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UW system could hold key to reducing spread of COVID-19, White House official says

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MADISON (WKOW) — The top White House COVID-19 advisor says the testing strategy used in the UW System could be a model nationally to control community spread of the coronavirus.

Dr. Deborah Birx returned to Madison for the second time in the past two months.

She met Friday at the state Capitol in Madison with interim UW President Tommy Thompson, UW chancellors, and then later with a variety of legislators.

During a news conference following the private meeting, Birx said universities that require weekly testing have low community spread because schools are finding cases early and isolating those infected.

“That tells us there is a way to mitigate and stop community spread,” Birx said. “You have to stop the silent spread by people who don’t know they are infected but are highly infectious.”

Birx has been traveling across the country talking with governors and communities about their coronavirus strategies.

Wisconsin has become a COVID-19 hot spot, with hospitalizations and cases surging since mid-September.

A record 1,230 patients were currently being treated in hospitals as of Thursday, with more than 100 of them in Dane County alone.

The trend of hospital admissions in Wisconsin is highly disturbing, Birx said, and Wisconsin is currently No. 4 in cases per capita.

She also said 41 percent of long-term care centers in the state have had at least one staff member infected. Those staff members most likely were infected in the community, which shows how broad community spread is.

Despite the surge, lawsuits continue to challenge Gov. Evers statewide mask order and limits to the size of indoor gatherings.

But Birx says she has always been supportive of governors who have required a mask mandate.

She said she sees more people wearing masks in public, but when people are with others that they know, they let down their guard and take off their masks.

That’s when asymptomatic spread occurs.

“I’m always for masks,” Birx said. “We know masks work.

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