A Message to the Whitehead Institute Community from Director Ruth Lehmann

Whitehead Institute. Credit: Chris Sanchez

July 27, 2020

The following letter was sent to the Whitehead Institute community from Institute director Ruth Lehmann on July 25, 2020. 


Dear Members of the Whitehead Community,

During these challenging and difficult times, our community has shown enormous strength and resilience. It is with gratitude to everyone in the community, I can report that most of our research staff have been able to come back to the bench and many research activities have resumed. Unfortunately, it remains unclear how long the pandemic will last, as we are hopefully awaiting vaccines and therapeutics, while anxiously observing numbers of infections and deaths rising throughout the country. 

The tremendous progress we have made toward getting back to our research could not have happened if it were not for the dedicated and spirited work of the many supporting these efforts in ways so different from the usual. By adhering to currently available best practices of safety measures including symptom monitoring, personal protection and physical distancing, spread of the virus was averted within Whitehead Institute and has slowed in the greater Cambridge/Boston community. Whether you are on-site or off-site, I would like to thank you for your hard work and positive attitude. True to the spirit of rising to any challenge, our facilities management team, under Jim Manganello’s leadership, was able to support even the arrival of a new lab to the Whitehead Institute at these times! We welcome Jonathan and all Weissman lab members to our community.   

As we all are aware, progress against the virus may ebb and flow. Many circumstances dictated by the state of this public health crisis are out of our control and may require us to adjust our research activities. Despite these uncertainties, one thing we can do is proactively plan ways to increase and stabilize safe work conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Toward this goal, I have engaged the help and expertise of our community in planning additional steps to engage in active research while keeping everyone safe. Our planning efforts include:

●    Continuing to encourage all who can perform their work remotely to do so
●    Adapting core facility pick up and drop off procedures
●    Training procedures for new laboratory staff and core facility users that requires close contact
●    Extending lab hours from 6 a.m. to midnight 
●    Holding voluntary one-on-one meetings
●    Exploring options for rapid and frequent testing 

Updates to existing guidelines can be found here.

Beyond these guidelines, however, I invite you to join me in something larger: setting a collective intention for our community, a shared sense of personal and social responsibility to work together to help one another stay safe during this challenging time. It is in that spirit that I ask all of us to work within a social contract that includes acting responsibly at the Institute and when you are outside of it, recognizing we are all interconnected and our actions impact others. Commit to following best safety practices. Handwashing, masking, physical distancing, will all help allow us to continue to be productive in our work, send our children to school or daycare, enjoy the company of friends and extended family, and so much more. 

It has been a remarkable first two weeks for me, reinforcing all that I have known about our Whitehead Institute community and all that has made me eager to rejoin you here. The welfare of our community is of utmost importance to me. Across labs and administration, we can and must continue to work together so that each of us contributes to the well-being of all, within the walls of our building, and in the larger community. 

Ruth Lehmann
Director, Whitehead Institute

Whitehead Institute is a world-renowned non-profit research institution dedicated to improving human health through basic biomedical research.
Wholly independent in its governance, finances, and research programs, Whitehead shares a close affiliation with Massachusetts Institute of Technology
through its faculty, who hold joint MIT appointments.

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