Director’s Message: COVID-19


Aloha Kākou,

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a major impact on us all, and the world of research astronomy is no exception. Despite the many challenges we continue to face – from a temporary shutdown in early Spring to capacity restrictions on our summit personnel – our staff has been doing a tremendous job keeping the Observatory operational during this period of uncertainty. It is through the resourcefulness and determination of all who work here that we were able to bring both telescopes back online and resume regular operations in late May. Since then we have been observing the heavens every night, conducting exciting astronomical research.

Of course there are still many unknowns, including the trajectory and eventual duration of the pandemic. For the present, the majority of our employees continue to work from home, and restrictions on our summit staffing capacity remain in place, while we explore options for returning to something more like routine operations.

As understanding regarding COVID-19 evolves, we will continue to update our policies and procedures and implement measures to adapt to any emerging challenges. I am confident we are moving forward thoughtfully and responsibly, doing all we can to meet our mission while protecting the health and safety of our Keck Observatory ʻOhana. 

The outpouring of support and encouragement from our community over the past six months – including that of our fellow observatories and astronomers all over the world – has been both humbling and inspiring for all of us at the Observatory. We look forward to the day when we can safely resume sharing our science, face-to-face. In the meantime, may we all stay safe, healthy, and connected to each other. 


Mahalo nui loa,
Hilton Lewis, Director
W. M. Keck Observatory


UPDATE: MAY 8, 2020


Yesterday marked the first day astronomical observatories in Hawaii received the official go-ahead to reopen, a directive issued as part of the Governor’s new emergency proclamation easing certain restrictions on the local economy. This “safer-at-home” order includes observatories in the state’s list of low-risk businesses and non-profits that are permitted to reopen.

After carefully assessing the current the situation, taking into account the Governor’s new proclamation, and consulting the observatory’s senior leadership, I have decided we will transition from being in a “flattening the curve” mode to “return to highly restricted operations” mode (these are definitions we developed at the start of the pandemic, to inform which activities we can safely undertake).

The health and safety of staff and the community remains our foremost concern. We do not yet have a date nor an exact timeline of when we will resume limited science operations, but are working actively to determine this as soon as possible. Our initial focus is to ensure we have proper safety protocols in place for ramping up our on-site efforts and to conduct a robust facility assessment so we can best manage health and technical risks as we work towards resuming full operations.

We are looking forward to going back on sky in a safe, low-risk manner as soon as possible.

Hilton Lewis, Director
W. M. Keck Observatory


UPDATE: MARCH 25, 2020


In alignment with Hawaii Governor David Ige’s stay at home order, W. M. Keck Observatory has temporarily suspended nightly science observations until further notice.

Going forward, on-site activities at our headquarters in Waimea and our telescope facility on Maunakea are limited to critical maintenance and protection of instrumentation and equipment as permitted under exemptions within the Governor’s mandate. Our employees will continue to work from home throughout the shutdown.

The health and safety of our staff and the community are our foremost concern, especially with confirmed cases now reported on Hawaii Island. We intend to fully comply with both the spirit and the letter of the law and to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community.
Supporting Hawai‘i Through STEM Distance Learning
While scientific observations are on hold, our Maunakea Observatories ‘ohana launched MKO@Home, an innovative public outreach effort for K-12 students and families, providing remote learning resources from the observatories’ expert scientists and educators.

Learn more HERE.

On behalf of everyone here at Keck Observatory, we wish you and your loved ones good health and much aloha as we face these unprecedented times together.

Hilton Lewis, Director
W. M. Keck Observatory


MARCH 13, 2020


At W. M. Keck Observatory, our number one priority is our people. We also take our civic responsibility to our local community on Hawaii Island extremely seriously.

In the face of the tremendous challenge we collectively face with the global coronavirus pandemic, we seek to do our very best in implementing social distancing measures and reducing exposure to slow the transmission of COVID-19, while supporting our valued employees.

Here are the measures we have implemented:
– Effective Monday, March 16, working from home is mandatory for those who are able to do so. Many of our staff are already working from home.
– We have scaled back site operations to essential and high-priority activities.
– We have closed our visitor galleries in Waimea and on the Summit and cancelled our public outreach.
– We have canceled business travel.
– We have switched to remote observing only (no astronomers traveling to Hawaii).
– We have increased the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting of our work sites.
– We will provide paid administrative leave for employees unable to work due to COVID-19-related reasons.
– And we are making accommodations for immunocompromised employees and employees who are caregivers for immuneocompromised loved ones.

Science operations on Maunakea will continue as long as we can do so at low risk.
We are grateful that there are no confirmed cases on Hawaii Island, however, we feel it is our responsibility and in the best interest of our employees and the local community to enact these protective measures.

Hilton Lewis, Director
W. M. Keck Observatory