Research Update - Guidelines for the new year (01/06/2022)
We want to welcome everyone back to campus after the holiday break. As you know, we are in the throes of a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious Omicron strain. The good news is that, for people who are vaccinated and boosted, the vast majority of cases are mild. Nevertheless, the sheer number of affected individuals is placing great strains on our healthcare system and of course beyond.
The other good news is that our laboratories are open and fully functional. We have a close to 2 year track record now of maintaining our laboratory operations with extremely good health data: with barely a case of COVID-19 contracted within the labs. Still, given how contagious Omicron is, we want to emphasize protocols—which are now routine for us and have worked so well:
- Labs are open. Anyone who needs to be on campus to get their work done, may continue their research activities full-time. We are confident that we can maintain open labs safely—with small reductions in lab density (as below) whenever possible until the end of this month.
- In order to reduce the density in the labs, we encourage you to work from home when doing things other than lab work, such as writing manuscripts, reading the literature, attending Zoom meetings, etc.
- All meetings will be by Zoom until further notice.
- It is very important—and a minimal requirement—to wear a surgical mask at all times on campus. We recognize that other types of masks are being discussed in the news media, although there are a wide variety of opinions on which masks are best for different settings. For this reason, we will make available “universal N95” masks to any faculty, trainee, or staff who would feel more comfortable using one. Dr. Reginald Miller will work through our Department Safety Officer/Laboratory Safety Officer system, which has functioned so well for us, to distribute such masks as desired.
- Except when absolutely necessary for experimental needs, maintain >6’ distancing from others.
- Exercise special caution at lunchtime. Be sure to be well more than 6’ from others when eating. All conference rooms on campus will be available for lunch to ensure ample locations.
- Reduce density in elevators.
We are so proud of our ability to keep our laboratory work going and doing so safely throughout the course of this pandemic. This means that all of us can get on with our careers despite the waxing and waning of COVID-19 infections. We know that we will get through this latest surge.
Thank you for your cooperation. We are available to answer any questions.
Research update (12/22/2021)
“It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
– Yogi Berra
“Life is not easy for any of us, but what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves.”
– Marie Curie
The recent surge in cases of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has taken a major toll across the U.S. including at Mount Sinai where we’ve seen a substantial increase in the number of faculty, trainees, and staff testing positive for the virus. At latest count, ~80% of COVID-19 cases are now due to the Omicron variant. The good news is that people who are fully vaccinated (including a booster shot this fall) are strongly protected with the vast majority showing relatively minor symptoms.
Still, this recent surge coming at year’s end is a gut punch, as all of us had hoped and expected that the world was moving past the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a reminder that past pandemics followed similar, repeated waves of infection that took place sometimes over several years. The very good news is that we have vaccines that render infection mild as noted above as well as new oral anti-viral treatments that promise to help those who still get more seriously ill.
As we approach the end of 2021, I want to remind everyone of the importance of maintaining our guard and discipline. We must make sure that we stick to precautions of masking, social distancing, and improved hygiene. Our laboratories will have greatly reduced density over the next couple of weeks as many of us travel for the holidays. This should help contain infection. Please be especially careful at lunchtime in terms of social distancing. Be careful as well after hours and on weekends: this is the source of most of the exposures we’ve seen.
Despite the ups and downs, 2021 was a marked improvement over 2020 (even if not as great an improvement as we had hoped). We were all able to get on with our careers and outside lives despite the continued concerns and restrictions. I am confident that 2022 will be better still, and I look forward to continuing to work with you all to advance our exciting science.
Be safe and I wish you all a very happy holiday.
Research update 6/18/21 - Getting back to normal (6/18/2021)
It gives me great pleasure to forward the email from Vicki LoPachin which you should have already received. You’ll see that it describes the next step toward returning to normality in our research and educational enterprises. Effective this Monday, all vaccinated individuals will not have to wear masks or socially distance in non-clinical settings. Lab meetings, research seminars, classes, etc. should all be back to normal.
If you’re vaccinated, please be sure to get a vaccination sticker on your Mount Sinai ID card. Students: be on the lookout for emails from GSBS and Student Health on how to get your stickers; everyone else—all faculty, postdocs, and staff—should reach out to their department/institute administrators to get one.
And if you’re not vaccinated, please get vaccinated as soon as you can—for your own sake and to promote the health of your families, friends, and colleagues.
Many people have asked about the daily COVID-19 attestation app. We expect to no longer require this app—again for vaccinated individuals with a vaccination sticker on their IDs—very soon. We are just waiting for everyone to get stickers on their IDs.
