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Phase Two: 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 June 11, 2020 at 10:08 a.m.

NOTE: ALL RESEARCH GUIDANCE IS EVOLVING. 

In conjunction with the university’s efforts to restore in-class instruction and on-campus experiences for the fall 2020 semester, Virginia Tech will transition from its current status of Essential Operations – as defined under Presidential Policy Memorandum 309 – to a modified operations mode by Aug. 3.

The Transition Plan consists of three phases to complement Gov. Ralph Northam’s Forward Virginia plan to reopen the commonwealth, which is now in Phase Two. 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.

In accordance to the governor’s and university’s plan, research will also work to move from essential operations to a modified operations mode by Aug. 3. The transition plan for research continues to recognize the importance of safety, to transition back to an in-person student learning experience, and to ramp up research programs.  

Moving research to modified operations means transitioning out of essential operations into modified operations carefully, by further easing research restrictions as research continues to ramp up over the summer.

While the changes in restrictions associated with the governor’s Phase Two guidance do not directly affect our research operations, the underlying conditions that allowed Virginia to move to Phase Two, allow research to resume additional research activities with appropriate PPE and with continued strict adherence to safety/hygiene and physical distancing requirements.

Allowable research activities continue to require the approval of deans, vice presidents, or institute directors or their designee(s).

In Phase Two, the speed of reopening labs will vary, and many operations will not be at full functionality.  

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.

PHASE TWO:

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 may now be performed in laboratories with appropriate use of PPE, with continued strict adherence to safety/hygiene and physical distancing requirements.
  • Allowable research activities continue to require the approval of deans, vice presidents, or institute directors or their designee(s).
  • Research must be conducted using the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintaining proper safety and physical distancing requirements (see SAFETY REQUIREMENTS). 
  • Research conducted in labs must have approval from the appropriate lab manager and principal investigator(s).
  • Core facilities should continue 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.
  • Research with human subjects may increase during this phase as permitted by the IRB. 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.
  • Larger gatherings may be permitted according to government mandates and guidance from health authorities.
  • Travel, aligned with federal and state regulations, is allowed with approval from the dean 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.

Moving research to modified operations means transitioning out of essential operations into modified operations carefully, by further easing research restrictions as research continues to ramp up. This transition will be done carefully and in accordance with the Commonwealth and Virginia Tech policy.

In Phase Two, modified operations, research is further easing research restrictions as research continues to ramp up.  

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.
  • 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) 
    • 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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