General guidelines to ensure worker safety, adapted from laboratory-based research recommendations, follow. These should be stringently followed by research personnel engaged in human subjects research.

 

General SOM guidelines for COVID-19 prevention while at work

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. There likely will be a second wave of the epidemic. The situation will need to be monitored carefully and guidelines are expected to adapt 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 measures beyond the required practices detailed here. More details about these programs will be provided when they are available.

– In order to mitigate virus spreading, the guiding principle for safe workplace operations will be social distancing. To help ensure this principle, all conduct of allowable research must minimize the number of researchers in the facilities at any one time. Thus, our guidelines are designed with the goal of keeping building occupancy below 50% at any one time.

Anyone who can work from home should continue to work from home.

Please establish coordinated work schedules for your research personnel to reduce and maintain workspace occupancy below 50% throughout the day.

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

Principal Investigators are responsible for ensuring conscientious and consistent adherence to schedules and guidelines.

Guidelines for personnel safety

  • Daily wellness check – Perform daily checks of wellness.
  • Never come to work at a research facility if you are experiencing any symptoms of infection. (See symptoms monitoring on page 2)
  • If you come to work and start showing any possible symptoms of illness, you must leave the workplace and inform your healthcare provider, UNC Occupational Health and Safety at 919-966-9119 (https://ehs.unc.edu/ueohc/), and PI or supervisor. UNC students and post docs may contact UNC Campus Health (919–966–2281).
  • If you have been referred for testing, or are awaiting results, you must also alert your PI and you must not come to work on campus for any reason until approved to do so by Employee Occupational Health or Campus Health.
  • If you have close or prolonged contact with anyone who is SARS-CoV2/COVID-19 positive you must stay home for 14 days to monitor symptoms per CDC guidance. For lower risk interactions with SARS-CoV2/COVID-19 positive people or people under investigation, contact UEOHC or Campus Health for guidance and approval before going to work.
  • Wear a mask on campus at all times. Please utilize a personal mask when coming and going and utilize a work mask when arriving to the research facility. Make sure to follow the steps in this video to ensure you wear your mask correctly. Pay attention to guidance on how long each mask should last and how to store it properly between wearings.
  • Personnel must wear face mask and eye protection for all encounters with research participants and patients.
  • It is recommended to wear eye protection and a mask if you are in a small indoor area with others like shared offices or workrooms. If you are exposed to people who subsequently become COVID+ (developing symptoms or testing positive within 3 days of encounter), you will be forced to quarantine if you are not wearing eye protection in addition to a face mask.
  • 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.
  • Good practices to observe are the following:

(i) To minimize any potential sources of transmission, consider footwear as a possible transmission vehicle. Shoes worn outside including when working in a research facility should not be worn around your home

(ii) Clothing worn in the workplace should be immediately removed upon return to your home.

      • Limit workplace presence to periods that are only as long as necessary to complete your experiment. Minimize time around other people.
  • Visitors, visiting trainees, or guests are not allowed on campus in labs or research facilities and offices, unless specifically approved by the Vice Chancellor for
  • Study monitors may return to campus after June 1 assuming that they undergo wellness checks as described for research participants, they agree to abide by all direction and guidance for all on-campus research at UNC, and you have adequate facilities to accommodate their presence while maintaining social distancing.
  • Please do not bring family members into the workplace to minimize the chance of people being infected.
  • Be responsible and safe in the community (stores, offices, etc.) to avoid contracting the virus.

 

Guidelines for operating a safe work environment

Building occupancy must be maintained below 50% at all times.

1.  Create a work schedule for your research space and adhere to it. This schedule should minimize the number of people in each work room at any one time. A shared Google calendar or another online tool should be used to help coordinate everyone’s schedule.

  • 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.
  • Use an online calendar to signify who is present in the research facility at any given time
  • Coordinate with neighboring research units for open concept buildings, particularly when there are shared small rooms such as communal offices, cold rooms, tissue culture, etc.
  • Wear a mask when on campus.
  • To reduce chances of accidental exposure and required quarantining, it is recommended to wear eye protection in addition to a face mask when in small indoor space with others (e.g. shared office space, clinic rooms, waiting rooms, etc.).
  • 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 meetings. Time on site should be only for work that can only be done on site.
  • Stagger break times to minimize contact between people in rooms used for eating or drinking, set the schedule to maximize work efficiency and minimize downtime. Be sure to disinfect surfaces such as tables and chairs before and after using such facilities. Guidelines for disinfectants that work against coronavirus can be found at the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cleaning-disinfection.html
    • Cups, mugs, plates, and silverware must be washed with soap before and after use.
    • Wash your hands before and after using a break room.

