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Update: NRAO COVID-19 - New Mexico

In response to concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the NM Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered the closing of all NM Public Schools for three weeks, beginning this coming Monday, 16 March. As discussed in recent weeks, the closing of schools automatically triggers a closure of the affected NRAO sites. Note, at this time we have no reported cases of COVID-19 infection associated with NRAO NM employees or recent visitors.

On the morning of Friday, 13 March we will finalize planning and communications for a shutdown of most NRAO NM activities for three weeks, beginning Monday. Detailed information will be available and distributed to all employees by 3pm EDT/1pm MDT 13 March. In all cases – people will continue to be paid at regular levels, medical insurance will continue, and communications through the Observatory will remain online during this three-week period. In some cases – staff may be called upon to support continued communications and security roles that are critical to our facilities in NM. These employees will be identified and contacted in the afternoon of 13 March.  

NM employees – if you are aware of critical issues/activities which may not be currently known to the management team, please bring these matters to the attention of your supervisor early 13 March so that they may forward the information to senior NM management.

We are entering a difficult time for the Observatory and the nation, but we have coped with similar disruptions in recent years and  I am confident that as a team, we can support these public health initiatives and will restart our activities soon. Operations at other AUI radio astronomy facilities and sites continue as normal at this time.

NRAO/GBO IDOS status - effective Monday 12:00am

To all NRAO and GBO employees: 

In response to concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the NM, VA and WV Governors have ordered the closing of all public schools, beginning this coming Monday, 16 March (closed three weeks in NM; two weeks in VA; period TBD in WV). As discussed in recent weeks, the closing of schools automatically triggers changes to the operations of the affected NRAO sites and GBO. Note, at this time we have no reported cases of COVID-19 infection associated with NRAO/GBO employees or family members, or recent visitors

We have an Infectious Disease Policy that can be triggered in these situations. Please read it, there are several key points in it regarding current and future situations. Based on the school closings, I am now activating this policy, and we will begin IDOS (Infectious Disease Operating Status) on Monday, March 16th at 12:00am. The following changes will be implemented:

  • During the IDOS period, we will attempt to continue operating our prime North American instruments (JVLA, GBT, VLBA), at least initially. Information about ALMA status will follow next week.
  • The NRAO/GBO workforces will be recast into three components:
    • People who are expected to and can continue their job responsibilities from home, and should immediately proceed to do so  – WFH
    • People who will be placed on a “Skeleton Crew” list to continue holding responsibilities associated with the operations of the facilities (located at home or at work) – SC
    • People whose job at NRAO/GBO cannot reasonably be carried out at home, or are unable to work due to responsibilities arising from the school closings, and must be at home  – UW. 
  • A new set of paycodes are available for staff. These paycodes support people reporting time worked in the WFH, SC, UW categories.  Due to the initiation of IDOS, the WFH group would charge to “IDW”, the SC group would charge to “IWS” or “IDW”, and the UW group would charge time to “IDN”.  SC members will be informed this afternoon; other employees will need to assess yourself as “WFH” or “UW”, possibly in consultation with your supervisor, and begin that mode of work on Monday, selecting the appropriate paycode at the next ETK deadline. Please note, in all cases – people will receive their regular wage payments; insurance and retirement benefits will continue as usual.  If you have questions about these paycodes, please contact your local HR representative.
  • The NRAO/GBO facilities (buildings) should be considered closed for staff not on the SC list. The purpose of the school closings is to enhance social distancing to stop the spread of the virus; we will support that by sending all WFH and UW staff members home for the duration of the school closings. Note, some SC staff may also be working primarily from home. This will be a soft close of the facilities; if people need to come in once or twice a week for 10 minutes to grab a book, turn off a piece of equipment, whatever etc.  that can be considered. Please get your supervisor’s permission before entering the facilities, stating your reasons. During this period, most managers and supervisors will be included in the WFH category, and available for consultation. 
  • People entering WFH status can talk to their supervisors about temporary enhanced IT support at home; in some cases, it may be possible to take your e.g. work monitor home for the duration of IDOS. It is expected that WFH people are carrying out their normal job responsibilities (with some possible decrease in efficiency) during IDOS.
  • Both NRAO and GBO will review possible tasks/roles to offer to UW employees during the IDOS, e.g. training or administrative activities. UW staff may be contacted next week.
  • People on the Skeleton Crew List will be informed this afternoon (Friday) and over the weekend. SC members should anticipate continuing to support their standard responsibilities. Site management at NRAO/GBO will likely be reassessing and shifting operational responsibilities over the next few weeks, keeping all informed. The SC list will evolve, I expect.
  • Travel for both Observatories is already shutdown at this point. Some recruitment activities are continuing; if you are involved in recruiting actions, you will be contacted, or please contact the hiring manager or HR.

During this period, NRAO/GBO management will primarily communicate with staff via email, although we will continue to update our internal COVID-19 webpage with news and status information.  We are continuing normal computing service support during IDOS, although helpdesk responses and problem fixes may be delayed due to reduced IT staffing available during IDOS. Individual employees will be contacted via email if necessary, so please monitor your account regularly (phone and text may also be used).  Our site status phone systems will also be kept up to date with Observatory summary status: 

  • Charlottesville:  434-296-0200
  • Green Bank:  304-456-2330
  • Socorro (DSOC, VLA, VLBA): 575-835-7100 

The Infectious Disease Policy, above changes, and other decisions made in recent days are unlikely to address all issues that will arise as we attempt to operate the facilities in coming weeks, so please don’t hesitate to let your supervisor, Department head or Site Director know about issues, concerns, ideas you might have.  At present, it seems likely we will all be in IDOS for the next three weeks. After that, it is certainly possible the different Observatories and sites will emerge out of IDOS at different times (due to different school decisions). Also, this new operating status has been triggered by environmental changes (school closings), but we still face the possibility of staff members catching the COVID-19 virus at home or elsewhere, and transmitting it to the workplace. In the next few weeks, if an infection is traced to a staff member at our facilities, this will likely trigger a full closure of the site/location, and halting of telescope and other operations.

We (NRAO/GBO/AUI) are incredibly fortunate to be in a situation where we can attempt to continue our operations, with our staff receiving pay in all scenarios. Many other people in the community are not so lucky.  In my opinion, that puts a responsibility on us to help drive the national situation back to normal.  By adopting a strong stance on social distancing (WFH, UW), and doing the best we can to continue our scientific services (SC), we are doing our part. Let’s work together in the difficult weeks ahead to achieve these goals.

If you have questions/comments, please direct them to your supervisor, Dept head or me. My next update to allemploy is planned for Wednesday March 18th.

Tony Beasley

From the Director: NRAO/GBO Update - Wed Mar 18th

To all NRAO/GBO employees:

Over the past few days we have successfully transitioned to Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS) across all NRAO sites and GBO. Our North American (NA) instruments (JVLA, GBT, VLBA) are all still operating, with support from skeleton crews and people working from home. In Chile, it has been decided to halt ALMA operations within the next few days, and enter a work-from-home and minimum onsite staff mode (covering safety & security) for the indefinite future. School closings remain in force across most of the US, including our main sites (VA: schools closed until April 10th; WV March 27th; NM April 6th). NRAO/GBO travel restrictions remain in force, and national guidelines on international travel are in place. NSF and AUI remain online, and in close contact.

