Research Ramp-up Guidance

updated May 18, 2020

Research Guidance

To reduce the risks of researchers potentially being exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in the laboratory and research spaces or exposing others to it as we ramp up of research, we aim to gradually increase the density of our research personnel through ramping up in phases with a set of safety guidelines.

Current knowledge and the advice from epidemiologists and health experts point to three important elements that will help keep you and others safe. They are: (i) wearing a face covering; (ii) regularly washing your hands and the environment around you clean; and (iii) keeping your distance from other people. We have developed our safety guidelines that expand on these elements and contextualize them for our research environments. As new knowledge emerges, we will provide additional guidance to further reduce the risks.

Our general principle is that only research activities requiring on-Grounds presence would be conducted on-Grounds. All other research-related work would continue to be performed by telework until restrictions are lifted. Separate school, department and building specific plans should supplement these guidelines.

For research that needs to be on Grounds, the plan is to ramp up in phases with emphasis on safety. The goal of this document is to provide a central framework for resuming activities while allowing for coordinated school specific implementation strategies.

The success of the ramp up depends on each researcher placing the safety of themselves and the people around them first, while conducting their research. In order to reduce our risks as much as possible, this must be a partnership between the researchers and the administration.

Schools are developing a process for the approval of ramp up requests and enforcement of safety guidelines described in this document. The VPR office is working with the schools to provide the necessary support for business process infrastructure, and working with the COO’s office to coordinate the acquisition of supplies necessary including face coverings and sanitizing supplies.

We thank you in advance for your commitment. The following are the key safety expectations for ramping up research.

This guidance is evolving. 

Key Safety Expectations When We Ramp up Activities (applies to all on-Grounds research)

  1. Only those who actually need to be in the lab, studio, or research space for conducting research activities are allowed.
  2. Building access provided for individuals and for a specific period according to a time- table approved and prepared by the research leader and approved by the department and schools who will also monitor the area assigned to them for compliance.
  3. Only essential visitors. No letting others in with your I.D. badge.
  4. Accommodation for visitors who are essential for the conduct of research; for example, instrument repair technicians. Essential visitors should be escorted and adhere to safety measures implemented within the visited research environment. Research subjects in human research projects, when allowed, are not visitors under this definition.
  5. Avoid more than one person on an elevator. No congregation in front of elevators and will need to maintain social distancing while waiting.
  6. Convening in groups prohibited (lunchrooms, office, bathroom, conference room). Eat sitting outdoors if possible. If you use common areas, you must wipe down surfaces with disinfectant after use.
  7. Maintain social distancing by designing space between people to be at least 9 feet during prolonged work which will be accomplished by restricting the number of people in the lab to a density of ~250 sq. ft. /person in lab areas. When moving around, a minimum of 6 feet social distancing is required. Ideally only one person per lab bench and no one can work at the same time in the same bay.
  8. Time in labs may be scheduled in shifts by your research leader. It is essential that you vacate the building at or before the designated time, and leave ample time to conduct disinfection of high touch surfaces before you exit.
  9. Before you leave home for Grounds, you must complete an online health screening checklist. If flagged by the screening checklist, you must contact Employee Health for further instructions, as well as your direct supervisor, and act on their instructions.
  10. If you or any member of your household, have tested positivefor COVID-19, or are awaiting test results, you must notify your supervisor immediately, and you may not come to work for any reason until it is resolved. Personnel who know they have had contact in the last 14 days with someone who tested positive or is awaiting test results, should stay home.
  11. Face coverings must be worn at all times (see separate guidelines for how to wear your mask, types of masks, re-use of masks, etc).
  12. Staff must wash hands at regular intervals. When hand washing is not possible, use ethanol (>60%) hand sanitizer. We plan to provide where possible, especially in elevator areas, and common areas. You must hand wash just prior to entry into the lab or research space and just prior to exit.
  13. When you begin your work and end your work, you must clean work area you have been in contact with an EPA-approved disinfectant or disinfecting wipe.  This includes shared instrumentation such as a microscope, tissue culture equipment etc. located in shared work spaces.
  14. When you finish work, you must contact the assigned floor coordinator to “check out” so that your exit is logged. Leaving without informing anyone is not allowed. This is key to contact tracing if someone in your lab or you get sick.
  15. Currently used facilities/equipment must be cleaned by designated research staff at least once a day, following CDC guidance for cleaning and disinfecting. This is not the same as cleaning high touch surfaces at the end of daily work.
  16.  A certification process on training to stay safe and use of PPE is required for every individual allowed to return to the lab before gaining initial access.
  17. For a lab or research space where the typical number of active lab personnel would exceed the required density, the PI will be responsible for determining which individuals are allowed to work in each designated shift in their group and seek the approval of the department and school.

