College of Health Solutions hosts public health talk on how researchers are translating data to help inform public health decisions
Mere hours ahead of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s press conference on Thursday, July 23, in which he discussed the hotly contested issue of whether to delay the reopening of schools this fall, Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions hosted their latest public health talk, “Data to decisions: Using information to take action during COVID-19.”
It couldn’t have been more timely, given Ducey’s announcement that the decision of whether or not to reopen schools would be left up to individual school districts, but suggested they make their decision based on a set of benchmarks informed by the most current data we have on the virus, to be decided upon by public health officials by Aug. 7.
While not everyone was satisfied with that decree, it does underscore the importance of data in making decisions that affect public health.
Evidence-based research and data have “always been a cornerstone of public health,” said Will Humble, executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association. Humble has 30 years’ experience in public health, including more than two decades at the Arizona Department of Health Services. He participated in Thursday’s public health talk via Zoom, along with Timothy Lant, director of program development at ASU’s Biodesign Institute who is leading the COVID-19 modeling task force at the university, and Scott Leischow, College of Health Solutions professor and director of clinical and translational science who moderated the talk.
“Whatever your role is in public health, it’s super important to have academic partners, because they’re the folks that have the ability to dive into the data and do the analyses you need to better inform your decisions,” Humble added. “It’s such a critical component. … There’s no substitute for that kind of expert analysis.”
In addition to providing predictive modeling for policy and decisionmakers, researchers at ASU developed the state’s first saliva-based diagnostic test and soon after partnered with the Arizona Department of Health Services to launch testing sites to provide the saliva diagnostic testing free of charge for underserved communities around the state.
Lant began his presentation by delving straight into the data, referencing a slide showing the number of cases reported that day (2,335). While April and May saw a long, somewhat confusing period of plateaued growth in which the disease wasn’t able to get a foothold, Lant said, shortly after businesses began reopening and social distancing measures were pulled back in mid-May, the data began to show an exponential increase in cases that lasted through July.
The increase in cases wasn’t immediate, though, and Humble — who appointed himself the “color commentary” to Lant’s “play-by-play” — explained that’s because there is always a delay in the numbers that data shows.