Transitioning the Observatories to this new operating mode (involving: work from home – WFH; skeleton crew – SC; unable to work from home – UW) has been relatively smooth so far. Our IT systems appear to be coping well, most meetings have transitioned to videoconference (Zoom being the preferred option), and some parts of Observatory life are continuing normally. Our buildings are secure, and people have been good about requesting permission to access their offices/labs, quickly retrieving things they need, and not lingering. Administrative processes (JDE, procurement, fiscal) remain online, although there may be some delays in processing requests. If you experience such a delay, please notify the appropriate division head or your site director. The management team meets every day or two at 10am EDT to review issues which have arisen, address concerns. 

What we have heard in some cases is that people are struggling to balance work responsibilities with their new personal responsibilities (e.g. childcare, looking after a sick family member), i.e. suddenly working two jobs, having difficulty attending online meetings, meeting deliverable schedules.  Forcing people into these stressful situations is not our intention. People that can work from home – should adopt that status, and be working from home as effectively as possible. People who are unable to work from home (for whatever reason) – in all cases, you and your supervisor should have noted your UW status, and you should not be stressing yourselves unreasonably by attempting to work from home on top of your personal responsibilities.  Work is continuing across the Observatory, and it will be frustrating to suddenly be decoupled from that, but everyone in the country is seeing some difficulty in the current crisis.  If you are having these or any other issues adjusting to the new operating status and working from home, please talk to your supervisor or department head immediately.

Across the Observatories, we are aware of a handful of employees at home, feeling unwell (…not unusual for a combined staff of nearly 550). At the current time, no AUI employee (or family member) has tested positive for COVID-19, as far as I am aware. If you do fall ill with cold/flu symptoms, please let HR know (if you’re comfortable doing that). Eventually when we may have COVID-19 staff member infections, understanding the baseline staff health situation will be beneficial.  

FWIW this work-from-home situation might be a good time to take advantage of online training and learning opportunities:

  • The Observatory has a pool of funds available for professional and technical development; talk to your supervisors about what might be possible. https://info.nrao.edu/hr/Prof-Development/copy_of_Prof-Development
  • Remember that Observatory employees are encouraged to include diversity & inclusion courses in their PEPs. It’s not too late to request this training and add the certificates to Halogen. More information found here: https://info.nrao.edu/do/odi/ODIOnline.
  • If you haven't already done so, please use this time to complete the required annual policy sign-off processes. SABA/Halogen can be accessed from anywhere at: pep.nrao.edu
  • I have read that with people staying at home, blood supplies have been encountering problems. If you feel healthy, you might consider local opportunities to donate.

IMPORTANT: later this week you will all receive an update from HR regarding medical benefits and information, and early next week, HR/Budget will send a note reminding people about the paycodes to be used at the end of next week for ETK.  People without access to computers during this IDOS period need to work closely with their supervisors to remain up-to-date.

The incredible rate of change of our daily lives right now is difficult to comprehend.  Supply chain infrastructure seems to be holding up well, but clearly parts of society (service industries, airlines, education) are going to suffer greatly. We have triggered IDOS at NRAO/GBO on the basis of the school systems at our sites closing; in my opinion, it seems unlikely the schools will return in early April or perhaps at all this year. Let’s hope for the best, but plan for the worst – we all need to be thinking about what this situation means for home, work, life, if it continues for several weeks.  I see strength and resilience all around us, and I think the Observatories are a great example of that, and we need to soldier on.  Let’s get through week #1.

My next note will be Monday March 23rd.  As IDOS continues, issues and concerns will continue to pop up - any staff member with questions, concerns or comments, please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. The website to coordinate IDOS information is online, and will always contain our latest status: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO Update - Mon Mar 23rd

To all NRAO/GBO employees: 

We are in our second week of Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS), and continuing to adjust our Observatory operations to address issues that are arising. Over the weekend ALMA shutdown telescope operations (collecting data), but all archive and user support activities continue, although at reduced efficiency. The North American NRAO/GBO instruments remain operational. IT systems are performing well. As a team, we are stable in this new environment.

The situation in the US continues to evolve rapidly, and it is not possible at this point to predict when federal, state or other constraints will be relaxed. Although we triggered IDOS on the basis of schools closing in our site regions, we have just learned that some of these school systems will not be returning this year (Virginia). It is likely the others (WV, NM) may soon follow. A good question is  – what will be the trigger for NRAO/GBO to return to normal operating status? At this point, I’m afraid I can’t answer that. For now, our default plan is to resume normal operations sometime in early/mid April, but in all honesty I expect to announce an extension of IDOS (possibly: for another two months) within the next few weeks. I suggest you begin planning for a significant extension of this working arrangement. 

In addition: it is also possible that state governors will order the closing of all non-essential businesses (this just announced in Virginia and West Virginia). For the time being, we are asserting that this closure of non-essential businesses does not apply to our federally-funded NRAO/GBO/AUI activities, i.e. we will continue to work in all locations. We are working with NSF to have our facilities registered as “essential activities” with the relevant states. More on this in coming days. 

At the moment, there are no confirmed reports of NRAO/GBO staff members (or their family members) with COVID-19, but getting tested is not always possible. Several members of staff have reported fevers and flu-like complaints, but this is not unusual at any time of year, and without testing it is hard to draw conclusions. It is inevitable that over the course of the next 2-3 months we will see a fraction of the NRAO/GBO staff (or family members) testing positive for the disease.  We are discussing how to deal with infection in the workplace, and I encourage you to also think about it at home:  e.g. how to limit the spread of the disease to your homes, and possibly how you would approach quarantining someone at home for 14 days. In developing these personal plans, if there is any guidance or information we can provide to assist you, don’t hesitate to ask (please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me.  If you or members of your family are unwell (either tested for COVID-19 or not), please let HR know at some point, so we can assess the overall health of everyone. 

IMPORTANT: later today you will receive information from the Budget Dept. on how to fill out your timecards before Friday. I strongly suggest you get started on that tomorrow, leaving time to address any issues before the end of the week. Budget and MIS will have example timecards to show, and will also arrange for a call-in session later in the week for anyone having issues.  People without access to computers during this IDOS period need to work closely with their supervisors to remain up-to-date – there is a plan to assist you. 

This is a stressful time, with changes on a daily basis. Between the time I started this note and finished the first draft, the state of Virginia closed schools and non-essential businesses for the year, and WV shuttered non-essential businesses. Every day is a new assault on our normal lives. But we are successfully holding our lives and Observatories together… and fortunate to have resources to support our families and maintain our mission. Many people in this country are not so lucky, I fear. During this time it is critically important you all look after yourselves physically and emotionally, especially people with family members at risk.

My next note will be Thursday March 26th.  There may also be other emails this week, confirming out “essential” work status with respect to state lockdowns. Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments, please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. The website containing all our COVID support information is: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19 

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO - Essential Services

In recent days, several states have implemented “lockdowns”, where people are meant to remain at home and most businesses are requested to close. Messages indicating these changes are being sent widely on phone systems. In each case, the states have designated a list of “Essential Services” which are an exceptions to the lockdown order.  These lists are all derived from the following Federal specification: https://www.cisa.gov/publication/guidance-essential-critical-infrastructure-workforce

In the “OTHER COMMUNITY-BASED GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS AND ESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS” section of this document are several items directly related to NRAO/GBO activities, including 

  • Workers that maintain digital systems infrastructure supporting other critical government operations
  • Workers at operations centers necessary to maintain other essential functions
  • Educators supporting public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and  universities for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing other essential functions, if operating under rules for social distancing 

After analyzing the state-by-state Executive orders, and with positive input from the NSF, AUI is adopting the formal position that NRAO/GBO operations, in all locations (including all VLBA sites), are Essential ServicesIn each state in which we operate, the new legislation has been reviewed, and in all cases our exception is clear. Please disregard any local notices you are receiving regard state or local closures of businesses. In coming days, I will distribute a standard letter that can be used in any real-world situation where a challenge is made to a NRAO or GBO employee attempting to travel or access our facilities (at present: generally only our skeleton crew, but also other staff members after authorization).

