March 23, 2020
This is the first letter not written from my isolation in Cove Cottage 7 on the MDIBL campus. Right now, I am on my way back to Germany, which happened earlier than I expected. I was made aware late Saturday night that NYC and Philadelphia airports were closing, so I had to hurry to try to get back to Germany. I caught a late flight to Ireland, which is where I am now, and hope to be in Germany by tonight. I think it’d be a living nightmare to end up stranded in an airport for the next couple of weeks – so I had to go without much of a chance to let everyone know or say goodbye.
It was a weird feeling to travel through a world which in which so much has changed so rapidly. There were not a lot of people in the airports, which is an eerie feeling to say the least. I didn’t see masks leaving Maine, but in the international terminal at Boston Logan, most people were wearing masks and keeping their distance.
We have achieved a lot during the past two weeks at MDIBL. I want to say thank you to everyone for their effort, support and outstanding commitment to protecting our community. We have rigged our ship well and are ready for a long sail ahead. Where at all possible, people are working from home. Of course, there are limitations, and our research has slowed down accordingly. We have not shut down our research completely, but we are being careful and keeping our distance in the labs.
The animal facility is in good hands and I am still impressed by the support from everybody. Volunteers will be trained in the next few days and a roster will make sure our animal core is well cared for. In administration, standard procedures have been defined to maintain the important tasks. We have a policy in place to maintain income security for our staff, to provide some sense of safety in this turbulent time.
Nobody knows how long the epidemic will last but from what is currently known, I would expect 2-3 months. It took that long before China was reporting no more new infections. There are still rising numbers of infections in every other country affected. The state of emergency will remain until we begin to see a decrease of cases in the US and Europe, and to define this point in time exactly is almost impossible. All the assumptions that have been made are based on testing for COVID-19, and the capacity for testing is still limited. I talked on the phone yesterday to a medical colleague at Indiana Medical School; there are many doctors who have developed respiratory problems but so far, only a few have actually been tested.
So, with immediate preparations in place, we look to moving forward as much as we can here. MDIBL’s courses will transition to online where possible; will we miss having students on campus, but a lot of planned courses will still be able to go ahead. I’m looking forward to the online MBMSS poster session at the end of April.
We’re all getting more adept with the technology, and Zoom has been incredibly helpful to keep us connected. As the situation around COVID-19 evolves we will begin to make decisions about what the summer at MDIBL might look like. Senior staff are in contact every day, and I will do my best to make myself available to you – so please do not hesitate to make contact and ask questions whenever necessary.
I miss the view from Cove Cottage 7 very much.