Plan for Gradual Resumption of Laboratory Research and Clinical Site Activities

Updated June 23, 2020

Research Laboratories

Faculty principal investigator research activities will resume with limited capacity following the authorized operation of i) Science Supply, ii) Environmental Health & Safety and Public Safety, iii) Facilities, Design and Construction (including Maintenance), iv) the Animal Care Center, and v) Coordination between the College of Pharmacy and St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. All research activities must be coordinated in a consistent manner in terms of requirements, policies, and implementation with all academic units of the University engaged in laboratory research.

The return to research activities by faculty, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and associated research personnel will begin with an initial small cohort (30% maximum), and will be ramped up in accordance with the larger University-wide plan for phased-reopening over the summer 2020.  All research personnel will be asked to come to campus to complete tasks that cannot be done remotely.  No office work, congregation or socialization will be permitted and non-research based shared offices, kitchens, and meeting spaces will remain closed during the phased reopening.

In addition to all federal, state, and local safety standards, measures will be implemented to mitigate COVID-19 risk for individuals while on campus.  These measures will involve additional training by EH&S, monitoring by EH&S and Public Safety and responsible members of the faculty. 

Return to campus activity will be optional for all researchers.  No one can be required to come to campus against their will.  A non-coercion policy, reporting process, and ombudsmen have been identified. 

Plan of Action

Required facilities and resources:

Resumption of research activity requires the following:

  1. Operation of Science Supply
  2. Operation of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) and Public Safety
  3. Operation of Facilities, Design and Construction, including Maintenance
  4. Operation of Animal Care Center
  5. Coordination between the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to maintain appropriate access to shared research facilities and to comply with the maximum occupancy required by NY State and University policies.

Operation of Science Supply

The University will supply PPE for students and faculty.  This will include masks, gloves, and face shields where appropriate. Science supply will maintain sufficient quantities, materials and resources for cleaning and decontamination. Science Supply operations will also be required to allow for the purchase of chemicals and other expendable resources associated with research operations.

Operation of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) and Public Safety

EH&S will be prepared to address all safety and regulatory concerns that exist under normal operations.  In addition, EH&S will train individuals concerning on campus requirements regarding necessary precautions associated COVID-19 restrictions. 

All researchers will follow the University screening and campus access and safety plans. Department chairpersons will maintain a log of researcher access to campus, campus buildings, and rooms, including time and duration of access.  These logs will be made available for inspection by EH&S and Public Safety as necessary.

Research may occur after normal business hours with more than one person present in a laboratory, provided that the researcher has a current NYPD Certificate of Fitness and notifies Public Safety as to their location and duration of access.  Public Safety will check in on individuals working alone and/or after hours as part of their standard rounds of St. Albert Hall.

Operation of Facilities, Design and Construction, including Maintenance

The University will perform removal of non-laboratory waste, and cleaning of offices and common areas such as hallways, elevators, and restrooms. Researchers will be required to develop and maintain enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols for shared equipment in research facilities, including maintaining a log of cleaning frequency, consistent with CDC guidance for COVID-19.

Operation of Animal Care Center

Research involving the use of animals may not occur without full operational capacity of the Animal Care Center (ACC), including proper staffing and resources. The ACC will operate within the requirements and regulations that exist under normal operations, and resources to accommodate any additional safety procedures and requirements due to COVID-19.

Coordination between the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Shared research equipment and facilities in St. Albert Hall will require coordinated action. Additional safety precautions due to COVID-19 (including personnel access and restrictions) will be consistent between different academic units.

Initial low-density activity, with phased-in increase of activity

Initially, there will be limited and restricted access taking into account the need to maintain a degree of safety to mitigate risk (i.e., social distancing guidelines). Additional precautions beyond those applied during normal operations will be required in terms of use of and access to campus buildings, rooms and facilities. Continual reassessment (every two weeks) of the conditions and state of affairs, with logging and monitoring of individual presence on campus, will occur. The intent is to gradually increase activity over time in terms of number of students and scope of activity until all students who desire to return to campus research have the ability to do so (except those who clearly may not be allowed to return due higher individual COVID-19 risk).

Non-Faculty Research Personnel

Each academic department that has laboratory research in St. Albert Hall will be asked to identify non-faculty personnel for initial access coinciding with the phased reopening of campus, e.g., following the 30%, 60%, and 90% rules and process established by the University for non-instruction based campus activities. It is also noted that regular assessment may deem it necessary to scale back activity, or halt all activity again, as needed in response to changing COVID-19 conditions.

Recommended criteria for those in the initial cohort should be based on individual need and other criteria:

  • Post-doctoral fellows, graduate students (particularly doctoral candidates), visiting researchers with either (a) limited and minimal work required towards defense and graduation or (b) limited duration of appointment should be prioritized;
  • The need to return to research shall be balanced with personal safety risk assessed on an individual basis, i.e., these plans are not intended to eliminate delays and time lost to COVID-19, but are intended to minimize excessively drastic academic hardship and repercussions due to COVID-19;
  • No undergraduate students are allowed to return to research during the summer 2020 phased reopening of on-site research activities.

