State COVID-19 models don’t predict past next week what’s to come in Arizona

Posted at 7:50 PM, Oct 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-31 00:36:52-04

Information obtained through a public records request show state health officials have COVID-19 models from top researchers from Arizona, but they don’t predict what’s to come past next week.

ABC15 requested any new models from the Arizona Department of Health Services that they received from the modeling team that was put on pause earlier this year.

ADHS replied to our request with six models that predict projections through November 2, 2020. The models include information like: death projections, recoveries, infections and ICU beds.

ABC15 was hoping to see some predictions for the months ahead, but these models are not forward-looking.

The information could be insightful since Arizona’s governor said at the end of a public briefing on Thursday that there is a ‘storm ahead,’ but gave no explanation or what intel he has on what lies ahead.

The modeling team in Arizona is made up of two dozen researchers from around the state that use data and math to give analysis and predictions.

ABC15 asked Joshua LaBaer, the executive director of ASU’s Biodesign Institute, when the last time the state requested a model, “Well, we’ve been working regularly with the state.”

“The last time we’ve done a formal model was over the summer, we haven’t done another formal model since then and I will say that our current model or the one we built before really doesn’t apply right now because the circumstances with COVID have gotten much more complex.”

LaBaer said the team is still very active, but the information is harder to predict as they can use the same model as before.

“The numbers in the last few days are looking a little more frightening to me, they are going up a little bit faster,” he said.

With no new model, it is unclear if there will be a new one, or when we could see it, “The team is gathering its thoughts about how would they build the next model, I don’t want to say we don’t know how, I would just say it’s more complex than the original model was,” said LaBaer.

There is no contract with ADHS and the researchers from across the state that LaBaer knows of so it's unclear if the state would or even could ask for one.

“I know when the government asks anyone to do anything, the way the rules are set up I think they are obliged to offer some payment, I don’t think they can ask you to do something for free so at some point they’d probably have to pay us, but right now, it's more of an ongoing conversation than a formal contract,” said Thorne.

A spokesperson for ADHS said modeling is just one tool in the toolbox, and they say there are other public models that they look at also.

“We review all models presented to us, including ones presented by federal partners and universities as well as other public modeling sources,” an email read.

However, ADHS officials say they’re focused on other data, “Some of the modeling predictions we’ve seen over time have not been borne out by the actual data, so our main focus at present is analyzing that real-time data. We’ve found those metrics to be a good indicator of potential future trends, and they have been used in our business benchmarks, education benchmarks and other planning processes. Modeling was especially valuable in determining worst-case scenarios that informed planning processes and resource needs.”

To view the models, click the links below: