Dean's Weekly Message

May 11, 2020

Dear colleague: 

The University’s efforts to begin slowly ramping up activity on campus are continuing. I would like to thank Thomas Flaig, MD, vice chancellor for research, and Ethan Carter, PhD, the University’s director of Environmental Health & Safety, for their diligence and attention to the details of this process. Also, I would like to thank the chairs of the basic science departments and other research leaders who have been participating in the committees to consider procedures and develop the step-by-step plan for returning to campus.

Last week, new building entry procedures that include daily questionnaires and temperature checks were piloted with a very small group who have been invited back to work on campus. This limited number of people allows for practicing procedures that we’ll need to have in place to minimize the risks of exposure to and spread of the coronavirus. While these procedures are inconvenient, the alternative would be to further delay resumption of laboratory-based research.

I would additionally note that these are first steps and if we can demonstrate success, we can bring more people back to campus. While we won’t be back to the occupancy levels we had before the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot proceed without a thought-out plan that protects work spaces for all of us. I also want to reassure everyone we are working toward occupancy levels that are safe and that will allow for the most productivity. Many have expressed critiques of the policy, including their concerns related to a lack of flexibility about who are allowed in the labs at any given time and about staffing the building entry checkpoints. During this initial phase, we need to develop and test processes to establish that the research community can manage the lab environment in a manner consistent with both state public policy and evidence-based guidelines to minimize the risk of disease transmission in the workplace. We are committed to providing more flexibility and to bringing more people back to the labs once those goals are established. We are not alone in this process. A recent article in Science examines the challenges facing universities across the country and around the world.

The students of CU School of Medicine created a thank-you video for faculty and staff that is worth your time. Their thoughtful and heartfelt comments are boost at this challenging time and a reminder that our community and world are going to be well-served by these compassionate future physicians. Members of our faculty, organized by the Office of Student Life, recently posted a video to show support for our students. While the method of communication is virtual, the connection is real. (I’ll leave it to you to decide who has the advantage in video-making skills.) Thanks to all for your good work and care for one another. It makes a positive difference.

The Colorado Springs Independent published an article that described how the pandemic has disrupted the learning cycle for our medical students, yet has fostered creativity and strengthened bonds. Erik Wallace, MD, associate dean for the Colorado Springs branch of the CU School of Medicine, said our students, along with students from other health professional schools, have contributed about 1,000 hours of volunteer service per week during the pandemic. Josten Overall, a third-year student who has a master’s degree in public health, acknowledged the frustration of being taken out of the clinical settings where her learning was to be occurring this spring, but she added that adapting to the environment posed by the pandemic has had its own value. “I think, if anything, we will come out [of the pandemic] so much more resilient,” she said. “So a year or five years or 10 years from now, we’re going to look back and say, ‘Wow. We made it through a tough time and learned these skills that we could not have gained any other way.’”

The Resident Emergency Relief Fund, which was created to provide assistance to residents experiencing financial distress, has provided about $65,000 in assistance to about 30 people who have faced financial challenges during the COVID-19 crisis, and there are additional pending requests, according to Carol Rumack, MD, associate dean for Graduate Medical Education. I would like to thank all who have contributed to the Resident Emergency Relief Fund and I would encourage those who can make a donation to consider doing so. Our residents have shown courage and compassion during the pandemic by providing care on the front lines while facing disruptions to their training and interruptions to their ability to take on extra shift work that helps them pay their bills.

Last Wednesday was National Nurses Day, which offers an official day to honor the work of the nurses who are our partners in providing care every day. Laura Rosenthal, DNP, a registered nurse at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and associate professor of clinical teaching at the University of Colorado College of Nursing, spoke at a news conference with Gov. Jared Polis, where she urged Coloradans to follow the safer-at-home guidelines. She encouraged Coloradans to continue social distancing and avoid gatherings, reminding us that asymptomatic people are able to spread the virus. “Now is the time to be diligent,” she said. “Eventually there will be a time where we can do this again, but we are not quite ready now. Nurses are out there doing their part to protect you.”

The Anschutz Medical Campus on Thursday, May 7, hosted an expert panel, “Life on the Front Lines of COVID-19,” that offered insight and comment from leading members of our faculty and staff. During the livestream Zoom call, Kathleen Combs, ICU nurse at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, described the team’s approach: “We will continue to do our best work whatever the circumstances because that is the right thing to do.”

Joining Kathleen on the panel, moderated by Chancellor Don Elliman, were Thomas Campbell, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, Jean Kutner, MD, MPH, professor of medicine in the Division of Internal Medicine, and Richard Zane, MD, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. All speakers were realistic about the challenges we face, but also confident that we can work together to find our way to a day when we have better testing, better treatments, and widespread immunity, hopefully from a vaccine. Rich offered a particularly compelling explanation of what life has been like for our faculty and colleagues who have had to treat each patient as possibly infected with the virus, noting that calming a fearful patient with a reassuring smile is impossible when the provider and the patient are wearing masks. The message of the panelists – do everything you can to prepare for what you might face, do your best to mitigate the risks, focus your energy on recovery, pay attention to the details, and act rationally – offers a worthwhile path forward for many challenges we face. A video of the talk has been posted on YouTube.

The Child Health Research Enterprise has posted its April 2020 newsletter, which reports that the interviews for the Chief Scientific Officer, Child Health, that were to start in late March will be rescheduled. The newsletter also includes information on collaborations to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Readers of the newsletter are invited to submit questions to

The Department of Pediatrics Section of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine and the Children’s Hospital Colorado Breathing Institute have been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with a 2020 National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management. This award is among the nation's highest honors for programs helping families bring asthma under control and recognizes health programs for excellent environmental asthma management. The EPA will showcase the asthma care practices of the team as part of an Asthma Awareness Month webinar on May 28. Congratulations to everyone involved with our outstanding asthma program.

Thanks to all who are stepping forward at this time to help others. The National Academy of Medicine has posted website on clinician well-being that offers resources to support your health and well-being. I would recommend this resource to you: Additionally, the Association of American Medical Colleges has also posted an extensive page of resources at

There are several websites with resources for the 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:

In case you missed it, the Colorado Air National Guard flew F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft over the Anschutz Medical Campus and other sites in Colorado on Wednesday in honor of health care workers.

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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