Memo: Safety Procedures During 2020 Research Ramp-up
Dear DCM and colleagues:
Thank you for your hard work during the difficult situation we have faced over the last two months. Starting on June 1, 2020, UNC will begin increasing the volume of research conducted on our campus in a phased, careful and sustainable way, and DCM work operations will return to normal to support the labs and facilities that are ramping back up.
To ensure safety while conducting research and work involving animals, we expect the following principles to be adhered to at all times.
- UNC employees who can effectively conduct their work remotely should do so to avoid placing themselves or others at unnecessary risk. Employees should confer with their supervisor for approval of any remote working arrangements.
- Individuals who have been instructed to return to on-site work and wish to request a disability accommodation (e.g., for disabilities that place individuals at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19) may contact the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- All research faculty, employees and trainees must conduct a daily review of COVID-19 symptoms at home before coming to work. At this time, those symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Runny nose or new sinus congestion
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New gastrointestinal symptoms
- Sudden loss of taste or smell
Anyone who is experiencing any of the above symptom(s) must not come to campus. This requirement does not apply to persons with symptom(s) known to be attributable to an existing condition unrelated to COVID-19. Persons exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms should contact their health care provider and act upon their instructions. UNC employees may also contact the University Employee Occupational Health Clinic (919-966-9119), and UNC students and post docs may contact UNC Campus Health (919-966-2281).
Any individual who has tested positive for COVID-19, who has been referred for testing or who is awaiting test results, may not come to work on campus for any reason until approved to do so by Employee Occupational Health or Campus Health.
- While in a University facility, all individuals must wear a University-approved face mask when in the presence of others and in public settings where physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., conference rooms and common work spaces). Acceptable face mask options will be available at the UNC Environment Health & Safety website. Individuals are not required to wear a face mask when working alone in a confined office space.
- When working in animal facilities, coordinate with Division of Comparative Medicine (DCM) staff to maintain appropriate distancing (a minimum of 6 feet distance or 150 square feet per person) and other safety procedures. Large numbers of animal users within an animal room are discouraged. A sign indicating the maximum number of people allowed will be posted on the door of each animal/procedure room. Time in animal rooms must be scheduled in shifts. The maximum capacity of each room is currently being uploaded to an online scheduling system that will allow for users to remotely determine room occupancies and schedule time in the animal & procedure rooms. It is essential that individuals vacate rooms at or before their designated time and leave themselves ample time to clean and sanitize the work area before exiting. DCM will limit the number of animal users to a room based on the number of hoods currently in a room. Times will be reserved each day for DCM staff to perform animal checks and provide animal care; however, because labs will be working in shifts, times will be made available to maximize investigator access. Labs will be contacted by building managers regarding the link(s) specific to their animal and procedure rooms.
- All individuals should frequently wash their hands or use provided hand sanitizer (e.g. when doffing gloves, after contact with high touch areas, before touching your face/eating, etc.). Handwashing stations or hand sanitizer dispensers will be installed throughout the buildings, particularly in common areas.
- Lab work involves the frequent use and cleaning of shared equipment (computers, copiers, etc.), areas (break rooms, donning stations, etc.) and vehicles. The University is increasing the cleaning frequency of common/public spaces; however, housekeeping services will not be able to clean individual laboratories, offices, or specialized facilities and equipment. Therefore, it is critical that all faculty, staff, and students share the responsibility of cleaning and sanitizing high-touch surfaces in their workspaces (e.g., light switches, doorknobs, etc.). Cleaning products and hand sanitizers will be provided by the University for this purpose. All managers must develop a plan to clean/wipe all high-touch surfaces when beginning work, at the end of the day, and at least four additional times daily. Shared equipment should be cleaned and wiped after each use.
- Research facilities and buildings will be periodically monitored to ensure required safety measures are being practiced. If an employee is found to be out of compliance with the required practices, they will be counseled on the need for compliance with the required practices outlined in this guidance. Further instances of non-compliance may result in the employee being subject to disciplinary measures in accordance with applicable University policies.
- Guests, visiting trainees, and other persons not affiliated with UNC should not visit University facilities or offices.
- Use of elevators is subject to the required physical distancing guidance. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizers upon departing an elevator. Use the stairs whenever possible and do not congregate in entrances, stairwells and elevator lobbies.
- Individuals should avoid holding open exterior doors for others as doing so would likely compromise the required physical distancing.
- Assembling or convening in large groups poses a high risk of viral transmission and is not permitted. We should stagger usage of common/highly frequented areas such as break rooms, locker rooms, offices, bathrooms, and conference rooms at any given time. Meetings should not be held in conference rooms and should instead be convened and conducted remotely. Individuals are encouraged to eat their meals outside if possible. Meals should be eaten alone or properly distanced from other individuals. If common areas such as break rooms, restrooms, conference areas, etc. are used for meals, social distancing should be maintained at all times and the person using them must wipe down surfaces using a 70% ethanol or equivalent solution after use.
- All individuals are encouraged to avoid face-to-face meetings whenever possible and communicate with colleagues and supervisors using the extensive range of available networking apps, e.g., Zoom, WebEx, Facetime, etc.
- Administrative and laboratory work will be managed in shifts and should be coordinated and assigned by a local manager who understands the capacity and features of individual buildings. All 24 hours of the day can be utilized for lab work, if that is necessary.
- For laboratory-based work, individuals should spend most of their time at a distance of at least 6 feet from the next person, although lab activities may require brief interactions at smaller distances. For large animal studies where the typical number of active personnel will require interactions at smaller distances, the supervisor will be responsible for determining which individuals will be allowed to work in each designated shift for their group.
- Many services such as the ordering and receiving of additional animals, transfers and the taking of inventory will return to normal intervals. Training sessions will resume as needed. Please contact the IACUC to schedule training. We suggest that the labs consider their research staffing and limitations on personnel density within individual animal rooms when making animal ordering decisions.
- Public transportation will be limited, so individuals may have to find other ways to get to work. If you must take public transportation, wear a mask before entering the bus and avoid touching surfaces with your hands. Upon disembarking, wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers with greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol (the preferred forms of hand hygiene in healthcare settings) as soon as possible and before removing your mask. Information on changes to University parking policies and public transit can be found at the University Transportation & Parking website.
The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research has organized a research study team of infectious disease experts, epidemiologists, molecular virologists, genomics experts and data scientists that is working to develop a voluntary COVID-19 surveillance study that includes testing and contact tracing. This teamʼs work may inform future decisions around the conduct of research on campus. More details about this effort will released in the future.
For additional guidance and direction regarding resuming research activity on campus, visit the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research website.
Craig Fletcher, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACLAM
Associate Vice Chancellor of Research
Director, Division of Comparative Medicine
Professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill