The Rockefeller University
 Office of the President | May 7, 2021

Dear colleagues,

There are some truly spectacular days in the spring, and Thursday this week was one of them—sunny with cool, crisp air and new ducklings on campus. Moreover, the azaleas are at their peak and this year are truly incredible (see photo below); Jim Sullivan, head gardener, attributes this to the many cool, sunny days we’ve had. We are fortunate to work in a horticultural oasis in the midst of the city and are grateful to Jim and his team for making the campus so beautiful.

I’m pleased to report that there have been only two new COVID cases at Rockefeller in the last two weeks and none in the last seven days; this is the lowest number of new cases since last summer. I noted in my last letter that case numbers had finally started to drop In New York City, with the seven-day average declining from 45 to 30 new cases per 100,000 population per day over the previous two weeks. This sharp decline has accelerated, with a further 50% decrease over the last two weeks to an average of only 15 new cases per 100,000 per day. This drop is accompanied by a reduction in positive test rates to only 1.5% of all test results in NYC returning positive, with all five boroughs now under 2%. This has been paralleled by a 27% drop in new cases across the nation, with sharper declines in Michigan and Minnesota, which were previously particularly hard hit.

This progress is undoubtedly multifactorial, but the dramatic advance in vaccinations nationally is surely having marked impact. Across the country, 45% of the population over age 16 has now had at least one dose of vaccine and 33% are fully vaccinated. In NYC 55% of those over 18 have at least one dose and 42% are fully vaccinated. At Rockefeller, I’m pleased to note the data is even better. Eighty-eight percent of employees and students have had at least one dose, 77% have had two doses, and 72% are fully vaccinated (more than two weeks after the final dose). This is a fantastic response and undoubtedly has played a major role in the drastic decline in cases on campus over the last two weeks. It is within reach for virtually our entire campus to be vaccinated before the end of June.

As I’ve noted previously, the vaccines approved for use in the US have been rigorously tested and proven to be extremely safe and highly effective, with over 250 million doses administered in the US. The amount of safety data is now overwhelming, as is the evidence that they confer strong protection against asymptomatic infection, symptomatic infection, severe infection, and spreading of virus. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself, your families, and those around you from becoming infected with COVID and potentially developing serious disease. We clearly have the ability to win the fight against COVID, and our responsibility is to finish the job and all get vaccinated. If you haven’t made it a priority to get vaccinated, it is now easier than ever. Our partnership with The Hospital for Special Surgery program is administering the Pfizer vaccine in the Kellen BioLink right here on campus and will have walk-in hours again next week at which no appointment is necessary. It only takes 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how busy it is. If you haven’t yet been vaccinated, now is the time: don’t wait! If you have people in your life who are reluctant to get vaccinated, please talk to them about your experience and why you decided to get vaccinated. Here are the times you can walk in to the BioLink, located on campus overlooking the river at the end of 68th Street, for your first dose of the Pfizer vaccine next week:

Monday, May 10: 12:30 – 3:30 PM

Tuesday, May 11: 11 AM – 2 PM

Wednesday, May 12: 6:30 AM – 12:30 PM

I remind you that unvaccinated employees, contractors, friends, and family members of the RU community can all be vaccinated at this location!

Already, vaccination is allowing us to relax some policies on campus. A few weeks ago, in accord with CDC guidelines, we changed the travel policy, eliminating the need for vaccinated travelers to quarantine upon return. Today, given the steep decline in cases, the high vaccination rate on campus, and the fact that the main campus remains closed to visitors, I’m pleased to announce that we are now amending the masking policy to allow fully vaccinated individuals to remove their masks when outdoors on campus, provided they are able to maintain social distancing. This change is in accordance with recently revised CDC policy. Indoors, however, regardless of vaccination status, masks must still be worn at all times, except if you are alone in a private, single-occupancy office. For the latest on campus policies, visit the COVID19 updates page.

Moreover, as a consequence of the above change in policy, I’m also pleased to announce that the Faculty Club will open towards the end of next week for the first time since last March, in a pilot program during which beverages will be served outdoors during limited early evening hours. More details on this will be forthcoming from club management. I look forward to seeing you in the Philosophers Garden!

Given the rapid change in infection rate, further changes to COVID policies will be considered based on city and Rockefeller metrics, with advice from the Emergency Preparedness and Response Committee and the Research Restart Committee. We have recently had representatives from the student (Sarah Cai) and postdoctoral (Edmondo Campisi) communities join the Research Restart Committee, in order to ensure that trainee concerns about COVID-related policies are heard and that these communities are aware of committee discussions.

Spring is always a busy time for Rockefeller events, and there are several that I’d like to draw your attention to. This weekend, we will hold our second virtual Science Saturday event. Science Saturday has been a highlight of spring at Rockefeller since the first celebration eight years ago, bringing schoolchildren in grades K through 8 from across the city and tri-state area to campus for a fun day immersed in the wonder of the natural world. Although the event will take place via Zoom again this year, the Development Office and RockEDU have put together a fantastic program featuring Alison North, who will demonstrate the University’s super-resolution microscopes, and Daniel Kronauer, who will take us through the fascinating intricacies of ant societies. I encourage you and your families to join me tomorrow for what I’m sure will be an event to remember. The presentations are geared to schoolchildren in grades K through 8; registration is required.

Also, this afternoon we will have our inaugural Friday Lecture devoted to issues of diversity and inclusion in science. I’m pleased to host Hannah Valantine, who served for six years as both the first chief officer for scientific workforce diversity at the National Institutes of Health and as senior investigator at the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, before returning last fall to her professorship in cardiology at Stanford where she has pioneered the use of genomics for monitoring rejection in heart transplantation. She will be speaking at 3:45 PM on “Achieving Inclusive Excellence in Biomedical Research: Applying Genomics to Unravel Health Disparities in Organ Transplantation”. I hope you will attend what I know will be a great lecture via Zoom.

Finally, we recently presented the 2021 Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science to Richard Prum, ornithologist and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale, for his 2017 book, The Evolution of Beauty, which argues that in bird species, selection by females of mates with the most alluring features drives morphologic and behavioral evolution independent of the impact of these traits on male adaptive fitness, a view espoused by Darwin but often ignored. He also suggests that similar principles apply to humans. The event included a presentation by Prof. Prum and a discussion with Rockefeller Professor and Head of Lab Erich Jarvis. I encourage you to check it out here if you missed it.

Please stay safe, be well, and continue to take care of one another.


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