I believe it is very unlikely that anyone’s status or movements will be questioned, but please rest assured that full responsibility for this Essential Service assessment lies with me and AUI, and that our important work must continue.  If you have any questions or comments, please contact your Department head and/or me directly.

Tony Beasley
NRAO/AUI

NRAO/GBO Update - Thu 26 Mar

To all NRAO/GBO employees:

Second week operations in Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS) have continued. The North American NRAO/GBO instruments remain operational. IT systems are performing well. As a team, we continue to adapt to our new environment.

In an email yesterday I confirmed our Essential Services status with respect to state, regional or local restrictions, and a letter stating that exception will be available soon. To provide these services, we have left our North American instruments and support facilities online. In coming days, all Departments in both Observatories will begin analyzing their programs to understand how we can guarantee our operations in the coming weeks and months, talking with all of you to explore and document our key areas, essential activities and interfaces.  Earlier this week NSF has authorized NRAO/GBO to continue charging all salaries and benefits to the current awards in coming months, and I believe we are secure from a financial situation at least through the end of this fiscal year (October), and possibly longer. We are very fortunate to have this support from the NSF.

At the moment, there are no NRAO/GBO staff (or their family members) with confirmed cases of COVID-19, but this may change in the near future. In developing your strategies for social distancing and isolating yourself and your family, if there is any guidance or information we can provide to assist you, don’t hesitate to ask (please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me).  If you encounter illness (you or family, tested for COVID-19 or not), please let HR know at some point so we can assess overall staff health.

Please remember – timecards are due tomorrow. If you are having problems, reach out to HR immediately, thanks.

Across the Observatories, we are adapting to our new work practices.  We are planning to restart science lunch and Colloquium talks soon, including our National Astronomy Consortium alum, Diana Powell, a PhD candidate at UC Santa Cruz. Participating in these types of remote presentations is a great way for all of us to remain engaged with each other, and support the broader mission of NRAO and GBO, while in IDOS.

My next note will be Tuesday  March 31st.  Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments, please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. As this situation continues, new challenges will emerge and I welcome hearing from you if there is something we can help with, or you have suggestions. The website containing all our COVID support information is: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO Update - Mon Mar 30th - New IDOS end date

To all NRAO/GBO employees:

We have begun our third week in Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS). The North American NRAO/GBO instruments remain operational. IT systems are performing well.  

There continue to be state and regional changes and Executive orders, including announcement about schools. Virginia and New Mexico school facilities are closed for the remainder of the school year, with online teaching underway. West Virginia is still assessing dates for a return to school. As our IDOS assessment initially arose as a result of school closings, it is now appropriate to reconsider how long we will continue in this working mode. Today, it was decided that we will assume NRAO and GBO are remaining in IDOS until Monday, June 1st 2020, at which time I would hope that we can fully return to work, and already be well-advanced in ramping many parts of the Observatory back towards full Operations. Circumstances may change and allow us to bring forward this date, but for planning purposes I suggest you adopt this timeline. Note, additional Executive Orders from certain states (VA, NH) in recent days do not change or impact our Essential Services assessment.

While we continue to have no NRAO/GBO staff members with confirmed cases of COVID-19, there are reports of a few people experiencing similar symptoms, without any testing being available. We are more than 14 days out of the office now, so the Observatories do not appear to have caused significant spread, but we may soon see cases arising from community spread during these past two weeks (family members, acquaintances, contact or respiratory transmission). I am saddened to report that last week a parent of a NRAO staff member died from COVID-19 complications on the West Coast, so we are no longer untouched by this crisis. Over the next few weeks it is imperative you continue to practice strict social distancing, monitor and disinfect whenever possible your external interactions (necessary shopping, people visits, etc.) and carefully consider your personal role in halting the spread of the virus. In developing your strategies for social distancing and isolating yourself and your family, if there is any guidance or information we can provide to assist you, don’t hesitate to ask (please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me).  If you encounter illness (you or family, tested for COVID-19 or not), please let HR know at some point so we can assess overall staff health.

Timecards went well last Friday/this morning. Many thanks.

My next note will be Friday Apr 3rd.  Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments, please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. As this situation continues, new challenges will emerge and I welcome hearing from you if there is something we can help with, or you have suggestions. The website containing all our COVID support information is: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19

I fear the news from other parts of the US over the next two weeks will be heartbreaking. We need to do our part to halt the spread of the disease, stay informed, and assist our frontline medical workers whenever and however we can.  We are incredibly fortunate to be tucked away and supported during this terrible crisis.  

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Fri Apr 3rd

To all NRAO/GBO employees: 

We are at the end of our third week in Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS). The North American NRAO/GBO instruments remain operational. IT systems are performing well.  We are planning to remain in IDOS until Monday, June 1st 2020.

Last week I mentioned that our operations are deemed Essential Services for the US Government. This designation overrides any state or local stay-at-home/curfew orders, and other travel restrictions. A letter describing our Essential Status is available at: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19/resources/nrao-gbo-essential-worker-letter/view

If any staff members are questioned about work-related travel to any NRAO location or GBO,  please present this letter.

While at present we have no NRAO/GBO or Chilean staff members with confirmed cases of COVID-19, there continues to be several people experiencing similar symptoms, without any test results available. Close family members of some staff have been positively confirmed with the virus. Over the next few weeks it is imperative you continue to practice strict physical distancing, monitor and disinfect whenever possible your external interactions (necessary shopping, people visits, etc.) and carefully consider your personal role in halting the spread of the virus. In developing your strategies for distancing and isolating yourself and your family, if there is any guidance or information we can provide to assist you, don’t hesitate to ask (please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me).  If you encounter illness (you or family, tested for COVID-19 or not), please let HR know at some point so we can assess overall staff health. A few planning suggestions:

  • Identify where you can be tested, if you get symptoms; and what hospital you would go to, how you would get there, and under what circumstances, if needed. Information on these topics can be found on the COVID resources page: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19/information/resources
  • Consider what will you do if your spouse, children, or significant others develop symptoms. How could or would you implement a quarantine solution (for 14 days) in your living arrangement?  (Good to have some early planning in place, in case a family member falls ill quickly.)
  • I suggest keeping a simple log of your external movements (shopping, family visits, etc.) so if symptoms appear, it might be easier to understand what has happened, and who else might be impacted.

My next note will be Wednesday Apr 8th.  Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments, please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. As this situation continues, new challenges will emerge and I welcome hearing from you if there is something we can help with, or you have suggestions. The website containing all our COVID support information is: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19 

The news from major metropolitan areas across the US is upsetting. Our hearts go out to the victims, and the frontline medical workers risking their lives to support them.  We need to do our part to halt the spread of the disease: stay informed, strictly enforce physical distancing and careful contacts. The next few weeks are critical.

