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Two students wearing masks, standing more than six feet apart as they wait in line in front of their residence hall.

rochester responds

The global uprooting of lives since the COVID-19 pandemic struck has been so sweeping that an effort to highlight people who have gone to extraordinary lengths in helping their communities is surely daunting.

It may be that the more difficult task is to identify those among us who haven’t gone well beyond what is typically demanded.

Some have invented new ways, on the fly, to continue to meet day-to-day commitments. Some have quit jobs to care for children and to oversee their children’s schooling. Some have lost jobs—and found ways to serve their communities, despite their own economic stresses. And some have carried on while shouldering the grief of the sudden and unforeseen death of a loved one.

We’ve been collecting these stories for months. As of this writing, the cases of COVID-19 are surging in many parts of the world, including in the United States and in Rochester. Circumstances continue to change and are changing for many of the people featured here. What is certain is that most of them continue to find the demands of their work expanding exponentially—or they are continuing to volunteer to make it so.

There are many others we might have included. If you know of others in the University community who belong among this group, please write to us at, with “Rochester Responds” in the subject line.

— Karen McCally ’02 (PhD)
Contributors: J. Adam Fenster, Jim Mandelaro, Bob Marcotte, Sara Miller, Kristine Thompson, and Lindsey Valich.

portrait of Angela Branche and Ann Falsey, two doctors wearing white coats and face masks.

Help is on the way

Angela Branche ’14M (Flw) and Ann Falsey ’66M (Res), codirectors of the Medical Center’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU), directed several vaccine trials in Rochester as part of Operation Warp Speed, a multiagency collaboration led by the US Department of Health and Human Services to safely accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and therapies. The vaccine efforts at Rochester included phase 3 trials, the final stage of development of a vaccine before FDA approval.

Branche (left) and Falsey have worked with community organizations to recruit clinical trial participants more representative of the population as a whole.

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Destinee and Deziree Bell wearing Rochester sweatshirts and caps and carrying backpacks, posing under a fall tree.

Students stay to help

When students headed home in March, twin sisters Destinee Bell ’21 and Deziree Bell ’21 did, too—only they kept coming back. Destinee, a biochemistry major, and Deziree, a neuroscience major, are from just outside Rochester. Throughout the spring and summer, they were among about 30 students who stayed on as staff of Wilson Commons Student Activities.

From March through the summer, Destinee (left) and Deziree commuted from their family home in nearby Gates, New York, to help fellow students who could not return home.

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Molly Morrison

Care in quarantine

As students faced quarantine on campus, staff members like Molly Morrison pitched in for a “collaborative effort to support our students.”

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Mike Apostolakos

Team leaders

Mike Apostolakos ’90M (Res), ’93M (Flw) and Kathy Parrinello ’75N, ’83N (MS), ’90W (PhD) establish a command center to direct UR Medicine’s regional response to the pandemic.

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Jamie Sokol

Public health in Pittsburgh

Jamie Sokol ’05 helps implement emergency plans in western Pennsylvania.

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Robert Minckley holds a laptop while working on another computer at the front of a large empty lecture hall.

Pivot to online teaching gets a primer from education experts

Eric Fredericksen ’84S (MBA), ’09W (EdD), associate vice president for online learning, and Lisa Brown ’16W (EdD), assistant director of University IT, help faculty members adapt courses both on the fly and for the long haul.

Robert Minckley, senior lecturer in the Department of Biology, prepares to teach an online, in-person, socially distanced course in Lander Auditorium.

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group of health care workers in PPE standing in a medical tent set up in from the hospital.

Preventing the spread

In some ways, the story of the Medical Center’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been what hasn’t happened.

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graphic showing lots of smaller arrows with one larger arrow rushing ahead.

Building a stronger career network

Volunteering, mentoring, and helping connect students and alumni in their career paths take on new resonance in the pandemic.

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infographic for the Together for Rochester campaign that says $49 million raised, 4,500 volunteers, $2.9 million raised to support equity and access, 24,000 gifts, $25 million for the endowment, $12 million for faculty, $1.6 million raised for student, faculty, and staff emergency funds, 4,360 gifts for Golisano Children's Hospital, goal of 25+ in new endowed scholarships, goal of 750 new internship opportunities, 22 Expereince Rochester events, 15,285 virtual event attendees, 6,345 members of the Meliora Collective

Helping the University—and each other

The Together for Rochester campaign responds to the University community’s desire to make a difference in the life of the institution and in the lives of students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

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Naveen Nataraj

Scholarship initiative encourages equity and diversity

University Trustee Naveen Nataraj ’97 establishes fundraising challenge to encourage new support.

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Person opens a box of masks and holds up a thumbs up

International community sends needed masks

Initiative delivers more than 100,000 masks to campus.

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the food pantry inside Wilson Commons

Emergency funds put to good use

Donations help provide food, technology, and other needs.

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professor sitting at a small desk in a room that looks like an attic or hallway, with a student's face on a laptop in front of them.

Balancing acts

For faculty members and students alike, the pandemic has blurred the lines between work and home and between the professional and the private. During the spring 2020 semester, Molly Ball (pictured), a lecturer in the history department, and her husband, Pablo Sierra Silva, an assistant professor of history, found themselves juggling teaching schedules as well as schooling for their three children, aged 2, 5, and 8. The couple split their home into two zones—a downstairs home school and an upstairs “uni chauqita,” or “little university,” off limits to the kids, where Ball and Sierra Silva conducted their classes.

person sitting in an empty airport wearing a mask.

