COVID-19 FAQs for Scientists

Frequently Asked Questions 

For RMBL Scientists 

Last updated: 3/19/20

The current global pandemic is causing uncertainty about summer 2020 plans.  RMBL is committed to the health and safety of our community and also understands that scientists have critical long-term projects.  Below is a list of questions and answers directed to our research community and is meant to help PIs and their teams make decisions.  We will update this as new information becomes available, with major updates most likely 2-4 weeks out.   

We are very interested in knowing how you are thinking about this summer, and whether there are creative ways we can assist you.   Don’t hesitate to reach out to Jennie Reithel, RMBL’s Science Director, at sd@rmbl.org, or Ian Billick, the Executive Director, at ibillick@rmbl.orgwith questions, suggestions, or feedback. 

Summary of changes:   

March 19, we upated the answer to: Can I or my team travel to Gunnison County to do research and stay in offsite housing? 

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Is RMBL open as of Wednesday, March 18? 

Currently we cannot house scientists in Gothic. Gunnison County is shut down – in large part because we have a cluster of cases in the county. There is a public health order in place which shutters all nonessential businesses, including us, as well as the schools.  However, the situation is changing quickly. The only certainty is that things will continue to evolve in unpredictable ways and the key for all of us is to be as flexible as possible.   

Will RMBL be open this summer? 

We are preparing for summer, including processing research applications, as if we will have a normal summer, recognizing a normal summer is unlikely. 

When will RMBL know whether it will be open? 

Given how rapidly things are changing and that summer is over two months away, we will be waiting at least 2-4 weeks before making any big decisions.  Ideally any decision we make will be done in conjunction with local health care and emergency responders.  They are overwhelmed right now.  Consequently, we want to see how the situation unfolds and give them time to better understand what the county is capable of supporting. 

Will RMBL have any travel bans or quarantines, including for international students and researchers? 

RMBL will follow the guidance and recommendations of public health officials. As of 3/11/20, the Colorado Governor’s office recommended that travelers over 60 years of age and those with underlying health issues avoid nonessential travel to mountain resort towns in Colorado, which includes RMBL.  This is primarily due to the limited capacity of mountain community health systems to handle a surge in demand for their services. 

How will decisions about RMBL closures be made? 

The County is in a state of emergency and we have little freedom to decide how and whether we will operate.  To the extent that we have latitude, RMBL’s Board will be overseeing major decisions and setting general strategy. 

The deadline for housing priority is April 1.  Will that be extended? 

Yes, we are extending the deadline for housing priority to April 15. Scientists, research assistants, and visiting scientists should fill out the appropriate application form by April 15 in order to be prioritized for housing this summer. This will give all of us more time to assess the situation and see how things unfold. 

Should I wait until I know my summer plans to submit my teams’ summer applications? 

Do whatever feels right to you!  We will be flexible and nimble.  We do encourage you to communicate with us, either by submitting space requests or emailing us about where you are at.  The more we understand what you will be trying to do this summer, the better we will be able to help you! 

Is RMBL waiving cancellation fees for 2020? 

Yes! For all programs we are waiving any kind of financial penalty for coronavirus-related cancellations.  We hope this will allow scientists and students to do their best to plan and communicate with us, without having to worry about whether larger events will force them to change their plans, thereby incurring a financial penalty.

If RMBL houses people onsite this summer, how will RMBL respond if someone on site develops symptoms or a confirmed infection? Will RMBL be able to quarantine or isolate patients? 

It is too early to develop specific plans, but if we are able to host people onsite we will work closely with public health authorities to develop and implement guidelines and recommendations. 

Can I or my team travel to Gunnison County to do research and stay in offsite housing? 

Hotels and short-term rentals are closed.   RMBL cannot currently house people onsite.  Additionally, the county has asked all visitors to leave and told visitors considering coming to stay away.  Furthermore, while they are not actively prohibiting non-residential second homeowners from coming to the area, they are strongly encouraged to leave.   We hope that these restrictions will be relaxed before summer. 

I have a critical study that needs some maintenance.  What should I do? 

We encourage you to let Jennie know, in as much detail as appropriate, what you are concerned about.  She is keeping track of individual needs. We will be thinking creatively about how we might support research (e.g., enabling remote monitoring of sites, facilitating hiring of local research assistants, providing field oversight/supervision).  The better we understand your needs, the better we can plan! 

Can I ship supplies to RMBL? 