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Wed Apr 8th

To all NRAO/GBO employees: 

We are midway through our fourth week in Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS). The North American NRAO/GBO instruments are  operational. IT systems are performing well.  We are planning to remain in IDOS until Monday, June 1st 2020. Weather events in West Virginia cut power to Pocahontas County and the site for a time today, although by the end of the day observations should be underway again thanks to the great work of the GBO crew.

We have reached the point where a small number of AUI staff members are confirmed with COVID-19. This is not a surprise; and these individuals seem to be coping well. Routinely, we also hear of staff members or family experiencing similar symptoms, without any test results available. Nationally, states and cities are continuing to see many new cases, and people being quite gravely ill with the disease. It remains imperative that you continue to practice strict physical distancing, monitor and disinfect whenever possible your external interactions (necessary shopping, people visits, etc.) and carefully consider your personal role in halting the spread of the virus. This is the most critical time for distancing.  Please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me if you need more information regarding COVID-19.  If you encounter illness (you or family, tested for COVID-19 or not), please let HR know at some point so we can assess overall staff health.

This week senior management has been conducting “Continuity of Operations” reviews, where the key areas and essential (and routine) activities at all NRAO and GBO locations have been examined. The overarching goal is to modify our activities to the point where they can restart or continue by being done by one person alone, or without significantly violating physical distancing issues (for two or more people), and avoiding transmitting COVID-19 between people on surfaces or through breathing. Some of the solutions involve PPE – Personal Protection Equipment – e.g. face masks, gloves, disposable suits, suits with respirators, etc. We routinely have a small amount of this equipment on hand for standard  operations (and which we will deliver to local hospitals, if needed). So far, we’ve identified a very small handful of activities that we don’t know how to do just yet and keep everybody safe – and in a month, we’ll have solved those, too. The goal of these efforts is to secure our Essential Services role, and to get ready for the time when we’ll move out of IDOS, and significant portions of the Observatories will return to work. Alongside the new definitions of some old activities, we will have new protocols for staff accessing and using our facilities. In coming weeks, we’ll start to discuss some of these new approaches with everyone, and in mid-May we’ll begin testing and implementing them. These will be our first steps on the road back.

Don’t forget – timecards due this week by Thursday Apr 9 .. Friday is a holiday.

My next note will be Mon Apr 13th.  Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments, please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. As this situation continues, new challenges will emerge and I welcome hearing from you if there is something we can help with, or you have suggestions. The website containing all our COVID support information is: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Mon Apr 13th

To all NRAO/GBO employees: 

Welcome to week five in Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS). The North American NRAO/GBO instruments are  operational. IT systems are performing well.  We are planning to remain in IDOS until Monday, June 1st 2020. The GBT is returning to service after lightning damage late last week, but should be ok tomorrow.

We continue to hear of a few staff members or family experiencing COVID symptoms, generally without any test results available. Nationally, states and cities are continuing to see many cases, but there are signs nationally that physical distancing is working, and the number of new cases is stabilizing. It remains imperative that you continue to practice strict physical distancing, monitor and disinfect whenever possible your external interactions (necessary shopping, people visits, etc.) and carefully consider your personal role in halting the spread of the virus. Please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me if you need more information regarding COVID-19.  If you or family members encounter illness (tested for COVID-19 or not), please let HR know at some point so we can assess overall staff health.

This week we are going to begin installing new procedures for accessing our facilities – in particular, we will be requiring people to wear face coverings when working in our facilities, even during short visits. The CDC and some states are requiring this in situations where physical distancing can be problematic. Jody will be sending out a note to all employees tomorrow or Wednesday. Covering your face is a good practice to adopt when out in public in general at present (e.g. shopping), and doing it in the workplace makes sense. This new guideline is for simple access to the building – so the details for the skeleton screw, including telescope operators, may be different (your supervisors will let you know). Adopting face coverings in the NRAO/GBO buildings is the first of several changes we’ll be installing to create a safe working environment for everyone as we return to normal operations in coming months.  

We may be seeing the worst of the COVID situation here in the major cities this week. Within a month, the situation may ease in many parts of the US and we will all start thinking about getting back to normal. It’s going to be a long road back, with some parts of it (like physical distancing, avoiding community spread) remaining very important for many months to come. We have been working on ways to bring back full Observatory operations and workforce for both NRAO and GBO, and I’m confident we’ll be successful in doing that.  

My next note will be Fri Apr 17th.  Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments, please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. As this situation continues, new challenges will emerge and I welcome hearing from you if there is something we can help with, or you have suggestions. The website containing all our COVID support information is: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Fri Apr 17th

To all NRAO/GBO employees:

This is the end of week five in Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS). The North American NRAO/GBO instruments are all operational. IT systems are performing well. We are planning to remain in IDOS until Monday, June 1st 2020.

We have not received additional reports of NRAO or GBO staff receiving medical care for COVID-19, so that’s good news. Strict physical distancing, monitoring and disinfecting whenever possible your external interactions (necessary shopping, people visits, etc.) remain important. Please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me if you need more information regarding COVID-19. If you or family members encounter illness (tested for COVID-19 or not), please let HR know at some point so we can assess overall staff health. As IDOS continues, we are all still adjusting to new styles of working and recreating.

The two-week work period completed last week showed positive trends – more people were able to find ways to work from home, and the number of people unable to record worked hours in any form dropped 10%. In coming weeks, we anticipate distributing documents describing new workplace practices that in the near future will allow people to spend more time at the NRAO facilities and at GBO. Efforts continue to document key areas, essential activities and the personal protective equipment (e.g. masks, gloves, suits) that will be needed to accomplish the many support tasks we routinely carry out. More news on our return to the buildings and goals for more maintenance work in coming weeks.

Vacations – though there are plenty of restrictions in terms of traveling widely, it remains just as important that you take time to get away from your work-from-home jobs and meetings, to rest and recreate. Maybe all our “vacation time” is “staycation time” at the moment, but taking that time to pursue personal interests, work on home projects, spend time with people in your biosphere, remains important. People need to take their vacations (and recording them in ETK) now just as much as always. Changing your zoom background to a vacation scene is not taking a vacation.

For people visiting the facilities regularly (skeleton crew) or occasionally – please remember to use a face covering, this is now a requirement. Covering your face is a good practice to adopt when out in public in general at present (e.g. shopping). I believe these new practices in daily life (physical distancing, face covering, hand sterilizing, avoiding community spread) are going to be with us for a long time now, perhaps through the end of the year, and maybe longer. Nationally, we have made progress with “flattening the curve” to avoid overloading medical capabilities (which is critical), but a consequence is… the infection cycles take place over a longer period. We may see a second wave of infections in late summer, as some restrictions lift nationally or regionally. It seems obvious to me that many of the new practices we’re dealing with at present cannot be removed until we’re well past significant active infection phases (first, second or other waves), and long-term observance is certainly our plan for the NRAO/GBO workplace practices we’re developing. You deserve a safe working environment.

My next note will be Wed Apr 22nd. Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments, please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. As this situation continues, new challenges will emerge and I welcome hearing from you if there is something we can help with, or you have suggestions. The website containing all our COVID support information is: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Wed Apr 22nd

This is week six in Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS). The North American NRAO/GBO instruments are all operational. IT systems are performing well.  We are planning to remain in IDOS until Monday, June 1st 2020. 

I have received no new reports of NRAO or GBO staff receiving medical care for COVID-19. Strict physical distancing, and monitoring whenever possible your external interactions (necessary shopping, people visits, etc.) remain important. Please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me if you need more information regarding COVID-19. If you or family members encounter illness (tested for COVID-19 or not), please let HR know at some point so we can assess overall staff health. For people visiting the facilities regularly (skeleton crew) or occasionally, please remember - face coverings are now required.

