Flinn Foundation sets criteria for reopening

September 25, 2020

By Matt Ellsworth

The Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation, which holds dozens of public events each year and operates a conference center serving nonprofit organizations, will join many Arizona school districts, businesses, and other organizations by tying its reopening to evidence-based markers of COVID-19 control.

Drawing on the demonstration “Arizona Steps Together” dashboard and guidelines developed by Arizona State University health-care experts, the Foundation will not resume indoor gatherings or recall staff who have been working remotely until Arizona achieves three key markers of progress:

  • R(t) of less than 0.95 (indicating a shrinking epidemic) for 14 days; and
  • PCR/antigen test positivity of 3% or lower; and
  • ICU and inpatient bed occupancy below 80%, with less than 30% of these beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Principal data sources for these metrics include the data dashboard of the Arizona Department of Health Services and the independent website Rt COVID-19.

(Additional important metrics, such as the median turnaround time for COVID-19 tests, are unavailable publicly, despite their importance in assessing Arizona’s readiness to reopen.)

Review Arizona Steps Together dashboard and guidelines

By setting this evidence-based approach rather than choosing a date for reopening, the Foundation believes it can help its staff and partners in the community do their part to accelerate Arizona’s public-health and economic recovery.

From mid-May through early August, Arizona saw one of the most intense outbreaks of COVID-19 in the United States, and although the criteria above have shown recent improvement, the state has not reduced risk low enough to reopen broadly.

The reopening targets selected by the Flinn Foundation also generally align with the “Opening Up America Again” plan released by the White House in mid-April. That plan established gating criteria for states and regions to enter a three-phase reopening. Among the criteria to enter a tightly restricted Phase 1, for example, are a “downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period.”

Going forward, the Flinn Foundation will monitor not only current conditions in Arizona, but emerging best practices in infection prevention and metrics for reopening, and may shift its criteria in response. Outside of Arizona, additional metrics have been chosen and tracked by cities and states, including COVID-19 testing turnaround time, testing volume, death rates, contact-tracing capacity, and supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) at hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Rationale for statewide criteria and mandates

Chart of ICU bed availability in Arizona hospitals with COVID-19 usage

Arizona does not currently have statewide evidence-based criteria to guide workplace reopening. In the absence of such criteria, some companies and other organizations have used the public-health benchmarks developed by the Arizona Department of Health Services to guide schools’ reopening as proxy targets. The Flinn Foundation believes statewide adoption of a tool like Arizona Steps Together would allow more of Arizona to reopen faster than a piecemeal approach.

Presuming a common set of metrics, some workplaces could plausibly make their reopening decisions by assessing progress at the county level rather than at the state-level. The Flinn Foundation, though, in its ordinary operations regularly convenes Arizonans from throughout the state, making attention only to the status of Phoenix or Maricopa County insufficient.

Across most of Arizona, local mandates require individuals to wear masks in public where physical distancing is not possible, reflecting scientific consensus that mask-wearing reduces the transmission of COVID-19 by pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic individuals who do not know they are infected. Many retailers, other businesses, and government offices have instituted similar mandates. The Flinn Foundation likewise believes a statewide mask-wearing mandate remains a reasonable step to sustain reduction of COVID-19 in Arizona.

Additional Flinn Foundation responses to COVID-19


The Flinn Foundation previously announced several emergency grants to expand COVID-19 testing; advance research on therapeutics, disease modeling, and tracking; speed production of PPE; and support threatened nonprofit organizations. The Foundation’s COVID-19-related grants to Arizona organizations total more than $550,000, with additional awards expected before the end of 2020, including a set of grants to support arts-and-culture organizations adjusting their business models in response to the pandemic.

Flinn Scholars Program

The Flinn Scholarship, awarded annually to approximately 20 of Arizona’s most accomplished high-school seniors, is welcoming applications through October 5 for the Class of 2021. This year, because of limited opportunities for students to prepare for and access standardized testing, submission of ACT or SAT scores will be optional, and applicants who do submit scores will not be required to meet previous score minimums.

Arizona Center for Civic Leadership

The Flinn-Brown Fellowship, the flagship program of the Center, announced its cohort of 2020 Fellows in late June. The Fellowship typically begins with an intense multi-day seminar series on Arizona public policy and politics. That seminar series, which had been scheduled to begin in August and run through October, will be delayed until fall 2021. Meanwhile, however, the Foundation is significantly expanding its CivEx program, which helps Arizonans deepen their understanding of policy and commitment to public service, offering a new set of public webinars and videoconferences this fall and into the new year.