Return to Campus
Phase 1 Draft

Updated June 19, 2020

Beginning June 8, 2020, the Gillings School will begin a phased reopening of campus-based laboratory operations, with up to 50% onsite occupancy allowed in each lab. Once we are allowed to resume operations at least partially, work guidelines outlined below will allow researchers and others to maximize the safety of everyone who comes to campus to work and to reduce the spread of illness throughout our community. It is very important to emphasize the importance of following these guidelines to not jeopardize the ability of our units to conduct research.

Once the state and university open, there likely will be a second wave of the epidemic. The situation will be carefully monitored, and these guidelines will be adapted in accordance with changing information. The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research is currently developing a voluntary COVID- 19 testing program and plans to provide a voluntary contact tracing mobile app as additional safety measures for researchers.

More details about these programs will be provided when they are available.

Guidelines set forth by the Chancellor, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Research can be found at the following web pages and are updated regularly:

Direction and Guidance for Conducting Laboratory-Based Research on Campus
Carolina Together: The Roadmap for Fall 2020
Additional Gillings-specific COVID-19 information can be found at the Gillings Coronavirus Info Portal.

In order to mitigate virus spreading, the guiding principle for safe laboratory operations will be social distancing. To help ensure this principle, all conduct of allowable research must minimize the number of researchers in the laboratory space or other facilities at any one time. As campus ramps up to 50% onsite occupancy in laboratories, adherence to the guidelines below allow faculty, staff and students to return to campus research activities, minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and maximize the safety of the entire community. By following these campus guidelines, the risk of a second research interruption may be lessened. Before the return to campus, each lab must provide a safety plan to their department chair for approval.

In this document we provide two sections:

  1. General advice on workplace practices
  2. Guidance for the development of a lab safety plan

Workplace practices

General workplace practices

  • Individuals who can effectively conduct their work remotely should continue to work remotely so as not to place themselves or others at unnecessary risk.
  • 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) should contact the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office at eoc@unc.edu.
  • The University will provide guidance separately on requests for workplace flexibility for other situations, such as individuals who are at higher risk due to age or other factors, as set forth under CDC guidelines, or individuals who live with those who are high-risk.

Symptoms Monitoring

  • All research faculty, employees and trainees must conduct a daily review of COVID-19 symptoms before returning to work. The symptoms below are subject to change. New information will be posted as additional data is available and can be monitored at the CDC symptoms webpage.
    • Cough
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
    • Fever
    • Repeated shaking with chills
    • 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).
  • If you have close or prolonged contact with anyone who is SARS-CoV2/COVID- 19 positive or under investigation for potential exposure, contact UNC Occupational Health and Safety or UNC Campus Health for guidance and approval before going to work.
  • 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.
  • Assume everyone around you is infected, including yourself, and use appropriate precautions, including washing your hands often and avoiding touching your face. Transmission can occur from people with no symptoms.
  • Please note that that the CDC guidance indicates that the virus does not spread easily via contaminated surfaces, and shoes and clothing would not be a likely route of transmission. However, you may choose to:
    • Remove shoes worn outside including when working in a laboratory/facility when you return to your home.
    • Remove clothing worn in the workplace when you return to your home.

Work Scheduling

  • Labs will work with their department chair to develop a safety plan to limit occupancy to approximately one person per 200 sq ft of space.
  • One person can be in a lab office at a time.
  • To limit exposure of lab teams, use of cohort scheduling is encouraged. If you have four people in your lab, schedules should be devised so that there are two teams that always work together, lessening the exposure to each other and their community contacts.
  • Limit lab presence to periods that are only as long as necessary to complete your experiment. Minimize time around other people. Data analysis and similar operations should be done at home.

Please establish coordinated work schedules for your lab personnel to reduce and maintain on-site occupancy below 50% throughout the day. Scheduling is critical and we suggest you use an online calendar to manage the number of people present during the designated schedules (hereafter called “windows”) for your personnel to be in the lab.

To facilitate coordination and enforcement of the guidelines, each PI should make an operational plan for their lab and send it to their chair or center director depending on the unit that manages their lab space (more details below).

Several other schools on campus have established two windows to organize employee presence in labs. We recommend that Gillings researchers follow a similar approach:

  • WINDOW 1: 6 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • WINDOW 2: 2 p.m.-10 p.m.

