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This message was sent to the Rockefeller community from the Office of the President on January 15, 2021 at 1:00 p.m.
Subject: Update from the President

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Dear colleagues,

Happy new year! I hope you all had a restful and peaceful holiday break. Although 2021 is off to a rocky start, with COVID rates continuing to climb and political upheaval in Washington D.C. and beyond, the plans released this morning that the incoming administration is committing to a dramatic scale-up in coordination of vaccine production, delivery, and administration are a promising sign for the coming months.

Over 10 million Americans have now received a first of two doses of either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines, including several dozen of our Rockefeller colleagues who have contact with patients coming to the Rockefeller hospital. We hope this number grows rapidly as the rollout gains momentum and more groups become eligible to receive vaccine under the guidelines established by federal and state public health authorities.

Eventually we hope to receive vaccine to administer on campus to serve our entire community. Occupational Health Services has placed an order on our behalf to achieve this, along with a detailed logistical plan for its deployment and administration. The process for selecting sites for delivery and timing are opaque, and we don’t know if or when we will receive vaccine allotments. In the meantime, I urge everyone who now qualifies—including everyone over age 65—to get vaccinated as soon as possible wherever you can find an available appointment. The vaccine is highly effective and safe, and getting it to as many people as possible as quickly as possible is the best way to protect yourself from developing serious disease. You can locate a vaccine site here. You can also schedule directly through NYC Health and Hospitals here, and teachers can sign up to be vaccinated at Mount Sinai here. If you are not certain whether you qualify after reading the information above, you can confirm your eligibility here. Patience will be necessary as demand well exceeds available supply for now.

It has been alarming to watch the infection rate in the U.S. continue to go up over the last three weeks, now averaging 250,000 new cases per day with deaths at a staggering all-time high this week of 4,400 in one day. The spread of infection has taken its toll on the state and city. New York State now has new case rates significantly higher than the national average, with 82 new cases per 100,000 residents per day, and New York City is only slightly better than the state average, increasing over the last two weeks to 74 new cases per 100,000 per day. The number of tests being performed per day in the city is prodigious, averaging nearly 100,000 per day, with a seven-day average of 5.9% positive tests, with the trend continuing to increase. These numbers are ~8-fold higher than at the beginning of September. These are clearly perilous numbers and underscore the need for increased efforts to protect ourselves and one another from infection.

In the first week of mandatory on-campus testing last week, there were three positive tests among 1,248 tests performed, and another eight positive tests reported by employees not coming to campus, several of whom acquired infection while travelling over the holiday. These numbers remain markedly better than state and city averages, but nonetheless are higher than we experienced earlier in the fall. There have been six positive tests reported on campus thus far this week. Last Friday and Monday, two members of the same lab tested positive, raising the possibility for the first time that an infection might have been transmitted on campus. All other members of this lab have been put on quarantine and will be monitored and retested. Another lab has been put on quarantine following one positive test with a social gathering at which lab members apparently congregated without appropriate precautions. There are now 73 people on the OHS watch list due to symptoms, contact with a known case, or return from travel. Fortunately, no hospitalizations have been reported among those who have tested positive.

Because the risk is clearly increased, we need to respond by increasing our efforts to protect ourselves and one another. I urge everyone to curtail indoor gatherings to essential activities. Only come to campus when necessary and minimize your time on campus as much as possible. Vigilant social distancing, mask-wearing, disinfection of surfaces, handwashing, and routine testing are essential. And never come to campus if you are ill.

I remind you that if you are coming to campus you are required to get weekly testing. The saliva test performed by the Darnell lab is convenient and easy to complete. If you prefer to use another testing provider, it is acceptable to do so; the provider must be approved by OHS and proof of testing must be provided weekly.

We also continue to strongly discourage any travel outside of New York State and require that all travel, whether for essential business or for personal reasons, be reported to OHS using the online tool. OHS will provide guidance on isolation procedures and testing protocols based on the destination and specific circumstances of the trip.

In response to the current realities, all classes are now remote. We believe that the precautions currently in place will allow us to safely maintain laboratory functions as well as the CFC, the remote learning pods, and food service. We are prepared to scale back activities if needed to prevent viral transmission on campus. The Research Restart Committee met this week to discuss, among other things, triggers that might require certain policies to be modified. All modifications are focused on maintaining as much capacity for research as possible while protecting the health and safety of our community. Given the continued spread of the virus, our ability to keep our vital research functioning under these challenging conditions is only partly in our control, and it is our personal and collective responsibility to do everything possible to keep ourselves and one another safe.

Turning to science, this week marks a milestone in Michel Nussenzweig’s efforts to develop novel monoclonal antibodies for treatment and prevention of SARS-CoV-2 infection. With approval from the FDA and collaboration with a pharmaceutical partner, on Monday Michel, Marina Caskey, and their collaborators launched a first-in-human, open-label, single dose, dose-escalation phase 1 study to evaluate the safety and pharmacokinetics of a combination of two very potent neutralizing anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibodies in healthy volunteers. This study is being conducted at the Rockefeller University Hospital. Congratulations to everyone who is contributing to this amazing project.

In other highlights this week, Jeanne Garbarino and Marina Caskey held a Talking Science webinar discussing the COVID pandemic and the above monoclonal antibody project for high school students, teachers, and science enthusiasts that attracted more than 500 attendees from NYC and around the world. It was a terrific event, and there will be more Talking Science webinars to come.

Finally, on Monday we will celebrate the extraordinary legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who committed and gave his life to the cause of civil rights, racial equality, and economic justice. This annual day of remembrance and celebration of his life is particularly timely, given the tenor of the last several years, highlighted by an attack on the Capitol Building last week and the hope for a new chapter to begin with the inauguration of a new president and vice president next Wednesday. I hope everyone will take time to reflect on Dr. King’s message and legacy. For international students and fellows who may not be as familiar with him, and for everyone who needs a dose of inspiration, I commend to you the audio of his iconic 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.

This is also an appropriate time to draw your attention to three new outdoor art installations placed at our front gate, facing York Ave just north of 66th Street (see photo below). A dazzling celebration of the power of diversity in the sciences, these banners were created by local artists selected by the Rockefeller Inclusive Science Initiative (RiSI). They serve as a reminder to all of us of our commitment to addressing racial inequities in our society. Thanks to our RiSI colleagues for bringing this project to life!

Please continue to stay safe, be well, and take care of one another.

With best wishes,

Rick

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

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