General Points of Consideration – Planning the Phased Increase of UCI’s In-Person Research Activities

Plan Owners long with Authorized Officials should consider the Points of Consideration described below as they develop research plans.  They should also carefully consider the spirit of these guidelines, and always make the health and safety of the research workforce their primary concern.

All approved Plans are living documents.  As such, the Plan Owners and Authorized Officials should monitor Office of Research communications regarding moving from phase to phase, changes to the Stay at Home Order, local health and safety directives, and UCI health and safety guidelines, and modify their Plans accordingly.

Plans need to meet California’s requirements with which these points of consideration align:

  1. Perform an assessment and implement a site-specific protection plan, including a plan to monitor compliance and return to an earlier phase whenever necessary.

    1. Assessment
      1. Plan Owners should complete an assessment of their research space and planned research activities using the Research Assessment Tool.  Doing this will identify procedures for helping to ensure low potential for virus transmission.  They should also complete the Checklist for Research Activities.
      2. Assessing current PPE stocks and research supplies, as well as assessing the state of supply chains to meet future demands for these items is an essential risk assessment element.  Plan Owners should plan accordingly.  Research programs should cease activities if PPE supplies run out.  Activities should not resume until the research program receives new supplies.
    1. Protection Plan that includes compliance monitoring and measures for returning to an earlier phase, if necessary.
      1. Plan Owners are responsible developing and implementing a Plan, and for promoting and facilitating Plan compliance with their teams.  This includes informing team members about Plan details and expectations, as well as how the Plan Owner and team members will monitor compliance.
      2. Plan Owners may wish to consult with EH&S when conducting risk assessments and developing Plans.
      3. Plans should include measures for returning to an earlier Research Phase.  Please review the ramp down and shut down messages from the Office of Research and the Laboratory Ramp-Down Checklist provided by EH&S for guidance.
  2. Implement individual control measures and screenings
    1. Contemplate the Guiding Principles contained in the Framework for UCI Phased Research Activities when creating control measures for your research program and space.
    2. Use multiple (layered) safety protocols and protective measures to mitigate virus transmission.  For example, consider combining hygiene measures, physical distancing, face coverings and self-screening.
    3. Review UCIs’ guidance for working alone in the lab and share this information with the research team so that they know what is expected of them.
    4. Review CDC guidance on Coronavirus symptoms, including the CDC Self-Checker tool, and share this information with team members
    5. Will the research program require additional or alternative screening procedures beyond any UCI guidance or requirements regarding self-screening for symptoms?  If so, how will team members be trained and what steps will be implemented to promote continued compliance.
    6. Review the UCI Executive Directives, as well as share them and discuss them with your research team so that everyone knows what is expected of them.
    7. Review the research program’s/lab’s safety procedures and standard operating procedures to help ensure they are current.
    8. For space not shared with other labs and/or research programs, carefully control access to minimize population density and align it with the Research Phases.
    9. For shared spaces, coordinate and collaborate with other Plan Owners to develop control measures.
    10. Invited guests and visitors (including non-UCI affiliated volunteers) may perform research or participate in research as specifically provided for in each Research Phase.
  3. Implement disinfecting protocols
    1. Review UCI’s COVID-19 cleaning procedures for general laboratories (Plan Owners may apply these to non-lab spaces as well to the extent they are relevant).
    2. Establish a protocol for disinfecting high-touch surfaces such as bench tops, equipment, door handles, keyboards, touch screens, etc.  These should also include disinfecting methods, required supplies to carry out disinfecting procedures and the frequency for carrying out these procedures.
    3. Assess current disinfecting/sanitizing supplies and verify that they are appropriate and effective at disinfecting surfaces that may harbor the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  These are essential supplies and Plan Owners should have stocks on hand.  Research programs should cease activities if disinfecting supplies run out.  Activities should not resume until the research program receives new supplies.
