Dear School of Medicine faculty, staff and students,
Last week, I spent some time away from work, trying to reenergize and rest. I went on hikes and spent time with my family. But I must admit my mind never steered far from the COVID-19 pandemic and in particular how this pandemic is affecting all of you as well as our community.
As Dean, I feel one of my most important responsibilities is to be a source of information and truth. I have committed to you regular and transparent communication, and that is my promise. As I have done often since March, I’d like to provide a brief update on COVID-19 in our community and also share some good news with you . . . yes, there is still plenty of good news to celebrate!
- North Carolina continues to experience an increase in new cases of COVID-19, in both the percent of people testing positive and also in those hospitalized. Closer to home in Durham County, these increasing trends appear to have plateaued recently. Durham remains under safer-at-home status which includes masking - wearing a clean face covering any time you will be in contact with non-household members in public or private spaces where it is not possible to maintain social distance.
- Since early June, the Duke University Health System has also experienced an increase in both absolute numbers and percent of individuals testing positive for the virus, although the percent testing positive has dropped over the last week. The number of patients hospitalized in the Health System began to increase in early June and remains at that increased level. With the increase in community spread of the virus, we are also seeing an increase in Duke employees testing positive. When contact tracing is conclusive, although the majority of those cases are from community contacts, occasional transmission in the workplace occurs, usually associated with a breakdown in following guidelines.
- All of this serves as a reminder that we must follow the science at work and in the community. Recent studies published in the Lancet scientific journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society reviewed evidence and came to the same conclusion: Physical distancing helps prevent person-to-person transmission of COVID-19, and face masks and eye protection decrease the risk of infection. Under certain conditions, when lock-down periods are implemented in combination with 100% facemask use, the epidemic is brought under control. In the workplace we must continue to minimize congregation and be vigilant about wearing masks.
- In light of the Governor’s recent announcement about return to school, I know our faculty, staff and students have concerns about their families which has caused immense anxiety for many. Once again, we are fortunate to have experts at Duke to guide us with science and data. I encourage you to watch or read a panel discussion on returning to school and safety of children and teachers featuring Charlotte Wong, MD; Assistant Professor of Pediatrics; Ibukun Christine Akinboyo, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, and Lisa Gennetian, PhD, Pritzker Associate Professor of Early Learning Policy Studies in the Sanford School of Public Policy.
Lastly, it’s important that we continue to acknowledge good news and so I am happy to share a few milestones from the past few weeks:
- The School of Medicine has begun the planning process for our Turning a Moment into a Movement: Dismantling Racism initiative. We are organizing our efforts around stakeholder constituent groups: faculty, health professions students, graduate students and postdocs, and staff, and have created committees which are charged with developing recommendations to advance the school towards a diverse and equitable organization. We plan to provide an interim report outlining our progress and plans to President Price in September and a final report in early December, bringing forward concrete, actionable proposals with measurable outcomes. Thank you to everyone who is participating in this important movement.
- Last Saturday Duke Health made a significant move forward on the Duke Health community testing plan in collaboration with the Durham Recovery and Renewal Task Force. The team opened a testing clinic at the Holton Wellness Center. In addition to testing, the community members at the center are provided with education materials and supplies to help keep them safe. Kudos to all the team members that made this happen!
- On July 14, the Department of Homeland Security reinstated visa rules issued March 9 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which allows international students to remain in the United States regardless of whether their classes were in-person or online. Outstanding news for our international students!
- The Duke University School of Medicine is expanding into a newly-leased research center in the Research Triangle Park (RTP). The 273,000 square foot facility in the Parmer RTP research and development campus, formerly home to pharmaceutical maker GlaxoSmithKline, is currently being renovated to accommodate School of Medicine faculty, staff and labs as soon as January 2021. Exciting news for our research community!
I know this road is a difficult one to travel, but we are in this together. Thank you to our School of Medicine community who continues, even amidst very challenging circumstances, to deliver excellent patient care, provide outstanding education and training to our students, and make transformative progress in important and life-changing research.
Take care of yourselves.
Please visit the School of Medicine’s COVID-19 Information page to keep abreast of important news and information: https://covid19.medschool.duke.edu
Dean Mary E. Klotman