This week, a document describing the procedures we will follow to restart office work in Charlottesville was distributed for broad comment. Edgemont Rd. is going first to define these procedures (which should be similar for the office buildings and functions across NRAO and GBO), and I hope we can start implementing them soon. Efforts continue to document field (telescope) key areas, essential activities and the personal protective equipment (e.g. masks, gloves, suits) across both Observatories. More news on our return to the buildings, and approaches to enable more field corrective and preventative maintenance work, in coming weeks. At the national level, we are seeing discussions of the widespread removal of work and personal restrictions, with significant differences of opinion apparent. As an essential service, and with the support from NSF we are receiving, we have full flexibility to make the best possible decisions for our staff about when and how to modify/remove our work restrictions.  In all cases, we have another five weeks in IDOS, at which point we’ll have more data. Infection rates have slowed in major metropolitan areas over the past week or two, which is an important piece of news during a terrible time.  

Please remember - timecards are due this week.  

My next note will be Wed Apr 29th.  Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments, please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. As this situation continues, new challenges will emerge and I welcome hearing from you if there is something we can help with, or you have suggestions. The website containing all our COVID support information is: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Wed Apr 29th

This is week seven in Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS). The North American NRAO/GBO instruments are all operational. IT systems are supporting us well – big thanks to the IT team.  We are planning to remain in IDOS until Monday, June 1st 2020. 

I have received no new reports of NRAO or GBO staff receiving medical care for COVID-19. Strict physical distancing, and monitoring whenever possible your external interactions (necessary shopping, people visits, etc.) remain important. Please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me if you need more information regarding COVID-19. If you or family members encounter illness (tested for COVID-19 or not), please let HR know at some point so we can assess overall staff health. Please remember to wear a face covering if you enter one of our facilities.  

Across both NRAO and GBO, we are continuing to develop our office and field (engineering) protocols and procedures to bring more people back into the facilities in coming months. This week, in both WV and NM we began to gently ramp-up some of our corrective and preventative maintenance actions for the telescopes. This is important to keep them online. Nationally and regionally, we are seeing early phases of restrictions being removed in day-to-day life. While many of us are fortunate to be located in areas with relatively low rates of infection (CV, GB, Socorro, VLBA sites) where some lifting of restrictions may be feasible, in general the advice of senior medical scientists is to: continue avoiding public places, wear face coverings when in public, maintain physical distance separations (6 ft+), avoid potentially contaminated surfaces and items, practice regular hand washing and sterilization, etc. We are approaching a period where there is going to be a lot of complex and conflicting advice and requests regarding our private and public lives, and in my opinion great caution is required for quite some time yet to avoid a second wave of infection. AUI, NRAO and GBO leadership are committed to providing all of you the safest work environment possible.   

My next note will be Wed May 6th.  Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments, please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. As this situation continues, new challenges will emerge and I welcome hearing from you if there is something we can help with, or you have suggestions. The website containing all our COVID support information is: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Wed May 6th

This is week eight in Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS). The North American NRAO/GBO instruments are all operational. IT systems are performing well. We are planning to remain in IDOS until Monday, June 1st 2020.  In Chile, the Joint ALMA Observatory has begun planning to bring ALMA online in coming months.

There are no new reports of NRAO or GBO staff receiving medical care for COVID-19. Please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me if you need more information regarding COVID-19.  Please remember to wear a face covering if you do enter one of our facilities.

Businesses and other functions are beginning to open across the US, including NRAO/GBO-relevant areas. It is strongly recommended you and your families continue avoiding public places, wearing face coverings when in public, maintaining physical distance separations (6 ft+), avoiding potentially contaminated surfaces and items, and practicing regular hand washing and sterilization. From a work perspective, we are being successful developing our office and field protocols to enable more safe activity in our facilities in coming months. In the next day or two you will receive a note announcing two zoom all-hands meetings on May 21st where I will discuss our planned exit of out IDOS early in June.  What we’re aiming for are plans that can be modified to cope with whatever happens across the nation in coming months. It is difficult to know how the current return to work changes across many industries will impact the infection rates – I have included a nice summary of potential scenarios. Food for thought.

My next note will be Wed May 13th.   Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments, please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. As this situation continues, new challenges will emerge and I welcome hearing from you if there is something we can help with, or you have suggestions. The website containing all our COVID support information is:https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19

Tony Beasley

Message from AUI

As we continue to operate in Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS) during this time of COVID-19, I want to take a few minutes of your time to thank you for your dedication and flexibility. 

Thanks to all of our collective efforts and the support of our sponsors, AUI has continued to operate to meet the needs of its employees.  The corporate staff, while working from home, has continued to meet payroll every two weeks, to pay vendors and contractors, to work with NSF to draw cash so that the Observatories can continue to operate, and generally carry our the administrative support activities that help all facilities and activities managed by AUI continue to operate.  In addition, we have held multiple meetings of our Board and its Committees to ensure we continue with the strong governance model under which AUI operates.

In our Incubator Division and at the Observatories, we continue to pursue new business opportunities to help AUI grow.  I have discussed our aspirations in various messages over my time here at AUI.  Consistent with that vision, for the Observatories we have submitted proposals for activities related to the next generation Very Large Array and pursued options for installing transmit capabilities at the GBT (under Tony’s leadership).  For new areas, we submitted a proposal to CORFO in Chile to establish and run a Clean Technologies Institute and are evaluating options for submitting a proposal to run the Savannah River National Laboratory for the DOE.  In STEM and e-learning, we are in the process of completing proposals to support the DoD, DOE, FEMA, and other sponsors.  In cyber security, we continue our support to North Carolina on their election security and are continuing to work on options for providing cyber R&D for science and energy applications.  Finally, we are working with staff in Congress to ensure our ideas are included in the discussions related to both stimulus bills and the upcoming federal budgets.  It has been a very busy time!

As businesses and other activities across the country are moving toward relaxing restrictions and “opening up,” we too are now exploring the path toward returning to operations.  We will share more in the coming weeks, but please know that now and going forward, AUI remains committed to meeting the needs of our employees and will take actions to ensure the return to work path is with the well-being of all of our workers as our highest priority.

If you have any questions, comments, concerns or suggestions, please reach out to me.

Again, my thanks for all of your efforts!

Adam

NRAO/GBO update - Wed May 13th

This is week nine in Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS). The North American NRAO/GBO instruments are all operational. IT systems are going well. We are planning to remain in IDOS until at least Monday, June 1st 2020.  In Chile, the Joint ALMA Observatory has begun planning to bring ALMA online in coming months.

There are no confirmed reports of NRAO or GBO staff receiving medical care for COVID-19. Please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me if you need more information regarding COVID-19.  Please remember to wear a face covering if you do enter one of our facilities.

Return to work and the reopening of businesses are continuing across the US this week. It is strongly recommended you and your families continue avoiding public places, wearing face coverings when in public, maintaining physical distance separations (6 ft+), avoiding potentially contaminated surfaces and items, and practicing regular hand washing and sterilization. At the all-hands presentations I will be describing NRAO’s plan over the next few months for our return to work. Karen O’Neil will be giving a similar update to GBO shortly following my talk. There is a lot of interesting discussion underway about schools restarting in the fall, colleges continuing online in the next semester, etc., with different states and countries coming to different conclusions. Example: Australia has generally assessed that child-to-child transmission is not a significant contributor to community spread of COVID-19, and schools have remained open, though modified (e.g., physical distancing students, when possible). In this country and in Europe, at the moment authorities believe the overall risk of community infection spread from children is about the same as that from adults. Over the next few months some real-life experiments will be run across the world testing these theories, and perhaps we’ll know the right answer when we need to in September.     

