Dr. Deborah Birx visits SMCC as part of nationwide tour of colleges and universities

Dr. Deborah Birx (foreground) talked with students during her visit to SMCC on Tuesday.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said Tuesday that Maine’s community colleges are doing a good job keeping students and employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic while maintaining a mix of in-person classes and remote instruction.

Dr. Birx visited Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) as part of her nationwide tour of colleges and universities to learn about their experiences with the coronavirus and to share information about what might lie ahead. SMCC was the first community college she has visited.

At SMCC, she met with SMCC President Joe Cassidy, Maine Community College System (MCCS) President David Daigler, other college and system leaders, faculty and students.

“What we’ve seen across the United States is that universities that were able stay open had deep comprehensive plans that put the safety of students, faculty and staff first while also recognizing the importance of in-person education,” she said. “We’ve seen that in the Maine Community College System as well.”

Cassidy said safety protocols have allowed SMCC to keep people safe while still delivering a quality education to students. SMCC has not had any reported cases of COVID-19 on campus.

“We were pleased to share our experiences with Dr. Birx while hearing her insights on the coronavirus,” Cassidy said. “Through planning, open communication and collaboration with businesses, organizations and the state, we have continued to offer robust educational opportunities for students and the workforce that help the Maine economy while prioritizing the health and safety of students and employees.”

SMCC and Maine’s six other community colleges transitioned to online classes in the Spring Semester in mid-March following the COVID-19 outbreak in Maine. For the Fall Semester, they adopted a comprehensive health and safety plan to prevent the spread of the virus and protect the well-being of people who are on campus.

With safety measures in place, the colleges allowed limited students to take in-person classes in designated trade programs where hands-on learning is essential. Online classes are being held in programs where hands-on learning isn’t deemed essential.

“It was an honor to meet with Dr. Birx and talk about the important work Maine’s community colleges are doing as the state’s training partner to help keep our communities safe and productive through this pandemic,” MCCS President David Daigler said. “As the economy has reeled from COVID, Maine’s community colleges launched new short-term training programs to fill workforce gaps and needs. It’s not just what we’re called to do as an institution, it’s the right thing to do as Mainers helping other Mainers.”

Since March, MCCS has launched a range of COVID-related short-term workforce training programs, including 47 free, online healthcare programs, a series of COVID-safety training programs for hospitality workers, and an innovative partnership with the state Department of Education to train aides for the state’s K-12 teachers.