Two of the nation’s top public health officials visit U of U Health

Oct. 31, 2020- As positive COVID-19 cases in Utah set record highs, two of the nation’s top health officials visited the University of Utah today for an informal discussion on the pandemic. Deborah Birx, MD, Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force and Robert R. Redfield, MD, Director of the Centers for Disease Control, met with President Ruth Watkins and Michael Good, MD, CEO of University of Utah Health and Senior Vice President for Health Sciences. The meeting at University Hospital was attended by four other faculty members with key roles in the university’s coronavirus response.

Watkins told Birx and Redfield about University of Utah’s testing and mitigation practices that have kept transmission, symptomatic and asymptomatic case rates lower among our campus community. Good described University of Utah Health’s testing strategy for both the community at large and the university campus community, the latter of which has positive case rates significantly lower than those in its surrounding county.

Birx and Redfield responded by encouraging a new approach to testing, one that they have been messaging directly to dozens of other Universities around the nation. They discussed   strategies to mitigate outbreaks in hot spots by doing more frequent, point of care testing of key communities--including students, health care workers, university staff and faculty, and then tracing higher positive rates back to the communities where they live.

“The thing about this virus is that it moves quickly, and the good news is that it can move quickly in the direction of improvement,” said Redfield. “And now is the time to develop a strategic strategy in testing to maximize our ability to identify the silent epidemic of asymptomatic infections.”

State officials announced a record 2,292 positive cases of coronavirus on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, an alarming count at the start of a weekend that includes a holiday that traditionally involves social gatherings. All but six of Utah’s 29 counties are now listed as a high transmission area. Messaging the university community Friday afternoon, Watkins and Good said the state urgently needs to reverse this trend. The leaders reiterated now is the time for everyone to strictly follow health protocols: Wear a facemask in public or in proximity to those outside your immediate pod; wash your hands frequently; maintain a physical distance of 6 feet from others; quarantine yourself if you have been exposed to someone diagnosed with coronavirus; and stay home if you are sick.

Others from U of U Health who attended the meeting were Tom Miller, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Hospitals and Clinics, Richard Orlandi, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Ambulatory Health, Jeanmarie Mayer, MD, Hospital Epidemiologist for Hospitals and Clinics, and Emily Spivak, MD, associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases.