5/18/2020 - Community Town Hall Transcript
On Wednesday, May 13, President Thomas F. Rosenbaum and Provost David A. Tirrell convened a virtual town hall to update the community on the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on campus and on Caltech's plans and planning for the resumption of activities.
The online panel discussion, which drew more than 1,600 members of the Caltech community, also included Jennifer Howes, executive director of student wellness services; Jim Cowell, associate vice president for facilities; Kaushik Bhattacharya, vice provost; and Julia McCallin, associate vice president for human resources, who all helped address community questions submitted in advance.
Thomas Rosenbaum: Welcome to our virtual town hall. My screen shows 961 participants and counting, a wonderful statement of engagement of the Caltech community. Our lives are now suffused with Zoom meetings, teleconferences, online classes, and all kinds of virtual events, but I want to emphasize that we are not a virtual community. We have pulled together to keep the Institute moving forward, even as the whirlwind of the coronavirus pandemic has altered our lives and often increased our burdens. I am proud of how we have supported each other as a community, and how our COVID-19 research, on campus and at JPL, will help the world.
Today, we have an opportunity to address some of your questions. It was difficult to pivot to remote instruction and operations, especially in such a short time period, but it will be another kind of challenge to resume operations and come back together on campus. You will hear many specifics today—at least the ones we have figured out—but I want to start us off by presenting a few general principles.
The resumption of activities on campus will not occur all at once. It will progress through stages, with research activity slated to resume first in a modulated form. The process will be informed by public health guidelines and state, county, and local orders. We are committed to basing our decisions on data and to doing all we can to mitigate risk.
As you saw in communications from Dave and me, we have appointed working groups with members drawn from across campus to develop guidelines for the whole Institute. Having said that, the implementation of those guidelines will take into account the differences across the Institute. They will be tailored by each administrative unit and academic division to factor in local and individual needs.
Finally, I want to note that we are living in an incredibly fluid situation, and because of that, our policies and processes necessarily will evolve with time. Dave and I have emphasized the need to be prepared to act and to think through the myriad issues associated with a staged resumption of activities, but—given all the external exigencies—it may be a while before we can act.
Thank you all for participating today. Given the engaged and inquisitive nature of the Caltech community, we are unlikely to be able to respond to all of the questions submitted, but we will follow up with future communications and through the FAQs on the coronavirus information website. With that, let me turn the microphone over to our moderator, Provost Dave Tirrell.
David Tirrell: Thanks, Tom. I would also like to add my welcome to everybody who is participating and my enthusiasm for the level of interest that the registration shows. When Tom made his comment on attendees, a couple of minutes ago, we were at 900 something; we now have more than 1,400 people registered and that number continues to rise. The level of engagement from the community is something that we very much appreciate.
As Tom said, I will serve as moderator for today's discussion. We received more than 100 questions ahead of time and we have tried to organize them in a way that gives the conversation some structure. Because of this, you may not hear your specific question reflected in the conversation, but we hope that the substance that you're most interested in will be addressed, and, as Tom said, we have mechanisms for follow up afterward.
I would also like to thank the other panelists who are participating in the discussion today. We brought this group together in large part to reflect the interest shown by the questions that were submitted. Joining us are: Jim Cowell from Facilities; Jennifer Lum, General Counsel; Jennifer Howes from Student Affairs and the Student Wellness Center; Julia McCallin from Human Resources; Ilana Smith from International Scholar Services; and Kaushik Bhattacharya, the vice provost for research.
Process for Reopening Campus
DT: The first subject for conversation reflects about a quarter of the questions that we received ahead of the meeting. These focus on the process for reopening the campus. As Tom said, that will be very much a staged process. It's a reengagement of the campus, not a single event, and we wanted to talk a little bit about the principles that will guide that process. I'd like to start with just a little bit more detail on the subject that Tom mentioned a couple of minutes ago. And that is the structure that we've put in place for planning and guiding this process.