UPS, FedEx, and the Postal service are currently in operation in Gunnison County, though shipping times are a little delayed as of March 18. As in past years, our winter office is very small and we ask that you delay shipping things until it is closer to your arrival date. 

Are RMBL staff working? 

Yes.  Our senior management team (Ian, Kelly, Jennie, Steve, and Brett when he arrives) started weekly meetings to assess the situation with Coronavirus, figuring out both near and long-term actions.   

However, we ask for your patience and flexibility as we respond to this unprecedented situation.  Please remember that our staff are working from home, many with young and school-age children.  One of our staff has a likely but unconfirmed infection (rationing of test kits!) and is doing well.  We expect most of our staff have been exposed given how widespread the virus appears to be in the community.  Our staff are also pitching in in the communityvolunteering in various capacities.   

Will RMBL operate the Undergraduate Research Program? 

We are committed to running the Education Program for college students this summer; it will NOT be canceled. We are remaining flexible on exactly what the program will look like and it may include a distance-learning component. These details will be worked out in the months ahead. 

Has RMBL canceled other programs?  

We have closed the Gothic winter huts and Coffee Lab, and we cancelled March and April school programs.  No other programs have been cancelled at this time.  As with research, we are in a wait and see mode. 

Can RMBL survive a widescale disruption? 

We are here for the long haul!  There are financial realities that will drive our decision-making, but we are also doing our best to be compassionate and cautious.  We are thinking about strategies that can guide decision-making such as prioritizing having financial and staff resources to be fully operational in 2021.   

We are currently developing financial models  looking at various income scenarios and to help us think about expenditures (e.g., capital improvements in the summer, seasonal staffing, etc.  We have about 25% of our operating costs in reserves ($500k on a $2 million budget).  We are pretty close to completing a conservation easement that would add around another $1.3 million to our reserves.  About a third of our budget is fundraising, and that could be affected in different ways than operational revenue.  In the past fundraising has been a bit insensitive to economic downturns, but there is a lot of uncertainty around that.  We don’t have any debt, so reserves and financial contingencies can all be used to delay cuts to core operations. 

I heard there is community transmission of COVID-19 near RMBL, in Gunnison County.  Where can I get the most current updates on the local situation? 

Coronavirus is circulating in Gunnison County, the county where RMBL is situated.  For the latest updates on the local situation in Gunnison County, please visit this page on the Gunnison County website: https://www.gunnisoncounty.org/938/Coronavirus-COVID-19. 

Director’s Blog 3/13/20

Director’s Blog Post by Ian Billick, PhD

Friday, March 13, 2020

Field Science in the Spring (Summer… Fall….Year(s)) of Coronavirus?

As we teach in our courses, the exponential growth of disease transmission can be hard to comprehend much less plan around.  What made sense yesterday can be foolhardy within days.

How is RMBL approaching the coronavirus?

We will communicate.  We are updating our webpage regularly with information specific to RMBL; we will be posting FAQ’s for students on the webpage soon.  Our site includes links to information from Gunnison County, the state of Colorado, and the CDC.   The state includes regular updates on the number and location of coronavirus cases.  When there are significant changes or decisions, we will post them to the PI listserv.  We will be responsive to individual queries by email and phone.

We will be flexible.  Not only are things changing quickly, but you are navigating complicated personal and professional lives.  Beyond dealing with the possibility or reality of your own sickness, you may be pressed to help family, friends, and community.  It may be unclear how your home institution will handle travel.  We will waive cancellation fees, including reimbursing student deposits, for any coronavirus-related change of plans.  We will leave it to you to tell us whether your cancellation is coronavirus related.  We will do our best to accommodate any other needed last-minute assistance.

We will do our best to avoid moving too slowly, ……. Or too quickly.  We are planning for summer as normal, accepting students and processing research applications.  But any decision/outcome is on the table, from business as normal, to heightened cleaning, to social distancing in Gothic (no seminars or cricket games??), to strict restrictions on summer visitation.  The main prediction I will make is that right now we have little idea what summer will bring.

Currently we have time, with about two months before we would normally see a big uptick in visitation to RMBL.  China looks like a best-case scenario, involving about 3 weeks from an initial diagnosis to the peak number of cases (with no guarantee China won’t see a second wave).  Italy looks like a worse-case scenario, with an overwhelmed health care system and slower to impose strict social distancing.  Italy is about 2 weeks in with no evidence they have hit their peak.  The US is under two weeks in.  We will know a great deal more with every week that passes.

