resources, FAQ, webinars (In Spanish/En Español)

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