I note our colleagues in Chile (Santiago) went into a city-wide lockdown this week, and the number of infection cases is rising rapidly. We all hope the situation down there  improves quickly. Like many countries around the world, Chile has found lowering the COVID-19 infection rate to be a challenge in its major cities.

Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments you want me to address at the all-hands meetings, please email them to me beforehand. If you have other issues, please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. The website containing all our COVID support information is: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19

My next update will be at the all-hands presentations Thursday/Friday. See you next week. 

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Mon Jun 1st

This is week twelve in Infectious Disease Operating Status (IDOS). The North American NRAO/GBO instruments are all operational. IT systems are supporting us well. This is the last week in IDOS – we will be returning to normal status in North America at the end of this week.  In Chile, the Office of Chilean affairs and our NRAO ISMs in the JAO will remain in IDOS for the time being (note: this has changed since my all-hands discussion). The Joint ALMA Observatory has begun planning to bring ALMA online in coming months. In the next hour you will receive a note from HR confirming the timecodes we’ll be using in normal operations across all sites/observatories. 

There are no active reports of NRAO or GBO staff receiving medical care for COVID-19. Please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me if you need more information regarding the disease.  Across the nation, people are carefully watching the number of new cases emerging in major cities. In general, the infection rates in the places NRAO/GBO facilities are located are quite low. The situation in Chile (Santiago) remains serious, and our thoughts and prayers are with all of our friends and colleagues down there.

Thank you for attending the all-hands presentation on May 20/21st. A copy of the North American version of the talk has been posted for download. 

Karen O’Neil gave a similar presentation in GB on May 20th. Since the meeting, NRAO and GBO management have continued to prepare for our return to normal status, and you should all be hearing from your supervisors and department heads about training on new procedures in the workplace, accessing our facilities, and so on. As I said in the all-hands, your patience is appreciated… we’re trying to bring online a lot of new approaches to keep everybody safe, and inevitably there will be problems that will take time to address. People with concerns about the return to full operation – please talk to your supervisor, or (depending on the issue) one of the points of contact in all-hands pdf (slide 28). This kind of dialog is critical to us being successful in our return to full operations.  

Another point I mentioned in the all-hands bears repeating – this is a plan, with assumptions supporting it. If those assumptions fail (e.g. if there is a major second wave of infection in the US in the fall, and schools do not open, or open then close later) – we will modify the plan. I mentioned that a return to IDOS remains a possibility, depending on how things go. I can’t tell you exactly what is going to happen over the next six months, but I can confirm we’re watching the situation closely, we have tools and resources to support a range of solutions, and we are committed to getting the Observatories and all of you past this crisis.  

I would like to end this message talking about a different topic – another problem we are struggling with in this country. Recent race-related incidents in Minnesota, Georgia, New York and now riots in several cities remind us that as individuals, our attitudes and actions have the ability to affect many lives, and that even in the middle of a new crisis, deeper problems remain. It would be a mistake to think this issue does not touch all of us - we have staff members, family, students, friends and neighbors who are impacted daily and throughout their lives by similar attitudes and incidents, and they need our support. Everyone involved deserves to be heard and respected. The incidents eventually pass (like the events in Charlottesville a few years ago), but unless we learn from them and seek real change, more can be expected, and we will find ourselves no closer to real progress or equality. Throughout AUI and the Observatories, our values, policies and actions support equity and the rights of every individual, and while we have made great strides in recent years, we are not perfect and still have room for improvement. As we move into new ways of working together, let us take this opportunity to commit to building a workplace and a community that rejects racism and all forms of discrimination. The Employee Diversity Group is working to develop a series of educational courses that will help us explore ways in which each of us can contribute to building that better future. Look for more information in the coming weeks. 

Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. The website containing all our COVID support information is:  https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19 

My next update will be June 10th.  

Tony Beasley

 

 

NRAO/GBO update - Thursday June 11th

We have returned to normal operating status this week. The North American NRAO/GBO instruments are all operational. IT systems are nominal. In Chile, the Office of Chilean affairs and our NRAO ISMs in the JAO remain in IDOS for now, with Chile passing through some hard times due to COVID-19. The Joint ALMA Observatory has begun publishing plans to bring ALMA online in coming months.

There are no active reports of NRAO or GBO staff receiving medical care for COVID-19, although it is critical you continue to implement safe practices, particularly in public. Please contact Jody Bolyard jbolyard@nrao.edu) or me if you need more information regarding the disease.  In general, the infection rates in the places our US NRAO/GBO facilities are located are quite low, although states like Virginia and New Mexico are continuing to see new cases. We need to avoid a second wave of infections. 

This past Monday we returned to our normal operating status, and more of our staff needing facility access were granted permission to come back into the buildings. This return has gone well at all sites. New processes and procedures have been used, and any problems noted. On top of the new processes, many staff are returning to more physically active work after several weeks, so please look after yourselves and be cautious. Over the next few weeks the number of facility access people entering the buildings will continue to increase. People with concerns about the return to full operations – please talk to your supervisor. Let me offer a huge thanks to our facility safety support teams who have been monitoring temperatures and helping people during the return.  

Yesterday, we took time to consider an important issue we’re all involved in – racial equality, justice and black lives, in this country. I received many thoughtful emails and contacts from people from all parts of the Observatory – thank you. We are continuing a series of observatory-wide talks on related topics this week and next, and I hope you can attend and participate.  Momentum continues to build nationally, and real change is ahead. 

Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. The website containing all our COVID support information is:  https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19

My next update will be June 22nd, reviewing RFTO progress from our first pay period back in regular status. Stay safe.

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Monday June 22nd

We have successfully completed our first pay period in our Phase 1 return to full operations status. The North American NRAO/GBO instruments are all operational. IT systems are nominal. In Chile, the Office of Chilean affairs and our NRAO ISMs in the Joint ALMA Observatory remain in IDOS for now; Chile is still struggling with a high rate of new infections. Initial analysis by the JAO of returning ALMA to observing status is being discussed. 

There are no reports of NRAO or GBO staff receiving medical care for COVID-19, but testing of employees and their families is occurring in response to similar symptoms and contact tracing situations. Please continue to implement safe practices in public – face masks, physical distancing, hand washing and using sanitizer. If you need more information regarding the disease please contact ESS, or see our COVID-19 webpage (link below). Infection rates in the regions our US NRAO/GBO facilities are located in remain low, but increases in the number of new cases and hospitalizations many nearby states/major cities have been noted. This is troubling. All members of the community need to follow the scientific recommendations to defeat the pandemic, and avoid a second wave of new infections later this year. 

 The return to full operations has gone well, at all sites. I am hugely impressed by the amount of work we’re achieving in the new framework. Few major complications were seen arising from the modified processes/procedures being used. People regularly accessing the facilities have undergone temperature testing, and we are gaining good experience. Many thanks to our facility safety support teams, who have been monitoring temperatures and helping people during the return. If you have comments/questions about facility access, please let your supervisor, someone on the ESS/Facilities & Administration teams, or your dept head know. 

