Dr. Deborah Birx

Dr. Birx, Coordinator of White House Coronavirus Task Force, Urges CT Residents to Keep Wearing Masks

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Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, came to Hartford Thursday to meet with leaders from UConn, as well as state and local officials, healthcare professionals. Her message to Connecticut was to continue to wear masks, maintain a social distance and to practice good hygiene to help prevent the spread.

Birx visit comes days after President Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was hospitalized for it.

"We provide the same advice no matter if you're the president or the vice president or the chief of staff or a member of the task force. I think we have unity. The advice to the American people is the same advice that I give to the president and the vice president is we have a way control this virus and we know what it is - physical distance, wearing a mask, personal hygiene, and also critically, ensuring that we carry those activities both in public and in private if we're with individuals that are not part of our normal everyday family or household pod" Birx said.

She said wearing a mask is our obligation to one another in a public health way.

Birx said she’s been touring areas where there’s been success in controlling the spread of the virus to learn about the approaches in those states. Her visit Thursday was to the University of Connecticut campus in Hartford.

"University of Connecticut has one of the highest percent of in-person classes and we were very interested in how they have been able to do this safely, " Birx said.

In addition to testing students, UConn has been testing wastewater from several on-campus spots to determine the presence of COVID-19 virus to help predict and limit the potential scope of outbreak.

Birx said UConn is not seeing spread of COVID-19 in the classroom or between students and staff or students in the community.

Birx is in Connecticut at a time when the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate came in at 1.6% percent and hospitalizations due to the virus continue to rise to levels not seen since June.  

Birx said this is what they saw before rates increased in the South and this is the time to increase asymptomatic testing and we need to be engaged, but to keep a social distance.

"Where spread occurs is when we come together as individuals, often indoors, sometimes outdoors, but without our masks and no longer physically distanced," Birx said.

The state guidance says that for people without symptoms, it is focused on testing people in areas hit hardest by the virus and also offering testing to people working in close-contact environments to help monitor the virus and identify places that need support from the health department.

Birx said they would like wastewater testing to be expanded statewide to tell communities if there is spread.

"What we're seeing in the community is much more spread occurring in households and in social occasions -- small gatherings where people have come inside, taken off their mask to eat or drink or socialize with one another, believing that the friend down the street or the friend from out of town or that family member who came in certainly could not have COVID because the look fine," Birx said.

She said the type of spread they are seeing now is much different than what happened in March and April.

If people went to social events, even small gatherings, and took off their mask, she is urging them to get tested in five to seven days.

She said she thinks that continued mask wearing when they are with people who are outside of the household, social distancing and good hygiene will help contain the virus in the northeast.

"We came to the northeast because we did see troubling signs. We do see slight upticks in test positivity, slight upticks in cases and that often then is just the earliest indicator that there's ongoing asymptomatic spread in the communities," she said.

Birk is also urging asymptomatic testing and for people to continue to wear masks, to maintain a socially distance and to practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"What we did in the spring is not going to work in he fall," she said.

Birx urged people to continue to wear masks and to take that same kind of precautions when you are with people who are not in the same household.

"Because of the asymptomatic nature of this virus ... you cannot assume that anyone you are with does not have the virus," Birx said.

Connecticut had high rates of COVID-19 infections early in the pandemic and Birx said the country learned from what happened here and that has helped improve care across the country.

Phase 3 of reopening CT starts today.

Birx also urged people to get a flu shot.

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