Important Covid-19 update from the SIMB President

I’m writing to let you know that the SIMB Board of Directors has voted to cancel the Annual Meeting scheduled in August in San Francisco. The decision was made based on predicted infection rates for COVID-19 over the summer and the uncertainty of the safety of air travel for the foreseeable future. As we work to continue to deliver our mission, we have had one priority firmly at the forefront: maintaining the health, safety, and wellbeing of our community.

While I share in your disappointment, I hope you agree that this is the most responsible course of action. It is the first time in the 70 year history of SIMB that we have cancelled the Annual Meeting but these are extraordinary times calling for extraordinary caution. I share in the disappointment of the program committee, conveners, speakers, poster presenters and registered attendees and want to thank the program chair, Adam Guss, for all his hard the work in organizing the meeting. Adam has invested his formidable intellectual ability in putting together a fantastic, forward looking, cutting edge scientific program and at the request of our president-elect Steve Decker, he has agreed to serve as Program Chair for the 2021 meeting. We hope to keep many of the conveners and speakers on board. We will announce the winners of our SIMB Awards in the next few months and recognize the winners, hopefully at next year’s annual meeting.

I want to express my gratitude on behalf of SIMB to the many people who have kept the Society functioning as we navigate this stressful situation. First and fore most to our Executive Director, Chris Lowe, and our office staff, Jennifer Johnson, Tina Hockaday, Espie Montesa, and Suzi Citrenbaum. They have worked tirelessly to ensure we stay on track. Chris has negotiated with the hotel to eliminate any financial burden to the Society for the cancellation of this meeting, an amazing accomplishment. SIMB will refund all registration fees so far collected and send a message to those who have made reservations at the hotel to cancel them and we are well ahead of deadlines to do so. On behalf of the Society, Chris also applied for and was awarded a stimulus grant to protect us from financial hardship. The loss of revenue to the Society will be covered by that and our cash reserves so we are OK financially.

Our Board of Directors, Priti Pharkya, Laura Jarboe, Michael Resch, Katy Kao, Steve Van Dien, Steve Decker, Tiffany Rau and Betty Elder have been responsive to requests for votes and provided thoughtful advice as we worked through the issues facing us over the last few months. Special thanks to our Treasurer, Laura for providing guiding information about our finances.

Finally, let me take a moment to wish you, your loved ones and colleagues good health. I hope you are well and taking precautions to stay that way. One of the few upsides of this crisis is the remarkable ways in which people have come together to help each other deal, not only with illness, but in adapting to dramatic differences in our daily routines. A special nod to those of you educating children, providing daycare all while trying to work full time from home! Over the last few months, I have witnessed countless examples of altruism, compassion, resilience, and determination on the part of members of my own community and our larger scientific community, revealing the best in us. Several of my former students are front line health care workers and there is no way to express our amazement and gratitude for what they do.

This virus defies the rules even for coronaviruses and while there is no way to predict the course of the infection we are learning a great deal. There is clearly a genetic component to susceptibility that no one understands. Apparently similar people, the same (sometimes very young) age with the same heath profile vary dramatically in their response. Some are asymtomatic and others severely affected. The good news is that the mutation rate for the virus is very low. Unlike most reverse transcriptases, the one in COVID-19 has a proof-reading function that reduces the incredibly high mutation rate seen in other RNA viruses. As scientists the opportunity to learn from this situation is not only important but hopefully useful. With the entire scientific world focused on vaccine development, we can be hopeful that one will be generated soon. I recently learned that 16,000 people world-wide have volunteered to be exposed to the virus in a challenge placebo group to test emerging vaccines! World wide disasters like this remind us that we are part of a world community and we are truly all in this together. Until we can meet again, let us turn out attention to helping each other in any way we can. As microbiologists we have an important role to play, not only in COVID-19 research but in explaining to our friends, family and neighbors exactly what viruses are and helping them understand a tidal wave of often confusing information. Especially now, our ability to reach out to our communities as science educators is our own special contribution.

Be safe and stay well. With warmest regards,

Jan Westpheling
President
SIMB