This message was sent to the Rockefeller community from the Office of the President on July 24, 2020 at 9:31 a.m.
Subject: Update from the President
It has been a very hot July in New York, and I hope you are finding ways to stay cool, whether here in the city or elsewhere in the region. Many families are beginning to travel, and although rates of new infection with SARS-CoV-2 remain low in most areas of the Northeast, and rates of new infection, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 continue to remain very low in NYC, that’s definitely not the case in most of the rest of the country, with many states and the country as a whole experiencing all-time highs in new infection rates. Similarly, while much of Asia and Europe now have very low rates of new infection, other parts of the world, including much of South America and the Middle East have high levels of infection.
Following Governor Cuomo’s lead, Rockefeller continues to strongly discourage all non-essential travel outside of the area, whether for business or leisure, and all travel beyond the tri-state region (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) must be reported to Occupational Health Services using the online travel questionnaire (VPN required). Following state Department of Health guidelines, depending on your itinerary, you may be required to quarantine for 14 days upon your return. More on Rockefeller OHS guidelines is available here (VPN required); details of the NY travel advisory are here.
Laboratories on campus are increasingly ramping up their research as we continue in Phase III of our restart, and it has been gratifying to again see activity in laboratories that had been closed. In new research, congratulations to Bob Darnell and his colleagues who reported a fascinating finding this week in The New England Journal of Medicine. In a study extending over several years, they discovered that a novel cell type appears in the blood before disease flares in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. They believe these cells are precursors to the inflammatory fibroblasts found in inflamed joints during a flare. Importantly, identification of these cells in blood could allow early therapeutic intervention to prevent flares and further joint damage in this disease and suggests efforts to discover similar blood markers in other autoimmune diseases that are characterized by intermittent flares of activity. This research highlights the great breadth of science on campus that is now returning in force.
As the daily census on campus continues to grow, many thanks to everyone for your diligence in practicing social distancing and complying with our face-covering policy. Since beginning reopening in early June, we are aware of only one community member who has a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. This individual had contact with a non-Rockefeller person known to have COVID-19, promptly reported this to OHS and was advised to quarantine. After becoming symptomatic 10 days later, the person obtained a viral test and was positive. This person is recovering, and there is no evidence of spread of infection to other members of our community. This example shows how vigilance, promptly reporting exposure, and appropriately adhering to quarantine is effective in preventing the spread of infection in our community. I urge you to continue to use best practices to avoid infection and follow OHS guidance.
In support of our efforts to keep our community safe, on Monday we launched our health self-assessment tool, and all members of the community must now confirm that they are symptom-free using the online, mobile-friendly link before entering campus each day. This brief daily check-in, which is mandated by New York State and is widely used, serves as a reminder that we each must monitor ourselves daily for signs of illness before coming to work. This information will help OHS quickly identify and contact individuals who may require testing or other follow-up.
In a wonderful sign of progress, children are once again coming on campus. Last week, the Child and Family Center began the first phase of its reopening, thanks to tremendous efforts by Ginny Huffman, Pamela Stark, and the teachers, staff, and parents of the CFC. Due to requirements of the NYC Department of Health, the CFC has reopened with reduced enrollment and shorter hours. We anticipate the center will be permitted to expand enrollment and hours as experience is gained, and we hope to be able to accommodate everyone by the end of summer. Numerous changes have been implemented in the CFC to promote the safety of the children, teachers, and staff, including the hiring of a full-time pediatric nurse to oversee health checks and COVID-19 testing. Another major contribution is the regular screening of teachers and children for virus, which is important given the challenges to social distancing and face coverings in youngsters. We are deeply indebted to Bob Darnell and his colleagues for continuing to scale up their innovative SARS-CoV-2 testing program. The excitement of the returning children upon seeing their friends and teachers again has been heartwarming.
I also want to remind you that the climate survey on diversity, equality, and inclusion was sent to all Rockefeller trainees and employees by the survey company Glint on Tuesday morning. I urge everyone to complete the survey; thanks in advance for providing your candid responses and for sharing your experiences.
In closing I want to take a moment to recognize the passing last Friday of two towering and heroic individuals in the fight for civil rights in the U.S., the Rev. C.T. Vivian, and U.S. Rep. John Lewis. Both were passionate champions for civil rights, equality and voting rights. Lewis was the youngest speaker at the historic 1963 March on Washington, and both men marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama on what became known as Bloody Sunday in 1965 when the peaceful marchers were severely beaten by police, with Lewis suffering a fractured skull. Lewis represented the 5th district of Georgia in Congress from 1987 until his death and was recognized as a moral leader, commonly referred to as “the conscience of the Congress.” Bonded in their missions in life, it is fitting that they departed together.
Stay safe and be well.
With all best wishes,
Richard P. Lifton, M.D., Ph.D.
Carson Family Professor
Laboratory of Human Genetics and Genomics
The Rockefeller University