Dr. Deborah Birx Meets With Texas A&M Leaders, Students
Texas A&M University has “one of the lowest” COVID-19 infection rates that officials have seen during their tours of U.S. college campuses, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Tuesday during a visit to College Station.
Birx said what likely has made the difference at Texas A&M is the linking of student behaviors to the university’s core values of respect and selfless service.
“I think it’s really inspirational to me today, personally, in light that we are facing 200,000 American lives that have been lost,” she said during a press conference. “To really hear the students lift us all up in the belief that we can pull together as one community, independent of our political backgrounds, to work together, to respect others and ensure that the virus is not passed to one another.”
Birx spent the afternoon in Aggieland meeting with university leadership, community stakeholders and students after a tour of the FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies facility, which the federal government has reserved to mass produce vaccines through the end of 2021.
Texas A&M officials including John Sharp, Chancellor of The Texas A&M System; Michael K. Young, President of Texas A&M University; and Greg Hartman, Sr. Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and Vice Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, welcome Dr. Deborah L. Birx, M.D., Ambassador and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, to Texas A&M and provide updates on the System work and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Birx will brief media on her visit to Texas A&M and other universities and provides an update on her work with The White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Posted by KAMU Public Broadcasting on Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Her team has visited about 15 other institutions of higher learning that are offering students in-person classes this fall. The findings from these visits will be shared with other universities that remained online-only this fall so they can begin planning to potentially open in the spring, according to Birx, who served as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator for Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Each of the universities she’s visited had “secret sauces” that have allowed them to stay open this semester, Birx said. At campuses with higher infection rates, for example, it has been comprehensive plans for supporting students mentally and academically when in isolation. At A&M, she said it’s a value system that has been critical in student behavior.
“I asked the students, ‘Why are you being so good about these behaviors?’ and they said, ‘Because the faculty empowered us to lead,’” Birx said. “And I think that really tells us how important [it is to] give them the information and then empower them to lead, and I think that’s been really inspirational on this trip.”
What all of the institutions have had in common is plans for testing, student isolation and quarantine, and a summer spent planning and working to ensure campus could safely open for the fall semester.
“Universities that have planned for students coming down with the virus and have isolation and quarantined spaces have together really inspired us to see that there’s a path forward,” she said.
Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp noted the many steps Texas A&M has taken to keep students, faculty and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, including providing about $14 million-worth of testing across System schools. For the broader community, the Texas A&M Health Science Center is performing contact tracing for the state of Texas, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management is in charge of distributing about $2 billion in CARES Act funds.
And as a subcontractor of the Texas A&M System, the College Station FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies facility was tapped by the federal government to produce the COVID-19 vaccine candidate if Novavax, Inc., NVX-CoV2372.
Birx said it was “very reassuring” to see the vaccine production facility up close and “looking at the speed at which they stood that up for the American people.”
Texas A&M President Michael K. Young praised the leadership of administrators, faculty and staff, and called the efforts of students to keep their community safe “truly extraordinary.”
“I am unendingly proud of our students and what they do and what they stand for,” Young said.
Media contact: Caitlin Clark, firstname.lastname@example.org