SFI Cowan campus, closed. Image courtesy Laura Egley Taylor.

With the rapid global spread of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the Santa Fe Institute has suspended all public events and scientific meetings and directed all faculty and staff to work remotely beginning Friday, March 13. The State of New Mexico reported its first cases of COVID-19 earlier that week, and the City of Santa Fe reported its first case on Wednesday, March 11. Updates on COVID-19 in New Mexico are published through the New Mexico Department of Health. 

All SFI gatherings, including community lectures, workshops, symposia, working groups, meetings of the Applied Complexity Network, summer schools, and the InterPlanetary Festival have also been canceled or rescheduled until after the end of August.

"This is all terrible news and we all desire that the pandemic be controlled more quickly than current projections," says President David Krakauer, who made the decision in consultation with SFI leadership and colleagues at research universities. "However SFI of all places needs to come to terms with the complexity of the situation. And we will adapt quickly if the situation improves."

Former SFI External Professor Carl Bergstrom shared on Twitter, “Through aggressive sanitation efforts, diligent hand-washing, canceling large gatherings, minimizing travel, teleworking, and similar measures we can *flatten out the epidemic curve*, keeping the number of people simultaneously infected at a low enough level to be manageable.”

(Caption: graphic, based on 2007 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, illustrating the impact of early control measures in the spread of epidemics. CC-BY-2.0 @CT_Bergstrom and @k_thos)

(Caption: graphic, based on 2007 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, illustrating the impact of early control measures in the spread of epidemics. CC-BY-2.0 @CT_Bergstrom and @k_thos)

Even though SFI campuses are closed, the work of the Institute will continue remotely.

Making the most of remote

SFI’s faculty and postdocs are holding a weekly teleconference to catch up on each other’s research. Called "remotely together" in the initial email invitation from Professor Cris Moore, the Wednesday meetings will consist of seminar presentations, single-slide informal science talks in the inhouse "Slice of Science" series, and, Moore wrote, "the usual... lunchtime conversation."

Though the teleconferences will not be live-streamed, quotes and highlights will be posted to SFI's twitter account @sfiscience Wednesdays at 12 p.m. MDT.

'Viral' insights from the SFI network

SFI researchers have been working for decades to model and prevent pandemics, and many have shared their insights with the media in recent weeks. Below, a few highlights:

  • The stock market reacts to COVID-19 as a complex adaptive system, which is nonlinear and constantly changing. (SFI Trustee Chair Emeritus Bill Miller in the Miller Value Partners blog)
  • Worldwide, some 40-70 percent of people could contract the coronavirus. (Former External Professor Marc Lipsitch in The Atlantic)
  • We can prepare for challenges to US infrastructure, elections, and other problems by anticipating them in advance. (Former External Professor Marc Lipsitch and Richard Danzig in Bloomberg)
  • Cell-phone data could be used to determine whether people are following guidelines for social distancing, but can't be used to predict the spread of the virus until we improve our understanding of how it spreads and how many are infected. (Former Omidyar Fellow Caroline Buckee in WIRED)
  • A one-month school closure could cost the US economy more than $50 billion. (External Professors Joshua Epstein and Ross Hammond in US News and World Report)
  • Infected nursing home workers can become super-spreaders. (External Professor Lauren Ancel Meyers in The Washington Post)
  • A fraction of coronavirus cases have been infected by people who haven't yet shown symptoms. (External Professor Lauren Ancel Meyers on NPR)
  • The number of infected is likely many multiples of the positive tests. (Former Omidyar Fellow Sam Scarpino in Bloomberg)
  • A disinformation campaign spreading concurrently with a biological contagion can accelerate the spread of the virus. (Former Complexity Postdoctoral Fellows Laurent Hébert-Dufresne and Sam Scarpino with Jean-Gabriel Young in Nature Physics and Nerdist)
  • Social media algorithms create an ecosystem for the spread of false information. (Former External Professor Carl Bergstrom in The Christian Science Monitor)
  • The US needs to expand its testing capacity. "If we only know about 1 in 10 cases, then even perfectly effective interventions on known cases can block only 10 percent of transmission." (Former External Professor Marc Lipsitch in The Washington Post)

Transmission series

SFI is also sharing novel faculty insights on the unfolding pandemic through a faculty-authored series. Transmission is the Institute's real-time, and ideas-based response to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Read the posts in the Transmission series.

Updated March 30, 2020