COVID-19 Laboratory Research Ramp-up Guidance
Laboratories - Getting Back to Work – August 1 Update (07/31/2020)
Getting Back to Work – August 1 Update
It is very heartening to see our laboratories coming back to life. We should all be proud of the way we handled this: returning to work while keeping ourselves safe. COVID-19 infection rates emanating from our laboratories since we began to reopen on May 18 have been very close to zero. As work proceeds, and the intensity of work continues to increase, we must remain vigilant.
Everyone should be working at 100% effort. Any work that needs to be performed on campus should be completed on campus. Work that can be performed remotely can continue remotely. Overall, however, everyone should be working at full steam: 100% effort.
Wear masks at all times on campus. Wearing masks correctly (over nose and mouth) can be more effective than vaccines. People sitting at desk carrels in the labs should wear masks whenever people are nearby. In addition, since some of our desk carrels are spaced <6’ apart, minimize time at those desks. Time spent reading, analyzing data, writing manuscripts, attending virtual meetings can all be from home, in conference rooms, etc.
Maintain social distancing except when required for experimental work. There will be times—at lab certain benches and desk carrels, tissue culture rooms, shared experiments, and the like—when social distancing is not possible. This is acceptable since everyone involved will be wearing a mask correctly, but such time should be minimized.
Maintain enhanced personal and lab hygiene. Frequent handwashing and cleaning of lab surfaces are also important, as is wearing a lab coat (required for lab work in any event). Get your lab coats laundered regularly.
Lunch is a challenge. It is especially important to maintain social distancing (≥6’ apart) during lunch because people aren’t wearing masks, are talking to colleagues, etc. It is critical to sit at least 6’ apart at lunch. Achieve this by staggering lunch hours, using all conference and break rooms available, eating outside during nice weather, etc. It is fine for more than one person to eat lunch in a conference room at the same time, but ensure ≥6’ distancing.
Remain vigilant. Anyone who becomes symptomatic should stay home or, if at work, leave work immediately. Inform your PI, and contact Employee Health Services (EHS) or Student Health. Stay home and remain isolated following guidelines from your doctor. We will have additional positive COVID-19 cases, but we also have the ability to keep the number extremely low and fully contained as we have proven over the past several months.
Resources available to help deal with the stress. This has been an extraordinarily stressful time for everyone. And we know that the deleterious effects of stress can manifest after the acute phase. Mount Sinai’s new Center for Stress, Resilience, and Personal Growth, under the leadership of Dr. Deborah Marin, is available to all faculty, trainees, and staff who would like guidance on how to deal optimally with the stress. Please contact the Center: Tel: 212-659-5564; MS-CSRPG@mssm.edu; https://icahn.mssm.edu/about/departments/psychiatry/clinical/stress-resilience-personal-growth-center
As always, we welcome your feedback, comments, and concerns. Stay safe and productive.
Observations on reopened wet labs (7/9/2020)
As we successfully reopen our wet labs—with success defined by getting back to work while maintaining infection rates below that in NYC overall—many of you have reached out to us with questions and clarifications. We’ve hesitated to get too specific about each and every situation: far better to let reasonable people “figure it out” as opposed to “Big Brother” greeting you in your lab with a tape measure! I am therefore sharing some reflections which I hope will be useful.
Masks work—better than some vaccines. A recent study demonstrated that the risk of infection is reduced by 98.5% when two people in close proximity are both wearing masks correctly (meaning that their mouths and noses are covered). That is, the risk of infection falls to 1.5% of normal (without masks). That 98.5% efficacy far exceeds that of flu vaccines and could well be better than any COVID-19 vaccine that we see over the next few years. Therefore, wear masks at all times while on campus. The only exception is when you’re in a room alone, or eating in which case you must sit ≥6’ apart.
Lunch is a challenge. It is natural for us all to want to socialize while taking a lunch break. However, due to the fact that masks must be pulled down to eat and drink, social distancing is even more important. Everyone must be vigilant to maintain proper social distancing (≥6’) during lunch breaks despite the urge for closer social interaction with friends or lab mates. Please use all conference rooms, break rooms, and outside space, and stagger hours, to achieve this requirement.
Minimize time <6’ apart. There are times when social distancing isn’t possible: learning a new experimental procedure, working at tissue culture stations, etc. The goal is to minimize that time. Wearing masks ensures that it is safe when it’s necessary to be in closer proximity.
The desk carrels in the Hess labs offer another challenge: people should minimize the time that they sit side-by-side at neighboring carrels (which are <6’ apart). When speaking on the telephone, analyzing data, reading a journal article, working on your own publications, attending Zoom meetings—do all that in other places.
If you see something, say something. Each of us has the expectation that all others will abide by these guidelines. If you see someone without a mask, ask them nicely to wear one. If you see someone wearing a mask incorrectly (down on their chin like a scarf), ask them to correct it. If your PI stands or sits too close to you unnecessarily, it’s ok to say: “Whoa, please let’s distance.” And let us know if anyone is making you feel uncomfortable.
We are doing extremely well as a campus. I am so pleased to see the labs come back to life with the vast majority of people being careful, considerate, and compliant. Let’s keep up the great team work!
Wet labs to nearly full-time effort (06/29/2020)
We have had a very successful 5-week process since we began to reopen our wet research laboratories on May 18. I want to thank everyone for their care and cooperation, which have enabled this ramp-up effort to proceed so smoothly and without major hiccups. Importantly, we have seen no evidence of increased rates of COVID-19 infections among staff and trainees. Moreover, NYC moved to Phase 2 this past Monday which reflects the sustained lower prevalence of COVID-19 infections city-wide.
June 29 – until further notice
Based on these accomplishments, we will continue operations at roughly 50% of normal human density. However, we want to emphasize, as we have previously, that this metric allows virtually all researchers to work full-time or nearly full-time given the degree to which people work away from their desk carrels and lab benches in procedure rooms, tissue culture rooms, microscope rooms, animal facilities, etc., not to mention analyzing data and being on Zoom meetings which can be accomplished from home. And this doesn’t take into account the option of staggering hours and days at work which our research workforce—uniquely in the national economy—have the luxury of pursuing.
While returning to work during Phase 1 was voluntary, our expectation effective June 29 is that anyone who needs to be on campus to accomplish their work at full-time effort must be on campus. We encourage computational researchers to continue to work from home, but they too should come to campus as needed.
The following principles apply:
- All COVID-19 related research continues at 100% normal human density.
- Wear face masks at all times anywhere on campus, social distance (≥6’) except when impossible for specific laboratory procedures (next bullet), and increase handwashing and general hygiene and cleanliness.
- Maximize social distancing (6’) to the extent possible. Sitting at microscope or tissue culture stations, or being in the same laboratory bay, may involve time in closer proximity; such time should be held to a minimum of what’s necessary. This is safe when proper face masks and hygiene are used.
- Social distancing is particularly crucial during lunch and other breaks. Utilize any and all conference rooms, stagger lunch hours, eat outside as weather permits, etc.
- All meetings of any kind continue by Zoom.
- COVID-19 testing, isolation of infected individuals, and surveillance for everyone else continues per Mount Sinai Health System guidelines (which continue to evolve based on federal, state, and local conditions and recommendations). Testing for anti-COVID-19 antibodies is also available.
It is very heartening to see Mount Sinai, and NYC more generally, coming back to life and getting back to work.
Research PPE – Face Mask Distribution Plan
From: Reginald W. Miller, DVM, DACLAM
Dean for Research Operations & Infrastructure
Office of the Dean
To: Departmental/Designated Safety Officers (DSO)
Date: May 6, 2020
Subject: Research PPE – Face Mask Distribution Plan
Cc: Departmental Chairs, Institute Directors, Administrators, Materials Management
Thank you for taking on the responsibility to ensure safe laboratory practices as we begin ramping up research again. As you have heard, the target date for ramp up is May 18th, (subject to change based upon local and state government), so we want you to be prepared. A group of your colleagues, the Research PPE Working Group, has worked to construct a seamless process for all DSOs to provide your respective research labs with a continuous supply of face masks. As we expect the quantity of masks to vary as research increases we are asking each DSO to begin surveying the departmental needs for the weekly usage rate. The calculation rate should be based on: 1 mask/ person/ day or 5 masks/person/week. Each area should develop a method to secure PPE to conserve resources. The outline below details the process:
- Labs provide the DSOs with the weekly PPE needs based on above metrics.
- Request PPE: Google Docs Form: Research PPE Request (Face Mask Form)
- DSOs submit form for quantity for each department they oversee.
- Indicate pick up time on the request form. If any changes occur, please communicate through the dedicated mailbox (below).
- After successful submittal receive an email confirmation as receipt.
- Data (type, amount, name, etc) will automatically export into an Excel spreadsheet, managed by Anthony Smalls.
- Forward total requested amount to Materials Management to provide a weekly supply of face masks. Request by Wednesday for receipt on Friday.
- DSOs must submit PPE request forms by Wednesdays to ensure replenishment for the following week.
- Materials Management deliver PPE on Fridays to drop- off location(s).
