General Points of Consideration – Planning the Phased Increase of UCI’s On-Site Research Activities

Faculty members and independent researchers (“Plan Owners”) along with Authorized Officials (deans and SRP/ORU directors) should consider the Points of Consideration described below as they develop Phase 2 research transition plans (“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 Phase 2 research activities using the Phase 2 Research Assessment.  Doing this will identify procedures for helping to ensure low potential for virus transmission.  They should also complete the Checklist for Phase 2 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. Be prepared to use multiple precautions for enhanced safety and to minimize the potential for virus transmission.  For example, consider combining hygiene measures, physical distancing, face coverings and self-screening.  Taken together, these may yield a lower potential for virus transmission by creating multiple layers of protection.
    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. Only UCI employees/appointees and registered students (if they choose to participate in research) may conduct research in UCI Research Facilities during Phases 1 - 3.  Also, assume limited availably of undergraduate students during these phases.
    11. Non-UCI-Affiliated volunteers or visitors – meaning individuals who are not registered students or UCI employees (paid or unpaid appointees) – may not conduct or perform research in UCI Research Facilities without prior approval as required by the UCI Executive Directive on Invited Guest/Visitors.
  3. Implement disinfecting protocols
    1. Review UCI’s COVID-29 cleaning procedures for general laboratories (Plan Owners may apply these to non-lab spaces as well to the extent they are relevant).  Disinfecting surfaces to minimize potential for fomite transmission of viruses is an essential part of Plans.
    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 to last several months.  They should also plan – and act now – to acquire additional supplies.  Research programs should cease activities if disinfecting supplies run out.  Activities should not resume until the research program receives new supplies.  UCI will issue additional information regarding disinfecting/sanitizing supplies soon.
    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. Maximizing physical distancing and minimizing population density in the research program’s/lab’s space is an essential part of any Plan.
    2. Plans should align with the population densities for each Research Phase, and should focus on how the Plan Owner will conduct their research program with as few personnel on-site as possible.
      1. For example, no more than one person per room or per laboratory bay (both~250 square feet).  In larger rooms and shared spaces, this may mean more than one person, but may require coordinating with other space users.
      2. If space constraints (of any type) prevent physical distancing and/or following other public health requirements, then the space should remain off-limits until circumstances change to enable its safe use.
    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 to schedule access to small spaces and rooms.  No more than one person should occupy small spaces or rooms at a time.
    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 the campus closure.
      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 maintain low population density.
      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.  Where unavoidable (such as, complex experiments, training experiences or where lab safety requires working with a buddy) research personnel must follow public health directives and physical distancing requirements 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. All discussions and meetings should occur virtually, except when necessary for conducting research or maintaining safety.
  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 for 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.