On Our Way to a Return to Normal Operations

Published by David B. Roth, MD, PhD, on May 25, 2021

May 25, 2021 Update from the Chair

Dear Members of the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Community,

While we are still facing a long road to normalcy, it is exciting to hear how successful our progress has been so far. The University is now anticipating a July 6 date to begin further repopulation of our campus. This month, the travel suspension has been lifted to restricted travel, which means that, if travelers are fully vaccinated, all domestic (and some international) travel will no longer require a petition or other risk-based pre-approval. All in all, we are well on our way toward a more traditional campus experience in the fall.

At the same time, the recent revisions to the CDC-recommended guidance on mask wearing may have inadvertently given the false impression that it is now safe to gather without masks. I want to remind each and every one of you that masks are still required at all times in all of Penn Medicine facilities, regardless of vaccination status. Moreover, universal masking continues to be required on our campuses and in our buildings to Penn Medicine patients, visitors, and vendors as well. Masks are essential in healthcare settings because the safety of vulnerable patient populations and staff is our top priority.

I trust that all of you are aware of the vaccine requirements that UPHS recently implemented: All UPHS employees and clinical staff are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. University employees in clinical roles within the health system and contract employees will also need to be vaccinated. Employees and medical staff are encouraged to become fully vaccinated as soon as possible, but no later than September 1, 2021.

As the transition guidelines are being defined by the University and UPHS, the prospect of a return to normal operations brings me a sense of relief mixed with joy. This joy, however, is also tempered by the recognition of the hardships so many of us have had to endure. Many of us are still grieving, some of us are still struggling, and I believe it is safe to say that not a single person among us was left untouched or unscathed by the pandemic.

And yet I also believe that this shared experience of struggle and the acknowledgment of the suffering among us can be a profound opportunity for us to learn as a Department. Those of you who were able to join our last Town Hall will remember the open, honest, and committed discussions generated by the presentation of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Anti-Racism (IDEA) Committee. If you want to participate in this ongoing conversation and add your perspective, I invite you to visit the feedback portal. (This is a safe space and all comments are anonymous unless you choose to include your information.)

I was impressed by the courage and commitment that the individual speakers at the Town Hall demonstrated. It is indeed hard to "speak truth to power"—to invoke a long-standing Quaker maxim—and, yes, change is difficult. But if there is one thing the last year has shown us, it is that together we can overcome even seemingly insurmountable challenges. 

For more than a year now, many of us have been pushed outside of our comfort zones. Some of us continue to make heroic efforts on behalf of others. Some of us are ready to go "back to normal" immediately, while others need time to adjust more slowly. Some of us have lost family members or friends, and others have been traumatized in different ways. You have shown great compassion to others over the past year and a half. I urge you to be compassionate with yourselves as well! Please be sure to spend some time taking care of yourselves. We are still running a marathon, not a sprint—so even in the face of all the change and the various pressures, we need to find ways to pace ourselves and to allow ourselves to accommodate all these changes.

David Roth
Chair, Pathology & Laboratory Medicine

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these blog columns are those of the authors or other attributed individuals and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Department, Penn Medicine, or the University of Pennsylvania. Health information is provided for educational purposes and should not be used as a source of medical advice or diagnosis.