In a hurry to reopen state, Arizona governor disbands scientific panel that modeled outbreak

On Monday, the same day that Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, announced he was lifting some coronavirus restrictions on businesses, and the day before he met with President Trump on a visit to the state, his administration disbanded a panel of university scientists who had warned that taking the step now would be dangerous.

In an email to 23 researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Arizona whose modeling on the spread of the coronavirus had helped guide Ducey’s implementation of social distancing guidelines, the state’s Department of Health Services informed the scientists that their services were no longer needed, effective immediately.

“We realize that you have been, and continue to be working very hard on this effort, so we wanted to let you know as soon as possible so that you won’t expend further time and effort needlessly,” S. Robert Bailey, DHS bureau chief of public health statistics, wrote in the email, obtained by the Arizona Republic.

Just a week after extending Arizona’s stay-at-home order until May 15, Ducey reversed course and announced Monday that barbershops and hair salons would be allowed to open Friday, with restaurants following suit on May 11.

The model the scientists had developed showed that reopening the state before the end of May would likely result in a spike in coronavirus cases.

“I can say, scientifically, no, it’s not safe to reopen unless you’re planning on, you know, shutting down again after a couple of weeks,” Tim Lant, a mathematical epidemiologist at ASU, told the Republic prior to Ducey’s decision to go against the team’s modeling.

Gov. Doug Ducey, R-Ariz., greets President Donald Trump as he arrives at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Trump, arriving in Phoenix on Tuesday, is greeted by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

On Tuesday, Ducey hosted Trump in Phoenix on a tour of a mask-production facility, where the president made the case that the economic benefits of lifting restrictions and reopening the country outweighed the health risks.

“Doug Ducey has done an incredible job as the governor of Arizona,” Trump told reporters. “The people aren’t going to accept” an indefinite shutdown. “They won’t accept it, and they shouldn’t accept it. We have a great country. We can’t keep it closed.”

Ducey said his administration had “put public health first” and had consulted the guidelines set forth by the coronavirus task force.

“We have looked at the numbers that your medical experts put forward in the Opening Up America Again plan, in terms of our symptoms, our cases, our hospital capacity, our ability to surge on our testing,” Ducey said.

As of Wednesday, Arizona had reported 9,707 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and at least 426 deaths. While relatively low in comparison with harder-hit states, the number of cases reported Tuesday in Arizona rose by 4.3 percent in just 24 hours, and the 33 deaths recorded there represented the single biggest increase since the start of the pandemic. The Opening Up America Again guidelines call for a gradual lifting of social distancing only after a sustained 14-day downward trend in the number of new cases.


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