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Will new COVID-19 measures in Arizona work?

Posted at 6:51 PM, Jul 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-01 22:25:45-04

PHOENIX — Experts at the state's two largest universities say measures put in place by Governor Doug Ducey -- closing bars, gyms and other businesses -- can help slow the spread of COVID-19, but it's unclear how big of a difference it will make.

On Wednesday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported nearly 5,000 new COVID-19 cases and 88 deaths, both the highest reported figures in their respective categories since the pandemic began.

As cases rise, the Director of ASU's Biodesign Institute, Dr. Joshua LaBaer, has noted some COVID-19 data has started to trend in a different direction recently.

"There is a little bit of a sense...that there's a little bit of a plateau right now in Arizona," LaBaer said. "But it's at a plateau, at a pace that we cannot sustain. We can't have this many new cases every day and keep that going."

LaBaer said the Biodesign Institute is working on a saliva-based COVID-19 test and is in talks with the state to help expand testing. LaBaer also expressed concern about how busy hospitals have become already, when, relatively speaking, a small number of people have gotten sick.

"We are only at a few percent prevalence in the population," he said. "If that were to go up, it doesn't take much. We could seriously stress the system."

ABC15 asked if measures put into effect by Gov. Ducey this week, including closing bars and gyms, are too little a mitigation effort and too late in the stage of spread.

"I'm never going to say it's too late," LaBaer said. "Anything we do now to limit this virus is going to help us. We have shown in the past that we can limit transmission."

In terms of how long it will take to see more encouraging trends in the data, an associate professor at the University of Arizona who compiles weekly modeling reports said we could see it reflected in the next one to two weeks.

"I think this will hopefully make a difference," said Dr. Joe Gerald, Associate Professor of Public Health Policy and Management at the University of Arizona. "We're basically trying to re-flatten the curve."

Gerald also noted the measures are not as extreme as a full shutdown, which could have a limited effect on slowing the virus.

"The strength of the intervention is less and so we would expect less impact," he said. "It's going to do less to slow the pace of new infections than if we went into a total shutdown."

Gerald said data shows a rough few weeks ahead for Arizona.

"I think conditions are going to continue to deteriorate here in Arizona for the next two to four weeks," Gerald said. "Maybe they won't deteriorate as fast as they might have before some of these measures were taken, but no, I'm not particularly optimistic looking at the short term future. Things are going to get worse."

ABC15 asked what he saw as the best-case scenario in the coming weeks.

"Looking at the next four to six weeks, the best case scenario is really a flattening of the curve and hospitals aren't overwhelmed," he said. "They remain very, very busy and we have a lot of cases, but we don't end up in a situation like New York where we're caring for patients in hallways...patients are dying at home."