Guidance for Laboratory & Animal Research
This section provides guidance to administrative directors, research operations managers and principal investigators (PIs) who conduct or manage laboratory and animal research in the COVID-19 era.
As restrictions surrounding coronavirus begin to ease, we are planning to expand laboratory research activities. We anticipate a gradual resumption of research activity beginning on May 18, in line with the Governor’s directive, however a return to “normal” activity is unlikely for many months or longer.
Guidelines for Expansion
All employees are required to take a daily Dr. ChatBot health screening survey before reporting to work at the university or medical center. Employees should log in with their URMC login credentials and report their results to their principal investigators daily. PIs will also be responsible for asking their staff whether they passed their screening each day. The screening, which only takes seconds, helps identify workers with COVID-19 symptoms before they come to work and provides directions about self-quarantine and who to contact if self-quarantine is indicated. Workers who develop symptoms while at work should secure their work space, notify other lab members, notify Employee Health (585-275-6040) and leave campus as quickly as possible.
A similar tool is being developed for students. Further information will be shared when that is available.
The partial reactivation of lab research is not meant to replace work that can be done remotely. We need to keep building and office occupancy to a minimum. Therefore, faculty, fellows, graduate students and technical personnel should not return to their offices unless they are engaged in laboratory-based research.
Limits on laboratory personnel numbers
Social distancing guidelines recommend separation distances of six feet or more. No more than one person per 250-300 square feet of lab space should be allowed in a lab at any one time. As a reference, this corresponds to one person per bay for laboratories with a modern bay structure (e.g. Kornberg, MRBX and Cancer Center) or for a 600-square-foot laboratory, only a maximum of two people should occupy the lab at a time. These limitations are essential to avoid over-crowding of public spaces in research buildings, and limit potential cross contamination in research spaces with individuals with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic. Minimize, as much as possible, lab procedures requiring more than one person in close proximity. If these procedures are absolutely necessary, or if it cannot be avoided that several individuals have to work in lab spaces that have less space than 250-300 square feet per person, everyone involved should wear required masks, gloves and eye protection, and treat each other as if they have COVID-19 but are asymptomatic.
If necessary, shift schedules can be considered to ensure social distancing
Scheduling and coordinating work hours. To allow multiple people to sequentially occupy the allotted space, labs should develop calendar systems to schedule work shifts throughout the day and on weekends. The structure of these schedules and the length of shifts can be flexible, depending on the type of experiment and the needs of the lab. Lab shifts may range from three to 12 hours in length. Another option is for specific people to reserve certain days of the week. Lab staff should understand that their time in the lab is limited and they have to make the most of it. Laboratory safety must be considered during times of low staff density. Those working with hazardous chemicals or materials are encouraged not to work alone and not to work at off hours when fewer people are present. Establish a buddy system with someone in a neighboring space or lab, or use check in/check out by phone or text with the PI or another laboratory member.
- Lab members should communicate openly and often (by text or other messaging systems) to coordinate and adjust schedules as necessary and to be sure that they avoid each other. Everyone should complete work within their shift and not work during others’ shifts.
- Lab members should plan ahead to maximize the use of their limited bench time, and they should do their notebook updating and other desktop activities when they return home.
- Lab members should be encouraged to help their labmates by doing minor tasks and experiments that will reduce the need for others to come to the lab.
- If lab members have individually assigned bench and desk spaces, those spaces should be considered private and should not be used by other lab members, so that they can be viewed as a safe space free of contamination.
Limits on office use and occupancy
As noted above, office work should continue to take place at remote locations (at home). For those engaged in laboratory work, and for rare research tasks requiring access to individual offices, office occupation should be limited to one person. For office spaces larger than 400 square feet, exceptions may be possible, but need to be pre-approved by Department Chairs or Center Directors with consideration of their impact on building loads and crowding of public spaces.
Surgical procedural face masks are required in all common areas (hallways, restrooms, break and eating areas) and while working in laboratories. Use and store masks appropriately: hands should be cleaned before and after handling the mask. Remove and store procedural masks in a clean area with good air flow - not in a plastic bag (see SMH guidance for mask don, doff and storage). Under current guidelines, employees are asked to wear their masks for up to one week, or until they become broken or soiled. Face masks must be worn in public and any time there is more than one person in a given space, including times of brief interaction between coworkers or friends, and anytime another person is within six feet. Anyone working alone in a private office does not need to wear a mask. Clean and disinfect personal and shared work areas (desktop, keyboards, chairs, etc.) before and after use. Treat everything as if it is contaminated.
- Where possible, reroute traffic patterns to reduce contact, both in the labs and access corridors. Avoid contact with patients or clinical personnel.
- Use signs or markers to indicate that a facility is being used.
- Limit one person per elevator (unless absolutely required, e.g. with a person needing assistance); wait for the next one if occupied.
- Lunch and breaks: Individuals with private offices are encouraged to eat in their offices. Others should eat or take a break in locations where six feet of separation is possible; disinfect public surfaces before/after eating. Occupancy of breakrooms and other areas of potential congregation should be limited; for example, by reducing the number of chairs, and placing those chairs well over six feet apart.
- Disinfection supplies (spray, wipes) will be supplied in shared facilities. Clean the area before use, and after use for the next user.
- More detailed guidance for disinfection can be found on the CDC website.
Availability of masks and cleaning supplies
Surgical procedural masks will be available through department or center offices or other designated locations. Surgical masks and face shields can be procured from hospital stores. Please do not overtax the system with individual requests. Department administrators may request a week’s worth at a time using SMHCovidSupply@URMC.Rochester.edu and pick up M-F 8 am - 12 pm. Disinfectants (for use with lab paper towels), disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizers will be available at central locations in SMD research buildings including break rooms and bathroom facilities. Lab workers should be instructed to wipe down common touch points as they begin work and when their work is done.
To order disinfectants, the requestor should call SMD Environmental Services at x5-9203 and provide the following specifics:
- Exact product name; i.e. Oxivir TB
- Specific quantities; i.e. 1 case, 1 quart, 1 gallon, etc.
- The account number to be charged
- Contact phone number
For more information on lab decontamination, view our training Decontamination Procedures to Help Prevent COVID-19 Infections video and slide set.
Although Miner Library’s physical space may not be immediately available, access to library digital collections, remote librarian, and interlibrary loan services will continue to be fully available to the research community. Remote access to SAS, SPSS, JMP, STATA, and Adobe Creative Cloud will be available. Questions can be directed to Jennifer Raynor, Jennifer_Raynor@URMC.Rochester.edu.
As lab activity ramps up, Lot 1 will return to 3D lock box parking and the Scottsville Road shuttle will reopen. Appropriate disinfection procedures will be instituted.
Currently, mass testing (both PCR tests for coronavirus and serological test for antibody status) for non-symptomatic research staff is not available. However, this situation is fluid and capacity is increasing rapidly, so routine testing may soon become available. Anybody with symptoms should contact their healthcare provider or an urgent care center to be tested.
Before restarting your lab, identify other departments or labs that you receive services or support from and verify they can support your activities.
Based on excellent compliance with current research shutdown policies, we are confident that faculty and staff understand the importance of these policies and will operate their labs accordingly. However, spot checks will be used to identify laboratories where there is inappropriate density or lack of distancing and protective measures. In these cases, faculty will be required to modify staff schedules or take other measures to minimize risk of transmission.