White House COVID-19 doctor visits UConn Hartford, praises university’s coronavirus response

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Dr. Deborah Birx, Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, met with University of Connecticut staff and administrators at UConn’s Hartford campus last Thursday and stressed for students to remain socially engaged while physically distant amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

UConn was one leg of Dr. Birx’s trip across the United States to meet with college administrators about responding to the pandemic and the future of higher education. Dr. Birx praised UConn for being able to adapt and deliver traditionally hands-on classes in different formats that allow for maximal learning.  

“We heard from 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,” Dr. Birx said. 

Dr. Birx said UConn seems to have one of the highest rates of in-person classes in the country this semester and still relatively low rates of coronavirus cases, indicating to her that the measures the university is taking are working.  

“We heard from students how much they value in-classroom learning and the labs that the resident of the University was showing me .”

“We have not seen large spreading events in the classroom,” Dr. Birx said.“That tells us that, if we take those same 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.” 

Dr. Birx also said it was great to meet the wastewater researcher and learn how they used wastewater to drive surveillance testing at specific dorms to deduce where the virus was and how it was spreading. 

Izzy Barton, a fourth-semester visual journalism and culture major said the university is doing a pretty good job with quarantining the dorms if there is an outbreak, as well as setting up tents for student dining, reducing the risk of students contracting the virus. 

“I have a lot of friends who live on campus who’ve said that the testing process is kind of iffy,” Barton said. “That if someone tests positive on your floor the university would send you an email saying that you should come to get tested, but then never does. But at the same time I think for the number of kids living on campus and [attending] in-person classes, the university is doing a good job keeping the numbers low.” 

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