Arizona State University Modelers Post COVID-19 Data

Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 1:23pm
Updated: Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 1:27pm
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MARK BRODIE: A team of researchers at ASU looking at a series of data points related to the coronavirus pandemic has published its modeling data online for the first time since the state briefly put a pause on the project; that decision was reversed a few days later. The data tracks the progress of COVID-19 infections in Arizona and how the state compares to the rest of the country. It also looks at the rate of new cases both here and throughout the U.S., as well as the number of deaths per cases, the testing rate and other metrics. Among its findings is that some states — like New York, New Jersey and Montana — have started seeing a drop in the number of new cases of COVID-19 day over day. Arizona has not yet seen that kind of a decrease. Joshua LaBaer is executive director of ASU's Biodesign Institute, and he joins me to talk more about this. And Joshua, how useful do you think it is to compare what's happening in Arizona to what's happening in other states?

JOSHUA LABAER: Well, I personally find that helpful to get a sense of what's happening, that you have to be very careful about [how] you look at those things because obviously the state of Arizona does not look like the state of New York, for example. I mean, we don't have big high rises. We don't live in the kind of density that they do in places like Manhattan. But nonetheless, it is useful to kind of look at at how it's doing relative to other states, for example, perhaps in the Western part of the U.S. and just get a flavor of, in some ways, what's happened in other parts of the country happened earlier than it happened here. So looking at what's happening there might give us some clues about what might happen here. 

BRODIE: So when you look at the numbers as they come into you and you publish them, do any trends about Arizona or specific counties or parts of Arizona start to emerge for you? 

LABAER: Yeah. So I would say a number of things are interesting. So in certain parts of the, the U.S., you can see that the number of new cases that are occurring is starting to trend downwards. That is to say that, day over day, there is a decreasing number of new cases each day. That's obviously the curve we'd like to see here. Arizona hasn't quite hit that point yet. We're still showing a rise in new cases day over day, although not as fast as it could be. But still, we are seeing a day-over-day rise here. I think a lot of that is that state is driven, if you look at the county by county maps, by the northern, northeastern part of the state. So you've, I'm sure are aware that Navajo country, for example, is showing a lot of increased number of new cases. And I think that is, to some extent, driving the state. If you look at Maricopa County, for example, Maricopa County is, in the last week or two, we're seeing new cases every day. But we are not seeing yet, necessarily a rise in cases day over day in Maricopa County. Just maybe two weeks ago, there was kind of a rise day over day. But in the last week or so in Maricopa County, it's been relatively flat. However, if you look at Santa Cruz County, for example, or if you look even at, to some extent, Coconino or Navajo county, some of those counties are showing rises in the day over day rate. So, a rise in the day over day rate means that not only is, are there new cases, but the new cases are getting new cases. So there's sort of an accelerated spread of the virus in those areas. And I think that overall is is driving the trend for the overall state.

BRODIE: Given the fact that we have heard over and over again that the number of cases and the number of deaths don't necessarily reflect what's happening right now, they're reflecting maybe a week or even two weeks ago, how does the data that you're publishing, how should policymakers be looking at that and how should I guess we be looking at that to determine, OK, it's safe to go out and shop or go eat in a restaurant or do any number of other activities that are suddenly now starting to become available to us again?

LABAER: Right. So I think, you know, we do have to recognize that there is a lag in the data. Nonetheless, if we do want to watch those trends, when we, the map, some of the the charts that we're plotting, particularly the new cases versus total cases plots, we're doing a seven-day average to try to normalize out some of the day-to-day bumping that you'd sometimes see with these testing results. But if you do see that the trend is for increasing number of new cases, that's a sign that we have to be more careful. I mean, the truth is, you know, people are going back to work. People are starting to do. The state is opening up. And so the key is, if we're going to open up, let's do it safely. Let's make sure that people are wearing masks, they're washing their hands, they're maintaining social distancing, they're cleaning surfaces, all those things that they need to be doing to try to keep it safe. And if we do see an increased transmission rate, as it were, if we start to see that there is an increase in new numbers of cases, we need to react to that by reminding people to be more safe about how they're behaving. 

BRODIE: So in looking at that seven-day average in terms of new positive cases, it looks as though the number is fairly flat over the past couple of days anyway, although it is higher than it was, let's say, the end of last week. How long do you think it will be? I guess, when should we be looking at what these numbers look like relative to getting some data that includes people out and about and people doing more shopping and people dining in restaurants, things like that?

LABAER: So we know we have an outstanding group of modelers here at ASU and they've done some modeling on these sorts of things. And they, their models suggest about a 14-day lag from changes in the rates to when you might start observing both new exposures and eventually new test results that show increased numbers. Personally, I like to look at these things every day, just to kind of get a sense of where things are day by day so that we pick it up as early as possible, because one of the outcomes of those models shows that if you see an increased response, if you see people starting to get new cases or that the case number is going up and you act on it and you do something to try to get that back down again, you can have a very beneficial effect. You could prevent it from exploding. So, I think that's what we want to be watching for is kind of keeping a very close eye on where things are. And if we start to see that things are trending in the wrong direction, we try to act on them and try to stop it. And that, that's really a combination of testing and contact tracing to identify people who have it so that we get them to quarantine and not spread.

BRODIE: Alright. That is Joshua LaBaer. He's executive director of the ASU Biodesign Institute. Josh, nice to talk to you. Thanks for walking me through this. I appreciate it. 

LABAER: It's been a pleasure. Take care.

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