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President Chan's message regarding a KAUST reopen plan

13 May, 2020

Dear KAUST community, 

I hope this message finds you well and that these past weeks have not been too demanding on you. I can't thank you enough for your resilience and commitment to the many health and safety efforts taken, which have now so clearly protected us. 

I know that we are all watching the rest of the world as it endures this pandemic crisis to varying degrees. We are all also observing how some countries and universities, are making plans to return to some degree of normality. 

At KAUST, we are now more than two months into this unprecedented lockdown. The proactive, disciplined and rigorous application of so many restrictions and new social behaviors that we have adopted have proven to be effective but also difficult for us all to sustain.

Now, we all understand that we are social beings and naturally as a university, we want to get back to our work environment so as to collaborate and explore, with as few restrictions as is possible. As such, I want to address the issue of how we will prepare for a gradual reopening of KAUST, when the conditions permit us to do so.

Our goal has always been, and will be, to strike a balance between protecting the community and minimizing disruption. But I hasten to add, we are not yet ready to open up now. However we must be prepared to shift gears and take action when it is safe, feasible and appropriate to do so. 

I want you to know that the KAUST COVID-19 Crisis Center (KC3) has been developing a KAUST reopening plan designed to ensure the University will be ready for a phased and carefully considered return of operations. As you can imagine, this is a very complex process and our goal is to provide an integrated and holistic plan that recognizes that there are many parts to the KAUST machine and they all must work in concert. 

I expect the reopening plan to be phased and provide a path to a return to a "new normal." It will look at the phased opening of our laboratories and innovation ecosystem, the return of students, faculty and staff to the campus, how instruction will be delivered, and restoring the other community facilities and amenities that allow us all to work and thrive here at KAUST. 

The initial phase is likely to be concerned with the opening of operations in a staggered manner. For instance, our lowest risk members might start to slowly return to work in the office spaces. Steps such as less restrictions on movement around the campus and community, partially restored daycare and the complex issue of returning TKS to classroom teaching will all affect the degree to which each phase can be implemented.

Planning for an awakening of the hibernated research laboratories is also underway as part of KC3 subgroup activity. The laboratory plans are subject to considerations that go beyond those of some other activities at KAUST, including the availability of lab support staff not living at KAUST, an opening of global procurement channels, and establishment of new protocols to protect those working in a laboratory environment. 

In addition and in parallel to the internal phase, we will also have to address reopening our campus to the wider Kingdom as our isolation cannot last forever. In this phase, it is likely that we will continue to control the flow to and from campus but with some relaxation. Part of this is going to depend on how the Saudi government will be opening up the Kingdom.

The phased implementation of the plan will be determined by a number of guiding triggers, including the following: government policies, the ongoing monitoring of the case figures in the Kingdom, the number of cases arising in KAUST within certain time periods, our ability to conduct testing, our ability to shield our higher risk community members, enhanced main gate procedures, TKS planning, capacity at KAUST Health to deal with any flare ups, and an assessment of our healthy stock of personal protective equipment (PPE).

We expect all of these factors will be key determinants in the decision-making process of the plan. 

Now about the timing. Observing the progression of the pandemic in the Kingdom, and taking into consideration Ramadan, I do not expect that we will launch into this next phase before early June.

At that time, we will assess the situation, adjust where necessary and decide when and how to proceed and then communicate in detail the steps being taken. 

In closing, I am confident, as we have weathered these extraordinary times with poise and diligence, and so we will likewise rise to the challenges ahead. 

Thank you and stay safe. ​

Tony F. Chan
KAUST President