We currently have in place a set of five planning committees: a research committee that is led by Kaushik Bhattacharya (we may have research questions later in the session that we may direct to Kaushik); a committee on instruction which is led by Stacey Scoville and engages people from Student Affairs, faculty members, and others with different perspectives; we have a testing subgroup, which is trying to understand what the options are for testing our community, both in the short term, and then longer term as we no doubt will be living with the coronavirus for a while; we have a workplace resumption committee, which is led by Julia McCallin and will be addressing human resources and legal aspects of our reoccupation of the campus; and a student affairs planning group, which has been working extremely hard, led by Dimitris Sakellariou.
So those are the five groups and they are meeting frequently—several times per week—and then we have every evening at six o'clock a phone call of the Executive Policy Group involving the president and vice presidents and some others to discuss what has happened during the day and to try to make whatever decisions we can make on a daily basis, and then set the agenda going forward.
So that is a broad outline of the planning process that's been underway now for many weeks, but I would say again, it's an evolving process and it's a little different now from what it was a few weeks ago.
Q: Does Caltech have a reopening timeline?
DT: The short answer to that question is no. We will be examining the public health situation, which I'm sure all of you are following with interest. I'd have to say this has been a source of frustration for us and I'm sure for many of you. I think we had anticipated that the rate of infection would be declining in Los Angeles County by now, and it's not clear that it is. So we will be watching the evolution of that process very carefully and that will figure prominently in any timeline that we put in place for a staged reengagement. We are in frequent contact with the Pasadena Public Health Department and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health—so that we're aware of their guidance—generally several times per week, and we try to understand ahead of time what they're thinking and what their plans will be. So, again, the short version is there is no fixed timeline and we will be led in large part by the evolution of the public health situation.
Q: What external faction factors and conditions will the Institute take into consideration in its assessment plans? Local orders? Health professional guidance? Are there specific criteria that Caltech must meet before we reopen?
DT: I've mentioned the public health considerations that will certainly be an important part of our thinking. We also will need to have in place adequate processes for testing our community, both symptomatic individuals and some degree of broader random sampling, so that we understand what the penetration of the virus has been in our community. I should say that, at this point, we are aware of only two positive tests in our community of roughly 5,000 people. It may be that there are others that would not have been reported to us if they occurred off campus. We would like to know about them. And so, if you care to report them to Jennifer Howes or through Human Resources—and Jennifer can give you more detail on how best to do that—we would like to know if there have been other positive tests. At this point, we're aware of only two: one of our graduate students and one in a graduate student family, two different households. We are relieved that the penetration of the virus into our community has not been more widespread than that, and we will do everything we can to try to understand what the degree of penetration is.
So we will pay attention to the external public health situation, we'll put in place testing, we will have adequate space for isolation and quarantine, and we will have adequate resources available for contact tracing. And, again, Jennifer Howes is much more expert on these things than I am, and she can provide additional detail.
Q: What will a phased approach to resuming on campus operations look like?
DT: As Tom said a few minutes ago, what we're anticipating is that we will begin to expand our research activity first and we will make sure that we have in place the support resources that we need in order to conduct that research safely and effectively. We'll be bringing back support staff people in response to the evolving situation in the research laboratories. We believe that that's a manageable way to proceed. We can initiate that activity at whatever level we are comfortable with, and we believe this will reduce the risk to a satisfactory level, and we can test our procedures before going to a fuller occupation of the campus.
I should say, by the way, and here Jim Cowell can provide additional detail if he wishes to do so in a few minutes, we have had staff people in Facilities working on the campus to keep our central operations going; there have been several hundred of those people working on campus including campus security and other things. And again, we are unaware that we have had any positive tests in that community. So, working at that level on the campus so far has been successful.
Risk Mitigation Measures
DT: We will now move to a discussion of risk mitigation measures. Roughly a third of the questions that we received ahead of time were focused on measures and controls that we're going to put in place to support a return to operations. We will engage many of our panelist colleagues in this conversation. We're first going to turn to Jennifer Howes, but before I do that, there are a couple of general questions that I think I can address.
