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How ACS is emerging from COVID-19 restrictions and planing for the future

by Paul W. Jagodzinski, chair, ACS Board of Directors
April 11, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 13


Photo of Paul Jagodzinski.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Paul Jagodzinski

As vaccinations become available to larger segments of the population, we are beginning to sense that the impact of COVID-19 on our personal and professional lives will ease. We should not expect a return to the pre-COVID-19 normal, but we will experience an improvement in our quality of life as long as we remain committed to safety.

American Chemical Society members and employees have pivoted successfully this past year. When COVID-19 guidelines resulted in the closure of ACS offices in Washington, DC, and Columbus, Ohio, the society responded quickly and efficiently. Work shifted to being fully remote, and ACS staff continued to provide programs and services in support of the society’s mission, vision, and values. We canceled the 2020 spring national meeting in Philadelphia because that was the safest path forward at the time. We transitioned to virtual meetings at the local, regional, and national levels, and the board, council, and committees met virtually to carry out their work. The ACS Spring 2021 meeting is being held entirely virtually. Importantly, ACS employees have continued to work, and no one at the society lost their job as a result of COVID-19.

In fact, ACS’s strong financial position at the start of the COVID-19 restrictions, coupled with dedication and hard work on everyone’s part, facilitated the society’s successful navigation of our activities throughout the past year. ACS was prepared to handle the challenges presented by COVID-19 because of thoughtful planning and wise decisions at all levels of leadership. But this pandemic is not over yet.

A successful transition to how ACS will operate as COVID-19 restrictions ease is currently a major topic of discussion among ACS leadership. We will follow the guidelines of jurisdictions in the greater Washington area, in Columbus, and at our other locations worldwide. We will take into account safety in the workplace, including best practices for social distancing.

We need to emphasize our common humanity and recognize that science more than ever holds the key to ensuring we are safe.

The ACS Board of Directors is dedicated to supporting the society’s various units—local sections, divisions, student chapters, and international sciences chapters—as they transition to a new normal. During a special meeting in January, for example, the board authorized a onetime allocation of funds for local sections, divisions, student chapters, and international sciences chapters for 2021. The additional funds will be used by each unit to support the ACS mission within a reasonable scope of activities. This approach provides opportunities for local volunteer leaders to work with their fellow members to develop and implement plans that are most effective for each unit. The board is considering other ways to provide assistance as well.

Our recent experiences organizing meetings in virtual and hybrid modes provide us with the opportunity to develop a long-term strategy for meetings. A joint task force involving the board and the Committee on Meetings and Expositions had been considering the future of meetings before COVID-19, and members have gained valuable insights within the past 12 months on how to move forward. It is important to realize that we have not held a society-wide meeting in person for 19 months, and many students have graduated without the experience of attending and presenting their research in such a forum. ACS must provide future meetings that serve the needs of our members and the larger scientific community. But we must continue to put safety first.

We are not past the impacts of COVID-19 and will not be for a while. However, ACS is planning for the future so that we can make a smooth transition to our new normal. As we move forward, we will take the best of what we learned during the past year—that there is an ongoing role for technology in our interactions. We need to emphasize our common humanity and recognize that science more than ever holds the key to ensuring we are safe. We need to confront our future with a renewed sense of urgency.

Thank you, as always, for your support of ACS and for the role you play in ensuring a better future through the chemistry enterprise. If you have ideas or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.


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