We will put you first!  RMBL is here for the long haul.  Whether you are a long-time community member or hope to visit for your first summer, you are our family.  We will move forward within a legal and ethical framework that prioritizes how we can best support you in challenging times.  Whether you are worried about institutional travel plans, losing a critical field season as part of your thesis, or the loss of critical summer income as an REU student to pay school bills or support the family, we will do our best to support your needs.

What does it look like at RMBL right now?  There are about 40 coronavirus cases in Colorado, with about 5 confirmed in Gunnison County.  These are underestimates because, like across the country, the local hospital lacks testing kits, a problem I expect/hope will be remedied by this weekend.  With a small local hospital, the Governor has suggested, for the time being, that individuals over 60 or with underlying conditions avoid travel to Crested Butte, and similar high mountain resort communities.  The local schools are closed for at least two weeks and the local community emergency response are actively coordinating.  RMBL is allowing staff to take additional time off as they need to deal with sickness or family, and supporting people working from home.

I will close by repeating that the world is only going to need more from field scientists and RMBL, whether we are talking about population growth, climate change, food, or disease.  Coronavirus, and ultimately human health, emerges from the interface between humans and the environment.  What you all do as field scientists matters.  RMBL will do everything we can to support your work and accelerate discovery, both in our short-term response to coronavirus, and our long-term institutional planning.

As always, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, or just to let us know how you are doing, mentally as well as physically!  I’m always curious to know what you are thinking about when it comes to RMBL, and appreciate suggestions for blog topics.  You will hear more from us as we get closer to summer!

COVID-19 FAQs for Education/ REU Program

Frequently Asked Questions

For RMBL’s Education/REU Program for undergraduates and post-graduates during summer 2020

Last updated: 3/13/20

RMBL is committed to the health and safety of our community and acknowledges that the current global pandemic is causing lot of uncertainty about summer 2020 plans.  Below is a list of questions and answers directed to our undergraduate and post-graduate students and is meant to help students make decisions about their participation in our summer 2020 program.  Every year, RMBL actively manages many risks, and we are actively monitoring the situation and will enact appropriate measures as necessary.  Any additional questions can be directed to Rosemary Smith, RMBL’s Education and Research Manager, at rsmith@rmbl.org.

Is RMBL still offering the education program in summer 2020?

RMBL is committed to the education program and doesn’t see any reason to cancel or alter the program at this time.  The start of our summer research season is over two months away, and we expect the situation will continue to unfold in the coming weeks.  We will continue to closely monitor the situation and communicate with students regarding any changes.

The acceptance deadline in my award/scholarship letter is coming up soon.  Do you anticipate extending that deadline?

Not at this time, but we encourage any students with questions or concerns to reach out to Rosemary Smith, RMBL’s  Education and Research Manager.

What about my deposit?  Will students have their deposit refunded if they can’t attend or the program is cancelled?

Yes.  We have already waived any cancellation fees associated with coronavirus, and this would include student deposits.  Our intent is to interpret coronavirus related cancellations quite broadly.

If the education program is cancelled or if a student declines to attend, will students who have an REU award or scholarship get priority for a future summer?

Yes, although at this time NSF currently does not fund students who have graduated, so some students may not be eligible for an REU award in future summers. Both undergraduates and post-graduates are eligible for scholarships in future summers.

Will RMBL have any travel bans, including for international students?

At this time RMBL has not enacted any travel bans.  We don’t anticipate doing so, but if we do, we will follow the guidance and recommendations of public health officials.  Any changes or updates to this policy will be posted on our website.

My acceptance letter says I need to submit my travel plans by May 1.  Given the uncertainty around the pandemic and traveling, will there be flexibility around that deadline?

Yes.  We will do our best to accommodate students as this situation evolves, and that includes re-evaluating deadlines as appropriate.  Many airlines are waiving “change fees” for travel plans, so we encourage you to make sure you understand your airline’s cancellation policies before you book travel.

I heard there is community transmission of coronavirus near RMBL.  Where can I get the most current updates on the local situation?

Coronavirus is circulating in Gunnison County, the county where RMBL is situated.  For the latest updates on the local situation in Gunnison County, please visit this page on the Gunnison County website: https://www.gunnisoncounty.org/938/Coronavirus-COVID-19.

As of 3/11/20, the Colorado Governor’s office recommended that travelers over 60 years of age and those with underlying health issues avoid nonessential travel to mountain resort towns in Colorado.  This is primarily due to the limited capacity of mountain community health systems to handle a surge in demand for their services.