We must of course remain vigilant and careful. Newly arising COVID-19 mutants will remain a potential threat which we must continue to monitor. But—we made it! Monday marks an amazing milestone for us all, recognition that this pandemic now should be in the rear view mirror while we get back to our normal lives and to the world-changing biomedical research that we do.
Research Update - Spring 2021 (04/19/2021)
“…it’s been a long cold lonely winter. Here comes the sun…” – The Beatles
It is very heartening to see NYC come back to life as we work to get to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, we at Mount Sinai have been back at work with full effort since late June and have done so safely—with virtually no COVID-19 cases emanating from our laboratories.
We should now all be vaccinated—whether working on campus or not. Vaccinations proceeded far more quickly than any of us imagined. If you’re not vaccinated, I urge you to get vaccinated—let us know if you encounter any obstacles. Several studies show extremely impressive six month follow up data for the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, with >95% protection against symptomatic COVID-19 infection, and nearly 100% effectiveness in otherwise healthy, younger individuals—and with virtually no serious side effects.
We will be continually evaluating how and when to relax ongoing COVID-19-related restrictions over the coming months.
- It is important that we continue to wear masks and socially distance. Infection rates in NYC remain relatively high (although are now showing encouraging signs of decreasing) and we want to protect against new COVID-19 variants that may arise in places around the world where viral infection is still raging.
- Many of us are now resuming small in-person meetings—including hybrid live-virtual meetings for larger groups. Again with masks and distancing. Allowable meeting sizes will likely be increased in coming weeks and months as the CDC and NYS revise their guidelines.
- Our hope and expectation is that it will be safe to resume still more in-person seminars, lab meetings, as well as many graduate and medical school classes by this fall.
- While it remains OK for computational researchers to continue to work from home—pending ever-evolving guidelines from NIH, many of us think that computational researchers need to be back on campus at least part-time for their work to be optimally effective. We therefore encourage computational researchers—who are fully vaccinated—to return to campus 2-3 days/week which would allow social distancing to be followed.
- And let’s all continue to do our research, publish our papers, and write grants, which will then enable more research and more papers….
Mount Sinai stands out nationally for getting back to work more quickly and effectively than other institutions—and doing so safely. Let’s work together to continue that incredible track record and get on with the basic discoveries and clinical advances for a wide range of disorders that the world is expecting from us.
Research Update (2/2/21)
Good morning on this snowy winter day.
As the COVID-19 pandemic surged in NYC last March, and we moved to ramp down our research activities as a result, I don’t think many of us expected to be here—almost one full year later—still reeling from the personal costs and restrictions of the pandemic. At long last, however, we can see toward the end of the pandemic thanks to spectacularly effective and safe vaccines that are now being used worldwide.
All of you who work on campus should be vaccinated by now or well on your way to completing both doses. Please let us know if you have encountered any delays or obstacles. For those of you who are still working from home, we await guidance from federal and state officials as to when general vaccinations can proceed. We hope and expect this to be initiated within the next several weeks. Giant kudos to our infectious disease/vaccination team who have done an inspiring job—I think the best in the city—in getting us all vaccinated.
While this is a time therefore for great hope and expectations, it is also a time of particular risk, lest any of us let down our guard. Until we complete our vaccinations and have a better appreciation of their effectiveness at the population level and against evolving viral mutations, it is essential that we maintain existing COVID-19 precautions: wearing masks at all times on campus, maintaining social distancing (>6’) except when impossible for specific experiments, and eating lunch safely—well more than 6’ apart.
We have a lot of which to be proud. Our campus has been more active and productive than any other academic center of which I’m aware, and we’ve done this safely—with virtually no COVID cases emanating from laboratory exposures. Let’s keep up that great track record as we also begin to think about what the other side of the pandemic will look like: when and how will it be safe to start easing restrictions. We will get there, but not yet….
Research Update (12/17/2020)
Here we are at the end of 2020; we made it! What a year it’s been—unlike any other in our lifetimes. There have been many challenges to our health, wellbeing, and livelihoods. The extremely good news of course is that one COVID-19 vaccine is approved, another will be approved in days, and additional ones are likely to gain approval in early 2021. This represents a spectacular achievement for science and humanity: going from a newly discovered virus to characterizing the virus’s genome and key encoded proteins to a vaccine with 95% efficacy and few serious side effects within a single year is truly unprecedented.