We are on course, working successfully. Over the past two weeks we also took some time to see ourselves and key issues in our workplace from a different perspective, exploring racial equality. The talks arranged by ODI and the Employee Diversity Group the day after the ShutdownSTEM protest were incredibly thought-provoking, and this dialog in the workplace and society in general must continue. A request to support Juneteenth in our corporate agreements with NSF and other agencies is being developed. 

Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. The website containing all our COVID support information is:  https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19 My next update will be July 1st, reviewing RFTO progress from our first month back in regular status. Stay safe. 

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Thursday July 2nd

We are at the end of the first month of our return to full operations. The North American NRAO/GBO instruments remain operational, with great science being produced. IT systems are good. In Chile, the Office of Chilean affairs and our NRAO ISMs in the Joint ALMA Observatory remain in IDOS; the number of daily new infections in Chile is declining, which is great news. The JAO continues to explore options for returning ALMA to observing. 

There are no reports of NRAO or GBO staff receiving medical care for COVID-19, but testing of employees and their families is occurring when illness is encountered. I’d like to thank everyone for taking the self-diagnosis and medical testing seriously, and keeping us posted. The alarming increases in the number of daily new infections seen in the past week or two nationally suggests we’re in for a long battle. Your personal responsibilities are the same as they were in March/April – physical distancing; wearing masks; hand washing/sanitizing; avoiding crowds and enclosed spaces; monitoring contacts. Together we’ve developed good plans for avoiding infection in the workplace, and we’re using them effectively; similar planning to support the other elements of your lives is important. We all need answers to questions like: Do you know the typical COVID symptoms? Where to go to be tested if you feel ill? Are you prepared for quarantining yourself, or someone in your family, or your whole family, if infection occurs? When is it safe to return to work or other activities outside the home after an infection? If you need more information regarding the disease (both related to work, and for these home topics) please don’t hesitate to contact ESS, or see our COVID-19 webpage. Happy to help if we can.  

At this point I am confident the Observatories can handle a contamination event, identify/quarantine affected individuals, clean and reboot the facilities, and keep the NA telescopes on line. Thanks to all the NRAO and GBO supervisors who coordinated the return of people to the facilities over the past few weeks..  it went really well. And as always, many thanks to our facility safety support and ESS teams, who have been monitoring temperatures and helping people during the return, and the IT teams that have kept us all connected and productive.  

The discussion about race in America is continuing, and many staff members have participating. I urge you all to attend "Understanding #BlackLivesMatter" with Dr. La TaSha Levy next week,  Tuesday, July 7th 1-2:30pm EDT.

Web URL: https://zoom.us/my/nrao.zoom04<https://zoom.us/my/nrao.zoom04?fbclid=IwAR2tZ6wAWO4CdP3enydzq_BADpajKBKlbD7IxSaij_bqnJcJsDhnpDK5IH8

Audio-only: +1 646 876 9923, Meeting ID: 490 365 0812

Any staff member with questions, concerns or comments please contact your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. The website containing all our COVID support information is: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19 My next update will be July 13th.  

Have a good July 4th weekend, and stay safe.  

Tony Beasley

 

NRAO/GBO update - Friday July 24th

We continue our return to full operations. The North American NRAO/GBO instruments are operational, IT systems performing well. The situation in Chile continues to improve, and plans to begin restarting ALMA are undergoing review.

In our key states (NM, WV, VA) the number of COVID new infections continues to climb, basically we’re back to where we were in April (although the mortality rate is somewhat lower, thankfully). Some parts of the US are experiencing major outbreaks; new lockdowns and closings are being implemented. Travel restrictions (e.g. 14 day quarantines for people entering NM) are difficult to manage, but important in containing the disease.

I have no new reports of AUI/NRAO/GBO employees testing positive for COVID. All NRAO/GBO activities are following the RFTO guidelines and protocols we developed in April/May, and I think we’re doing a good job controlling the workplace risk for our staff members coming into the facilities. These days we have a lot of people teleworking (with occasional facility access), and there are steady improvements in efficiency and communications in this area as well. The risk of a COVID contamination event in the Observatories remains however, and we all have a responsibility to monitor our health, follow good practices (masks, physical distancing, hand washing), and be ready to use medical services and/or quarantine ourselves/our families as needed. As mentioned last time, if you’re making serious decisions based on test results (visiting elderly relatives, returning to work after feeling sick, etc.) please consider the situation carefully, double up the testing when possible. (Some parts of the country seem to be having long delays with test results.. doesn’t help).

We have identified points of contact for staff members with particular issues:

  • Safety – Jody Bolyard + ESS team
  • Medical – HR (Faye Giles, Allen Lewis, Tracy Samples)
  • Office Access, Operations – F&A (Steven Geiger, Skip Lagoyda, Mike Holstine, Mary Mayo)
  • IT – CIS (David Halstead, Pat Murphy Matthew McCleary, Chris Clarke)
  • Field Protocols – ADs/Division Heads, Supervisors
  • Other Topics (e.g. Childcare) – (Lyndele von Schill, Tracy Samples + others – all sites)

Please reach out to these people if you have concerns or questions, or your supervisor, Department Head, Site Director, or me. HR is also distributing information on counselling services for staff and families.

For many people, serious issues about children going back to school are approaching. There is no consensus within/between school districts, even within the same state, about the risks involved. Generally, school districts have been preparing to go back in some hybrid model (some days in school, some online) but a growing number of schools have already made the decision to be fully online through the end of the year. For people facing this issue, I recommend you reach out to Lyndele and the HR team, discuss your plans/concerns. We are considering what the Observatories can do to support people through this time.

We’re a month away from the scheduled transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2 (where we considered opening up our activities, potentially with face to face meetings, visitors, travel). Realistically, that transition is not going to be possible within the next several weeks… community infection rates are too high. Rather than transition to some “new normal” in September, I think we’re probably already living it right now… I’m guessing we will probably continue in the current workplace mode through the end of the year. We’ll see how things play out in the next 4-8 weeks, if there is a steady decline in the number of infections, that may give us confidence to restart some of these other activities. If you haven’t settled in to this new working environment, talk to someone listed above or your supervisor about what’s not working, what you need.

We’re getting the job done, in difficult times. The back-to-school issue is approaching, so let’s keep the discussion going. Thanks to everyone for helping develop and implement our safe working practices, it’s important we follow them closely.

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Monday Aug 10th

We continue our return to full operations. The North American NRAO/GBO instruments are operational, with IT systems performing well. ALMA has begun regular reviews to consider restarting operations – the answer so far is “not yet”, but the “yes” day is approaching...

In our key states (NM, WV, VA) the number of COVID new infections seems to have passed through a second peak, and is starting to flatten again. It seems clear that nationwide early reopening of social and commercial activities in June had a negative impact, and that reapplication of the lockdown guidelines was required. Some parts of the US are still experiencing major outbreaks, and travel restrictions (e.g. 14 day quarantines for people entering NM) remain in place. The terrible cost of these flawed reopening experiments is measured in thousands of American lives.

There are no new reports of AUI/NRAO/GBO employees testing positive for COVID. All NRAO/GBO activities are following the RFTO guidelines and protocols. The new polices requiring face coverings, contact tracing, and the health checks have made us rethink how we work to meet our goals for delivering science. I want to express appreciation to everyone that stepped up in making our facilities as safe as possible through the pandemic surges. The work plans that govern all site activities provide details on the required COVID protections, and also address the means to work safely. I am proud of our responses, and ability to adapt to these changes. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the COVID virus does not appear to be greatly reducing in intensity, and the path to a viable vaccine is unclear. I understand there is a growing “COVID fatigue” across the sites, but we need to remain vigilant, and respect the requirements. We cannot and will not relax our protocols until there is a lasting positive change in the COVID environment. Please feel free to reach out to your HR representative or Safety Team if you have suggestions, or need guidance to maintain a safe work environment.