- Distribution Times
- On Mondays DSO or designee pickup PPE:
- Morning (9:30 am – 12:00 pm) or
- Afternoon (3:00 pm – 4:30 pm).
- On Mondays DSO or designee pickup PPE:
- Distribution Points
- Three locations for distribution:
- Annenberg Conference room 20-55A
- Hess 6th Flr Conference room 6-101
- Icahn Medical Institute (IMI): Conference room: L3-36 (3rd for)
- Three locations for distribution:
- Dedicated Mailbox: researchPPErequest@mssm.edu
- This dedicated mailbox is available to the research community to ask questions, change pickup times, provide feedback, etc.
- If you cannot make your pickup window contact Anthony Smalls at: researchPPErequest@mssm.edu or (212) 241-0640 (ext. 40640).
- For your reference, the current list of DSO is available at: Google Doc List of DSOs
Research PPE Working Group: Chris Cannistraci (HPIDH), Fanny Tang (GGS), Chen Wang (Microbiology), Bill Janssen (Neuroscience), Sandy Hatem (Precision Immunology/TCI), Josef Ehntholt (EvH&S), Anthony Smalls (Dean’s Office), and Kaware Richardson (Dean’s Office).
Research PPE Request (Face Mask Form)
Face Mask Request Form:
If you have any questions, please send to researchPPErequest@mssm.edu.
Dean’s Office Phase I FAQ
ISMMS Wet Lab Ramp Up Checklist (05/11/2020)
The ISMMS Wet Lab Ramp Up Checklist is a guidance checklist developed by EH&S to aid laboratories as they ramp up research. It provides safety guidance on entering the laboratory after a long absence, physical hazards to be aware of, chemical safety and other general safety protocols.
ISMMS Date Safety Officer (DSO) Contact List (05/11/2020)
Plan to Begin Resuming Wet Research Laboratory Operations (05/08/2020)
Plan to Resume Limited (25%) Wet Research Laboratory Operations on May 18
The following is our plan to begin the process of gradually easing the current restrictions on wet research laboratories within the several research buildings at Mount Sinai (Atran plus upper floors of Annenberg, Hess, and Icahn). The plan has been vetted and approved by School and Health System leadership as well as the relevant offices including Housekeeping, CCMS, Infection Prevention, Environmental Health & Safety, and the Clinical Laboratories). Of note, the large majority of laboratory floors use a separate bank of elevators which help separate research from clinical and educational functions. Computational researchers, and administrative/financial staff that support laboratories, should continue to work from home except when it is necessary to come to campus in which case the below provisions apply.
The current restrictions allow each laboratory to have a skeleton crew of 2-3 individuals (up to 4 for larger laboratories) to maintain critical animal and cell lines. In addition, laboratories doing Covid-19 research are functioning at normal, higher levels. In all cases, people are expected to maintain social distancing.
Effective May 18, research staff are expected to adhere to the following:
- Laboratories will be permitted to increase their lab census to one-quarter (25%) of the normal density at any point in time. Each laboratory bay can have only one person (instead of the normal 2-4) at work at any given time (exceptions must be approved by Dr. Nestler – see below contact information). Each laboratory PI will decide how to achieve this metric: e.g., by having people work on campus on different days or during different shifts per day.
- Returning to the lab is voluntary for all trainees and staff. No one should feel coerced or pressured to return during this initial phase, and should report any such coercion or pressure through the new Feedback Form, HR, department/institute/division chairs/directors, or Dr. Nestler.
- All laboratory personnel must wear face masks at all times in the laboratory and within the medical center hallways. A plan has been developed to provide all lab personnel with a new face mask each day. Frequent hand washing and glove etiquette within labs will be maintained.
- Each laboratory will be responsible for cleaning work spaces at least 2 times per day (start/end each day or start/end of different shifts). Normal housekeeping schedules (garbage removal, floor cleaning) will resume.
- Crowding of elevators and elevator lobbies will be avoided. All individuals entering elevators must wear a mask or face covering. Elevators will also be cleaned more frequently. Gloves should not be worn in elevators unless being used to transport biohazardous materials (which must be in freight elevators only).
- Occupancy of all procedure rooms, cold rooms, tissue culture rooms, etc., which normally might have several people in them at any given point in time, will be limited to ensure ≥6 feet in social distancing at all times. Online scheduling, organized at the lab or department/institute level, will be used to manage this occupancy.
- The same is true for lunch and break space. Social distancing must be maintained with assigned shifts if need be. Conference rooms on each lab floor will be available for lunch and breaks, and staff will be responsible for cleaning surfaces after use.
