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President Chan's message on our COVID-19 response

21 April, 2020

Dear KAUST community,

 
Today I'd like to share with you my personal feelings about where KAUST is in our battle with COVID-19.
When I last spoke with you, I finished my remarks with the words "stronger together." What I have witnessed in the four weeks since then has been a truly inspiring reflection of this idea.
It's hard to imagine that we started our collective effort more than a month ago. We have been through a lot, starting with restricting travel to and from campus, to online instruction, remote working, social distancing, frequent hand washing, mask wearing, shelter at home and now daily curfew. It must have seemed to many of us like a movie in slow motion. We are experiencing something none of us has faced before.
As we navigate this new terrain, when so much is still quite uncertain, one thing I am sure is that we must all work together, in unity, to win this battle. KAUST is our spaceship and we are all on this journey together. That solidarity, that unity and compassion for each other is what I have witnessed over the last month or so.
I want to thank every member of this community for this remarkable effort.
To our frontline health and security workers keeping us safe and caring for our ills, risking their own health, we can't thank you enough.
To our service staff, facilities staff, to all other staff who keep the labs properly hibernated, the groceries stocked, the lights on and the water running and to the community volunteers, thank you too.
To those who have been or are currently in quarantine, thank you for your understanding, patience and resilience in helping to halt the spread of the virus within KAUST.
To all our University students and professors, TKS students, teachers and parents, thank you for your dedication and for accommodating the disruption in transitioning to online classes.
Our Board of Trustees has been offering us advice, support, facilitation and contacts to undertake our endeavor throughout. They are very much part of the KAUST team.
But I want to call out the faculty and researchers in particular.
Your overwhelming response to my call for a research challenge has been inspiring and phenomenal.
From optimizing existing diagnostic tests, to developing novel and better tests, to using AI to identifying promising therapeutics, to using genomics to track the virus, to monitoring the virus in our sewage, to modeling the epidemiology of the virus and to the design and manufacturing of face shields and breathing devices, our faculty and research teams are leveraging their expertise to contribute to this fight.
They are working with partners both in the Kingdom and globally, including the Saudi CDC and the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health, King Faisal Specialist Hospital, the National Guard Medical Center, Olayan Enterprises, Industrial Clusters, the University of Oxford and McLaren Racing.
In stepping up to the challenge, you are turning a crisis into an opportunity and fulfilling the promise of KAUST. We are all very proud of your effort.
As we contemplate what lies ahead, I remain optimistic, even though I have no crystal ball. We may very well be in the middle of this battle, and so now we must persevere.
More cases at KAUST are likely, but we know that all of the proactive steps we have taken collectively have greatly limited our exposure and are protecting each of us right now. We are continuing to monitor the situation within KAUST and we have a comprehensive contingency plan for virtually all scenarios.
KAUST is a microcosm of the world. We have no exemption from this crisis, but we can be an example of how to tackle it. In addition to formulating plans for immediate challenges, we have also been planning for the long-term.
In the face of uncertainty, lessons from history show that it is better to be proactive than passive. With the crisis moving to a new phase, I have charged subgroups of the crisis management team to do forward planning to anticipate both new challenges and opportunities that our post-COVID-19 world will present.
The global higher education landscape will surely change fundamentally, and I am determined to ensure that we have a plan that positions this University to thrive in this new space.
For now, I say: Stay the course, stay home and work hard, but also keep yourself mentally and physically healthy, reach out when you need help and help your friends, colleagues and neighbors when and where you can.
We have put a range of supports in place for anyone who is struggling with the natural anxiety this unique experience is causing us all, and I urge people to make use of these wellbeing initiatives.
I also want to acknowledge the desire we all have to know what is going on, what are the facts and what is being done about each aspect of this crisis. That is natural.
Personally, I want as much transparency on the issue as is possible—that is my nature. However, we also have to protect privacy and personal space, especially in these exceptional times. So, I urge you to be understanding when sometimes our official communications do not have all the details that you want.
I can reassure you that all decisions made by the Crisis Management Team are carefully considered with the community's health and well-being as top priority.
This pandemic has caused unimaginable suffering in both human and economic terms. I consider myself fortunate to be facing this global calamity at KAUST, a relatively safe community spared from most of the suffering, within a country whose government has taken very proactive actions to protect the public. So, I want to end this message with a gentle call, that in stressful times like this, we should all try to have a little more caring and understanding, more compassion and empathy and a little less blame and stigmatization, less suspicion and gossip.
Because we really are in this together, and we will come through it "stronger together."

 
Thank you and take care.

 
Tony F. Chan
KAUST President