One Arizona health expert says it comes down to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Arizona health officials will need to dramatically increase the state's COVID-19 surveillance capacity in order to reopen businesses, according to public health experts who spoke to CBS 5 Investigates.

Gov. Doug Ducey stated this week that he intends to reopen the state for business as soon as possible. The current stay at home order expires on April 30.

It is unclear at this time whether Ducey will extend the order, which shut down all but "essential" business. The governor is under pressure from fellow Republicans to restart the state's economic engines. Some 350,000 people have filed for unemployment benefits in Arizona since mid-March.

But the medical director of Maricopa County's Disease Control Division says opening things back up too soon could be disastrous.

"You do have to do it in a gradual fashion, because if you pull back too quickly, then you risk having a second peak, or a resurgence of cases," said Rebecca Sunenshine, MD.

While President Donald Trump has leaned into his desire to reopen the nation's economy by May 1, many of the nation's governors and mayors who hold the power to enforce closures seem to disagree.

As of this week, Arizona health officials have tested roughly 45,000 people for COVID-19. But the state has a population of 7.2 million. That means it's taken a month to test one-half of 1% of the population.

According to infectious disease experts and business leaders across the country, reopening businesses will require widespread and rapid testing before companies and consumers will feel confident enough to get back to work. Health officials also say they need to drastically increase "contact tracing."

"Contact tracing is identifying people who have been in physical proximity or close contact with a person who's been identified as a case during their infectious period," said Kate Ellingson, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona's Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

A plan released by John's Hopkins University suggested that a state the size of Arizona would need between 240 and 480 contact tracers in order to effectively identify asymptomatic carriers in the community. Arizona health officials have mentioned the importance of contact tracing, but have not revealed a plan to beef up the state's ability to do so.

"The point of being able to test and do contact tracing and to isolate is that we basically reduce the ability of the virus to spread quickly," said Ellingson.

Morgan Loew's hard-hitting investigations can be seen weekdays on CBS 5 News at 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Copyright 2020 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Recommended for you