COVID-19: Research Continuity Guidance for Laboratories and Research Facilities

In the event of any infectious disease, the primary goal of the campus Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan is to maintain critical and essential campus services and, to the degree possible, minimize the negative consequences for members of the university community. Social distancing is an important strategy in meeting this goal along with additional community mitigation measures.

Laboratories and research facilities should begin to plan for the possibility of a significant disruption to normal operations. Each laboratory or research facility is best positioned to create a continuity plan that will meet their unique needs. The guidance below is provided to facilitate the development of that plan.

Assumptions that you can use for planning, based on a scenario with widespread infectious disease communal transmission:

  • A significant percentage of your laboratory workforce may be out sick or unable to come to work for a period of weeks.
  • Social distancing through closing the campus and asking all non-essential personnel to stay home for a period of weeks.
  • Essential research infrastructure, such as power and telecommunications, will be maintained.
  • Orders for critical supplies may be delayed, which may include personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety supplies.
  • Core facilities and other fee-for-service resources may not be available.
  • Repairs performed by Facilities and other UWM and non-UWM service providers may be delayed.
  • Decontamination of your workspace may be necessary in the event of a local illness.
  • The university will communicate any disruptions to laboratory access.

Steps you can take now to ensure continuity of critical functions:

Questions to answer in planning:

  • What facilities are at risk of harm to the lab or to the public (e.g., live animals that have to be fed; biologicals, chemicals or other hazardous materials that have to be secured; equipment that has to be maintained or shutdown)?
  • Who would be the minimum essential personnel to keep the lab operating?  Are there sufficient back-up personnel if such personnel are unavailable?
  • What would be the shutdown procedures if the lab needs to be secured and shutdown?
  • Who is responsible for the lab, and who are two back-up decision-makers in case the responsible individual is unable to make decisions on operation or shutdown?

At a minimum, plans should identify, as appropriate to each lab:

  • Clearly marked, designated hand-washing sinks must be fully equipped with soap and paper towel for proper hand washing prior to leaving laboratories.
  • Identify procedures and processes that require regular personnel attention (e.g. cell culture maintenance, animal husbandry).
  • Assess and prioritize critical laboratory activities.
  • Identify any research experiments that can be ramped down, curtailed, or delayed.
  • Identify personnel able to safely perform essential activities.
  • Ensure that you have access to contact information for your critical staff.
  • Cross-train research staff to fill in for others who may be out sick or unable to come to work.
    • Ensure staff have the appropriate training.
    • Consider documenting critical step-by-step instructions.
  • Coordinate with colleagues who have similar research activities to identify ways to ensure coverage of critical activities.
  • Review contingency plans and emergency procedures with researchers and staff.
  • Maintain a sufficient inventory of critical supplies that may be impacted by global shipping delays such as PPE or other safety supplies. In the event that there is a PPE shortage, work must be suspended until there is PPE available to safely continue work.
  • Consider installing remote control monitoring devices for critical equipment (e.g., minus 80 degree C freezers, liquid nitrogen storage dewars, incubators).
  • Communicate significant planned absences and/or lab closures to business offices and other key administrative units.
  • See Laboratory Shutdown Checklist for potential items to address.

 Measures you can take to prevent the spread of illness among your group if the risk of:

The best ways to avoid contracting COVID-19:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and cough/sneeze into your elbow
  • Disinfect common laboratory areas and touch points with 70% ethanol, dilute bleach solution, or other CDC recommended disinfectants (e.g. doorknobs, sink handles, freezer doors, fume hood sashes, telephones).
  • Practice social distancing
    • Identify work that can be done from home or remotely, such as data analysis. Utilize SharePoint or OneDrive for file access and storage.
    • Avoid in-person meetings. Use remote work technologies such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom conferencing.
    • Consider alternating work schedules to meet the demands of the laboratory while limiting close contact with others. Follow working alone policies established in the lab or this Working Alone Guidance.

If You Develop Symptoms:

  • Stay home; do not go to work, class or public areas
  • Separate yourself from people and animals in your home
  • Avoid sharing personal household items
  • Wash your hands often
  • Clean “high-touch” surfaces every day
  • Avoid using public transportation, ride-shares, taxis, etc.

 Other safety considerations:

  • Ensure that individuals performing critical tasks have been adequately trained and understand whom to contact with technical or safety questions.
  • Avoid performing high-risk procedures alone.  When working alone is necessary, exercise maximum caution. Follow working alone policies established in the lab or this Working Alone Guidance.
  • Notify colleagues of your schedule when working alone and follow your working alone procedures.
  • Ensure that high-risk materials (radioactive, biohazards, chemicals) are secured.