The issues about children going back to school are upon us. Many of our relevant school districts are heading towards virtual schooling for the remainder of the calendar year. All approaches impact many of our staff members. People seeking assistance - please reach out to Lyndele and the HR team. We are actively considering what the Observatories can do to support people through this time. This topic is going to continue to evolve rapidly in coming months.

We are heading to the time of year where we trigger our annual Performance Evaluation Processes (PEPs). Given the extraordinary disruption seen over the past several months, and the significant uncertainties ahead, we have decided to shorten the PEP process to a simple 1-page form enabling dialog between supervisors and staff about outcomes of the past several months, and simple expectations for the coming year. More details from HR on the “short form” PEP in the next week or two. Our funding support for FY 2021 from NSF appears good, and the current plan is to provide an across-the-board 3% pay raise to all NRAO/GBO employees in January. Later this year, we will also provide special thanks to those staff members who have performed above the call of duty over the past difficult months. The NSF support of the Observatories has been outstanding, and we have a lot to be thankful for… so many people and companies in the country are in trouble.

Our plan was to transition to a more relaxed “Phase 2” of operations in early September. At this point, I’m going to push back evaluation of this change to December 1st. In your public lives, please continue to wear face masks, physically distance and wash hands frequently. If you need information or support, please contact your supervisor, Dept Head, ESS or me. The Observatories are doing well in trying times, with great support from NSF and AUI.

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Monday Sep 7th

Our operations are ongoing. The North American NRAO/GBO instruments and IT systems are online, performing well. In Chile, the JAO is preparing for a restart of the Santiago offices. This week it has been six months since the start of our response to COVID. 

During the past week, we had a COVID contamination of a NRAO/GBO department, where a worker was exposed to the disease at a large family event, and came into work for a few days (asymptomatically) until the problem was fully understood. Contacts were traced, and everyone potentially infected has been quarantined. NRAO/GBO staff members have subsequently tested positive for COVID. The contaminated work area has been isolated, and will be cleaned. The full extent of the outbreak (between staff, amongst family members, and to others members of the community) will not be known until later this week. I am confident that we’ve done everything we could have to prevent further spread of the disease beyond the workplace event, and everyone is ok so far – the good news. 

Infection rates around our sites are generally flat or declining, but new waves are possible in the college towns (CV, Socorro) so the threat level remains significant. Large gatherings (particularly those including people who have traveled), with minimal PPE and precautions, remain a real problem. People can make decisions about their own exposure and risk, but as this incident has shown, you’re actually making decisions for potentially dozens of people around you, including people that may have far more significant risk than you. Testing is generally available (though often too slow to make quick decisions), and treatments have improved, but over 800 people are still dying from COVID every day. The projections for total US deaths by the end of the year range from 300-600 thousand people – after nine months of the disease. This equivalent to about 10-15 years of annual deaths from flu in the US.

Please continue to practice physical distancing, keep travel/large events to a minimum (better -> zero), wear masks at all times in public, wash your hands and/or sanitize them regularly if you’re out, etc.  This is not the beginning or end of the COVID war, this is the middle where battles are won and lost, and we lost one this week; we learn what we can, and keep going. Please stay careful in your personal lives, and think about what role you might have unknowingly in transmitting the disease. It is critical you follow our COVID procedures at work. We remain in Phase 1 of our return to full operations for the time being.

I’d like to end commenting on another issue that arose late last week. A directive was sent to federal departments and agencies requesting they cease funding certain types of race and diversity training. We (AUI/NRAO/GBO) have received no instructions from the National Science Foundation on this issue so far. We will, of course, respond fully to any direction from the NSF regarding the use of federal funds, but AUI (as a company) is entitled to define its own culture and priorities, and exploring issues like race and equity, and improving diversity and broadening participation of our workforce and community, are incredibly important to us. AUI Pres. Adam Cohen and I have agreed that if do we receive restrictions on the use federal funding for race and diversity training, we will nonetheless continue all of our relevant programs and discussions using corporate resources. It is time for real change in this country, and continuing this dialog is critical.

I hope you have a good Labor Day, and stay safe.  If you need information or support, please contact your supervisor, Dept Head, ESS or me.  The website containing all our COVID support information is:  https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19.

Tony Beasley

NRAO/GBO update - Tuesday Sep 15th

Our operations are ongoing. The North American NRAO/GBO instruments and IT systems are online, performing well. In Chile, the JAO is beginning a low—level start of the Santiago offices, and planning the OSF next steps. Infections rates in the cities/regions our sites are located in remain moderate, and continue to fluctuate.

An update on a situation I reported last week – the COVID-19 contamination of a NRAO/GBO department. I am pleased to report that even though we did have an asymptomatic infected employee onsite for two days, no other employees in the same working area were infected. As per procedure, the affected work space was isolated for 7 days and common contact surfaces were cleaned, and everybody went home on quarantine for 14 days (finishing tomorrow), and had two COVID tests.  We remain concerned about our sick colleague and his family, but relieved that the situation has been contained. This is a great indication that the processes and procedures we have put in place to minimize the risks of infection in the workplace (masks, monitoring air handling, cleaning working surfaces) work. Many thanks to the management and staff involved in this case for acting promptly to limit exposure for everyone. During the past week, a teleworking employee at a different site began a quarantine cycle after a close family member tested positive.  More interactions with COVID can be expected.  

A general point about communicating key details about NRAO/GBO COVID situations: we are trying to find the right balance between giving people enough information so they can make good decisions in their personal/professional lives, and respecting the medical/privacy rights of everybody involved. I relay only high level details in these notes; department heads and supervisors will provide more detail in situations where their depts. are involved; and obviously, anyone directly traced or impacted (e.g. coworkers in the same HVAC or contact areas) receives a lot of detailed information to assess their risk. The Safety Team and management are always looking for lessons learned in these events that might apply to other areas of the Observatories.

As always, physical distancing, the use of masks at all times in our sites, and good personal hygiene remain important.  Please remain vigilant and let us know of any confirmed or suspected exposures to allow us to remain COVID resistant in our workplace. If you have contact with someone who subsequently gets sick and/or tests positive –let us know immediately. If one of your close contacts (e.g. family members) learns they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, talk to HR and/or Safety, and we will help you diagnose what needs to be done. As we get into cold & flu season, there are going to be many hard-to-interpret situations with direct or indirect connections back to the workplace. I strongly suggest you and your close family members get your flu shots this season. 

Changing topic:  it now appears unlikely that Congress will pass the FY2021 budget for NSF before the end of the year, so at the end of this month we anticipate the federal government installing a Continuing Resolution (CR) on the budget. The CR will probably run past the election and into early/mid December. There will be growing media discussion of this issue in coming weeks.  We have dealt with CRs in past years, and now have set-aside resources to deal with them, so I am not anticipating any issues for NRAO/GBO funding anytime this year or early next year. 

I hope you and your families continue to stay safe and well. If you need information or support, please contact your supervisor, Dept Head, ESS or me.  The website containing all our COVID support information is: https://info.nrao.edu/covid-19.

Tony Beasley