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Lab Safety

US universities release research restart plans

Strategies prioritize health and safety of researchers and support staff

by Jyllian Kemsley
May 28, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 21

 

As colleges and universities around the world consider when and how to resume research stalled by efforts to stem the COVID-19 pandemic, 6 US research universities released guidelines prepared for their campuses.

“Common themes within our plans and elsewhere center around the critical need to adhere to public health guidance, prioritize the health and safety of the workforce and participants, and implement fair and transparent processes for decision-making,” say representatives from the institutions in a Science policy forum paper (DOI: 10.1126/science.abc5599).

Releasing their plans were Johns Hopkins University; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Stanford University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Michigan; and the University of Washington. The schools estimate that COVID-19 restrictions halted more than 80% of on-site research activity at their campuses.

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Collectively, the schools’ considerations for restarting research include local or regional public health guidance and access to personal protective equipment, disinfectants, and other supplies. Considerations also hinge on the ability to conduct disease testing and contact tracing and the capacity of local support units such as facilities, health and safety, and security.

Their plans to resume research fall into three phases pegged to substantial, moderate, and minimal community transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Research ramp-up plans include symptom checks, building access controls, lab occupancy limits, physical distancing, enhanced cleaning, and disease testing and contact tracing. The schools also say that they are trying to set out reopening plans with the flexibility to ramp back down if needed—in particular to be able to identify and close specific laboratories, floors, or buildings in response to illness or exposure.

“Given the length of time that may be required to continue practicing social distancing, it may be years before academic research institutions reach a new normal,” the schools conclude.

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