Phase One: Reopening Guidance
Updated June 11, 2020 at 10:08 a.m.
NOTE: ALL RESEARCH GUIDANCE IS EVOLVING.
This is additional guidance to the email message that was sent May 22, 2020.
Virginia Tech’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation is working carefully with colleges and institutes to develop comprehensive guidance to ramp up research in all phases and to mitigate risks of exposure to COVID-19 in laboratories and campus spaces.
The goal is to gradually increase the density of researchers and projects while adhering to safety guidelines for laboratories and common spaces. Virginia Tech will ramp up research in phases in accordance with guidelines set forth by the Commonwealth. Northern Virginia operations remain in "essential research only" status until further notice.
Prior to Phase One, research “necessary to maintain key equipment, facilities, data, samples, materials, or other basic capacities that will be needed quickly upon change of operational status back to normal” was considered essential. In Phase One, additional research activities that will fall primarily but not exclusively in these categories may be approved by college deans and institute directors. These activities may be necessary to prepare for broader opening in later phases, critical for preserving research capabilities, or otherwise prioritized for restarting by colleges and institutes.
Our success in ramping up research depends on each researcher following the safety requirements outlined below and respecting the safety of others. In order to reduce risks, there must be a strong partnership between researchers and university administration.
For questions regarding PPE or other health and safety concerns, please contact Virginia Tech’s Environmental Health and Safety office at: 540-231-3600.
Information and resources will be updated as guidance evolves. Researchers are expected to follow the requirements of the phase that their locality is currently in.
- Researchers are encouraged to telework whenever possible.
- Research previously deemed essential may continue in labs using the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintaining proper safety and physical distancing requirements (see SAFETY REQUIREMENTS).
- Additional research activity that is critical to current and future operations and that is desired to be continued by the principal investigator may commence with approval by the appropriate dean, vice president, or institute director, or their designee.
- Research conducted in labs must have approval from the appropriate lab manager and principal investigator(s).
- Core facilities should prepare to be ramped up, needed supplies acquired, and business processes designed and deployed to ensure a smooth approval and monitoring process.
- Individuals who are at high risk (existing medical condition, age, recent potential exposure, including travel to a high risk zone, possible COVID-19 symptoms, or cohabitating with someone in one of these categories) may choose to not work in the lab. For those that have these concerns, they should contact the Division of Human Resources.
- Graduate students and paid research assistants in labs should be limited to those performing work required to support sponsored projects or required for the completion of their degrees. Research for course credit should be permitted only in exceptional circumstances as approved by the appropriate college dean, institute director, or vice president.
- In-person research with human subjects will be carefully considered to ensure that appropriate protocols are in place to protect the safety of subjects and staff. It will require completion and approval of the COVID-19 Resumption of In-person Research Requirements Template.
- Only essential travel is allowed, and must be pre-approved by the associate dean, dean, vice president, or institute director. All university community members who have traveled within the last 14 days domestically or internationally or from an identified COVID-19 hotspot need to complete a phone or online health screening.
Since the university is still under essential operations, only those activities designated essential are allowed. With this message, the Office of the Vice President of Research and Innovation is delegating the authority to approve essential research activities to deans and institute directors.
In accordance with Virginia Tech’s Presidential Policy Memorandum No. 309 under the “essential operations” designation, the definition for essential research activity allowable for on-site operations is one that:
- Is associated with human or animal care and well-being;
- If discontinued would pose a safety hazard;
- Is related to COVID-19 research with a timeline for deployment to support the current crisis;
- Is necessary to maintain key equipment, facilities, data, samples, materials, or other basic capacities that will be needed quickly upon change of operational status back to normal;
- Involves an activity that has U.S. or Virginia government-mandated security and access requirements, cannot be performed remotely, and is deemed essential by the U.S. or Virginia government; or
- Is deemed essential or able to continue by the dean, vice president, or institute director. The approver must take steps to ensure that appropriate social distancing, use of PPE, and surface disinfection practices are followed.
These conditions do not supersede additional requirements colleges and institutes may add to activities in their units.
These guidelines will evolve as we enter various phases.
- The use of face coverings is required for all researchers and employees on all Virginia Tech campuses. (Campus Notice: Guidance on face coverings for employees at Virginia Tech facilities). This includes labs and spaces where research is conducted. For more information on face coverings, masks, and respirators, please go to https://vt.edu/ready/EHSCOVID19FAQS.html.