Q: What mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that there's consistency in approach and safety across divisions and organizations?
DT: Here I would come back to the five planning groups and the Executive Policy Group which is meeting every evening to address concerns that arise during the day. That is a focal point for common discussion of issues that arise in any part of the campus, and we believe that it's an effective mechanism to ensure that there's a consistency of approach.
Q: Will Caltech be prepared to shut down quickly again if there is a spike in infections?
Jennifer Howes: In terms of the issue of shutting down on a quick timeline, of course we continue to be in touch with our public health department colleagues and are monitoring the development of any outbreaks very closely. Unfortunately, we had the experience of shutting things down rather quickly earlier this spring. We learned a lot from that experience, and I think we will have some additional things in our toolbox that will help us respond in the event that we need to shut down in a more scalable fashion.
Certainly, we hope to ramp up our operations in a way that will allow us to maintain that flexibility. And now that everybody is well versed in physical distancing and some of the risk mitigation procedures that we've put into place and will continue to put into place, our hope is that we would not have to shut down, but that if it came to it that we would be able to do so effectively, based on our previous experiences.
Now I think we can move into the questions around testing.
Q: What types of health monitoring will be required of individuals returning to work on campus?
JH: This is really a critical component to our overall risk mitigation strategy, not only for the campus community, but also as we think about our community members staying safe in their own environments. It's going to be very important that everybody engage in monitoring of their own health each day before coming to campus and we're currently looking at ways that we can support those efforts, including thinking about whether technologies such as smart thermometers and any symptom tracking apps might be integrated into that strategy. If somebody is ill, we of course ask that they do not come to work on campus and instead let their supervisor or PI know why they are out. At that point, they will also be connected to my office, Student Wellness Services, or Human Resources' Disability and Leave unit, where we are then able to facilitate appropriate testing. But, really, the priority is on making sure that folks are able to stay at home.
The Institute is also currently looking to secure a rapid point-of-care testing system that would enable us to quickly test anyone who presented or became ill while at work or in residence, and that would allow us to start the isolation and contact tracing procedures in a timely fashion.
Q: Will community members returning to campus be tested for COVID-19 before they return and how often will testing be required?
JH: The testing work group, which was mentioned as a subcommittee of the research group led by Vice Provost Bhattacharya, is currently investigating a variety of different approaches to testing that are scientifically grounded, informed with public health and epidemiology expertise, and that are sustainable in time, in terms of resources and also community participation. Our goal is to obtain the testing capacity to certainly test individuals who are symptomatic or have had suspected exposures, and we're working on procuring that system. Of course, there are many other organizations that are also trying to do the same thing, and so we're having to kind of manage the issues around supply in that regard.
Another consideration is whether to test groups of individuals before they return to campus or, for example, those who are already working on campus, and the utility of this kind of effort. Testing individuals before returning to work is one way to identify the likely small number of folks who might be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic before they come to campus and that is important. However, this is not a panacea. And it tells us really only the status of those individuals on the day that they are tested.
A third area of investigation of the testing working group is the more frequent testing of community members on an ongoing basis. This approach requires not only the technology and availability of testing materials, but, really, that these things advance beyond where they are today in terms of what we're able to deploy on campus. We are currently exploring partnerships with local laboratories as well as the possibility of establishing higher throughput lab capabilities on campus, and these are ongoing conversations and we hope to continue to push out information to the community as these become more available.
Currently, free public testing is available to LA County residents at a number of different testing sites across Southern California. Those testing capacities have been increasing over time and are now open to not only symptomatic individuals, but those in high risk lines of work, as well as even those who are asymptomatic. Testing can be scheduled at the LA County website, or folks can also go to their regular physician: many medical offices also have partnerships with testing sites and folks can do that on a drive thru basis.
Q: Will antibody tests be available?
