National models predict COVID-19's impact on Arizona, but state leaders hesitate to release their internal modeling.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey makes a promise almost every time he talks publicly about COVID-19. "I've made a commitment that we are going to be timely and transparent," he said on March 30. "When I know something. you're going to know something."
For weeks, ABC15 has known the Arizona Department of Health Services has a coronavirus modeling team. The group is tasked with using data to making educated guesses about what will happen next. The ABC15 Investigators have repeatedly asked to see the models and calculations, but they have not been released.
Several national models do make projections for Arizona, including:
- The University of Washington model has predictions of ventilators needed and possible deaths.
- Unacast uses cell phone location data to project how successful communities are at social distancing.
- COVID Act Now looks at how soon hospitals could be overrun with patients.
- Harvard researchers look at the potential effects of long-term intervention strategies.
- Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center is monitoring the pandemic around the world.
Will Humble with the Arizona Public Health Association is a former ADHS director. He explained why transparency is critical.
"You are asking people, especially during a pandemic, to do some really profound things as far as changing the behavior," Humble said. "You're in a better position as a health department if you have that kind of street credibility that you need - and the trust that you need - among the public, so that when you ask them to do something they trust you."
Last month, Dr. Cara Christ, ADHS Director, said the state would need a whopping 13,000 additional hospital beds as predicted by worst case scenarios. This week, she characterized those numbers as "scratch paper" calculations.
"It was math that we were doing looking at when we didn't have a lot of data," Christ said. "It was one to two percent of the population projected to be infected. We based then that 6 percent of that population - off of Wuhan - would need hospitalization or have severe. That puts us at about 48- and 84-hundred individuals."
Instead of giving us their full calculations, ADHS gave ABC15 national and international studies it said were being consulted. The agency also provided the names of researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Arizona who are part of the modeling team. They include Prof. Joe Gerald, an expert in tracking health care costs to treat respiratory illnesses, and Prof. Timothy Lant, a director of biomedical modeling.
An ASU spokesman told ABC15 their researchers have now sent their reports to ADHS for review. ABC15 made an official public records request to ADHS, but the models and reports have not been released with no explanation.
"Especially in a declining revenue environment, if the model shows with better clarity there are not as many beds as they had originally anticipated, perhaps that would influence the original executive order and the expectation that the hospital to have under that order," said Humble.
Governor Ducey has been particularly cautious not to discuss how many Arizonans may die from coronavirus. He has ended two press conference when reporters pressed him for answers.
"If we reduce the number of contractions, we will reduce the number of deaths," Ducey said Tuesday. "Anyone that tells you exactly what's going to happen is guessing. I am not guessing."