- Departments that need face coverings for employees in the immediate future to support the executive order should make their requests through their departmental representative to the university’s Incident Management Team. Departments that do not have representation on the Incident Management Team may submit their request via the Resource Request for Consolidated Inventory Form
- Procurement is in the process of ordering bulk PPE (Campus Notice: Departments asked to complete Virginia Tech Procurement PPE and critical supplies planning survey).
- The use of plastic gloves (or other type of disposable glove provided by your department) must be worn if the researcher’s work involves frequent and close contact with people or surfaces where contact with multiple people occurs.
- Avoid touching your face (or mask) with your gloved hands.
- Wash and dry hands before putting fresh gloves on.
- Replace torn gloves with a new pair.
- After removing gloves, wash and dry hands thoroughly. If you are not near handwashing facilities, disinfect your hands with hand sanitizer, then wash hands with soap and water as soon as you can.
- Researchers must wash hands at regular intervals. When hand washing is not possible, use ethanol (>60%) hand sanitizer. You must hand wash prior to entry into the lab or research space and prior to exit or immediately after (Handwashing video).
- Researchers must clean their work area at the beginning and end of working, to include shared instrumentation such as a microscope, tissue culture equipment etc. located in shared work spaces.
- Researchers must be separated by more than 6 feet at all times, but more space is desired when possible. Consider instituting staggered or alternative scheduling may be employed to reduce the number of laboratory personnel present at any given time. (Science Journal article: Reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2)
- Gatherings larger than 10 people are prohibited, including research team meetings. During gatherings physical distancing should be maintained and everyone should be wearing a face covering or mask.
- Laboratory managers must maintain a log to indicate the date and times for which each individual is present. This is mandated for legal and health-related requirements, such as contact tracing. (COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures for On-Site Laboratories)
- All researchers working in the laboratory/research spaces must check for the following before coming to work:
- Fever (temperature >100.4°F)
- Tiredness (fatigue)
- Muscle pain
- Loss of taste or smell
- Difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- Researchers with a fever are not allowed in laboratories/research spaces at any time. If they have a temperature and demonstrate any of the additional COVID-19 symptoms, they must report it to their supervisors and not come to campus.
- Researchers who test positive for SARS-CoV-2 must remain in isolation for at least 14 days from symptom onset or until free from unmedicated fever for 72 hours, whichever is longer — or follow current public health official’s guidance. Individuals awaiting test results must remain in isolation. Individuals who have close contact with confirmed cases must remain in quarantine for 14 days.
- Research related travel may be permitted in some cases, but requires approval by the researcher’s college dean, institute director, or vice president. All university community members who have traveled within the last 14 days domestically or internationally or from an identified COVID-19 hotspot need to complete a phone or online health screening. A hotspot is defined as any geographic area or location that has had either a concentrated outbreak or a high risk of transmission. (Virginia Tech COVID travel page)
- Avoid more than one person in an elevator. Do not congregate in front of elevators and maintain physical distancing while waiting.
- After-hours work is permitted. Rotating shifts in labs is an option when research groups exceed 10 persons, i.e., gatherings larger than 10 people are prohibited. Researchers must have the permission of their supervisor who has also notified their college dean, institute director, or vice president, of that permission.
- DO NOT bring visitors/family members into labs or campus research spaces. Only authorized researchers should be permitted.
Non-laboratory Based Research Work
Virginia Tech faculty across campus represent a variety of disciplines that have different research practices and in various research spaces. The same safety requirements and considerations for such research include: proper physical distancing, personal hygiene including wearing face masks at all times, and contact surfaces cleaning as described under key safety expectations.
Meetings in Conference Rooms and Classrooms
In person conferences or meetings should only be held when there is an important reason to do so and proper physical distancing should be followed. Virtual meetings are strongly encouraged.
For necessary in-person meetings, the following guidelines apply:
- Conference areas and classrooms should be reserved and the names of attendees must be provided and logged.
- All participants should wear a face mask during the entire meeting.
- Physical distancing guidelines should be followed.
- The person leading the meeting is responsible for sanitizing the room and surfaces upon entering and again, upon leaving the room. When sanitizing the rooms, gloves should be worn and door handles, desktops, and other high touch surfaces and equipment should be wiped down thoroughly with sanitizing wipes.