JH: Antibody testing is currently available through commercial labs and can be ordered by your physician. There are 12 antibody tests that have been given emergency use authorization by the FDA and even though that's the case, more research is really needed to understand what the specificity and sensitivity of these tests are and really what a positive antibody test is telling us beyond that somebody may have had a COVID-19 infection. At this point, we do not know what a positive antibody test means in terms of immunity, so the value really is in how it helps public health specialists and researchers to extrapolate how the disease process moves through a community. Whether this is a recommendation for the Caltech community is still a question that the testing subgroup is thinking through, trying to understand how antibody testing might help us understand the presence of the virus on campus over time.
Q: What steps are being taken to develop our contact tracing practice and how will that process be handled?
JH: So, we will continue to use the same protocol that has been established by Pasadena and LA County Public Health Departments to support the tracing of close contacts to confirmed cases of COVID-19. This involves identifying anyone who was considered a close contact, which means that they were within a six-foot proximity for about 10 minutes of face to face contact with the infected person or they were caring for somebody who was positive for COVID-19. So, for example, a first responder or medical professional, or if they are living in the same household as someone who is positive.
Ideally, given our physical distancing guidelines, most of the close contact would really be mitigated for everyone maintaining those physical distancing practices. However, we will need to do contact tracing and when we do identify who those people are they will be given instructions through the health officer orders on quarantine for close contacts. And, certainly, if they are in residence, then we would be supporting them through our quarantine and isolation protocols if they do end up becoming ill. In addition to notifying close contacts, we would also engage in sanitizing of workspaces or living areas of that person if they were in residence.
These contact tracing efforts are going to be supported by our wellness staff as well as others on campus, and we may even engage volunteers who might wish to go through training to help support our efforts in this regard. As you can imagine, if we do have a larger outbreak on campus, we will need additional capacity in order to facilitate that contact tracing.
Q: Will there be specific guidance for individuals who are 65 and older, or for those with underlying, at-risk health conditions, or those living with someone who has an underlying at-risk health condition?
JH: We expect that the safer at home orders will likely continue to provide guidance for those who are aged 65 or older, or those with underlying conditions that may put them at greater risk for COVID-19. This could include continuing to limit access or exposure through public spaces and to the public, and we're currently looking at the most efficient ways to enable those with risk factors to self-identify and report that information to the appropriate offices. For students that would be Student Wellness Services; for staff, faculty, postdocs, and others that would be through Human Resources' Disability and Leave unit. We're looking to do that in ways that both protect patient privacy and as well as enable the accommodations process to unfold. So, Human Resources and the Office of General Counsel are also working hard to develop policies and guidance for employees and managers.
DT: I have been monitoring questions that are coming in in real time. And there are two of them that relate to this section of the conversation. I think, in fact, they may have been addressed by Jennifer's comments, but I will mention them very briefly and try to address them. And if Jennifer feels she should add something please do that, Jennifer.
Q: How do you know that the staff on campus, during this time, has not been positive, unless you've tested them; they could be asymptomatic?
DT: It's certainly true that we don't know whether some of our community members might be carrying the virus unless we've tested them. We don't know the answer to that question and if I used loose terminology, I apologize for that. I want to emphasize that we are aware of only two positive tests in the community. I certainly acknowledge that there are asymptomatic cases. Some of you have probably seen studies done in Santa Clara County, Los Angeles County, and around New York, suggesting that perhaps most people who are carrying the virus at any given time are either asymptomatic or weakly symptomatic.
Q: When can we have testing to see where these hidden carriers and cases are?
DT: One of the things that we hope to be able to do is to put in place health monitoring processes that will sensitize all of us to our own health conditions so that if we are weakly symptomatic, we will want to do something about that. And then we will provide resources so that we can do something about it. Jennifer, you should jump in if I've missed something there.
JH: Just to just to add to that, while it's true that asymptomatic folks are not ones that we would necessarily capture unless we were testing them, my office has been engaging in a lot of consultation with individuals who either feel that they've been at risk of exposure, largely in their homes or in the community, and I've been following those individuals and providing consultation when those situations come up as well as engaging in testing of community members as situations indicate on an ongoing basis. And so, we are engaging with the folks who are on campus, and I will say that because we are all practicing physical distancing in our essential work that, again, we're trying to mitigate even the possibility that asymptomatic folks will be spreading the virus.
