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White House COVID-19 task force coordinator visits Rhode Island amidst college outbreaks

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Alexis Rapoza

News Editor

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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I., -- White House COVID-19 task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx visited the University of Rhode Island on Thursday. Dr. Birx is visiting colleges in 30 states across the country to exchange information and ideas with campus leadership on how to stop outbreaks from spreading.

Also in attendance at the University of Rhode Island were Governor Gina Raimondo and State Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott. Dr. Birx praised state leadership for being one of the leaders in COVID-19 testing in the United States.

“Rhode Island has tested more of its population than any other state in the union,” Dr. Birx said at a roundtable on Thursday. “From the very beginning, the governor and her staff really focused on the important role of testing and diagnosis across the state.” According to Johns Hopkins University, Rhode Island and North Dakota have tested the largest percentage of their population, with Rhode Island testing over 82,000 people per 100,000 residents.

Dr. Birx visited URI just days following the school’s announcement that they would be testing every student, a plan which she was impressed with.

“We think [asymptomatic spread] is the most common type of infection in young people,” Dr. Birx said. “This current phase of the epidemic will not look like March or April. This is not going to be viral spread specifically through workplaces and institutions that we saw before in March and April. Now, where see the spread across the country and what happens at friends and family gathering, and I think -- really we came to carry the message that across the south that occurred after Memorial Day was friends and family, asymptomatic individuals, that didn't know they were infected”

URI is just one of Rhode Island’s Higher Education Institutions to face a COVID-19 outbreak, joining Johnson and Wales and Providence College both of whom had outbreaks in September.

At Rhode Island College, four students tested positive for COVID-19 last week bringing the total since the beginning of the school year to 18 positive cases amongst the RIC community. The discovery of positive cases at RIC has been, according to the school website, largely due to asymptomatic or low symptomatic testing protocol for residential students, athletes, and some campus employees, which Dr. Birx told the URI administration, is one of the most important parts of stopping an outbreak.

Other than the current testing protocol being implemented on campus it is unclear whether RIC plan should there be an outbreak on campus.

The Anchor reached out to RIC Health Services and administration both of whom did not immediately comment.



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