However, please be aware that the expectation is to reduce time in lab as much as possible and to avoid traffic at building entrances, so flexible start and end times within the windows will maximize social distancing principles.

For this to work, these windows must be similar for all labs in the same physical space to reduce the number of potential contacts (i.e., all labs on the same floor have the same windows), and individual lab members should try to keep to the same window throughout the week to minimize the number of people impacted and forced to isolate in the event of infection. However, we understand that this may not always be possible. Your best judgement should be used.

Personal Safety Practices in the Workplace

Community Protective Equipment (CPE)

  • Wear a mask on campus at all times. Please utilize a personal mask when coming and going and utilize a lab mask when arriving to the lab. Make sure to follow the steps in this video (https://youtu.be/Ypj_1pFD1kA) to ensure you wear your mask correctly. Do not remove the mask when going to the restroom (as indicated in the video). Pay attention to guidance on how long each mask should last and how to properly store in between wearings.
  • 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 workspaces, hallways). Acceptable face mask options will be available at the UNC Environment Health & Safety website.
  • Face Masks: The University will provide disposable face masks to research employees and trainees.
    • These masks will be distributed to ‘distribution coordinators’ for each school, department, and/or center and these individuals are responsible for distribution to research personnel. Further details about mask distribution will be forthcoming.
    • Each person working on campus will be provided one disposable face mask for use every two shifts or every two days of work. If an individual’s work duties require more frequent disposal and replacement of masks, those needs will be accommodated.
    • Individuals are not required to wear a face mask when working alone in a confined office space.
    • These face masks may be re-used if it is not damaged, deformed, soiled, or contaminated. They should be placed inside a small clean paper bag marked with the user’s name and stored away upon removal. To avoid bacterial growth, bags holding masks should not be tightly closed.
    • These masks are not substitutes for N95 or other respirators. Lab workers enrolled in the Respiratory Protection program who are required to use N95 respirators for their duties must wear them for appropriate protection.
    • Disposable face masks are not meant to be laundered. Persons using such masks must not touch their face after removing the mask and must wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water after removing the mask.
    • UNC’s Department of Environment, Health and Safety will provide instructions on how to properly care for and store masks.
  • Gloves: According to the CDC, gloves are not necessary for general use and do not replace good hand hygiene. Frequent hand-washing is considered the best practice for common everyday tasks. Employees who will be interacting with the public or operating in a public setting where materials will be frequently exchanged are advised to wear disposable gloves. The University will provide gloves for these individuals. Instructions for how to remove and dispose of gloves properly will be available at the UNC Environment Health & Safety website.

Physical Distancing

  • When on campus, all individuals must maintain appropriate physical distancing – a minimum of 6 feet distance (or 200 square feet per person) – from others at all times while wearing a face mask.
  • Assembling or convening in groups of greater than 10 people poses a significant risk of viral transmission and is not permitted.
  • Individuals should avoid holding open exterior doors for others as doing so would likely compromise the required physical distancing.

Common Areas and Meeting Rooms

  • Common areas such as break rooms, offices, restrooms, elevators, and conference rooms should be used only while adhering to physical distancing guidance.
  • Departments should remove or rearrange chairs and tables or add visual cue marks in meeting rooms to support physical distancing practices between attendees.
  • All persons should wear a face mask while in common rooms (even if others are not present) to provide protection in the event other people walk in.
  • Room occupancy limits must be defined and clearly stated through appropriate signage for each laboratory. Personnel should confirm that the occupancy limit has not been reached before entering a lab or office.
  • Where possible, meetings should be convened and conducted virtually. If a meeting must be held in person, physical distancing requirements apply and a minimum of 200 square feet per person must be available at all times.

Meals

  • Physical distancing of 6 feet should be observed at all times, including when eating or talking to someone in the workplace.
  • Individuals are encouraged to eat meals outside, if possible.
  • Meals should not be eaten in laboratory areas. They should be eaten alone or properly distanced from other individuals.
  • If common areas such as break rooms and conference areas, etc. are used for meals, the person using them must wipe down surfaces using a 70% ethanol or equivalent solution.

Elevators

  • Only one person will be allowed on an elevator at a time.
  • 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.

