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Stories and information in our region on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House COVID Expert, Is Alarmed By Defiant New Yorkers

J.D. Allen/WSHU News
Dr. Deborah Birx, who leads the White House's coronavirus taskforce, spoke at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx praised New York’s swift action to control several new COVID-19 hotspots in Brooklyn, Queens and upstate. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo has limited religious gatherings. That’s after some Orthodox Jewish communities held events with thousands of maskless people. Birx called that “alarming.”

Credit J.D. Allen/WSHU News
J.D. Allen/WSHU News
White House coronavirus coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis.

“Really figuring out how you physically distance and ensure people are safe, even when they've come together to break bread together, is really critical," said Birx at Stony Brook University on Long Island on Wednesday. She had met with local elected officials, medical researchers and school administrators in a roundtable discussion.

"And I think that community needs to understand that they're within the United States and a community of others," she continued. "And it's our job to protect one another by doing what we need to do to ensure others to stay safe.”

Cuomo began to roll back reopening measures this week in the hotspots for at least 14 days. Schools are closed in some districts and only essential businesses are allowed to stay open in the hotspots. Fines for mass gathering were increased to $15,000 per violation.

Birx said she hasn’t been at the White House during the virus outbreak. She is on a tour of U.S. colleges to work with local officials on how to curb the spread of the virus and effectively quarantine college students.

Birx said she wants to connect colleges nationwide with Stony Brook University as a model for the spring semester. She credits the medical research school and hospital for holding the community together last spring, when the virus was at its peak in New York.

“Their number one thing was collecting data and collecting information in real time," she said. "I know people were overwhelmed by the very fundamental, very beginning, they started keeping records, and comparing and trying to understand how to find solutions and care for patients better.”

Stony Brook University has among the lowest COVID-19 positive rates on college campuses, reporting under 0.5 percent.

"We've demonstrated that we can learn, live and work together safely," said University President Maurie McInnis.

That’s while colleges in the South and in Upstate New York have had to move classes online. SUNY Cortland and SUNY Binghamton will shift to remote learning after record high cases reported just in one week.

WSHU’s Long Island News Bureau is on the campus of Stony Brook University.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.