Q: Are we talking about virus testing, PCR-based, or antibody testing?
DT: I think probably it was apparent from Jennifer's replies that unless we were specifically talking about antibody testing, all other references were to direct testing for the virus through PCR or related methods.
Recommendations Regarding Face Coverings and Gloves
DT: With that I think we'll shift to the next portion of the conversation, which will engage Jim Cowell. There are specific questions about personal protective equipment, starting with questions about face coverings. And, Jim, I can allow you to address the questions as a group as Jennifer did, or if you'd like some prompts from me, that's fine too.
Jim Cowell: Thank you. I'll address the questions as a group. I think there were a lot of questions about face coverings and how we were going to handle that in and on the campus. And so I'll talk a little bit about that.
People will be required to wear face coverings and to follow recommended risk reduction protocols while they're in the work area, such as distancing and handwashing and things like that. We're going to be issuing some guidance and some training to the campus community regarding the ways we would like people to adjust their behavior in the workplace, so that we can implement these risk control measures and so we can continue our work while reducing the risk to the community.
To facilitate this, Caltech is going to provide two reusable cloth face coverings as an initial outfitting for each person working on the campus. People will be expected to use this covering, or a covering of their preference, while in campus buildings. We're also going to provide disposable single-use face coverings for visitors, or if a person forgets their face covering on the way to work.
A couple of questions about gloves: gloves are not recommended in our day-to-day activities, unless you're doing something in an environment that specifically requires gloves.
We've also gotten questions about face coverings in buildings and face coverings when you're outside around the campus, and access for the general public on the campus. The general public will continue to have access to the campus as they had under the pre-COVID conditions. We're requiring people that come inside campus buildings to wear face coverings in keeping with the City of Pasadena guidance, and there are signs at the main entrances to the campus to remind people of this and remind them not to come onto the campus if they're experiencing some influenza-like illness conditions.
Now, there may be some limited situations where you take your face covering off if you're alone—for example, while recording a class—but otherwise we should all wear them when we're inside campus buildings.
Cleaning and Sanitizing Protocols
JC: The next area that we wanted to talk about was cleaning and sanitizing. There were a lot of questions about how we're going to clean, how often we're going to clean, and how we're going to go about that. The first thing I want to mention is that we have been continuing to clean and disinfect campus buildings over the past few months. We've never stopped doing that, although we've had a lesser number of workers because there are just not as many people on the campus. But the overall goal is to ensure the cleanliness of buildings by disinfecting areas and stopping the spread and reducing the risk of exposure to the campus community. We're following the CDC recommendations and guidance and, additionally, the custodial staff has been trained on cleaning procedures and how to disinfect facilities.
As campus spaces begin to be reoccupied, cleaning frequency is going to increase. For example, restrooms and other high touch surfaces are going to be cleaned three times a day. Now, in terms of individual offices in labs, we intend to provide disinfection cleaning supplies so that people can do their own self-cleaning of their spaces and disinfection. We're going to place hand sanitizers at main building entry points when they become available; the supply chain is a little bit of a challenge. We do not intend to provide hand sanitizers for offices in labs, simply because frequent hand washing is preferred over the hand-sanitizer approach.
The other questions we've gotten have to do with building air circulation and HVAC systems. I want to start out by mentioning that, over the past few months, we've continued to run the HVAC systems in all of our buildings. So we've never gone away from 24/7/365 ventilation especially in lab buildings. Right now the HVAC technicians are in the process of assessing and reviewing the operations of air-handling systems based on industry recommendations. We'll be looking for opportunities to improve air circulation and filtration in our buildings, and of course we're fortunate that many of our buildings are already ventilated 24/7 with 100% outside air. For those buildings that are on recirculated air, we'll be making changes to maximize the outside air.
