Stay home

Some new data Friday from a health tracking firm suggests that Arizonans could start going out and socializing by the end of the first week in June.

The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation has sharply lowered its projections of how many Arizonans will die from COVID-19.

Earlier this week the estimate had been 1,005.

By Friday the organization figured that the last death should be by the end of May. More to the point, the organization figures total deaths in Arizona would hit just 267.

Arizona as of Monday was at 187 deaths, with 5,064 confirmed cases.

More significant, IHME said the number of deaths per day should decline from this point forward.

The organization's estimates have at some points varied widely. Earlier this month it was predicting 775 deaths.

But in a note with its latest data, IHME says that they base its new estimates on an expanded analysis of social distancing policies. And the organization says it also is able to get data on the effect of these measures on how people are moving about, drawing from data collected from cell phones and online platforms.

"In combination, these updates now more accurately reflect the effect of social distancing policies enacted, and importantly, how people are changing their behaviors in response to these measures.

With Arizona, the report says, the state may be able to begin relaxing "social distancing'' after June 8. That, however, will require "containment strategies'' that include testing, contact tracing, isolation and limiting gathering size.

That's later than the current deadline for easing restrictions set by Gov. Doug Ducey.

He is aiming for April 30, the date of his stay-at-home order self-destructs unless he renews it. Ducey also has separate orders that closed non-essential businesses, with particular bans on bars, restaurants and movie theaters.

Ducey said that he will revisit that April 30 date before then and make adjustments as necessary.

But it also comes amid some pressure from Republicans, like Congressman Andy Biggs, who has argued that people can make their own decisions.

Chris Minnick, spokesman for the state Department of Health Services, called the latest IHME data "encouraging.'' He said it shows that the measures Ducey has put into place are having "a positive effect on slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Arizona.''

But Minnick said that does not mean the dangers are over.

"We are asking everyone to remain vigilant about staying physically distance and continuing to be socially connected,'' he said. "We will continue to monitor the data and will base our recommendations on the trends we are seeing with cases, deaths, and the health of our healthcare system to be prepared for a potential surge in cases and hospitalizations.''

The new IHME report suggests that, if the trends hold, Arizona will be in good shape to handle the cases yet to develop.

It figures that the state's current need for beds will range between 55 and 1,061. That is far short that the approximately 6,000 beds that are currently available.

That also is true for intensive-care beds, with IHME putting the demand at between 23 and 235; the current number available is 508.

The IHME data has some wiggle room, some of which may be because there is a lag time between people contracting the virus and showing symptoms. Its report says daily deaths still could spike as high as 35.

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