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Arizona professor urges governor to slow down reopening state

Prof. Joe Gerald 'increasingly torn' by needs
Posted at 9:15 PM, May 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 00:15:16-04

Without more social distancing restrictions, cases of coronavirus will grow in Arizona and ultimately overwhelm the hospital system in some areas, according to a weekly forecast released by a member of Arizona's modeling team.

Professor Joe Gerald is a researcher at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona. While Gerald is also a member of the state health department's modeling team, which was disbanded then reinstated last week, his May 8 weekly forecast is separate from the modeling team's official projections.

"As a public health professional, I am becoming increasingly torn," Gerald wrote. "While our window of opportunity is slowly closing, there is still time and enough resources to mount an effective response."

Gerald concludes current social distancing has slowed the spread of coronavirus in Arizona, but not enough to prevent increases in cases, hospitalizations, and ICU bed use. "While adequate hospital capacity exists to care for some increase in severely ill patients," he writes, "a higher case count will narrow our safety margin."

Gerald said lifting social distancing restrictions now will increase the pace of viral transmission.

"For many locales, additional social distancing restrictions are likely needed," he wrote, to avoid "ultimately exceeding local health system capacity."

"Why then are these restrictions being lifted now?" Gerald questions. "The most obvious reason is the substantial economic consequences imposed on governments, businesses, and households." The professor explains the federal response has been too slow and too anemic to offer enough financial protections, and state governments cannot borrow enough money to support businesses and households.

Overall, Gerald said effective viral transmission value (Rt) in Arizona is 1.14. Because the value is higher than one, the number of cases in Arizona is projected to grow with a peak at some future date.

The report also showed evidence suggesting Pima County has reached a peak, and new cases counts are now declining. This is the only Arizona county with more than 100 cases seeing this trend. In fact, Coconino, Yavapai, Mohave, and Yuma counties all saw a spike in newly reported cases i the last two weeks.

The model, according to UA, extrapolates what might occur if current conditions remain unchanged, and the information is intended to help guide a response to the outbreak.

Read the latest report and findings from the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health (MEZCOPH) at the University of Arizona.