UConn Health and JAX Commemorate Joint Fight Against COVID-19

Speakers at ceremony reflect on collaborative JAX/UConn Health accomplishments, which include administering more than 1.5 million SARS-COV-2 tests and over 40,000 vaccinations

Dr. Andy Agwunobi speaks at the UConn Health/JAX commemoration ceremony honoring joint efforts in the fight against COVID-19. The newly planted tree, bench and plaque were unveiled for the ceremony. (photo by Tina Encarnacion)

Representatives from UConn Health and The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine (JAX-GM) gathered at the pond on their shared Farmington campus on Thursday, Oct. 28 to commemorate the partnership between the two organizations in their collective fight against COVID-19.

A short ceremony featured comments by JAX-GM Director and Professor Charles Lee; Interim UConn President and UConn Health CEO Dr. Andy Agwunobi; Dr. Bruce Liang, dean, UConn School of Medicine; Rich Lussier, program director and general manager, Clinical Genomics at JAX; and Deidre S. Gifford, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Social Services.

A scarlet dogwood tree and a metal bench were dedicated as permanent reminders of the exceptional partnership between the organizations. The plaque reads: “This area of reflection is dedicated to the staff of The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine and UConn Health who, during the unprecedented time of the COVID-19 crisis, came together in collaboration to conduct over 1.5 million SARS-COV-2 tests and implement over 40,000 vaccinations, to protect the health and lives of the residents of Connecticut.”

“JAX’s partnership with UConn Health was integral to our ability to support the state’s testing program and maintain the health and safety of our employees at both institutions, throughout the pandemic,” said Dr. Lee. “This ceremony represents only a small gesture of our sincere thanks to the hundreds of employees who dedicated so much of their expertise and time and showed a deep commitment to our community.”

Lee and Lussier talked about the earlier days of the pandemic, when SARS-COV-2 testing was crucial and still in its infancy, relatively speaking, with JAX completing 100 PRC tests per day. Lussier recalled gathering a multidisciplinary team of 57 people from around the country, on March 6, 2020, with a strong commitment from the State to support their efforts. The strategies they implemented over the next 30 weeks allowed them to ramp up to more than 10,000 tests daily, and one day in September 2020, they hit the 12,000-test mark.

Commissioner Deidre Gifford, Connecticut Department of Social Services (photo by Tina Encarnacion)

Commissioner Gifford praised both organizations for their successes, and said that the highly effective public/private partnership that was created between JAX, UConn Health, and the State of Connecticut was different from the efforts taking place in many other states around the country.

“March 2020 seems like a lifetime ago, but it’s important to remember how much was done in such a short period – when you reflect on how quickly we responded, it’s truly a remarkable accomplishment,” Gifford said. “These kinds of partnerships are critical to the State in our combined efforts to protect the health and wellbeing of our residents.”

Dr. Liang echoed Gifford’s comments, adding, “In the last 24 months, the UConn Health/JAX team has risen to every challenge, under extraordinary pressure – working together, there isn’t anything we can’t accomplish!”

Dr. Agwunobi also praised the many UConn Health and JAX employees who assisted in the battle against the pandemic, and said their joint response to COVID-19 was a case study in how two organizations can come together quickly, retool and collaborate effectively, benefitting Connecticut, the nation and the world.

“I want to recognize the front-line health-care workers, the nurses, physicians, medical assistants, technicians, laboratory staff and others who administered COVID-19 tests,” Agwunobi said. “They did this at great risk to themselves and their families, especially in the months before vaccines were available, and played a key role in the State’s testing and vaccination programs.

“Today’s ceremony reflects a small but significant milestone in our joint efforts to mitigate the risks from the COVID-19 virus, but as importantly, it further demonstrates the value and importance of the efficient, creative partnership that exists between UConn Health and JAX.”

View the entire ceremony here: