Communications from the Executive Vice Dean

An update from the EVD/CSO, with thanks



Dear Colleagues,


By now, I hope you have seen the encouraging news regarding the very promising results from the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which are both based on discoveries made by PSOM’s Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, Director of Vaccine Research and Professor in Infectious Diseases and his collaborators, including Katalin Kariko, PhD, a past Penn faculty member who is now at BioNTech. 

At the same time, this has been a stressful week with a marked uptick in cases, new City restrictions, and heightened concern for friends, family, and colleagues.  While at this time we continue on the present course with our research endeavors, I understand there remain questions and concerns, and I hope to address a few of those here.


Reported cases:

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, there have been 31 positive cases reported at PSOM, with zero reported workplace transmissions.  We must continue our vigilance regarding wearing proper masks, social distancing, practicing good hand hygiene, and working remotely whenever possible.  Thank you for your adherence to and support of these safety measures.


Work remotely, meet virtually, and use break areas carefully (and only when necessary):

All activities that can occur from home must continue remotely.  The City’s “Safer at Home” restrictions also updated directives on capacity limits for events and gatherings.  We continue to ask that you hold virtual meetings and avoid congregating in conference spaces.  Lastly, our colleagues in Space Planning and Operations have arranged for additional break areas for those working on campus; please see full list here


Surveillance testing:

Our colleagues are working tirelessly to continue to expand our already robust COVID testing capacity in order to provide accessible testing to our patients, our community, and our work force.  Testing in our clinical laboratories is being expanded rapidly with new platforms, equipment, and personnel, while our researchers are developing new and innovative tests for point-of-care diagnosis and surveillance, tests already being deployed as part of our COVID SAFE clinical trial. 


For those who have not yet signed up for COVID SAFE, I strongly encourage you to participate if you are on campus even a few hours a week.  The team continues to incorporate your valuable feedback, including increasing the frequency of testing to once a week (more information to come soon) and setting up a second collection site in the Smilow/PCAM complex as soon as possible.


Symptomatic and close contact testing:

A free CLIA-approved test is available at Houston Hall for all students, faculty, postdocs, and staff displaying symptoms.  Testing is also available for identified close contact cases, which is defined as any individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes.  More information is found here, including our mandatory tool, PennOpen Pass, which is helping with monitoring and tracking.


Weekly updates on testing results can be found on the University’s COVID-19 Dashboard.


COVID testing does not prevent disease.


Travel guidelines:

As we enter the holiday season, personal travel remains strongly discouraged at this time.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.


We are following the PA Public Health guidance for travel and quarantine, and the recent PA order requires anyone returning to the state, or entering the state from elsewhere, to have an FDA approved test within 72 hours prior to arrival, or to quarantine for 14 days. 


As I’ve stated before, I recognize the immense sadness and disappointment in how COVID-19 has impacted our lives, especially this time of year in our ability to be together with those we love.  This Thanksgiving, I extend my heartfelt thanks to all of you for your dedicated and selfless service to caring for and protecting the health and safety of our patients, our community, and one another. 




Jon Epstein, MD I EVD/CSO
Follow us on Twitter: @PennMedEVDCSO

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