Hygiene and Cleaning

Hand-Washing

  • Although already a best practice for all researchers and trainees, during the pandemic it is imperative that hand washing become more frequent and more thorough. Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds.
  • Hands should be washed before interacting with a research participant and immediately after the session is over.
  • Please view the CDC’s “Five Steps to Wash Your Hands the Right Way.”
  • Also please view the CDC video on handwashing.
  • Provide guests the opportunity to wash hands if they are visiting you in your facility.
  • If hand washing is not an available option, use hand sanitizer to disinfect hands.
  • All individuals should thoroughly wash their hands or use provided hand sanitizer:
    • At least hourly,
    • Before entering or exiting buildings, laboratories, or offices if they have been in a public space or near others, and
    • Before and after handling their facemask.
  • Hand sanitizer will be made available throughout University facilities.

Cleaning and Sanitizing

  • Research work may involve the frequent use of shared equipment. The University is increasing the cleaning frequency of common/public spaces; however, 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. Supplies will be distributed to ‘distribution coordinators’ for each school, department, and/or center and these individuals are responsible for distribution to research personnel.
  • Occupants of all research facilities should 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.

Safety Monitoring

  • 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.
  • Compliance with required practices is a shared community responsibility.
  • Individuals may report non-compliance by calling the Ethics Point Hotline at (866) 294–8688.

Visitor Policy

  • Guests, visiting trainees, and other persons not affiliated with UNC should not visit University facilities or offices.
  • Children are not permitted in University research facilities or offices during the COVID-19 event.
  • Visitor restrictions do not apply to individuals participating in research studies being conducted in University facilities or to persons permitted on campus under the terms of a facility use agreement (FUA).

What changes will I see at Gillings?

  • One Card access is required to enter the buildings 24/7. Access is only allowed for employees that have been designated by their department to participate in on-campus research.
  • Seating has been removed and spaced in the atrium to allow for safe distancing when taking breaks and meals. Spacing allows up to two people to share a table.
  • Restrooms in MHRC and MG will be limited to two users at a time. Middle stalls have been closed.
  • During Phase 1, entrances, hallways and stairwells will not be directionally limited, but will be designated as one-way only beginning in Phase 2.
  • PPE and CPE provided by campus will be distributed weekly to each lab.

What information do I need to provide in my safety plan?

Each lab must provide a safety plan to their department chair for approval which includes the following information:

  • A floor plan and people zone indicating high-use equipment and plan to space people within the lab.
  • List of lab employees by team if your lab needs to divide staff into cohorts to accommodate the 200 sq ft per person spacing.
    • General schedule of employees, ensuring that there are no times when only one person is working in the lab alone. If working in the lab alone is necessary, a second person in the department working the same shift must be designated as their contact buddy and “check-out” with each other at the end of the shift.

Below are some additional guidelines for operating a safe laboratory environment and should be considered when developing your lab safety plan (borrowed heavily from the School of Medicine). Please note that the following are guidelines only. We cannot envision every circumstance. Always exhibit your best judgement, and if you have any doubts please consult with your department chair or center director.

