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Phase Three: Reopening Guidance

Lindsey Bezek of the DREAMS lab, works with 3D-printed masks to be tested by Linsey Marr. Photo: Peter Means for Virginia Tech
Lindsey Bezek of the DREAMS lab, works with 3D-printed masks to be tested by Linsey Marr. Photo: Peter Means for Virginia Tech

Updated Oct. 28, 2020

NOTE: ALL RESEARCH GUIDANCE IS EVOLVING.

RESEARCH OPERATIONS POST-THANKSGIVING:

Virginia Tech will continue to follow the principles and procedures outlined in its Fall 2020 COVID-19 Operational Plan in the coming weeks and months, delivering on its commitment to provide best-in-class operations to the university community. Read the story about post-Thanksgiving break campus operations here.

For research operations details, please visit the Research Operations Post-Thanksgiving Break page.

REMOVING MASKS TO EAT IN LABORATORIES AND RESEARCH SPACES:

The consumption of food and drink is prohibited in certain types of labs as outlined in Environmental Health and Safety’s Laboratory Requirements: Chemical Hygiene PlanHowever, the removal of masks to eat in laboratories and research spaces is strongly discouraged, even when normally permitted.

TRANSITION FROM PHASE TWO TO PHASE THREE: MODIFIED OPERATIONS:

In conjunction with the university’s modified operations status, research is also in a modified operations mode, while continuing to recognize the importance of safety in ramping up and maintaining research programs, effective Aug. 3, 2020. 

The Transition Plan consisted of three phases to complement Gov. Ralph Northam’s Forward Virginia plan to reopen the Commonwealth, which is also in Phase Three. The Transition Plan provides a framework and process for scaling operations to be consistent with the governor on the easing of restrictions, and in accordance with university policy with public health guidelines in place. These guidelines are subject to change based on updated guidance from local, state, federal, or other public health directives.

The success in ramping up and maintainance of research projects is dependant on each researcher following the proper safety requirements 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.

Research Under Modified Operations

Working within modified operations in Phase Three status means further easing research restrictions as research continues to ramp up, carefully and in accordance with the Commonwealth and Virginia Tech policy. Most labs can/will be opened.

Undergraduate and graduate students working on sponsored research or course credit may return to established or new research projects.

Student volunteer research activity in labs is not advised since the density of researchers in spaces will need to be monitored to adhere to proper physical distancing guidelines.

Conditions do not supersede additional requirements colleges and institutes may add to activities in their units. Allowable research activities continue to require the approval of deans, vice presidents, or institute directors or their designee(s).

In resuming additional research activities, appropriate PPE with continued strict adherence to safety/hygiene and physical distancing requirements must be adhered to and monitored.

Coronavirus Awareness Online Class

All faculty, staff, wage employees, and students returning to campus are required to complete Environmental Health and Safety's Coronavirus Awareness online class prior to their return.

Individuals who have been on-campus throughout reduced and essential operations will be required to complete the training by Aug. 24.

The training provides education on the disease, physical distancing, and recommended hygiene. It provides an overview of COVID-19 and university-specific COVID-19 mitigation practices and associated expectations.

If you have taken the training prior to Aug. 3, you will receive an email from EHS with details on some of the training's updates. You may consider taking the training again as a refresher course.

For more information, contact Environmental Health and Safety at 540-231-3600.

PHASE THREE:

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.
  • Additional research can be performed in laboratories with appropriate use of PPE, with continued strict adherence to safety/hygiene and physical distancing requirements.
  • Research must be conducted using the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintaining proper safety and physical distancing requirements (see SAFETY REQUIREMENTS).
  • The removal of masks to eat in laboratories and research spaces is strongly discouraged, even when normally permitted.
  • Research conducted in labs must have approval from the appropriate lab manager and principal investigator(s).
  • Core facilities should continue to be ramped up and needed supplies acquired.
  • 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.
  • Research with human subjects is allowed as permitted by the IRB and requires completion and approval of the COVID-19 Resumption of In-person Research Requirements Template. 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.
  • Larger gatherings may be permitted according to government mandates and guidance from health authorities, but they are not advised.
  • Travel, aligned with federal and state regulations, is allowed with approval from the department head.
  • 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.

These guidelines will evolve as we enter various phases.

  • Under the governor’s Executive Order 63, all campus community members are required to wear a face covering when in close proximity to others in both indoor and outdoor spaces. This includes classrooms, workspaces, residence halls, dining halls, Blacksburg Transit, and other campus spaces. Face coverings can be reusable or homemade cloth masks, dust masks, or surgical masks. Click here to learn more about face coverings, including when to wear one, caring for your mask, and more. For more information on face coverings, masks, and respirators, please visit EHS FAQs.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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)
    • Chills
    • Muscle pain
    • Cough
    • Loss of taste or smell
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Headache
    • 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.

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