Faculty

It is deemed necessary for full access for all faculty engaged in laboratory based research activities should they wish to return to campus during the summer 2020. Full access includes time of access (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) and access to laboratories and office spaces.  While faculty will require full access, it is expected that faculty will coordinate their time on campus with others in their academic department and will limit their contact with other individuals to the bare essential minimum required to facilitate productive research activity of their graduate students and associated research personnel.  Faculty are expected to undergo the same level of training as non-faculty researchers prior to return, and to have their presence on campus monitored and logged in the same manner as non-faculty researchers during this period.

Informed Consent and Non-coercion Policy

While any formal restrictions on campus access and activity exist due to COVID-19, no faculty or non-faculty researchers will be required to return to campus against their will. Faculty principal investigators must communicate this with their laboratory personnel, including post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and/or research associates/staff. Fully informed consent by faculty and non-faculty researchers to return to campus while NYC and surrounding areas remains under any degree of restricted activity with regards to COVID-19 is required. 

A clear mechanism for consent for all researchers will be implemented such that all individuals that choose to return to campus to engage in research during a period of restricted activity fully comprehend the conditions and risk associated with their consent.  The consent should only be given upon a clear communication of the campus operations during the period of restricted access.  To maintain an environment in which non-faculty research personnel are not forced or coerced to return to campus for research activities against their will, included in the statement of consent is a non-coercion statement indicating that the non-faculty researcher has the right to report coercion and/or retaliatory behavior, e.g., retaliation, to Human Resources and/or to an ombudsman identified by their College.  Consent forms shall be collected by the academic department Chairpersons prior to an individual’s return to research activity.

All research activity will require the approval of the faculty principal investigator, i.e., a post-doctoral fellow, graduate student, visiting scholar, or research associate/staff may not return to research unless the faculty principal investigator authorizes the post-doctoral fellow, graduate student, visiting scholar, or research associate/staff to do so.  A faculty principal investigator authorizing the return of research personnel to their laboratory implies that the mentor accepts their duties and responsibilities that exist under normal operations.  The mentor is NOT taking on any additional responsibilities associated with COVID-19 liabilities, but is reaffirming their normal requirements of maintaining a safe laboratory environment with respect to all federal, state, and regional safety guidelines and regulations that exist under normal operations.

Scope of activity researchers

Activity of faculty and non-faculty researchers while on campus shall be limited to minimal essential research activity. All individuals are required to log the time and duration of their presence on campus during periods of restricted access.

All faculty and non-faculty researchers shall self-monitor their individual state of health, and shall not enter the campus grounds without being cleared through the University’s wellness questionnaire system.

Masks (face-coverings) shall be worn as required while on campus. Upon entering campus grounds and buildings, individuals shall proceed directly to their respective laboratories or offices.  All campus common areas, e.g., conference rooms, classrooms, kitchens, shared graduate student offices, shall remain closed with no access.  Individuals shall not congregate or engage in social activities and all essential social distancing practices shall be followed, in accordance with the CDC, NY State and University policies and regulations. Within labs, occupancy is limited to two persons at any given time, and these persons are required to maintain social distancing and wear laboratory appropriate personal protective equipment, and continue to wear masks.

Individuals shall take on the responsibility to clean and disinfect all common contact surfaces and shared equipment within the lab prior to, and after use, with appropriate disinfecting wipes or 70% alcohol wipe down. A log book must be maintained for shared equipment, including the protocol and frequency of cleaning/disinfecting.

Common shared areas associated with laboratory research, e.g., common lab equipment in SAH 150 and the autoclave room, shall only be accessed by one individual at a time. After and before use, each individual shall take on responsibility to apply disinfectant material, e.g. Lysol wipes or 70% alcohol wipe down.

All individuals accessing the campus during restricted periods will take on responsibility for personal risk in the common areas of the building such as hallways, elevators, and restrooms. As part of the training procedure, all individuals will agree to, and follow a set of precautions to minimize risk to themselves and others when accessing these common areas of campus facilities. Detailed precautions and procedures shall be developed in consultation with EH&S and Public Safety.

Clinics

Clinical facilities will begin phased reopening coinciding with the reopening of the administrative offices and research laboratories, and will follow the same principles and guidelines required by federal, state, and regional agencies as well as those established by the University.  For approved personnel to gain access to the clinic sites, they must comply with all mandatory regulations established by the University, including daily health screenings, enhanced safety and cleaning/disinfecting protocols, workspaces and signage, social distancing policies, and employee trainings.

Mandatory reopening plans for the resumption of client/patient visits are being developed through a risk assessment process by EH&S and Public Safety in collaboration with the Directors and faculty supervisors of the clinics, Office of Student Affairs, and Facilities, Design and Construction.  No clients or patients will be seen onsite without the approval of these mandatory reopening plans.

Graduate students will be allowed to return to working in the clinics, provided that they supply informed consent (as indicated above for research personnel).  No graduate students will be required to return to work in the clinics if they do not feel comfortable.