Dr. Deborah Birx, the Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, visited UConn Hartford on Thursday, Oct. 8, and praised the University’s efforts in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic while being able to maintain in-person classes along with remote instruction.
Birx met with Gov. Ned Lamont, University President Thomas Katsouleas, and other University health and public safety leaders, in addition to a group of students.
“It was a pleasure to meet with the governor and the University of Connecticut faculty, staff and students and really have a dialogue to learn what’s working here,” said Birx. “The University of Connecticut has one of the highest percentages of in-person classes (in the country), and we were very interested in how they have been able to do it safely.”
Birx has been travelling across the country visiting college campuses and communities to meet with leaders about their experience with COVID-19 and to help them prepare for the winter months.
“Success has come from partnership and planning,” said Birx. “It was really described to me well by one of the members of the University staff that said, reporting lines don’t matter anymore. Meaning that they have moved post this stovepipe way they normally do business into a more horizontal way of doing business, to really bring innovative thinkers together, which are often at research institutions like the University of Connecticut.
“I was very, very encouraged to see what they have done for surveillance. We know in many university settings a lot of the spread is asymptomatic. It was really great to meet the wastewater researcher and learn to understand how they use wastewater to then drive surveillance testing at specific dorms … to get a real target on where the virus is, how it is spreading, and to protect the students, staff, and community”
Birx repeated the theme of remaining socially engaged but physically distant during this time to provide students the opportunity to interact with each other. It is the same mantra that UConn has used since the pandemic began.
“We heard from the students how much they value in-classroom learning and the labs that the resident of the University was showing me — how they are doing chemistry labs and biology labs and really providing that kind of experiential learning that is very critical to many of these scientific careers,” said Birx.
Birx said UConn’s effort in physically distancing and wearing masks, even indoors, have been effective.
“We have not seen large spreading events in the classroom,” said Birx. “That tells us that, if we take those some practices into our everyday life both in public and private, and we maintain physical distancing and mask usage, we can continue in the Northeast to control the virus.”
Birx also encouraged Connecticut residents to get a flu shot as that season nears, and to be vigilant as social holidays like Thanksgiving arrive.
“Every community member needs to know that, if they are with individuals outside of their household, it could be a COVID spreading event,” she said. “If they participated in one of these, they need to get tested within five to seven days. We really need to figure out how to be engaged with one another socially but physically distanced. I think that is the critical message through the fall. It will protect us against flu and will protect us against COVID if we keep up those behaviors.”