2.  Create safe spaces to maintain at least 6 feet between researchers at all times

  • Post room maps with maximum room/bay occupancy to maintain social distancing (see examples below).
  • Small, narrow facilities on the order of 100-200 square feet can only accommodate one person at a time.
  • Workspaces 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 rooms and hallways where researchers must pass each other.
  • Consider marking the floors with tape to indicate distance from desks or benches.
  • Please carefully consider activities that must occur in clinical exam rooms, as these are typically limited in size (often less than 100 square feet)
    • Limit the number of people in the exam room to only essential individuals
    • Limit time spent in the exam room as much as possible
    • If a larger exam room or procedure room is available for research assessments that require more than 2 individuals, consider utilizing that larger space

3.  Create a plan for safe practices in the workplace.

  • Wear your own mask at all times. Masks can help protect others by containing respiratory droplets when the mask wearer speaks, sneezes or coughs. The UNC SOM is distributing surgical masks each week for SOM research personnel. Face coverings must not interfere with PPE, e.g. eye shields, required for safety and must be compatible with all safety requirements. Pay attention to guidance on how long each mask should last and how to properly store it between wearings. Workers may remove mask while in a private office with door closed.
  • Perform hand hygiene before and after using any mask or face covering.
  • Never touch the outside of the mask – always assume the outside-facing side is dirty.
  • To reduce chances of accidental exposure and required quarantining, it is recommended to wear eye protection in addition to a face mask when in small indoor space with others (e.g. shared office space, clinic rooms, waiting rooms, etc.).
  • Researchers should wash their hands with soap or use hand sanitizer upon entering and before leaving the workplace and touching shared accessory devices like phones (use speakerphone if possible), computer keyboards etc.
  • Each researcher will have their own set of any tools (please label with your name or initials) that are used very frequently, including stethoscopes, pipettes, reagent bottles, laboratory notebooks, staplers 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) at least twice daily but may require cleaning and disinfecting more often throughout the day depending on usage and foot traffic in the area. Ideally post a log sheet for each workspace to document daily disinfection.
  • Public facilities are cleaned by UNC housekeeping staff but please help them out. Please have research staff wipe down common area door handles at least once a day, preferably when first entering space in the morning and when leaving the space in the evening. Reopening guidance for cleaning and disinfecting in the workplace can be found on the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html.

4.  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, touch pads, 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 recontaminating hands.

5.  Create a plan for interactions with others outside your immediate work group.

  • No more than one person may enter an elevator at a time unless there is COVID-specific signage otherwise (e.g., UNCH hospitals). Please use the stairs whenever possible and do not congregate in entrances, stairwells and elevator
  • No more than one person should occupy common/highly frequented areas such as break rooms, offices, bathrooms, and conference rooms at any given
  • Contact with other work groups should preferably be through phone calls or email/text messaging except in cases of extreme emergency.
  • Transfer of items should be arranged by leaving them in a designated area rather than handing them over in person.
  • Use of shared facilities and other groups’ equipment should be pre-arranged in order to avoid accidental contact.
  • Use precautions when entering a restroom or other shared use facility. Call out to assess occupancy. Use a paper towel or Kimwipe to touch door handles and faucets and wash your hands upon entering and leaving the restroom.

6.  Create a plan for a possible or confirmed case of COVID-19 among personnel in a workspace. Notify UNC Occupational Health and Safety immediately (https://ehs.unc.edu/ueohc/) at 919-966-9119.

7.  Enhanced cleaning for prevention

  • General guidance:

    Full guidance available on the CDC website.

    • Increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting, focusing on high-touch surfaces.
    • Practice good hand hygiene after cleaning (and always!):
      • Wash hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
      • If soap and warm water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Safety guidelines during cleaning and disinfection:
    • Wear disposable gloves, when available, while cleaning and disinfecting. Gloves should be discarded after each use. Clean hands immediately after gloves are removed.
    • Wear eye protection when there is a potential for splash or splatter to the face.
    • Gowns or aprons are recommended to protect personal clothing.
    • Store chemicals in labeled, closed containers. Store them in a manner that prevents tipping or spilling.
  • Cleaning and disinfection of surfaces:
    • Clean surfaces and objects that are visibly soiled first. If surfaces are dirty to sight or touch, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
    • Clean and disinfect affected surfaces as soon as possible after a known exposure to a person with respiratory symptoms (such as coughing/sneezing).
    • Use an EPA-registered disinfectant for use against COVID-19. Refer to the list of products pre-approved for use against SARS-CoV-2. Readily available products include 70% ethanol and 10% bleach. Allow at least 2 minutes of contact time before wiping.
    • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe and effective use of all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., dilution concentration, application method and contact time, required ventilation, and use of personal protective equipment).
    • Consult manufacturer recommendations on cleaning products appropriate for electronics. If no guidance is available, consider the use of alcohol-based wipes or spray containing at least 70% alcohol. Use of alcohol-based products may reduce risk of damage to sensitive machine components. Whenever possible, consider using wipeable covers for electronics.

 

If everyone working in a research facility uses the described precautions, 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 workplace safety and ensuring the safety of participants.

Please note that the following maps serve as a guideline only. We cannot envision every circumstance.

We encourage you to draw your own map and tailor it to your own spaces and rooms and distribute to your research personnel.

Always exhibit your best judgement, and if you have any doubts please consult with your department chair or center director.

 

Spacing of lab personnel in laboratory room

Spacing of personnel in three scenarios

Spacing of personnel in two scenarios

1. Some key documents from the UNC Health websites are replicated on CRSO website for those without UNCHCS intranet access https://www.med.unc.edu/crso/unc-healthcare-guidelines-for-covid-19/.