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White House coronavirus response coordinator commends UK’s restart plan during visit to campus

By By Kristi Willett and Brad Nally
Special to KyForward

The coordinator for the nation’s coronavirus response commended the University of Kentucky’s campus restart plans and what the university is doing to keep students and the community safe while visiting campus this week.

“What we have seen in the states that we have visited in the last few days is that universities that spent the summer really working together to devise a comprehensive plan for the fall to bring students back safely and to protect their faculty and staff have been successful,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, during a visit to the University of Kentucky campus Monday. “We have heard today at UK about how President (Capilouto) convened over a 500-member team looking at every aspect of student re-entry, including planning on what classes were going to look like, what options students would have, and then planning for if a student becomes COVID-positive or needs to be quarantined.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House liaison for COVID, visited with UK officials and toured the Health Corps headquarters on Monday. (Photo by Pete Comparoni, UK)

In recent weeks, Birx has been on a tour of colleges and universities to examine their COVID-19 response plans. So far, she has been to 30 states in about the past two months.

“We were very fortunate to welcome Dr. Deborah Birx to UK and have her meet with several members of the university and Lexington community, including members of our START team who have provided expertise and counsel around our testing program and members of our Health Corps team, which has built a modern, public health infrastructure on our campus,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “It was very reassuring to have Dr. Birx commend our students and our campus community in their efforts to protect themselves and each other for our efforts thus far. At the same time, we had an in-depth exchange of ideas around what we are doing now and how we can continue to evolve our practices and protocols around keeping our community safe as we move forward.”

Birx, one of the most recognizable members of the White House team during this pandemic, says she and her team want to hear about and learn from universities that have comprehensive plans where they have opened and stayed open to see what was the ‘secret sauce’ that ensured their ability and confidence to be able to have students on campus and to be able to maintain adequate testing for symptomatic cases and surveillance for asymptomatic cases.

Along with UK officials, Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton joined in one of the series of roundtable sessions with Birx.

“It has never been more important for me to fight for Lexington. I consider that my job every day,” Gorton said.

UK President Eli Capilouto and Deborah Birx were part of a roundtable discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Mark Cornelison, UK)

Overall, Birx said she is pleased with the progress that Kentucky has made in fighting the pandemic and confident in the measures UK has taken to remain open.

“We continue to see a week-over-week improvement in Kentucky due to the strong work Kentuckians have done to follow guidelines such as social distancing and wearing masks,” Birx said during a media briefing following the roundtable meetings.

Birx discussed UK’s intensive planning and execution of measures to keep students, faculty, staff and the Lexington community safe. She lauded the University’s Health Corps and its plan and services for students that provide a support hub for accessing services, information and referrals related to COVID-19.

Birx also commended UK for its efforts in keeping students on campus as much as possible, including during the Labor Day holiday, concluding with a message for the parents of UK students.

“To every parent that has a student at the University of Kentucky, I’m not worried about your students because they are wearing masks and they are socially distancing and they are doing everything right to the best of their ability,” she said. “But if you decide to come to campus, as a parent, you need to do these same things. In some college towns, we’ve seen the students in masks and the parents not doing it and so it is very important parents follow the example set by their students to keep everyone safe.”

Kristi Willett and Brad Nally write for UK Now

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