- All staff should monitor themselves for symptoms of SARS-CoV2 infection (e.g., fevers, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath). Anyone with symptoms should immediately remove themselves from the laboratory and notify their PI. Those who develop symptoms at home should notify their PI. Staff will be referred to either Employee Health Service or Student Health for further guidance and recommendations for return to work.
- Each PI will be responsible for maintaining these precautions. Designated safety officers in each department/institute, along with Environmental Health & Safety, will do regular rounds and will be available for consultations. Any laboratory that is noncompliant will be closed immediately for a period of at least one month during which time an assessment will take place to determine whether the laboratory should reopen.
- There will be no in-person group meetings of any size. This includes no WIPs, seminars, thesis committee meetings, etc. All meetings will continue to operate through Zoom only.
We will evaluate how well this plan is working as well as monitor closely rates of COVID-19 infection among lab personnel before considering further easing restrictions on wet lab research work. We are heartened by considerable data showing no increased risk for infection (in fact, the data show reduced risk) among healthcare workers and laboratory personnel over the past two months. We will also continue to be guided by the Governor’s guidelines for New York State, which importantly have consistently designated all medical research as essential.
Questions about this plan should be directed to Dr. Eric Nestler (firstname.lastname@example.org), Dean for Academic and Scientific Affairs.
ISMMS Biosafety Guidelines and FAQs for SARS-CoV-2 in Research Labs (05/04/2020)
Guidance on Respiratory Protection, Fit Testing, and N95 Respirators (04/27/2020)
To: All Research Staff
From: The Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S)
Re: Guidance on Respiratory Protection, Fit Testing, and N95 Respirators
Thank you all for the essential research you are conducting. The COVID-19 related research performed by the Icahn School of Medicine research community is instrumental in understanding and solving this global pandemic.
This document provides guidance on respiratory protection, fit testing, and types of N95 respirators used in research settings.
Current guidance from the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/lab/lab-biosafety-guidelines.html), the Mount Sinai Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC), and Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) requires the use of NIOSH approved N95 respirators in specific research environments.
N95s must be utilized by users that are authorized to access the following facilities:
- BSL3 Emerging Pathogens Facility (EPF)
- BSL3 Conventional Biocontainment Facility
Work with COVID-19 patient specimens must be performed in BSL2+ Designated Areas at a minimum. If specific manipulations cannot be performed within a biosafety cabinet, N95s, or other appropriate respiratory protection, must be utilized.
Principal Investigators, Lab Supervisors, and DSOs can contact the IBC (email@example.com) for additional guidance.
All laboratory staff considering the use of a N95 respirator must obtain medical clearance from Employee Health Services prior to getting fit tested or wearing a N95 respirator.
Principal Investigators, Lab Supervisors and DSOs can contact Bobbi-Jo G Choudhury, FNP-BC, MSN, RN (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Employee Health Services to obtain medical clearance for their research staff.
Fit testing is required for all staff who wear N95 respirators. Fit testing is critical to ensure that the respirator creates a proper seal around your nose and mouth to provide the necessary protection. A fit test must be repeated at least annually, when changing mask model/type, or major physical changes (weight loss/gain).
The fit test is specific to the manufacturer, model and size of respirator (e.g. Manufacturer: 3M, Model: 1860, Size: Small). If you were previously fit tested on one model, and have transitioned to a new model, you must be re-fit tested before using the new model.
You must be clean shaven for your fit test and every day you wear your respirator. Beards, stubble, and other facial hair prevent the respirator from creating the proper seal and will not protect you against airborne hazards.
Principal Investigators, Lab Supervisors and DSOs can reach out to Environmental Health and Safety (AskEHS@mssm.edu) to schedule a fit test session for their research staff.
Mount Sinai Hospital and the Icahn School of Medicine have traditionally used two types of N95 respirators:
Size: Small and Regular
Manufacturer: Halyard (Duckbill)
Size: Small and Regular
Due to increased worldwide demand, these above respirators may not be available through the traditional means (e.g. through requests to Materials Management or direct orders through a distributor). When considering the purchase of an alternative respirator type, please be aware of the following:
- Environmental Health and Safety must review, evaluate, and approve all new respirators before purchase and use in research labs.
- There are a variety of knock-off respirators, respirators that are not NIOSH or FDA approved, and respirators of poor quality that have been introduced to the market and will not provide adequate protection.
- Additional information on approved PPE can be found in the Mount Sinai PPE Directory.
Please contact Environmental Health and Safety if you need further information on sources of NIOSH approved N95 respirators for conducting COVID-19 research. We are in this together!
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