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Phase III+: The University is open for expanded research operations; only authorized personnel will be admitted on campus. More info here.

This message was sent to the Rockefeller community from the Office of the President on June 5, 2020 at 11:24 a.m.
Subject: COVID-19 update from the president

oop email header

Dear colleagues,

The week has been a blur of events on and off campus. Protests that erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s unjust death have spread throughout the city and the nation, expressing our collective outrage and in particular that of Black communities and other communities of color who continue to bear the burden of systemic racism.

These urgent and important protests connect directly to our campus in important ways. First, this is an opportunity for all of us to reflect and commit to building a more fair, just, and inclusive community and society. Second, these protests are occurring in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and despite a marked reduction in the incidence of new infection in NYC over the last two months, there are still thousands of active infections in the city. Given the increased challenges to social distancing and the robust production of aerosols in many protests, there is concern that viral transmission may increase as a consequence. I urge everyone who believes they may have been exposed to the virus by virtue of participating in a protest, as well as those who has been exposed to someone known to have an active infection with SARS-CoV-2, to get tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus via on-campus testing. Please contact Occupational Health Services (OHS) as soon as possible to arrange for testing at (212)-327-8414 or And if you have symptoms suggestive of infection (fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, abrupt loss of smell or taste), do not come to work, but let OHS know immediately about your symptoms. We collectively have worked very hard for the last several months and have succeeded in minimizing the spread of virus in our community, and I encourage everyone to continue to be diligent in protecting yourself, your families, and other members of our community from infection by getting tested if you may have been exposed. All viral testing through OHS is free and confidential.

While on the topic of testing, I’d like to highlight the terrific OHS SARS-CoV-2 testing efforts directed by Head of Lab Tom Sakmar, in conjunction with Lisa Tsatsas, Ann Campbell, and Ashley Foo from the OHS team. They have done a great job of diagnosing and preventing transmission of the virus on campus, guided by symptoms, testing, and contact tracing. They have now conducted 18 testing sessions and processed 350 individual tests, including tests of nearly all essential personnel, resulting in 12 positive tests for the virus. As of yesterday, the number of people being monitored is down to two. As we move to further reopen campus activity, testing and contact tracing will be an important resource to identify those with infection and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at Rockefeller. To meet the needs of expanded testing, Head of Lab Bob Darnell has developed and validated a robust test for viral RNA from saliva samples, which has the advantage of not needing a health care worker to physically obtain the sample.

In the weeks to come SARS-CoV-2 IgG serology testing will also be offered to all employees on campus who want to test whether they have already been infected with SARS-CoV-2. Those commuting via mass transit will be prioritized. OHS will share further information on how to access these tests, which require a blood sample, as the details are finalized.

This week has also been momentous on campus with the reopening of non-COVID research on campus for the first time since the March 18 closure. Today is day five of Phase II (VPN required) of our research restart. Although the initial steps to reopen are modest by design—partial operations with social distancing and short shifts are the norm in most labs—it is nevertheless inspiring to see work resuming in our labs. Please remember that the proper wearing of face coverings is required throughout campus, including outdoors, in lobbies, and in all labs and workspaces other than private single-occupancy offices. Thank you to everyone who is diligently following the protocols we have established to help prevent the spread of the virus, and remember that you can send any questions, comments, or concerns to

I’d like to take this moment to thank Associate Vice President for Research Support Amy Wilkerson, whose leadership of the laboratory reopening process has been remarkably efficient and thorough. Over a single week, she reviewed reopening plans from all 75 of our HOLs, working collaboratively with them to optimize and refine their proposals. As chair of the university’s Emergency Response and Preparedness Committee, she has been a tremendous resource for all of us, developing effective responses to rapidly changing conditions and coordinating with our support departments to ensure essential operations continue safely and smoothly.

It is also immensely satisfying to see the full range of Rockefeller science come into bloom as life in our laboratories is renewed. The university’s research programs address a broad array of vital biomedical questions, and we’ve all been conscious of the fact that each additional day of lost time in the labs represents lost opportunity for progress in answering those questions.

It’s good to be getting back to work, albeit with caution. Please continue to stay safe as we do so.

With all best wishes,


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