Dr. Birx visits RI, commends state’s COVID-19 testing system

South County

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force praised Rhode Island’s handling of the pandemic during a visit to the Ocean State Thursday afternoon.

Dr. Deborah Birx joined Gov. Gina Raimondo and Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott for a roundtable discussion at the University of Rhode Island where she commended state leaders on their comprehensive testing plan.

“Rhode Island has tested more of its population than any other state in the union,” Birx said. “From the very beginning, the governor and her staff really focused on the important role of testing and diagnosis across the state.”

Birx said URI is the 23rd university she’s visited so far, and she’s impressed with the institution’s decision to test all on- and off-campus students, even if they’re asymptomatic.

“We think [asymptomatic spread] is the most common type of infection in young people,” Birx said.

URI President Dr. David Dooley said he hopes to test every single student on campus within the next 10 days. Right now, he said URI is testing approximately 1,600 students per day.

Dooley said most of the university’s cases are being traced back to small gatherings among students.

“Somebody goes to one house and then to another and then takes a ride with friends and then comes back to their residents on campus,” Dooley said.

As of now, Dooley says there is no curfew for students living on campus, but it is under consideration. He says it may be a way of managing the spread of the virus if the results from their testing show a significant number of asymptomatic positive cases coming back.

Birx said she’s most concerned about smaller social gatherings rather than the larger ones. She said the focus should now shift to ensuring that everyone follows the same safety precautions they use while in public at home.

“Where we see the spread across the country and what happened is it’s really in friends and family gatherings,” she said. “What you’re doing in public is great, but we have to figure out how to bring that safety into the household and into any groups that we bring into the household.”

Birx said workplaces, restaurants and stores wont be the concern for an outbreak in the fall and winter seasons, because measures have already been put in place, and are working, in keeping people safe there.

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