Head of the U.S. coronavirus response effort at the University of Alabama

Head of the U.S. coronavirus response effort at the University of Alabama
Denny Chimes at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa (Source: WBRC)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WBRC) - Dr. Deborah Birx, the National Coronavirus Response Coordinator, was at the University of Alabama Friday. Dr. Birx wants to see how universities and cities are handling the pandemic crisis.

Dr. Birx is seeing a lot of improvement in the country and here in Alabama since her earlier visit with Governor Kay Ivey. While there was an initial concern at the University of Alabama with a lot of students and staff testing positive, Dr. Brix said the university has a solid plan for dealing with the coronavirus.

Dr. Birx held a round table discussion with both university officials and students representatives. Dr. Birx said those colleges which are reopening again have good plans. What makes a good plan is creating a plan that can be adapted as needs arise. She praised Alabama for developing a coalition of administration, students and the community. Students were criticized earlier for not taking the proper safety measures, but Birx and university leaders said that has improved greatly.

“Leadership at the student level, leadership at the Greek level are really coming together to make sure students understand the importance of protecting themselves,” Birx said.

The head of the University of Alabama Student Government Association agreed. “Students understand it’s not only for them, it’s for their roommates with cancer. Their roommates who may have diabetes. I think students understand the importance of thinking about this as a responsibility,” said SGA President Demarcus Joiner.

Dr. Birx praised the University’s plan for quarantining students. Birx says student told her they became fearful of infecting their family members at risk. Some even questioned going home on breaks.

Meanwhile, despite the coronavirus threat, the University of Alabama has 37,800 enrolled this year, only down less than 300 students compared to last year. In-state students are up two percent over last year.

Dr. Birx was asked about the crackdown on bars in Tuscaloosa and across the country. Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox shut down city bars for two weeks after a surge of positive cases in the city. Those bars can now open with restrictions on capacity and social distancing along with enforcing the masks ordinance.

Dr. Birx said bars should be closed if there is no seating and social distancing is not being enforced, but there are other methods effective.

“A couple of states that had limited outbreak limited hours to the bar. I looked at that and it had as much effect as from what we are seeing from closed bars because they avoided to having their under 30 set after 10 p.m.,” Birx said.

Dr. Birx also talked football. Alabama will open up in about two weeks. She says it should be fine with limited capacity if people wear their masks and social distance at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

During her stay in Tuscaloosa, Dr. Birx said she likes to get a feel for how the average person is doing coping with those safety measures. From her stops around the state at gas stations, restaurants and other areas, she noticed two things. “A lot of women wearing masks. Not a lot of men wearing masks. I would like to remind the men of Alabama, you can get this disease just as everyone else,” Birx said.

Birx urged the men of Alabama to mask up and take more steps to protect themselves and others.

As for a vaccine, Dr. Birx says three are in the process of getting tested. They hope to have it released as soon as it’s deemed safe.

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