A Message from Dr. Francis S. Collins:
Date: Monday, March 9, 2020
Dear NIH Family:
As you know, there is an expanding outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2. The disease itself is referred to as COVID-19. Most cases and most person-to-person spread of the novel virus have occurred in mainland China, but clusters of affected persons have been increasingly detected outside of China, including in the United States. As of this email, there are confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in Montgomery County, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia. More local cases are expected. The immediate risk to most Americans remains low, but the potential global public health threat posed by this virus is high. This is a rapidly evolving situation and the risk assessment for people in the United States may change.
Travel and Meetings
In support of the Office of Personnel Management guidance to strengthen efforts to protect the federal workforce to ensure continuity of operations, NIH is urging staff to limit attendance at large meetings to those that are mission critical. NIH also is urging that all large meetings and symposia that are not mission critical and are scheduled to be held at NIH facilities or organized by NIH over the next 30 days either be held virtually using tele/videoconferencing services, postponed, or cancelled. In the coming weeks, NIH will evaluate this guidance for travel and meetings that take place beyond the 30-day period and will provide updated guidance.
Coordination and Communication
We recognize that as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus continues, it generates more and more questions from NIH staff. I have charged Dr. Alfred Johnson, NIH Deputy Director for Management, and Dr. Larry Tabak, NIH Principal Deputy Director, to co-chair an internal NIH Coronavirus Response Team to coordinate efforts across the agency related to personnel issues and logistics. This team, which includes experts in epidemiology, infectious disease, human resources, travel, communication, and acquisition logistics, has already begun to meet daily (and will meet more often as needed) to ensure all the latest information informs decisions regarding NIH personnel.
As an initial step, to address your concerns and questions, we’ve launched a new intranet page to provide a central location for guidance and answers to frequently asked questions. The page provides the latest CDC guidance on how to prevent infection, NIH guidance on travel and what to do if you’ve traveled from any of the affected regions in the past 14 days, frequently asked questions from NIH staff including flexibilities that NIH has to address personnel issues related to coronavirus, and links to helpful resources. This page will be updated as we receive new information, so please check it regularly.
We will also send emails using a standard subject line “CORONAVIRUS UPDATE” whenever significant new information is added to the page. These emails will be sent from the NIH Office of Communications and Public Liaison, so keep an eye out for them.
NIH Role in Coronavirus Response
NIH is playing several important national and international roles in dealing with this very serious situation. NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci represents NIH on the high-level COVID-19 task force that is led by Vice President Mike Pence. Based on research investments into the prior SARS and MERS outbreaks, NIAID scientists and grantees are well prepared to develop diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines against COVID-19. This includes basic research to understand how the virus infects cells and causes disease, adapting platforms used to develop diagnostic tests and vaccines, and evaluating treatments such as broad-spectrum antivirals and potential monoclonal antibodies. In fact, within two weeks of the discovery of COVID-19, NIAID researchers had determined how the virus enters cells. NIAID also recently announced the launch of a clinical trial to evaluate safety and efficacy of the experimental antiviral remdesivir in hospitalized adults diagnosed with COVID-19. In a longer-term effort toward prevention, NIH’s Vaccine Research Center is already well down the path toward development of a vaccine, working with Moderna.
While the NIH Clinical Center has not received patients with known COVID-19, it is equipped and prepared to accept patients, if needed. To be clear, the NIH Clinical Center is not scheduled to receive patients at this time. We will inform NIH staff if this changes.
Finally, NIH is helping to educate the public about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. Dr. Fauci has devoted countless hours to media interviews to help disseminate accurate information and dispel myths in news reports and on social media. We encourage you to spread the word that reliable information about the status of the outbreak can be found on the NIH microsite that includes the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information and NIAID research on the novel coronavirus. A graphic from Johns Hopkins displays global cases and is updated daily.
I couldn’t be prouder of the work we do at NIH than at a time like this. It is clear that our role has an enormous impact on the health, wellness, and safety of people around the world. Please do everything you can to support the teams that are bringing together the best science, medicine, and public health measures to address the challenge of COVID-19.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.