    4. Set expectations for team members regarding the hygiene procedures they should perform when they arrive on-site, while on-site, and prior to leaving.  Washing hands before entering a space where others are present, washing them multiple times while in the space (especially after contact with high-touch surfaces), and just prior to leaving may minimize potential for virus transmission.
    5. Be aware of how team members’ commute to campus (e.g., private car, public transportation, carpooling, etc.), and how they may increase the potential for virus transmission if they do not practice proper hygiene.
  4. Implement physical distancing guidelines:
    1. Controlling the occupancy of the research program’s/lab’s space to comply with CalOSHA physical distancing requirements is an essential part of any Plan.
    2. Plans should align with the population density and/or physical distancing requirements applicable to each Research Phase.
    3. Review the layout of research space and make adjustments to implement safety precautions to promote physical distancing.  Minimizing opportunities for close contact decreases the potential for virus transmission.
      1. Is it possible to reroute foot traffic flows to avoid pinch points or personnel clustering?
      2. Is it feasible to use barriers (such as Plexiglas) when two or more team members must work in close proximity?
      3. Determine what measures and visual aids will promote physical distancing, such as floor markings, signs for directing foot traffic, designating entry-only and exit-only doors, etc.
    4. Plan on scheduling access to small spaces and rooms, especially if occupancy by more than one person is not safe.
    5. Schedule access to research space in a fair and equitable manner.
      1. Use shared calendars to schedule research team lab time.
      2. Plan Owners should, however, consider giving priority to trainees (graduate students and postdocs) who need to meet academic deadlines.
      3. When making decisions about research space access, consider equity, diversity and inclusions, and accommodations for early career researchers and those team members disproportionately affected by earlier research phases.
      4. Consider making team members whose mental and physical well-being might benefit from returning to work a higher priority.
      5. Use shift work (staggered work schedules) to help ensure compliance with physical distancing requirements.
      6. Plan on collaborating with other lab leaders to create a calendar for shared lab space
    6. Minimize situations where two or more people must work together at a distance of less than six (6) feet.  Where unavoidable (such as, complex experiments, training experiences or where lab safety requires working with a buddy) research personnel should limit exposure time to others as much as practicable, and must follow other public health directives, safety protocols, and protective measures to the greatest extent possible (except in life and safety emergencies).
    7. Coordinate ahead of time if experiments require access to equipment in another laboratory or UCI Research Facility.
    8. Discussions and meetings should occur virtually where possible and practicable, keeping in mind the research phase, physical distancing requirements, and that the safety of research personnel is paramount.
  5. Train personnel on how to limit the spread of COVID-19, including how to screen themselves for symptoms and stay at home if they have them
    1. Plan Owners must share approved Plans with their teams in a way that will facilitate and promote Plan compliance, as well as post approved Plans in the lab(s)/research space(s) in which the team works.
    2. Plan Owners should consider working with team members to develop their Plan.  Doing this will enhance the team’s understanding of the Plan and may increase their sustained compliance.
    3. Consider how communications will occur within and between research teams and ensure redundant responsibility for team communications.  Plan on communicating frequently and openly with team members (and neighbors in shared space) regarding scheduling, safety precautions, as well as Plan changes/updates.
    4. Team members should weigh the need for coming to campus against potential health hazards (to themselves and others) and should follow UCI campus guidance on how to do so.
    5. Communicate clearly and effectively so that all team members understand that the work culture should change from “tough it out” to “team member safety and health above all else”

Other Points of Consideration, include:

  • Plans should not include personnel who are at higher risk for severe illness due to COVID-19 or who want to continue to stay at home for personal or household reasons.  As appropriate, consult with the appropriate HR business partner or AP personnel.
  • Do not undertake research that generates large volumes of hazardous waste and/or necessarily involves chemical, biological, radiation or other hazards without first consulting with EH&S to review lab safety and assess waste disposal requirements.
  • Consult with core facility and recharge center operators to determine the availability of shared instruments and services necessary to conduct research and synchronize their schedules with team members’ schedules as appropriate.