Moving into a new normal

"KAUST is now moving to a more advanced stage of its reopening plan, which also reflects the opening up that is taking place in the Kingdom" 

Dear KAUST Community,

I want to talk to you today about the ongoing opening up of our campus and the approach and measures that the KAUST Coronavirus Crisis Center Team will take to ensure that we do so in as safe a manner as possible.

We have been in lockdown to varying degrees for nearly four months. It has been a remarkable achievement and we have done incredibly well, thanks to the efforts of our frontline workers and all of those who have volunteered to keep us safe.

This collective effort has certainly protected us, as each of us has made an individual effort to protect KAUST and it is this limited exposure to the virus that permits us to continue this process of reopening.

We have seen the curve of case numbers nationally and internationally rise and fall, while KAUST itself has maintained a very steady and relatively safe, low level of cases. Throughout this time, we have been monitoring the situation within KAUST, in the Kingdom and globally, from a range of perspectives. In particular, we have monitored the re-opening plans of universities from around the world and we have learned from their best practices.

First and foremost, has been the health and safety of our people, with a proactive approach to adopting best practices as they evolve. This has reflected itself in the concerted effort of the last four months and it is also informing the approach we are taking to reopening KAUST.

We have also been monitoring the wider higher education and research landscape and we've been developing our response to what has been a rapidly changing environment globally. One can see this in both the changed academic mode of teaching and the very precise approach to the closing, and now reopening, of our laboratories.

So, our approach has been very considered throughout and I want to assure you that this reopening phase is being undertaken with the same careful consideration. We have, of course, factored in the Saudi government's lifting of its curfew as of last Sunday.

The government's decision does, and should, have an influence on KAUST's own re-opening plan. We recognize that there will be an increased risk but we also take comfort in knowing that KAUST now has the required procedures, controls and restrictions across almost every aspect of life that provides for safe reopening of the campus.

We appreciate that case numbers in the Kingdom are still high, though now thankfully falling. We are confident that our community will adhere to the comprehensive KAUST COVID-19 health and safety procedures and in so doing, continue to keep KAUST safe as it reopens.

Over the last number of months our collective, concerted response to COVID-19 has established a health and safety program that now addresses the workplace, the home, the manner by which we shop and exercise, as well as how we conduct just about every other interaction at KAUST. It is this comprehensive response to our 'new normal' that has given me and my colleagues on the KC3 the confidence to move ahead with reopening KAUST.

KAUST is now moving to a more advanced stage of its reopening plan, which also reflects the opening up that is now taking place in the Kingdom.

Throughout this crisis we have sought to strike a balance between protecting our community and minimizing disruption to our mission. This remains unchanged and as we now open the campus, it falls to us all to a greater degree. We must be more vigilant and even more consistent in applying and adhering to the new practices that are critical to ensuring we stay safe going forward.

So, each of us individually can help protect KAUST. Each employee who is now accessing the workplace has a real responsibility to strictly adhere to the HSE workplace guidelines and instructions that will all help minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19. Line managers will also be crucial to ensuring the new workplace procedures are followed and that this effort is sustained, with no exceptions.

The community, the family unit and our social circles are also part of the KAUST fabric. Now is a time for us all to persevere with the new rules – including ensuring that masks are worn properly, hand hygiene is observed and the size of our social circles is kept small.

These things may appear wearisome and it is natural to tire of such messaging but COVID-19 is only contained by how we all behave. We must manage our 'contact circles' carefully, adhere to the Keep KAUST Safe campaign and stay in touch with the announcements.

I know some of you are concerned about opening up but I believe in the ability of this community to manage this next stage of the pandemic successfully. I want to reiterate that access to KAUST will continue to be very controlled as the external, in-Kingdom COVID-19 context evolves.

Our research community is now busy completing the reactivation of the University's laboratory operations and researchers are looking to hasten their work. I want to thank you all for your commitment to this phased reopening of our research environment. It is at the heart of our University mission and so bringing back the labs is a work in progress, but I also urge you to put your safety first at all times and to appreciate the new constraints we all now work within as these protect us all.

Academic Affairs is also busy, preparing for the return of our students. To current and incoming students, we appreciate the very different mode of education you are having to adapt to. The coming fall semester is going to be different and unlike anything before. Our academic leadership has sought to get ahead of the changed landscape in which we expect to teach and learn. Therefore, we are designing a mode of delivery of classes that we believe will serve both teacher and student well, while also preparing to bring you back to the physical rather than virtual lecture hall as soon as is safe to do so.

As in past summers, but particularly this year, I know some of you will take holidays over the coming period, so that we come back refreshed and ready for a very fruitful academic year. Many of us will return to our home country to see family and catch up with friends. We need to recharge after this most challenging few months, so I wish you all well.

Looking to the longer-term, to the academic year ahead and to 2021, I am very hopeful. Through this crisis the resilience and adaptability of the KAUST community has been proven. As our research operations ramp-up and a new in-take of students and staff join the organization over the fall, I also see a resurgence and an even greater determination amongst the community.

With the support of our board and with the resources they have supported us with for the coming year, I feel the year ahead will be one of achievement born out of innovation and renewed determination.

Finally, let me assure you that we are going to continue to monitor the data carefully over the summer period. We have balanced the risks and the benefits. It is most important that each of us maintain extra vigilance, so as to protect not only ourselves individually but also protect the community collectively. Failing to do so may lead to the need to reinstate the lockdown. Let's hope through our collective effort that this won't be necessary.

For now, I hope you and your families remain safe, that you have an enjoyable summer and that we approach the coming fall semester together with both confidence and ambition.

Thank you,

Tony F. Chan
KAUST President