Delivery service

As COVID-19 spread around the world last spring, Justin Chaize, a registered nurse and a School of Nursing graduate student, made a split-second decision to travel to Guadalajara, Mexico, to deliver as much personal protective equipment (PPE) as he could to assist health care workers.

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Don Libby, standing in front of a truck filled with boxes

Logistics leader

Last March, when residential life staff were confronted with the necessity of moving close to 400 students in a single day, they weren’t sure just how it would be done. Don Libby was more confident. ‘I had done logistics in Iraq.’

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Jordan Ratzlaff stocking shelves in a pantry

Putting food in the pantry

Jordan Ratzlaff ’20W (MS) tackles food insecurity on the University’s campuses.

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Mitch Gruber

Meeting a rising need

Foodlink’s Mitch Gruber ’17 (PhD) oversees “regular, consistent, and touchless distribution of food” throughout the pandemic.

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‘Community hero’

Intensive care nurse Jose Perpignan Jr. ’16N tends to his neighbors.

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A look back

2020 has been a year unlike any other at the University of Rochester, but we adapted in unprecedented ways.

group portrait of Nana Afoh-Manin, Briana Southerland DeCuir, and Joanne Moreau

An innovative approach to COVID-19 testing

Social entrepreneurs and former classmates at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, Nana Afoh-Manin ’07M (MD), Briana Southerland DeCuir ’03, ’07M (MD), and Joanne Moreau ’07M (MD) bring COVID-19 testing to under-resourced communities.

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doctor in a white lab coat and wearing a mask uses a computer while speaking with a patient, also in a mask.

The calming commissioner

What the NIH’s Anthony Fauci has been to the nation, Monroe County public health commissioner Mike Mendoza ’12S (MS)—or, @DrMikeMendoza on Twitter—has been to the Rochester area: a ubiquitous presence on TV and print news, radio, and social media; and the go-to person for the most reliable and up-to-date information and advice, based on the best available science, under relentlessly shifting circumstances.

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group photo of a famil shows a large screen behind them with the words CELEBRATING THE CLASS OF 2020: JAMAL ANTHONY HOLTZ while the family smile and hold an iPad that shows a woman's face on the screen.

A different kind of commencement

As graduation ceremonies moved online, the messages of perseverance and hard work in the face of challenge took on new meaning for the Class of 2020.

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Serving safely

Food service employees adapted to new protocols to protect themselves and the 750 College students who remained on campus last spring. “We often had to switch gears each day,” says Cameron Schauf, director of Campus Dining Services and Auxiliary Operations as safety protocols were updated and evolving restrictions required dining centers to move to takeout and grab-and-go options. Jayquan Coley, a cook’s helper, says it was “a bit lonesome,” adding “I’m used to a big crowd. That’s what gets us going.”

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student receives a COVID test through a nasal swab by a nurse in scrubs.

Getting students on campus safely ...

Before students arrive for campus housing, a testing regimen is put in place.

As with all students who moved into campus housing in August, Kyle Christoff ’24 was tested for coronavirus before going to the residence halls.

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student in a bright RA t-shirt wears a mask and hands an envelope to another student, also wearing a mask.

... and making sure they have room to keep their distance

Residential Life leaders adjust student housing assignments during a time of “ever changing expectations and scenarios.”

Resident advisors distribute room keys and other housing information as students move on to campus.

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graphic of a Dr. Chat Bot avatar

Meet Dr. Chat Bot

Starting last summer, many members of the University community got to know Dr. Chat Bot, a University-developed app designed to monitor for potential outbreaks of COVID-19.

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Campus gets a virtual makeover

Rochester undergraduates joined their talents to create an online version of iconic campus spaces.

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paramedic in a surgical mask outside an ambulance

Central Park hero

When he’s not working full time for the state’s largest health network, Timmy Li ’11, ’17M (PhD) can be found volunteering as an EMT in New York City’s Central Park.

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man in a surgical mask standing at a podium.

Protecting the public

Last summer, Tony Vargas ’08 tried to convince his colleagues in the Nebraska state legislature to consider his measure to protect the state’s meatpackers from COVID-19 infection. Having failed by two votes, he will reintroduce the measure in January. “One really encouraging change is that doctors and nurses and health care and infectious disease experts from our state have been using their voices to sound the alarm.”

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Todd Frazier.

Offering hope and rejuvenation

Todd Frazier ’92E, director of the Center for Performing Arts Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital, says music and art are key to supporting health care for all.

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two instructors, both in masks, leaning over a laptop and camera in an outdoor tent as student dancers prepare in the background.

Teaching gets a hybrid model

As the fall semester got under way, faculty adjusted their courses and classrooms to emphasize safety for in-person instruction while providing remote access.

Dance faculty member Kerfala (Fana) Bangoura and Missy Pfohl Smith, director of the Program of Dance and Movement, set up a Zoom option for remote students before Bangoura leads a West African dance class in person and remotely.

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ROCHESTER COVID-19 RESOURCE CENTER: Get the latest updates related to University guidelines and campus protocols.