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This message was sent to the Rockefeller community from the Office of the President on August 7, 2020 at 11:45 a.m.
Subject: Update from the President

Oop header 8-7-20

Dear colleagues,

Greetings. I hope everyone weathered tropical storm Isaías as it sped through the region. The campus was relatively spared with the exception of a downed tree on the River Campus’ Wang Gardens rooftop and a lot of debris, including some large branches that landed in the atrium of the president’s house. But many people across the region, including some in our community, remain without power, and some have had significant damage from downed trees.

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread through much of the country, New York City and much of the Northeast continue to have the nation’s lowest levels of new infection, hospitalization, and death, with only about 1% of viral tests being positive.

Since my last note, two more Rockefeller employees have tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. One person is believed to have become infected from an affected in-house family member, while the other is thought to have acquired infection while traveling to a state with a high prevalence of infection; another family member on the trip also tested positive. Collectively, in July there were four positive tests among more than 500 among the Rockefeller community. All of these newly infected individuals were adhering to social distancing and mask guidelines and did not come to campus when symptomatic. The effectiveness of these simple interventions is supported by the absence of viral transmission on campus.

Consistent with the increased number of people coming to campus and returning from vacation travel to states with high rates of infection, the number of people on the OHS watch list has increased over the last several weeks. Please bear in mind that Rockefeller continues to strongly discourage all non-essential travel outside of the area, and all travel beyond the tri-state region (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) must be reported to OHS using the online travel questionnaire(VPN required). If you do choose to travel, you may be required to quarantine for 14 days upon your return, as per state Department of Health guidelines. Details concerning Rockefeller OHS guidelines are available here (VPN required), and more information about the New York State travel advisory can be found here. Continued thanks to Ashley Foo and the dedicated staff of OHS, along with Human Resources and the outstanding testing team that has been scaling up an innovative saliva-based testing method in Bob Darnell’s lab.

In another initiative to help keep our community safe, we’ve put in place an N95 respiratory mask program for mass transit commuters. This program was spearheaded by Laboratory Safety & Environmental Health with the assistance of OHS. To date, 302 people have enrolled in the program, and 189 of them have been fit-tested, with that number growing steadily. Those who complete the fit-testing are provided with three N95 masks, along with instructions about their proper storage and sterilization using on-campus sterilization units.

As a reminder, New York State is now mandating that all members of our community confirm that they are symptom-free each day before entering the campus. To streamline this process for everyone, the link to the online health self-assessment tool we’ve developed to meet this mandate, RU Healthy, is now available without the need for VPN. The language is also more intuitive, and the questions abbreviated. Additionally, next week everyone will begin receiving daily email reminders about the need for this brief daily check-in. The emails will include the link to make completing the self-assessment as easy as possible.

I also want to note that the deadline for responding to the climate survey on diversity, equality, and inclusion has been extended to Friday. Please look for the reminder emails sent by the survey company Glint this week. If you’ve already responded to the survey, thank you. If not, please do take the time to do so. Your candid responses are needed to help guide the University’s ongoing efforts to ensure we are providing a welcoming and supportive environment for everyone in our community.

I’m delighted to share news about a pair of honors received by two of our faculty members. First, Jeremy Rock, head of the Laboratory of Host-Pathogen Biology, was named a Rita Allen Foundation Scholar. Jeremy has developed a high-throughput, CRISPR-interference-based approach to knock down genes in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, advancing our ability to find novel therapeutic targets for TB, a disease affecting about one quarter of the world’s population. His work has the potential to reveal the molecular determinants of chronic tuberculosis, and he is exploring the toxin-antitoxin gene family that may drive persistence of infection.

Also last week, Shixin Liu, head of the Laboratory of Nanoscale Biophysics and Biochemistry, was awarded a Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research. Shixin uses advanced biophysical tools to visualize the coordinated behavior of macromolecular machines involved in genetic and epigenetic regulation. Among other discoveries, his work has detailed the processes by which specific gene mutations can lead to cancer-causing changes in the epigenome. In capturing interactions between chromatin and chromatin-modifying enzymes, he has added a new dimension to our understanding of the relationship between chromatin regulation and cancer biology.

Congratulations to Jeremy and Shixin on these terrific recognitions of their transformative research!

Lastly, I want to share with you the great news that Jun Cao has just arrived on campus from the University of Washington to establish the Laboratory of Single-Cell Genomics and Population Dynamics. Jun is an exceptionally innovative genomics scientist who brings with him several remarkable new technologies he developed to study how individual cells drive tissue and organ development, including assays to conduct genetic profiling at single-cell resolution within large cell populations and with mixed cell types. Jun has been able to define developmental trajectories; determine how cells balance proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis to maintain tissue form and function throughout life; and discover how they interact with their environments. His work is providing insights with implications for understanding developmental disorders, aging, neurodegeneration, and cancer. Please join me in welcoming Jun and his family to Rockefeller!

Stay safe and be well.

Rick

Richard P. Lifton, M.D., Ph.D.
Carson Family Professor
Laboratory of Human Genetics and Genomics
President
The Rockefeller University