ASU scientists keeping an eye on how COVID-19 reacts as Arizona businesses reopen

A team of scientists at Arizona State University is hard at work to track COVID-19 across our state.

They are trying to anticipate how the virus will react, now that much of the state has reopened, and this is the same team that was told to stop doing their research by the state, and then allowed to resume again.

In early May, there were reports that the team was asked to disband. Those reports surfaced days after Gov. Ducey announced that barbers and salons in the state can reopen on May 8, with restaurants allowed to resume dine-in operations on May 11.

At the time, Arizona was under a stay-at-home order that took effect on March 31. The order expired on May 15.

The reports prompted criticisms from some health experts and politicians.

"I fear that Ducey's effort to obstruct and halt your work is a politically driven decision aimed at suppressing valuable information that may cast doubts on his preferred reopening policies," Rep. Ruben Gallego wrote, in a statement released on May 6.

"[Monday] night’s action to disband the Arizona COVID-19 Modeling Working Group begs the question of whether the Modeling Working Group was discontinued because they had been producing results that were inconsistent with messaging and decisions being made by the executive branch," Will Humble with the Arizona Public Health Association wrote.

New model

Since the controversy, the team has released a new model, as they keep a close eye on the coronavirus to keep the state safe.

"It’s really the important thing, as we reopen, can we do it carefully? Can we do it slowly? Can we do a cautiously?" said Professor Timothy Lant with the ASU Biodesign Institute.

Professor Lant says outside of a few hotspots, Arizona’s infection rate is relatively low. He says it’s too soon to tell if lifting the stay-at-home order is causing new outbreaks, but by predicting how far and fast the virus spreads, a pathway through the pandemic can be created.

“We’re mimicking the behavior of the disease in notional scenarios, so we understand what the possible future stages could look like," said Professor Lant. "Then we can figure out where we are relatively, and choose the path that is most beneficial as we reopen."

The ASU model predicts for every positive COVID-19 case, about four more Arizonans are actually infected, and what the virus does next depends on what we do first.

"We’ve all seen some images here locally, as people are congregating at bars and restaurants without face masks, so that’s the kind of behavior we need to make sure we don’t overdo," said Professor Lant. "We need for everyone to continue to do their part to maintain social distancing, so we can continue to maneuver and navigate our way through this."

Professor Lant, like so many other scientists, cautions about a second wave this fall, not only because the virus may fare better in cool weather, but a lot of us may stop social distancing by then, giving the virus more opportunity to spread.

LIVE: Interactive Coronavirus case data and map


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COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

Right now there's one big difference between flu and coronavirus: A vaccine exists to help prevent the flu and it's not too late to get it. It won't protect you from catching the coronavirus, but may put you in a better position to fight it.

To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.

And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.

In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Stay home when you are sick.

Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Additional resources

Coronavirus (COVID-19) - How it spreads, symptoms, prevention, treatment, FAQ (In Spanish/En Español)

Arizona COVID-19 Response - Public resources, FAQ, webinars (In Spanish/En Español)

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