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Dr. Deborah Birx meets with state legislators, UW system leaders, to discuss state of COVID-19 in Wisconsin

Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 7:02 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - White House coronavirus task force response coordinator Deborah Birx was in Madison Friday where she meet with leaders of the UW system as well as state legislators to discuss the state of COVID-19 in Wisconsin.

Birx said she spent the morning with leaders from the UW system, including Tommy Thompson and chancellors, as well as legislators.

“We talked about whether the universities could work with us to test all of their students, the ones not only in residence halls but also all of their students across Wisconsin, and also bring in the vocational schools and test those students, and really get an idea of how much asymptomatic spread there is in the community,” Birx said.

Birx said we can learn from universities who have been successful with campus testing and keeping coronavirus cases low.

“What we have learned in being out on the road and through many states and many, many universities is universities that required weekly testing of students, staff, and faculty have extraordinary low community spread,” she said.

Birx said stopping the spread on campuses can translate to stopping community spread.

“What the colleges have taught us is if we can get testing and routine testing to find that early spread, then stopping that spread before it gets to the vulnerable individuals in the community, before it results in hospitalization, can be much more effective,” she said.

Birx called this regular testing “proactive surveillance testing.” She said community spread is broad in Wisconsin right now, stating that Wisconsin is number four in the country for cases by population.

Birx also called the trajectory and trends for admission into Wisconsin hospitals is deeply concerning. Birx said 41% of long term care facilities in the state have at least one positive staff member, which she said is demonstrative of the extent of community spread.

While Birx said that public behavior has improved in Wisconsin in terms of mask wearing, that also reveals how prevalent the spread is in smaller settings.

“As we decrease the spread in public spaces, it has made it clear how much more spread is happening in the household,” she said. “Now we can see the household and social spread because you all have done such a better job in public spaces and protecting one another.”

With the weather getting colder, Birx said more people have been gathering indoors without masks.

“I don’t see the weather improving for several months – that’s why it really has to be a real call to action, we have to do things differently, because what we were doing got us here when we moved indoors,” she said. “We both have to change our personal behaviors at home, as well as continue our public behaviors.”

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