Thoughts from the President During a Pandemic

May 14, 2022 - Decision Making with Only Imperfect Options

Dear Danforth Center Community,

I’ve received a lot of feedback recently on the Danforth Center’s approach to dealing with COVID-19 and specific COVID-19 policy updates that were implemented in recent weeks. Let me state up front that the feedback, including criticism, is welcomed. The aim of our COVID-19 policy is to promote a working environment that minimizes risk of exposure and transmission onsite while also enabling us to do our work. Critical feedback tends to concentrate around requirements for masking in certain indoor spaces and restrictions on eating indoors in groups. There is both understandable irritation that the Center is more restrictive than many other places in town, but also the fact that some of the rules interfere with doing certain kinds of work, such as hosting external groups that need lunch. I receive feedback indicating our policies are too confusing, too frequently changed on the two-week review cycle, and too open to interpretation. And, there is also the occasional positive feedback and thanks for the efforts to balance safety and getting things done.

Setting the Center ground rules against a continuously changing COVID-19 landscape is neither easy nor enjoyable. In fact, it’s a miserable task that considers current pandemic conditions, the rate of cases among our community members, guidance from public health experts, our needs to function, our needs to plan ahead, and our rather unremarkable abilities to predict the future. Over the past month, community members reported 15 COVID-19 cases, including a cluster of five that very likely resulted from onsite transmission; 23 individuals were exposed through close contact to the 15 infected individuals. For a one-month pandemic period, these are the highest numbers we’ve recorded, by far. In addition to illness, these cases are highly disruptive to the infected individuals and partners/families, those who were exposed, and the Human Resources team that does contact tracing, tracking and follow-up. On the other hand and importantly, the current COVID-19 wave is causing only low numbers of severe cases and hospitalizations to date. Consideration of all factors for the current two-week window led to maintaining indoor masking and group eating restrictions, but allowing larger Center events and gatherings that adhere to the rules. Eating at many of those gatherings over the next six weeks is being accommodated outside under a temporary tent covering on the Miller Terrace.

Reasonable, well-intentioned people disagree on what’s logical, where to draw lines, and how to fulfill our responsibilities to the Center community. Our updated COVID-19 policy is imperfect to me and to everyone else, because all options have significant downsides. But we are open to feedback, suggestions, and creative ways to continue moving forward. Thank you to everyone who is providing critical and helpful feedback and solutions. Stay safe this weekend!

Jim Carrington, President and Chief Executive Officer

P.S. Why don’t we simply follow CDC “guidance” for indoor masking and eating in groups? The CDC migrated to a regional, risk-based system designed to assist personal, individual decision-making about masking and interacting with others. CDC provides no guidance, and is glaringly inadequate for, decision-making at the Center-wide level where responsibility for providing for well-being of the community resides.

Previous Weekly Messages from Jim Carrington

Danforth Center Response Plan

The Danforth Plant Science Center recognizes the potential of exposure to Coronavirus (COVID-19) in our building and the impact it could have on our people and the Center. Accordingly, we have a plan in place in the event of a positive test for COVID-19 of an individual who was present in our Building(s).

Danforth Center Updates

During this unique moment in history, the first priority of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is the health and safety of our Center community, our families, and those who work with us.