This message was sent to the Rockefeller community from the Office of the President on May 29, 2020 at 9:57 a.m.
Subject: COVID-19 update from the president
I hope you enjoyed the long weekend and are adapting to the early summer weather that is suddenly upon us. I hope you’ve found the opportunity to spend some time outdoors!
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, at the national level, the daily numbers of new diagnoses and deaths are trending slightly downward, though the pace varies widely from county to county in many states, and the potential impact of aggressively reopening some economies is only beginning to be seen. Here in New York City, the trend continues to be very favorable, with new hospitalizations, deaths, and the percentage of tests that are positive continuing their downward march. Over the last 3 days new hospital admissions have averaged only 163, compared to over 3000 at the peak, deaths have averaged 74 per day compared to nearly 800 at the peak, and the percentage of positive tests across NYC is now below 5% in all boroughs, with only 1.9% of tests being positive in Manhattan yesterday. While this is positive news, there are still a large number of new cases daily in the city, and I exhort everyone to remain diligent in continuing social distancing, hand washing, and wearing face covering in public in order to protect ourselves and others.
I’m pleased and grateful to note that the Occupational Health Services (OHS) team, under Ashley Foo’s leadership, has continued to do a superb job of monitoring and supporting people with symptoms and doing contact tracing. Tom Sakmar has been performing point-of-care viral testing for those who have symptoms suggestive of SARS-CoV-2 infection, along with testing of contacts of potential cases as well as surveys of personnel on campus to screen for asymptomatic infection. The number of employees currently being monitored is down to five. Most importantly, we have no evidence that there has been any transmission of SARS-CoV-2 infection on campus, which is very encouraging going forward.
As announced in my email last week, over the past week HOLs and others have been developing plans for Phase II of our research restart at Rockefeller, which will begin on Monday, June 1. Much thought has been put into these plans, with a focus on maintaining a safe environment, as we have successfully done over the last 72 days during the closure, during which we had ~400 people on campus each day. We expect the number of people on site daily to increase in Phase II to about 1,200, but the density on campus at any one time will remain low as people will work in shifts and maintain strict social distancing. To reduce the risk of any community spread of the virus on our campus, as much work as possible will continue to be done from home. Your lab head or supervisor will be in touch regarding expectations for this period.
Crews have been busy these past weeks getting the campus ready, and some new procedures have been established. Signage and floor markings have been installed to help everyone maintain appropriate distance, and occupancy limits have been set for many areas. Face coverings will be required in all areas except private, single-occupancy offices. For specific guidance and answers to frequently asked questions, please visit the Phase II website (VPN required) and direct questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite the new restrictions and some inconveniences, I am confident that we will be able to get experimental operations up and running and return to doing science for the benefit of humanity in a safe environment. We will be carefully assessing whether operations are working smoothly and make adjustments as needed. The duration of Phase II will be dictated by conditions in the city and on campus.
Regarding testing, Bob Darnell’s lab, along with a strong clinical group and volunteer graduate students, in collaboration with Tom Sakmar and the OHS team, has been working to establish a robust method for viral testing from saliva samples, which promises to make the on-campus testing capability significantly greater.
I continue to urge you to let OHS know if you develop symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, persistent headache, or sudden loss of smell and/or taste. Most importantly, if you have these symptoms do not come to campus.
This week I’d like to shine a spotlight on the excellent work of our Plant Ops colleagues, led by Alex Kogan, Andy Gallina, and Tom Stepanchak, to keep our buildings prepared and ready for a safe reopening. From the custodial group to the plumbers to the HVAC and powerhouse personnel, Plant Ops has maintained essential services throughout this closure, responded to emergencies (including a minor flood in RRB), and taken advantage of low traffic to do work that would otherwise be disruptive, like buffing floors. To prevent the growth of Legionella bacteria in the plumbing and the evaporation of water in drain traps, they’ve made regular rounds to open and run hundreds of water fixtures in labs, bathrooms, and kitchens, a daunting task given the scale of our facilities. They are now working to install nearly 500 social-distancing signs in corridors, stairwells, and elevators (see photo below). I’m very grateful for their incredible professionalism and dedication.
Our experience in NYC over the last 10 weeks has made clear that by the actions we take, we—individually and collectively—have dramatically reduced the risk of infection by SARS-CoV-2 in our community. As we move to prudently increase research activity on campus in the coming weeks, I urge all of you to continue your best efforts to protect yourself and one another from exposure to the virus. Please enjoy the weekend, and I look forward to seeing you in person—from a distance—soon.
With all best wishes,
Richard P. Lifton, M.D., Ph.D.
Carson Family Professor
Laboratory of Human Genetics and Genomics
The Rockefeller University