Social Distancing

Camera: Apple iPhone 11 Pro
Exposure: 1/6944
Aperture: f/1.8
Focal Length: 28mm equivalent
ISO: 25

COVID-19 is causing unprecedented chaos across the globe, and “Social Distancing” is the best tool that we currently have to fight it right now.  The United States failed containment of COVID-19, a very infectious coronavirus that is spreading rapidly through communities.  The thinking has been that COVID-19 affects only the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems.  However, young people *are* also impacted.  For instance, my colleague, Clement Chow, a young faculty geneticist at the University of Utah is currently fighting a COVID-19 infection in the Intensive Care Unit (Not HIPAA as he self disclosed on Twitter earlier yesterday). This is a very serious health concern that I trust you have been following from the news.  Some in our government and outside are encouraging people to continue to go out to movies, restaurants, bars, etc… I vehemently disagree with this approach and would encourage everyone to practice social isolation.
Social distancing is important as it helps give our healthcare system the “room” to weather this storm.  Demand for intensive care units (ICUs) is going to skyrocket, and most hospitals already operate their ICUs at 70-75% capacity.  If moderate infection rates (R0) and moderate severity of this virus, ~16,500 deaths could result which means that our ICUs will be at 100% capacity pretty much immediately.  If it is worse, and from Italy’s example, it looks like it is, we could be over-capacity and in trouble pretty quickly.  So, the *best* policy is to practice social distancing with minimal interactions… AND. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face.
As to the University of Utah, like every other institution, it is creating COVID-19 policy literally on the fly, and we will see where this goes.  Some universities are shutting down all research operations.  Others are not.  We will see where the University of Utah ends up, but there is huge pressure to shut down all non-essential operations that can be accomplished via teleworking.  A proposal at the University of Utah that is gaining traction, is to require teleworking.  What does this mean?  The University of Utah is still working it out.  For us, this means that a good portion of our work can be accomplished with teleworking.  Some of it, particularly that work which creates the raw data can not.
In order for my lab to continue functioning, I need three employees to be on-site, but not concurrently, and because of generous lab space, we are can work in completely separate work spaces without interacting.

If we shut the lab down, we can still function at a greatly reduced capacity for a limited period of time. Though effectively no core grant work will be able to happen.  I will be able to still read papers, write grants, work on manuscripts, and deal with budget and management related issues while off site, mostly.  Others can likely work from home.
If the University of Utah shuts down all research, which as I said is happening at some institutions, I do not know what this will mean yet in terms of pay, or sick leave, or vacation time.  The NIH policy is rapidly evolving with respect to pre-award costs, extension of award costs, reporting, waivers and expenditures.  I’ll wade through all of this along with Moran leadership and figure out where we stand. My hope is for minimal financial complications. I’m hoping that the Trump administration does not meddle too much in this, and because so many people are involved with federal funding in the NIH, I expect some substantial degree of flexibility here.


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