Social Distancing and Density Control Measures
DT: Thanks, Jim. We've gotten a series of questions about the density with which people will be working on the campus and mechanisms for keeping the density down to levels that we believe reduce risk.
Q: How can physical distancing happen in office or labs? In some cases, for instance, there are people working just three feet apart. Is the institute considering a 10/4 schedule involving four consecutive days at work during each two-week cycle? Models show that this kind of work schedule can drive viral growth rates below one by taking advantage of viral latency.
DT: So, Kaushik, I know that you have considered and have suggested to the individual leaders of different units that they ought to evaluate alternative strategies for keeping density low. I wonder if you might address that one in particular and other aspects of the same question.
Kaushik Bhattacharya: Sure, David. So, we have considered the 10/4 recommendation; we have tried to balance that with the particular scientific needs. We are asking every research group to look at what is relevant to their scientific needs and try to create schedules that balance the epidemiological information with the scientific needs. 10/4 is the preferred approach. We are also asking that lab groups which are located close by one another to actually try to coordinate their schedules so that it's the same cohort which is in the building at the same time, so that we can quickly isolate different groups. We are making recommendations on the density specifically to limit the number of people who are in a building and within a lab and within a room at the same time. We are also making recommendations about trying to assign working spots and the distance between these working spots. So, we are developing a series of recommendations for within the lab and within the building so that we can limit density.
DT: Thank you, Kaushik.
KB: Back to you.
DT: And perhaps I can just mention, if it's not become apparent through the conversation up to this point, that the planning process involves a kind of multi-level approach. There is the approach of the Executive Policy Group, which looks at all decisions and all recommendations; that is an Institute-wide process. We have asked the five committees that I mentioned earlier to make recommendations to the EPG so that we have a campus-wide view, but also extend to the level of individual buildings, including within student affairs. This takes account of how we will eventually reoccupy our residences. We have the instructional group working on assessing our capacity to repopulate our teaching spaces, and we'll have a session on instruction in just a couple of minutes. And then we are asking individual laboratory heads and heads of other units to develop specific plans that are consistent with those broader guidelines. And so, as Kaushik said, we are allowing some flexibility at that level, as long as all of the individual plans meet the criteria that have been set at the Institute level for the research laboratories and have been approved by the division chairs. The division chairs will convey approval to the Executive Policy Group.
So, I think we will move on to the next section of the conversation, and that concerns employee and community response. We have had questions coming in through the course of the meeting on those subjects and we also received questions ahead of time. I think we will allow Julia to guide this part of the conversation. Julia.
Employee and Community Response
Julia McCallin: Thank you, Dave. Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for attending today's town hall meeting. We know that many individuals in attendance are anxious to return to campus and their on-site offices, and are also thinking about what that will look like in your work lives and in your personal lives.
Q: We've had a number of questions about what measures will be in place to return to campus and to help individuals understand their options.
JM: As you all know, this is a very fluid situation. We're taking many factors into consideration as we work with our policies and our guidelines to return to campus. And when I say we, I mean the workplace resumption committee that is made up of staff primarily, and is looking at the different circumstances our employees may need to work through prior to their return. Many of you have become full-time teachers to your school-aged children, or you have childcare issues or elder care issues or other personal situations that really make you unsure about returning to work onsite. As Dr. Rosenbaum stated in his opening remarks, re-entry into the on-site office and facilities will be slow. So, many of you can probably expect to continue to telecommute (if you are able to do that now) for a while. But your group and your department needs will dictate the schedules of when people will return to work. Many of our staff members, as David mentioned, continue to work on campus and, as others join them, it's important that you know that our policies and guidelines will evolve and change over time, and they will reflect the different situations we are working with at the time. As people return onsite, both on campus and to our observatories off campus, we'll continue to consider the many factors that employees and managers need to deal with as they return to work.
Q: What resources, if any, will we be providing to our managers?
