Dean's Weekly Message

April 13, 2020

Dear colleague: 

The number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise in Colorado last week, with the state Department of Public Health and Environment reporting 7,303 known positive cases of coronavirus with at least one case in 56 out of the state’s 64 counties. So far, 1,417 have been hospitalized and there have been 290 deaths, as of Sunday, April 12. While there have been encouraging signs that the spread of the virus has been slowing, the numbers are still going up. That’s also true for the United States and the rest of the world. The worldwide death toll now stands at more than 100,000.

With no cure or vaccine for the novel coronavirus, we must continue to take aggressive actions to corral it. That means continued mitigation efforts through physical distancing. Our campus continues to do its part with all non-critical faculty and staff working remotely through April 30. We recognize the challenges that working from home presents. Lost lab time, postponed clinical procedures, delayed projects have a tremendous cost to you and everyone in the CU Anschutz Medical Campus community. But a united effort to slow the spread of the virus by limiting contact is currently necessary.

We also understand that we need to think about how to increase our work productivity. To address research concerns, we have asked a team of scientists and facilities managers from our campus to begin thinking about ways that we could reopen research buildings without jeopardizing the health of our workers. We won’t be back to the old normal as soon as any of us would like to be, if we ever are, so we must think about how a new normal would work. Are there ways to stagger work times? What precautions need to be put in place to ensure a healthy work space? It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but we want to make sure we’re preparing to open as soon as we safely can.

Campus leaders have also tasked a group to work on determining whether there are ways to safely bring students back on campus for activities that cannot occur remotely. How do we scale events to make sure we are abiding by the necessary physical distancing advisories? What protocols do we follow to ensure the safety of all in our community?

Such decisions hinge on external factors. What is the current and projected course of the spread of the coronavirus? Is there adequate testing? Will contact tracing measures be sufficient to suppress future outbreaks?

At this point, there are more questions than answers, but here’s what we do know: we must continue working together based on the evidence to achieve the best outcomes for one another. The virus and the economic fallout are collective threats and we will not overcome these challenges alone. We are all currently forced to make sacrifices. Remember to do your part with empathy. Colleagues from the Anschutz Medical Campus community continue to show us the way with more examples of leadership and compassion, intelligence and courage.

CU faculty, staff, and students have been helping older adults, who are some of the most vulnerable in our community during this crisis, with outreach calls to check on their well-being. Patients who were at exceptionally high risk for social isolation and unmet medical and physical needs were identified by providers and they have been receiving outreach calls from CU medical, nursing, and pharmacy students. As the effort ramps up, 40 to 60 patients will have a weekly contact from a health team member. Thanks to Skotti Church, MD, assistant professor of medicine, Janna Hardland, MD, assistant professor of medicine, and geriatrics fellow Sarah Tietz, MD, from the Department of Medicine’s Division of Geriatric Medicine for organizing the effort.

The residents and fellows in our Graduate Medical Education programs have been a critical source of strength during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and last week marked an official transition to what is referred to as “Stage 3 status,” according to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. It means that the 1,200 residents and fellows in all 108 of our residency and fellowship programs are assigned to clinical care responsibilities where they are needed and best qualified to serve. This means that these young physicians are putting a pause on educational activities while they shift their focus to patient care. To help our residents, a Resident Relief Fund has been established.  To donate to the fund, refer to the CU Advancement Health Care Worker Emergency Relief Fund and specify in the comment box that 100 percent of your gift should go to the Resident Relief Fund. Residents and fellows who are in need of assistance can find the application link in the COVID-19 section of their MedHub homepage.

From the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center, Scott Cypers, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, and Amy Lopez, PhD, LCSW, instructor of family medicine, have launched an online parenting support group to help parents in our community as they cope with the pandemic, home schooling, and other causes of anxiety. The initial support group meeting had 162 Zoom participants and the video posting of that meeting has had more than 1,700 views. More information about future events are posted on the Johnson Depression Center website.

An effort to use convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients has resulted in campus collaborations between hospitals and researchers. Kyle Annen, DO, assistant professor of pathology and medical director of the blood collection center at Children’s Hospital Colorado, and Mary Berg, MD, professor of clinical practice of pathology and medical director of transfusion services at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, worked together to use convalescent plasma from a donor who had recovered from COVID-19. Colorado Public Radio reported on their efforts. Other news reports featured David Beckham, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, explaining how researchers and clinicians are working together on our campus to make a serum test available. That report, on Fox31, noted that UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital was the first in the state to treat COVID-19 patients with convalescent serum.

New partners have helped us teach medical students. Thank you to Mark Stetter, DVM, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University, for participating in a discussion about animal transmission and coronavirus with School of Medicine students on Thursday, April 9. The discussion is part of an elective course that was created in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mark was a notable guest in the class because early in his career he worked at the Bronx Zoo, where a tiger was recently diagnosed with COVID-19. How the tiger became infected remains a mystery. Mark has been a committed partner in the effort to develop a branch of the CU School of Medicine in Fort Collins with Colorado State University, where the first class of students is expected to enroll in 2021.

There are several websites with information and resources for members of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus community:

School of Medicine COVID-19 Informational Resources:

Coronavirus Research Guidance:

Anschutz Medical Campus updates:

Division of Infectious Diseases:

Department of Psychiatry:

Health and Wellness:

The Boettcher Foundation is seeking proposals for grants from its COVID Biomedical Research Innovation Fund. The grants will range from $25,000 to $250,000, with a total $1 million available to support projects that address the COVID-19 pandemic. The deadline for submissions is 5 p.m. Friday April 17.

Congratulations to Janine Higgins, PhD, professor of pediatrics, who has been accepted into the 2020-2021 class of fellows in the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) Program. ELAM is a year-long, part-time fellowship for women faculty in schools of medicine, dentistry, public health and pharmacy. The program is dedicated to developing the professional and personal skills required to lead and manage complex health care environments, with specific attention to the challenges facing women in leadership positions. More than 1,000 ELAM alumnae hold leadership positions in institutions around the world, and we have a strong cohort represented here at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Gilbert Hermann, MD, who died on March 21 at his home in Santa Fe. For decades, Gil was a general surgeon in private practice in Denver who taught medical students for the School of Medicine and a regular attendee of CU Cancer Center community programs. Lia Gore, MD, professor of pediatrics, recalled Gil as a “quintessential lifelong learner,” noting that she recently had a one-on-one book club with him about the genomics revolution.

Condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Kathryn Howell, PhD, a former senior faculty member in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, who died Friday, April 10, according to a note from Department Chair Wendy Macklin, PhD, Distinguished Professor of the University. Kathryn had been living in a care facility, where she had symptoms of COVID-19 and tested positive for the virus. Kathryn was a major leader in the field of cell biology throughout the 1970s and 1980s and joined the CU faculty in the early 1990s. Wendy said a remembrance of Kathryn will be organized at the next meeting of the American Society of Cell Biology in the fall.

I understand that these are extraordinarily trying circumstances that we are currently experiencing, but I am confident that we have the strength and skills to step up to the demands we face. You have consistently shown the leadership needed in a crisis and I know you will continue to do so. Remember to take a break when you need it and to ask others for help. Thanks to all for doing your part.

Have a good week,

John J. Reilly, Jr., MD
Richard D. Krugman Endowed Chair
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and
Dean, School of Medicine

The Dean’s weekly message is an email news bulletin from John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, Dean of the CU School of Medicine, that is distributed to inform University of Colorado School of Medicine faculty members, staff, students and others about issues pertaining to the School’s mission of education, research, clinical care and community service.  See the UCH-Insider →

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