Phases Description

Phases designed to increase on-Grounds density levels during research ramp-up 

Note: To reduce to confusion we have updated the phases to align with the Governor's phases

Phase 0. (We are in phase 0).  Designated faculty & staff may continue work on key research in labs using the appropriate protective safety equipment and maintaining proper social distancing requirements. Pre-ramp up activities begin. Core facilities ramped back up, needed supplies acquired, and business processes designed and deployed to ensure a smooth approval and monitoring process.

Phase I.  Researchers allowed back on grounds who can attest to health expectations and ongoing compliance with safety guidelines. At this stage, select graduate students can return based on school prioritization to the essential nature of the work.

Phase II.  On-grounds density levels can increase as disease spread is deemed under control and effectively monitored, and/or management and treatments options are successfully advanced to acceptable levels set forth by the Commonwealth.

Phase III. Individuals allowed to work in all environments normally following any new and permanent implementation of safety guidelines. Allowance of Undergraduate researchers back in labs subject to safety guidelines

Additional Considerations for a Successful Ramp-up:

See Ramp-Up Toolkit

Lab-based Research

An excellent PI checklist for PIs has been developed by EHS. Use of the check list will increase the chances of a successful lab ramp-up. Check and make sure that applicable resources from the following list are available for your research

  1. Core facilities operational
  2. Laboratory materials and supplies for you research are available
  3. Availability of necessary PPE for individual use and a process for distribution and safe use
  4. Animal care operations operational to support ramp-up
  5. Visual signs and hand wash stations in place
  6. Adequate cleaning supplies in individual research spaces
  7. Computation support services
  8. Library services available for all, especially for the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities

Research Studio/Shop/Makerspace

  1. Studios may have workstations with built-in spacing that may not be consistent with the spacing and sq. ft. /person requirements for the ramp up to phase I. In such cases, either the workstations may have to be rearranged or the usable workstations are identified to meet the distancing requirements.
  2. Adequate cleaning supplies in work spaces to disinfect all:
    • work shared surfaces after use
    • shared equipment, etc. (maker bots) after use
    • plotting/printer stations after use
  3. Prohibit all types of sharing of tools and equipment to limit cross contamination where feasible. When not feasible implement plan to sanitize.
  4. Availability of necessary PPE for individual use and a process for distribution and safe use.
  5. Alter mode of delivery of desk critiques through distancing and virtual meetings.
  6. Alter mode of pinup/review sessions through distancing and virtual meetings.

Off-Grounds Field-based Research

  1. Field based research is dependent on the “field stations” such as public schools and community of relevance to be open and available. Allowance of field-based research should be consistent with the policies of field-stations and the ability to meet the safety guidelines of both UVA and the field station.
  2. Research involving in-person meetings (social sciences are currently only allowed to conduct research without face-to-face contact), may be opened gradually while ensuring adherence to social distancing, and group gathering limitations. The schedule and provisions for this will be set as soon as possible.
  3. If a researcher has access to all the “field stations” that they need and are certifying to abide by the safety rules, then they may be granted permission by the department and School to restart their work.
  4. Departments and Schools will develop detailed policies for field-based work approval and monitoring.

Human Subjects Research:

Social, Behavioral and Professional School Research (Both on-Grounds and off-Grounds):

  1. Field research in the social and behavioral sciences, visits to archives and collection for the humanities, and access to remote site or facilities depend on the operational status and policies of those organizations and locations.
  2. Field-based research is dependent on the lifting of non-essential travel restrictions
  3. Self-quarantine after out-of-state travel, when such travel is allowed for field work should be practiced.
  4. Travel by car policy such as one person per car should be implemented.
  5. No congregation or eating together when outside on field work that violates social distancing guidelines.
  6. Allowance of face-to-face human subjects research subject to safety regulations that protect both the researcher and the subject is necessary. However, at this time, human subjects research requiring face to face contact is not allowed. We will continue to review the relevant conditions and guidelines and will consider resuming such research when safety precautions and protections can be better defined.
  7. For hired data collectors in the fields, a safety procedure training, and monitoring for compliance must be put in place, and equipped with adequate mask and cleaning supplies
  8. Library services should be available for all, especially for the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities. In particular, a well-developed copying and pickup service with social distancing should be available.

Other types of research work (non-lab based):

Faculty work in many different disciplines, research norms, and practices vary significantly. A literary scholar will face different challenges than an economist who will in turn not face the same barriers as a researcher working with students in the school system. A studio artist or a musician will face a different set of challenges. The primary ramp up to phase I considerations for such research are social distancing, personal hygiene including wearing face covering at all times, and contact surfaces cleaning as described under key safety expectations.

Environmental Health & Safety Ramp-up Checklist