Deborah Birx

Dr. Deborah Birx speaks at the Madren Center.

Dr. Deborah Birx, Response Coordinator for the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, visited Clemson University on Friday, Sept. 25 and met with multiple members of university administration and student leadership.

In a press conference following the roundtable meeting with administration, Dr. Birx had strong praise for both the university’s resources and overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Clemson has one of the best, most transparent, most comprehensive COVID dashboards that we have seen from a University. It’s a translation from months of planning and the reality of implementation.”

Reflecting criticisms brought up among students in recent weeks, The Tiger News asked at the press conference about Clemson’s infrequent reporting compared to other universities, with the COVID-19 dashboard only being updated once a week as opposed to daily with new test results and statistics.

“Now [that] Clemson is back, I’m sure they’re going to provide updates on a more regular basis. It is really important to look at the 7-day average. I think that is a great recommendation.”

Dr. Birx also emphasized Clemson’s wastewater testing as being crucially important in tracking the spread of the virus. Several other schools, including the University of South Carolina, have implemented wastewater testing to find large concentrations of the virus and spikes in the community.

“We were encouraged by data seen in Baton Rouge to show that as soon as the mask mandate went in Baton Rouge, the level of virus in the wastewater dropped within two weeks dramatically,” explained Dr. Birx.

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Clemson University and City of Clemson wastewater testing summary as of Sept. 15. Photo courtesy of the City of Clemson.

Wastewater testing results in recent weeks have shown a large increase in ‘virus copies per liter’ of water tested. On the university campus, there has been a spike since students moved in to 350,000 virus copies per liter. In the City of Clemson at the Cochran Road wastewater testing site, there were 2,300,000 virus copies per liter in the past week.

The City of Clemson has designated a concern level of ‘III’ for on-campus and Pendleton/Clemson wastewater, and a concern level of ‘IV’ for Cochran Road wastewater. These concern levels indicate a large number of infected individuals, of which can be verified through testing.

Dr. Birx also discussed collaborations between the CDC and Clemson University on research and an organized effort against COVID-19. According to Dr. Birx, Clemson has worked to figure out questions such as how much physical distancing is required in a classroom with high air exchange, as well as how long quarantine periods need to be. Clemson University, and universities across the country, can provide not only data, but refined data by age group that can enhance the results of studies.

When asked about what to expect with the pandemic as the fall begins and winter approaches, Dr. Birx responded with concern about an increase in cases as people move indoors.

“We learned a lot from the South. When people moved indoors because it got too hot, you can see the viral spread that occurred. We are worried as people move indoors to stay warm.”

In a call for continued community efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, Dr. Birx closed by emphasizing common-sense and behavioral change by Americans.

“Everyone in South Carolina: we know how to mitigate against community spread of this virus. Physically distanced with social engagement: wear your masks at all times, indoors and outdoors, out of respect for one another, wash your hands, and really work together as a community to show that mutual respect.”

Dr. Birx’s visit to Clemson University is her 17th visit to universities around the country, including previous stops to the University of South Carolina and Texas A&M. During her time on campus, she toured Athletics facilities and visited the Littlejohn student testing site.

Clemson University is taking a variety of steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep students safe. For information on the resources available, check out the Healthy Clemson resources page.

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