May 7, 2020
Dear Members of the Baylor College of Medicine Community,
In follow-up to the town hall meeting on May 1, we are sharing an overview of our recovery plans for the mission and administrative areas.
At this time, the number of new COVID-19 cases, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is remaining at a constant number. The virus continues to be highly contagious and our population is largely non-immune. However, social distancing efforts appear to have slowed its spread.
We follow the numbers closely. New daily cases have stabilized. Across TMC institutions, overall hospital admissions are holding steady. We have ample ICU capacity even in the face of a moderate resurgence. We are cautiously optimistic the spread of the virus is at levels where it can be managed.
As you are aware, Houston is beginning to reopen businesses with continued social distancing requirements, and it is time for Baylor to do the same, in a manner that is safe and responsible. We have put together an outline of our re-opening/recovery principles (Baylor login required) to help everyone understand the plans for recovery/re-opening.
Our recovery will be in phases; the pace of transition through these phases will vary by mission area. Of utmost importance is to maintain a safe environment. That means all of the restrictions implemented earlier in the crisis will remain in place. We will continue to screen at employee entrances; strongly encourage social distancing; promote consistent handwashing and require cloth masks in all common areas. An app is being developed that will assist with daily symptom monitoring. A summary of restrictions in effect is available (Baylor login required) .
There is much in the news media regarding the importance of testing as businesses return to work. Our infectious diseases and epidemiology experts have developed a testing strategy that is consistent with the best available evidence at this time. To summarize, we will perform diagnostic (i.e. PCR) testing on:
- Symptomatic employees
- Close contacts of employees who test positive (In support of this effort, Baylor is developing internal contact tracing capability).
- Initial surveillance testing of staff in Baylor Medicine clinics felt to be “high risk” (We believe this testing will confirm we are in a low prevalence state; frequency and extent of testing will be modified based on our results).
- Quarantined employees to guide return to work decisions.
- Sentinel testing of random employees across all mission and administrative areas.
In addition, our clinical affiliates continue surveillance testing in their high-risk environments. We are not pursuing ELISA/serological (antibody) testing at this time, on the advice of our experts. We will continue to review testing guidelines every 30 days or more frequently as needed.
As with everything in this pandemic, the virus sets the rules. Since businesses are reopening, we fully expect cases to increase, and we will need to monitor this carefully. This is a phased approach to afford us the opportunity to expand our activities incrementally, then pause to monitor the impact on Baylor and the state of community spread. We will advance as quickly or slowly as we need to assure the safety of the Baylor family and the people we serve.
So when is our first phase of recovery? We already have hundreds of faculty and staff who currently come in each day. It is important to understand that start dates for beginning recovery, and the progression through the phases of recovery, will vary by mission.
Our clinical mission (Baylor login required) is currently at about 25% of its pre-COVID-19 activity, and will likely ramp up first to about a 50% level and then 75% level before considering returning to “normal” volumes. The timing of each phase will be dictated by virus numbers and science. The research mission (Baylor login required) will ramp up differently, and Research Dean Dr. Mary Dickinson is consulting with chairs, center directors and principal investigators on a logical phased approach to recovery. All decisions will be based on factors important to maintain safety, from planning for physical distancing in labs to the availability of PPE in areas where it is required.
The education mission (Baylor login required) recovery will be timed around the return of existing students, and the arrival of new students, residents and fellows. Much work has been done over the past few weeks to rework most of the orientation process, and much of the curriculum, to leverage – to an appropriate degree – virtual environments. Provost Dr. Alicia Monroe is working closely with the deans of all schools, along with program directors, on these details. Administratively, regarding College Operations, some individuals will return sooner than others. In general, many people who have been working remotely will continue to do so – particularly in the early phases of recovery. Specific guidance will be provided by mission and administrative leaders.
Baylor will plan and try to anticipate what is to come. However, the pace and nature of our response will ultimately be driven by a changing and uncertain environment.
This is perhaps the most complicated set of professional circumstances most of us will face in our careers. Thank you for everything you have done, and continue to do, to keep Baylor moving forward during a difficult time in our history.
Stay healthy, take care of yourselves and each other. Remember that information is updated daily on the Coronavirus website.
Paul Klotman, M.D.
President & CEO
James, McDeavitt, M.D.
Senior Vice President & Dean, Clinical Operations