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Birx visits Auburn, praises SEC virus work

From staff and wire reports

AUBURN, Ala. — Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator, visited Auburn University Thursday where she commended the campus and other Southeastern Conference schools on their work to limit the spread of COVID-19 while reopening school and restarting football.

“I’ve really been impressed that competitive groups have come together united in a goal of protecting their students and making sure that the communities remain healthy,” Birx said. “I think what has come out of this is not an SEC of constant competition, but an SEC that shared information across the schools over the summer.

“What we’ve learned is the reason these schools have been able to convene and have students here and have in-person classes has been because they spent the summer planning as one, sharing the best ideas with each other when they were really deep competitors before.”

Birx also praised Gov. Kay Ivey for issuing a statewide mask mandate. She said she believes the order, which is set to expire Oct. 2, should be extended.

“Within two weeks of the mask mandate, you can see the dramatic decline in cases here in Alabama,” Birx said.

She said it is important for people to maintain their mitigation efforts in the fall.

As Birx urged the extension of the mask order, a new lawsuit was filed challenging it.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore on Thursday announced a new federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the mask mandate and past state health orders that closed businesses or directed people to stay home.

“Our economy has been decimated, jobs lost, schools closed, church doors shut, and we have been told we must stay home and wear masks in public places. People are tired of such abuse,” Moore said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed by Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law on behalf of seven plaintiffs.

Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said the governor and the state health officer are monitoring the state’s progress and will announce a decision on the mask mandate before Oct. 2.

The governor’s office credited a decline in daily new cases to the mask order and people’s changing behavior.

“Our state’s success is largely in part to Alabamians stepping up to the plate when it comes to cooperating with the mask ordinance,” Maiola said.

Birx also pushed back against a report that said she was distressed over the direction of the task force and was considering leaving.

During the news conference, Birx was asked about a CNN report that said she was frustrated with what she saw as a diminished role and questioned how long she could remain in the role. Birx said she was not considering leaving.

“Do I look like a person that is diminished? I’ll tell you that is the first time those adjectives have ever been used in describing my behavior,” Birx said. She also urged the state to extend its mask mandate.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic that is affecting Americans. As an American, I think I can do the best service to my country right now by serving in this role, working across the agencies because that is the experience that I have,” Birx said.

Birx said it would be “on me if I was distressed, right? Because I’m supposed to be coordinating the groups.”

Birx said she has been on a heavy travel schedule, but said that is crucial to understanding the nation’s response. She said she had been in about 28 states, including more than 15 universities, in the last three months.

“Yes, I have been on the road. … Why is that? That’s because that dialogue allows you to understand what polices are working, what needs to be changed, what is difficult for people,” Birx said.

Birx has recently toured Southern universities that are starting the fall semester. She met with Ivey Thursday morning.

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