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This message was sent to the Rockefeller community from the Office of the President on October 30, 2020 at 10:10 a.m.
Subject: Update from the President

OOP email header

Dear colleagues,

With the weather turning to cooler, grayer days with earlier sunsets, there is no denying that it is mid-fall, and winter looms. The campus mood has been somber this week following the passing of Jonatan Ersching. This reminds us that life is fleeting, and I encourage everyone to combat sadness by spreading hope, peace, and love for one another across our campus and beyond. I want to remind you of the outstanding mental health services that Ginny Huffman and her colleagues in Human Resources have established for our community. These are summarized following the end of this letter.

Since my last letter two weeks ago, the COVID-19 pandemic has grown at an alarming rate across the US, increasing from 60,000 cases per day to an all-time high of 91,000 reported Thursday, accompanied by a 50% increase in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations this month and over 1,000 deaths per day since Monday. The percentage of positive viral tests in seven states is greater than 25%, a staggering number. Similar surges are being seen across much of Europe. Causes for the dramatic growth in new cases are likely cooler weather with more time spent indoors, with a significant dose of “pandemic fatigue,” with people no longer adhering to best practices to prevent infection.

A relative bright spot amidst this grim pandemic news has been New York City, where the percentage of positive tests has only slightly increased from a seven-day average of ~1.2% two weeks ago to ~1.4% today, and NY State has the second lowest percentage of positive tests in the nation (1.4%) following Maine. These low numbers include significant localized outbreaks in the city and the state, which have been prevented from spreading more widely by contact tracing and local measures to reduce transmission.

On campus, we have had two positive tests among ~1,500 employees coming to campus in the last two weeks. Both new cases occurred in asymptomatic people and were picked up by our testing program, which is offering weekly testing to every employee coming to campus. I urge everyone to take advantage of the availability and simplicity of this saliva-based test implemented by Bob Darnell’s lab. Combined with contact tracing by OHS and close adherence to wearing masks everywhere on campus, maintaining social distancing, and frequent handwashing, we have been able to keep our campus very safe throughout the pandemic. Nonetheless, our ability to sustain this record and remain open this fall and winter will depend on our continued collective efforts and vigilance. If you are eating with colleagues, keep your distance even when outdoors, and replace your face covering as soon as you have finished with your meal. And please continue to wear your masks even when alone in single-occupancy shared spaces such as microscope and tissue culture rooms. The only exception to our campus mask policy is in private single-occupancy offices where no one else will enter the space after you leave. And please do not gather in large groups. Even the White House has experienced an outbreak by ignoring common-sense behaviors.

Turning to good news, I’m pleased to report that the SNF-DR River Campus and Kravis Research Building has been named Lab of the Year by the Scientific Equipment and Furniture Association for its innovative design, joining previous winners including the Francis Crick Institute in London, the Janelia Farm Research Campus in Virginia, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Congratulations to our colleagues at Viñoly Architects and Turner Construction as well as George Candler, Tim O’Connor, and many other members of the Rockefeller team that contributed to the KRB’s success. As we can all witness, it is a stunning structure, and it is very gratifying to see that outside experts in lab building design agree.

Also, last week U.S News & World Report released its ranking of global universities and reported that Rockefeller is No. 1 in the percentage of papers published that are among the top 10 percent most cited publications in their fields. This metric is consistent with other recent rankings of research universities such as the Leiden ranking and U-Multirank and is testimony to the continuing impact of research coming from Rockefeller laboratories.

I’m also pleased to recognize Maija Neville-Williams for receiving the Excellence in Health Administration Award from the American Public Health Association. Maija, who is administrative director of the Rockefeller University Hospital, has been an outstanding member of the hospital leadership team for many years, and I’m thrilled to congratulate her on this national recognition.

In addition, this week saw the initiation of a new series of seminars devoted to issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice sponsored by the Anderson Center for Cancer Research. Veronica Johnson, assistant professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY, spoke on race-based traumatic stress. There will be three additional ACCR DEIJ lectures this academic year, with Candace Miller giving the next lecture on December 14. My thanks to everyone involved in launching this important new series.

Finally, the November 3rd election is now just four days away. To locate your polling place, visit You may also vote early in New York throughout the weekend depending on hours at your early polling location, or you may return your New York absentee ballots to a drop-off site until 9 p.m. on Tuesday or mail them as long as they are postmarked on Tuesday before the post office closes. Election Day is a Rockefeller holiday, so you should have ample time, but I urge you not to wait until the last minute!

With best wishes,


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