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This message was sent to the Rockefeller community from the Office of the President on June 11, 2020 at 11:27 a.m.
Subject: COVID-19 update from the president

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Dear colleagues,

We are into the second week of our restart, and I’m pleased that research has been proceeding smoothly. The number of people on campus each day has approximately doubled from what it was during the closure when only COVID-19 research was underway. This number has allowed excellent social distancing to be maintained. While I know that having to swipe an ID card to gain access to campus is an inconvenience, it is an important aspect of documenting the number of people coming to campus each day. Thanks to everyone for your continuing patience and for helping to prevent the spread of the virus on campus—keep wearing face coverings, maintain distance, wash your hands, and stay home if you don’t need to be in the lab.

The public outrage following the murder of George Floyd is also continuing this week, and I and our community support all who have been protesting to call for an end to systemic racism. This is a righteous cause, and it is bringing to the surface issues that impact our own community as well. This week, at the request of the Rockefeller Inclusive Science Initiative (RiSI), a student-led group advocating for scientists from underrepresented backgrounds at Rockefeller, a virtual town hall meeting was held with participation by trainees, administration, and faculty to hear expressions of concern and begin to identify actions we can take to achieve our goal of a more inclusive and just community in which all are treated with respect. I and my colleagues in the Dean’s office and the faculty are committed to this mission and to working together with good will toward this vital goal. I want to acknowledge the leadership and contributions of Josue Regalado, César Vargas, and Nneoma Adaku from RiSI, and Erich Jarvis for moderating the town hall and serving as an outstanding faculty advisor to the group.

As a reminder for those who have been participating in protests off campus, our free and confidential saliva-based testing program on campus is available to you. As you know, early identification of people with infection, coupled to contact tracing, offers our best hope of preventing spread of the virus. Since we announced the availability of testing to protestors last week, 70 members of our community have been tested, and all were negative. Please contact Occupational Health Services at (212)327-8414 or OHS@rockefeller.edu for information on how to get tested.

Viral activity in the city continues to decline, with fewer than 100 COVID-related hospitalizations per day for the last week, fewer than 30 deaths per day, and only 1.5% of all viral tests being positive. This week New York City entered the first phase of its reopening, with manufacturing, construction, and curbside retail starting up. You may have noticed the return of early-morning construction noise, an oddly reassuring sound. It is predicted that the area may be able to enter the next phase of its reopening in early July. That would mean, among other things, the return of outdoor restaurants.

Despite the positive trends in our area, the numbers of new infections are not negligible, and still represent a risk. In other areas the virus is continuing to spread with increased infection rates in many other states and in many countries, particularly in South and Central America. Here, we must maintain our diligence in order to prevent a resurgence. We urge everyone to avoid non-essential travel outside our region. We will continue to monitor trends, both here at home and elsewhere, and make updates to our policies as needed.

We are also beginning to make plans for the next phase of our reopening, although it remains several weeks away. As we look ahead, one of our biggest challenges will be with the Child and Family Center. Virginia Huffman and Pamela Stark have been working hard on plans that will allow an initial limited reopening of the center later in the summer, with a phased approach that will only gradually see a return to full capacity. This requires detailed plans that must be approved by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which regulates childcare facilities. To ensure safety of CFC children and staff, we will implement frequent testing, generous space allocation, and frequent sanitization procedures. Our priority here is the safety and health of the teachers, staff, and children, and our plans will exceed the guidelines being set by regulators. We know that for parents of young children the reopening of the CFC is a key factor driving their ability to return to work, and we will share more details as the plans progress.

Last week we held our first-ever virtual Board of Trustees meeting, along with nine Board committee meetings. Although the format was new, the meetings themselves were well-attended and productive. The fact that so many of our Trustees were eager to engage despite challenging circumstances serves as a reminder that we are fortunate to have the support and advice of this committed group.

There are also two other bits of good news to share. First, I’m thrilled to announce Alipasha Vaziri’s well-deserved promotion to full professor with tenure. Alipasha has developed a world-leading lab in the field of optical neurotechnology, and his deep understanding of physics and optics has led to the development of a series of increasingly powerful technologies that allow large-scale, high-speed, and volumetric imaging of neural activity in awake animals engaged in behavioral tasks; his work is making major contributions to the advance of neuroscience. Congratulations to Alipasha!

Finally, today is Convocation! This year’s 30 graduates have worked extraordinarily hard, and we will be celebrating their achievements and successes in a virtual ceremony beginning at 2:30 this afternoon. We will also honor two exceptional members of The Rockefeller University family with the David Rockefeller Award for Extraordinary Service: Torsten Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and former Rockefeller president; and Alzatta Fogg, dedicated member of the community for nearly 60 years and longtime manager of the Abby Dining Room (photo below!). We will also be presenting Trustee Marnie Pillsbury and Stanford Professor Lucy Shapiro with honorary degrees. Despite our inability to gather in person this is a very special occasion for our graduates, honorees, and community, and I invite you all to join me this afternoon in celebrating their achievements!

With all best wishes,

Rick

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

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