  • Create a work schedule for your lab and adhere to it. This schedule should minimize the number of people in each laboratory room at any one time. A shared Google calendar or another online tool should be used to help coordinate everyone’s schedule.
    • Each PI and Core Director should make an operational plan for their lab and send it to their chair or center director depending on the unit that manages their lab space.
    • Use an online calendar to signify who is present in lab space at any given time including weekdays and weekends.
    • Coordinate with neighboring labs for open concept lab buildings, particularly when there are shared small rooms such as cold rooms, tissue culture, etc.
    • Wear a mask when on campus and continue to maintain at least 6-feet of space between other personnel
    • Disinfect shared materials as described below.
    • Distribute a list of duties to be performed by personnel, with location and designated time of day for indicated duties.
    • Continue to have virtual lab meetings and other virtual meetings. Time on site should be only for work that can only be done on site. Cores should continue to conduct virtual consultations.
    • Stagger break times to minimize contact between people in rooms used for eating or drinking, set the schedule to maximize work efficiency and minimize down-time. (See above information about Meals and Common Areas).
    • Post lab room and other room maps with maximum room/bay occupancy to maintain social distancing (see examples below).
    • Small, narrow laboratories/facilities on the order of 100-200 square feet can only accommodate one person at a time.
    • Rule of thumb is to have 1 person per every 200 square feet.
    • Laboratories larger than 200 square feet can possibly accommodate more personnel but keep the number to a minimum. Use common sense. If you cannot maintain at least 6 feet of social distance, revise the schedule and/or reconfigure the room.
    • Move equipment to create at least 6 feet between the operators and to reduce the number of narrow spaces in labs and hallways where researchers must pass each other.
    • Consider marking the floors with tape to indicate the distance from desks or benches.
    • In situations where individuals must work closer than 6 feet apart such as direct training periods, one could consider wearing additional PPE e.g., face shields, goggles, lab coats, gowns etc., although in the health care setting, masks are deemed sufficient. Please limit the amount of time individuals are closer than 6 feet as much as possible.
  • Create a plan for safe practices in the lab. Please follow the above guidelines on Masks and Hygiene
    • Each researcher will have their own set of any tools (please label with your name or initials) that are used frequently, including pipets, reagent bottles, laboratory notebooks, and writing instruments.
    • Gloves and disposable towels should be used when handling common reagent bottles, laboratory equipment, common computers, and cabinet handles.
    • Door handles should be wiped or sprayed with 70% ethanol (or other EPA approved disinfectant) after use. Ideally, post a log sheet for the lab to document daily disinfection.
    • Public facilities are cleaned by UNC housekeeping staff but please help them out. Please have lab personnel wipe down common area door handles and light switches, etc. at least once a day, preferably when first entering lab in the morning and when leaving the lab in the evening.
  • Create a plan for shared equipment. All shared equipment must be disinfected before and after each use.
    • Wear disposable gloves while cleaning and disinfecting. Discard gloves after each use. Clean hands immediately after gloves are removed.
    • Follow the EPA guidelines above to clean hard, non-porous surfaces and porous surfaces, as appropriate.
    • Gowns or aprons are recommended to protect personal clothing.
    • Wear eye protection when there is a potential for splash or splatter to the face.
    • Special care should be taken to disinfect equipment that normally makes direct physical contact with human skin, which includes eyepieces for microscopes, keyboards, touchpads, freezer door handles, etc.
    • Use disposable tissues, paper towels, Kimwipes, etc. to touch surfaces that cannot be disinfected and when gloves are not available.
    • Use disposable towels to turn off sink faucets after hand washing to avoid re-contaminating hands.
    • Units should consider rearranging instrumentation to ensure the required physical distancing. If instruments cannot be moved and are within 6 feet of each other, SOPs should be created to take that into account or Plexiglas shields should be placed between those instruments.

Instrumentation

Equipment Issues

Another major issue that some labs will have to deal with during ramp-up procedures is equipment restart, calibration, and maintenance. Anticipation of possible issues will help ensure labs have a smooth restart, in particular considering potential issues scheduling vendor service calls due to both increased demand and limited access. Below we expand on the major issues to consider in planning for resumption of research activities.

Supplies required for restart:

Planning ahead for parts, consumables, and reagents that will be needed for equipment can streamline the restart process. Determining the best time to order supplies could be difficult due to the uncertainty of when research operations will resume, and with what type of pace. Preparing a list of needed supplies early will make sure orders are ready to be placed when the time comes for items that can’t be ordered ahead. Make sure that replacement fluids, gaskets, consumables that may have degraded during down-time are included, and communicate with your Procurement and/or Receiving departments as early as possible.

Equipment restart plans:

In addition to supplies, plans for restarting equipment should be made. All equipment should be thoroughly cleaned, checked for performance and have all needed calibrations and QC monitoring run before opening them up for use. Any equipment utilizing fluidics will need careful vetting. The fluidics will likely require a flush of the system and checks to make sure that tubing isn’t blocked. Also, safety equipment in laboratories, including eyewash stations, chemical showers, fume hoods, and biosafety cabinets should be checked.

Instrument relocation:

Maintaining physical distance will be imperative. One method that can be considered by lab directors to assist in maintaining physical distance will be relocation of particular pieces of equipment to increase the distance between instruments. Depending on an instrument’s usage and the available laboratory configuration, relocation of instruments into the labs of super-users or larger open spaces outside of the core could provide easier access under current guidelines. Relocation of some instruments might not be appropriate, and health and safety assessments may need to be performed before attempting to move equipment.

