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COVID-19 Modeling Team urges state to take action before disaster hits

Posted at 5:32 PM, Nov 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-30 20:17:23-05

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona’s COVID-19 modeling team says the state needs to act before hospitals are over capacity by Christmas. The team includes researchers at the University of Arizona who say a three-week shelter-in-place order is needed right away.

“Doing nothing should not be an option,” said Dr. Joe Gerald a team leader with the COVID-19 Modeling Team.

Their letter, obtained by KGUN9 On Your Side’s sister station, says inaction risks a catastrophe on a scale of the worst natural disaster the state has ever experienced.

“It’s up to us and policy makers to recognize the science behind this is sound and do something before the hurricane hits, because once it hits the phone lines are down, the roads are flooded and it is hard to reach those who need the assistance,” Gerald said.

The team recommends four actions:

1) A statewide mask mandate.
2) A shelter-in-place order from December 1 to December 22, which would close indoor dining.
3) Economic relief for impacted families and businesses.
4) If a state-wide mandate is not enacted, local municipalities should be able to enact their own shelter-in-place orders.

“State action is needed, but barring that, if it’s not coming” said Gerald. “Allowing greater authority for local municipalities to act we think is helpful.”

The state has taken a number of actions during the pandemic, but Gerald says much of them have been too little and too late.

“The delay and inaction have led us to a point where we do not have good choices anymore, responding to this crisis is going to hurt.”

He says the pain of another shutdown with planned financial relief would pale in comparison to what we face without one.

“It’s not predestined, it does not have to unfold the way we are seeing it unfold, we can take steps now to prevent the disaster that is coming.”

We reached out to Arizona Department of Health Services for a response to the COVID-19 Modeling Team’s letter.

This was the response to our email---

"ADHS continues to review modeling forecasts presented by the state universities. We are on high alert and closely monitoring real-time data on transmission and health care capacity, as well as models that have been shared."

Several mitigation measures remain in place, including:

  • 90 percent of Arizona is covered by a mask mandate at the local city, town or county level. According to COVID Exit Strategy, more than 90 percent of Arizonans are wearing masks.
  • Bars are closed unless they are operating as a restaurant.
  • Restaurants must operate at 50 percent capacity.
  • Theaters are at 50 percent capacity. Gyms are at 25 percent.
  • Masks are required at these places statewide.
  • Masks must be worn in schools.
  • Large organized public events are prohibited (unless approved by a local jurisdiction, with mitigation measures in place).
  • We are actively enforcing these requirements and will continue to do so.

We are in regular communication with hospitals, healthcare providers and our local health departments. ADHS continues to monitor this situation closely and work with our hospital partners and may take additional steps as the situation evolves.

  • Hospital and ICU bed availability is monitored around the clock by our Health Emergency Operations Center
  • The statewide ADHS-coordinated Arizona Surge Line has real time insight into available ICU and inpatient beds and helps ensure Arizonans receive the appropriate level of care. When necessary, the Surge Line can coordinate the transfer patients from facilities nearing their capacity to facilities with available capacity
  • Hospitals have been required to develop surge plans to increase their capacity by 50 percent, and the hospital/ICU bed figures listed on the ADHS data dashboard do not include this surge capacity
  • We are providing additional financial resources to Arizona hospitals and investing in boosting staffing, including $25 million recently for large receiving hospitals to recruit and retain nurses and staff. And continuing our summer staffing initiative, ADHS is providing almost 300 additional nurses for rural hospitals. Prior to this, ADHS had invested $35 million for staffing support to provide 500 nurses to hospitals statewide.
  • We have secured beds for recovering COVID-19 patients requiring post-acute step-down care at skilled nursing facilities to increase hospital bed capacity by ensuring timely discharge of patients.
  • We are working with hospitals to ensure they have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Executive Order 2020-32 suspending elective surgeries to ensure sufficient hospital capacity remains in effect. Hospitals performing elective surgeries that are nearing their capacity may need to take steps to further expand their capacity, or pause elective surgeries until they come into compliance with the requirements of the order

We urge Arizonans to follow the strict mitigation requirements in place and to observe the steps proven to curb the spread of COVID-19, including masking up, maintaining physical distance, avoiding large groups, and staying home if sick.

Remember: More than half of COVID-19 transmission is estimated to come from those who have no symptoms. To protect everyone, including the most vulnerable, each of us must be vigilant at all times.