JM: We will be giving managers guidance and training on the many issues that will face them: those that we know about today, and the new ones that may happen as people return to the work site. We do—I do—want to remind people that you can access the Human Resources office or Disability and Leave unit. I know many people have worked with our Disability and Leave unit and our Employee and Organizational Development group on specific concerns you may have about returning to work. Jennifer Howes, I think, stated very well the considerations if you might have a compromised health condition or if you're of an age where the public health department is saying you need to be more cautious. Thank you for your questions and your continued flexibility during this time. Dave.
DT: Julia, following up on your last comment and perhaps you've addressed this, but we just got a question of this kind.
Q: Should at-risk individuals reach out to HR on their own or wait for directives from HR by email?
JM: Thank you. So, at-risk individuals, please do reach out to HR on your own, to our Disability and Leave unit. If you go on the HR.caltech.edu site, we have information there; if we are already working with you, we might be reaching out to you just through that conversation. But if we have not worked with you yet, please do contact our department.
DT: There was a question following up on the discussion of the 10/4 work schedule; that isn't our usual terminology, and I can see some of our colleagues have offered possible explanations of what it means, but I will try to clarify what it means. It means that someone comes in to work for four days consecutively, and then stays home for 10 days. And the reason for that is that it reflects the timescale for the evolution of the disease and would allow someone to monitor for symptoms during the period when he or she is not at work. So, you come in for four days, you go home for 10, you monitor your symptoms carefully during that period of time, and if everything's okay at the end of 10 days you come back for more time on campus. We may see some of our units adopting schedules of that kind, but, as we said earlier, there's flexibility in how we might meet the density requirements of our Institute-wide guidelines.
JM: Dave, may I just comment quickly? I think you stated it very well, but it might be getting a little confused with the 10/4 work schedule and the 4/40 workweek, where we work 10 hours a day for four days a week; very different concepts and different goals there. And so please don't think of that 4/40; think of what Dave just mentioned.
DT: I would like to be sure that we have time for a section on instruction, and fall instruction in particular, and Tom is going to lead that discussion. Tom.
TR: We had a number of questions regarding the fall and how we're thinking about classes and the residential experience.
Q: Is there a timeline for making a decision on the fall term?
TR: I'd just like to note that this is the hardest part of thinking about full resumption of activities because of the nature of the residential experience, especially the close living quarters in undergraduate residences. We are looking at prospects for reducing density, setting aside quarantine space, just as we are now; for delivery of meals; for classroom capacity with respect to social distancing, which might lead to changes in class hours; and so on. We are working through all those approaches. We will make a decision about the shape of the fall quarter as soon as we have enough certainty about the public health situation, but no later than the beginning of July, because we do have to give people notice of our plans by then. I imagine that a number of our peers will announce earlier because they start earlier.
Q: Some schools are discussing starting early so that they can finish the term by Thanksgiving. Is this something that Caltech is considering?
TR: The simple answer is, no. It may make sense for schools on the semester system, but I don't think that moving the start of the quarter up is very practical for us. Of course, if there's an echo of the virus in the fall, we may wind up ending early, say by Thanksgiving, but it's too early to know.
Q: What factors are being considered for return to on-campus instruction in the fall and, in particular, what about things like athletics and clubs and other activities?
TR: I think that's a really important question. Classes are wonderful, but there are the other aspects of the student experience that really make a Caltech education: working on problem sets together, learning from your peers, doing research (which is why you should come to Caltech as an undergraduate, in my view), music, theatre, sports. We are trying to devise safe ways to include these activities; we are very cognizant of the fact that they're a major part of the student experience. But we'll have to let risk mitigation determine what we can do and what we can't do.
Q: Is the plan to start the fall term online, in person, or some sort of hybrid model.
TR: The answer is yes! We are looking at all of these options, but we have not alighted on a particular model at this point. For example, one model might be modular instruction where some of the students are here in residence, some are doing online work, and then they would switch. That would reduce density. But there are other possible models that are of a hybrid nature. We may have to jigger schedules for lab courses throughout the academic year if they're not safe to take in the fall. And, certainly, we would try to accommodate special courses like senior theses, which are capstone events in a number of options.
