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At Plymouth State, Dr. Deborah Birx Says The Northeast Needs To Remain Vigilant In Pandemic

Deborah Birx stands at a podium on a stage at Plymouth State.
Daniela Allee

At a visit to Plymouth State University today, Doctor Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, warned that rural areas like New Hampshire could see a continued increase in COVID-19 cases. 

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Birx has been visiting states and colleges across the country since June. 

She told the small audience at Plymouth State that, as she’s driven across the country, she’s seen people gathered indoors and outdoors without masks at events like weddings. She says it’s important to be careful in both large groups, and at small gatherings.

“Critically we see small families and friends gathering in the United States with the assumption that if I know you, you don’t have COVID. You can know them, and they have COVID,” she said.

Birx said people will need to be vigilant as winter approaches, and she encouraged the general public to follow student behavior on campuses.  

“They’re wearing masks, they’re physically distancing, they’re washing their hands,” she said. “They know that if they go outside their intimate pod that they risk infection. They know when they remove their mask in an indoor situation, that there could be transmission.” 

Birx recommends that if people do gather with friends and family, say over Thanksgiving, that masks be worn inside and physical distance kept, especially between people who may be more vulnerable, like older adults and those at higher risk.

She also says Northeastern states should expand surveillance testing of COVID-19 to groups like teachers and police. 

“It starts to give you insight in whether there's a virus in that specific community so you can surge, not just additional testing resources, but be very clear to that community this is a time to be extra cautious,” she said.

Birx’s brother, Donald Birx, is the president of Plymouth State University. As part of the event, he and others gave an update on the university’s response.

Plymouth State will set up its own COVID-19 testing lab next week, which the school will use in addition to the PCR tests that are taken and processed externally for students and faculty every week.

Marlin Collingwood, the vice president for communications, enrollment and student life at Plymouth, says the university will use the lab for people at the university who are showing COVID-like symptoms, but who may not have the illness. 

“Right now we do a PCR test, and it takes us about 36 hours for a result to come back which means they have to go into quarantine during that time,” he said. “These rapid tests will help us rule out the fact that they have COVID. At the same time we can test them for flu or strep throat.”

The new Plymouth State lab will process these tests in about ten to twelve hours. Collingwood says the university would do about 300 of those tests per week. 

Currently, Plymouth State is reporting three active cases of COVID-19. 

Plymouth State and Keene State College will each receive a rapid antigen test machine in mid-November, which provide results in about 15 minutes. 

Daniela is an editor in NHPR's newsroom. She leads NHPR's Spanish language news initiative, ¿Qué Hay de Nuevo, New Hampshire? and the station's climate change reporting project, By Degrees. You can email her at

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