As the COVID-19 pandemic entered summer, states that neglected to follow science-based recommendations and reopened too soon struggled with spread of the virus. Among those states was Arizona, which saw cases counts skyrocket in June.

The surge was probably avoidable, Arizona Public Health Association Executive Director Will Humble, MPH, told The Nation’s Health.enlarged coronavirus over shape of the state of Arizona

“Our state government was making good decisions until about the first week of May — and then something switched,” said Humble, who previously served as director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “We went from stay-at-home to free-for-all.”

AzPHA, representing about 700 members, has been focused on COVID-19 since it arrived in the U.S. However, its work ramped up when the state started to diverge from science-based policy recommendations on controlling the outbreak. The state reversed a decision to keep stay-at-home orders in place and began reopening nonessential businesses such as dine-in restaurants, bars and salons in mid-May.

On May 5, the state suspended a partnership with the University of Arizona and Arizona State University on a model to predict the spread of the virus. The model suggested that the state should remained closed until at least the end of May. University partners were then instructed to pause operations and had their access to state data restricted.

On May 6, Humble was interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, drawing widespread attention to the decision. The next day, the state announced its partnership with the two universities would resume.

“Sometimes you can gain ground with a soft word or a letter...and then sometimes it takes a little bad press,” Humble said.

Continue reading this story from the September 2020 issue of The Nation's Health.

Graphic by Aaron Warnick, The Nation's Health