Monitoring and Documentation:

Labs will need to come up with multiple ways of monitoring to ensure physical distancing can be maintained as much as possible and to ensure occupancy records exist which can be used for contact tracing if necessary. These may include:

Equipment reservation monitoring: On the planning and scheduling side, lab directors can distribute and post guidelines for each of their shared spaces based on square footage and airflow specifications per broader campus directives. Lab directors will have a key role in interpreting these guidelines locally because as equipment footprints vary, the degree of occupiable space changes and is not necessarily reflected in raw space numbers.

When possible, lab directors develop means to prohibit simultaneous booking of instruments that are physically too close. Most online booking systems can be employed for this use, as well as for blocking a period between reservations to provide time for sanitization. For equipment that is not normally reserved with an online booking system, physical logs should be made available to help track usage.

Space Occupancy monitoring: In addition to the information captured on instrument scheduling calendars, means for logging actual utilization may need to be developed and employed. These logs can serve as an additional record of actual instrument use and can be used for contact tracing. Additionally, if work that does not involve instrument access must be performed in your facility, for example, sample preparation that cannot be conducted elsewhere, consider placing log sheets at these workspaces to capture occupancy.

Ordering, Supplies, and Logistics

The University will provide disposable face masks and sanitation supplies to all research employees and trainees. The SPH Facilities office will be the point of contact and will continue to distribute masks weekly.

Routine laboratory consumables may have expired during work suspensions and may be in high demand as institutions resume operations. Long lead times, delivery delays, and off-site coordination present challenges to consider. Early and continued communication between core directors, Procurement, and Receiving departments is critical. Here are several key areas for consideration:

  • Review and replenish stocks of supplies for normal operations
  • Check expiration of reagents and consumable supplies
  • Check availability of regularly used PPE, disinfection products and other supplies that may be in high demand by medical personnel
  • Verify or resume delivery of gases and cryogen (e.g. carbon dioxide and liquid nitrogen)
  • Determine additional COVID-19 related PPE and disinfection supplies
  • Follow campus, local and state guidelines for protecting personnel and increasing sanitation of shared spaces and surfaces
  • Work with your procurement office or strategic sourcing groups to secure supplies
  • Clarify responsibility for ordering, provision and use of supplies for core staff, core users, vendors
  • Coordinate access for deliveries
  • Coordinate access for closed buildings or unattended loading docks
  • Mitigate safety risks and potential for theft or misplacement in unattended areas
  • Coordinate delivery from receiving area to cores
  • Consider posting mobile numbers or installing wireless doorbells
  • Consider effects of personnel restrictions (off-campus or out-of-state vendors)
  • Anticipate shortages in critical supplies (e.g. face masks, face shields, gloves, disinfectants)
  • Determine if substitutions are allowed for approved protocols (e.g. IRB, IACUC, EHS)
  • Consult the EPA list of disinfectants for possible alternatives (see cleaning guidance page 13)

Create a plan for a possible or confirmed case of COVID19 among personnel in a lab.

  • Notify UNC Occupational Health and Safety immediately at (919) 966-9119

If everyone working in a laboratory or research facility uses the precautions outlined in this document, we will minimize risk of COVID-19 transmission and maximize prevention and safety. Speak up to your supervisor, department chair or center director if you observe someone not following such precautions; we are all responsible for stopping the spread of the virus. It would also be appropriate to set up a floor monitoring system in your unit.

Research facilities and buildings across campus will be periodically monitored to ensure required safety measures are being practiced. If an individual is found to be out of compliance with the required measures, they will be subject to disciplinary measures.

Individuals may report non-compliance by calling the Ethics Point Hotline at (866) 294– 8688. Visit the Ethics Point website for additional information.

Guidelines for research in DCM animal rooms

High numbers of animal users within animal rooms are discouraged. Time in animal rooms will and must be scheduled in shifts. It is essential that individuals vacate the room 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. DCM staff will block out mornings (e.g., 7-11 a.m.) each day to perform animal checks and provide animal care. Labs will be contacted by building managers regarding scheduling individual animal and procedure rooms.