Q: Are there lessons we've learned from the spring term that you think will carry over to the fall and beyond?
TR: I think this question is very perceptive and I appreciate it. I think there will be; we will do a lessons-learned study in part through the Center for Teaching, Learning and Outreach. I think two areas that are promising to look at are: What is the role of online instruction within the residential experience? Are there ways to improve our pedagogy by incorporating more online instruction, not just to replace the in-person experience?
Second, I think we want to look at whether more flexibility and telecommuting with our employees is possible and how that aligns with their job satisfaction and ability for getting things done. We will try to take lessons learned here to improve Institute life in every way. And we'd appreciate your suggestions about improvements that we might make and the lessons that you've taken from this experience.
So thank you for those questions and I'll turn it back to Dave.
DT: We are nearing the end of our time. I think we would like to finish at least by five minutes before the hour because I'm sure many people have things that they need to be doing at 1pm.
Q: What safeguards does the Institute have in place to avoid situations where anyone feels pressure to come in when either they're feeling ill or they may have other reservations about coming back to campus?
DT: The one thing I can say unequivocally is that if anybody feels ill that they should not come to campus. That is an absolute condition: we need all of you to be paying close attention to your health status and to let us know if you're feeling ill and to err on the side of not coming onto campus if you have any concern.
In addition, there are some people who feel vulnerable to pressure, perhaps graduate students or postdocs who might be asked to come back into the laboratory. First of all, we hope that in every case one feels that he or she can have a candid conversation with their supervisor to talk through what the concerns are. But we recognize that not everybody feels comfortable with that. And so for graduate students, for example, there are resources in the form of your thesis committee members, your thesis committee chair, in particular, your option representative, and the division chair. I would say that if you've not received a satisfactory resolution at that stage, I personally would be glad to talk with you and try to resolve any concerns that you might have. For our postdoctoral scholars, we have a Postdoctoral Scholars Office which Kaushik created and oversees, and each division has a postdoctoral representative, and you should feel comfortable going to that person, going to the division chair, going to Kaushik. And, again, if it's unresolved at those levels, I'm glad to talk with you; we believe we can resolve those situations.
Q: LA County's public health director said that the stay at home order is likely to extend into July; how does that affect Caltech's timeline for resuming research operations?
DT: Actually, I think it might even be longer than that. And, of course, the first response to that is that we will operate in compliance with local, county and state orders. We believe that within that LA County order we will be seeing stepwise changes in what the county allows. We're not interpreting what happened yesterday as an indication that the situation is going to be exactly as it is now two or three months from now; we don't believe that's going to be the case. We expect to see a gradual opening of the county, just as we are imagining a gradual opening of the campus. And I would like to emphasize that we are thinking about the county as the right public health unit for us to be considering. We are a community of about 5,000 people; we live all over LA County and I imagine some of us live outside the county. And so, while we pay attention to what's going on in Pasadena, we know that we have to understand what's going on in the broader areas where many of you live and from which many of you will be traveling to the campus. So, we believe that we will be able to open gradually in concert with even the newest news from LA County.
I think it's time for us to close here. And, in doing that, I would like to thank the community broadly for a remarkably effective response to the virus, which took many forms. It took the form of transition to online instruction. It took the form of our undergraduate students leaving the campus with very substantial engagement and help and guidance from our Student Affairs group. That was a remarkable transition. As I said earlier and as Jim indicated, we have had support staff working on the campus throughout this process, keeping our essential functions going. That list could go on for a long time. It's been a remarkable response. We've asked a lot of you and the response could not have been better.
I would also like to thank the group that was involved in creating the town hall today: Shayna Chabner, Leslie Maxfield, and each of our panelists who responded to your questions.
And, in closing, I would say that we will be pulling this information together. There are questions that we were not able to get to and we will be posting those on a page of frequently asked questions on our Caltech coronavirus website.
Again, we thank you for all you do for Caltech every day and for your interest in our return to campus. We hope to see you on campus before too long. Thank you.