When I look back over the past 10 months, from a research perspective, I am incredibly proud that we as a community reopened our labs and got back to business more effectively than any other school, and we did so safely. Because of your support in following viral-related precautions, COVID-19 infection rates in our labs have been and continue to be extremely low. While the number of our faculty, trainees, and staff who are testing positive for the virus has increased in recent weeks, just as viral infections have increased across the region, we know of no case where anyone in a lab has contracted the virus from someone else in the lab. All cases have seemingly come from outside exposures. This is heartening—it shows that we can do our work effectively while keeping everyone safe.
As we approach the holidays a few reminders:
- Continue to closely follow viral precautions: wear masks, socially distance, practice enhanced hygiene.
- Be especially careful at lunch hour: be sure to be at least 6’ apart (farther is even better) and stagger your eating hours. We see this as the time of greatest potential risk on campus.
- Be careful after hours and on weekends. When you get together with friends and family, do so outside, wearing masks and distancing. Avoid eating together inside. Remember, this is the source of most of the exposures we’ve seen.
We are so very close to seeing this pandemic in the rear-view mirror, which paradoxically makes this time especially dangerous. Be attentive and disciplined to maintain precautions. We should all be vaccinated and safe within the next few months. We are almost there.
Be safe and I wish you all a very happy holiday. I know that together we will make 2021 a much better year than 2020!
Fall update on research laboratory operations (11/02/2020)
As much of the world lives through another wave of COVID-19 infections, it’s a good time to reflect on where we are today and to renew our efforts to continue our work while ensuring the safety of our students, postdocs, staff, and faculty.
First, despite the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in NYC, Mount Sinai’s research workforce has remained phenomenally healthy. We’ve had only four COVID+ cases among lab personnel, two in early June and two in early September. We of course expect more cases in the weeks and months ahead, but this track record of impressive success is testimony to everyone’s care and attention to common-sensical precautions: wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and improved hygiene.
Now that we’re entering the colder months when cases are expected to rise, let’s please redouble our efforts in following these precautions which we know work.
While compliance on campus is generally very good, my colleagues and I sometimes see groups of people sitting or standing together—when they’re not eating—with masks down. This behavior: 1) violates campus policies, and 2) adds unnecessarily to everyone’s risk. Please: be sure to wear a mask correctly at all times on campus. Please report instances of noncompliance to me directly or to your DSOs or chairs/directors.
Correct way to wear a mask!
“Some people wear masks in a variety of different styles: dangling from one ear, pulled down below the nose or resting below the chin. These common mistakes decrease the effectiveness of masking and increase the wearer’s risk of catching and spreading the disease.”
Some laboratories are beginning to have small in-person group meetings on campus. This is allowable but only when: 1) everyone wears a mask correctly at all times, 2) everyone maintains proper social distancing (6 ft spacing) at all times, and 3) the room is suitably cleaned before and after each meeting. There will be penalties for people who meet in groups that exceed a given room’s capacity under distancing guidelines or who meet without wearing masks.
As we’ve said before, please be sure to follow social distancing during lunches when masks must be removed. Do this by staggering lunch hours and utilizing all available conference rooms and open areas on campus. As the winter months approach, which makes eating outdoors more difficult, we are working on ways of expanding spaces available for a safe, socially-distanced lunch. Stay tuned.
Our tremendous success to date—which has demonstrated the ability to safely get our work done and be essentially 100% effective at our jobs despite these extraordinary circumstances—underscores our resilience, tenacity, and perseverance. I am very proud of what we have achieved and continue to achieve together. Let’s keep up this outstanding work.
Update on research laboratory operations (09/08/2020)
As Labor Day marks the official start of a new academic year, it’s a good time to take stock of the past six months and set a course for the coming year. First, I want to thank all of our students, postdoctoral fellows, and other research staff for their hard work and conscientiousness in getting our research operations back towards normal over the past few months. Your dedication and effectiveness have been an inspiration to our community. At the same time, I am delighted to report that we have had zero positive COVID-19 cases since early June which is due in large part to everyone’s careful adherence to infection control, in particular, wearing face masks everywhere on campus, maximizing social distancing, and practicing enhanced hygiene.
A few thoughts for the new academic year:
- Everyone should aim to work at 100% effort and get their careers back on track. Recall that New York City and State have consistently deemed everyone engaged in medical research as essential employees, which makes it possible for everyone to get their work done and get on with their lives.
- Maintain correct wearing of face masks ubiquitously on campus (covering mouth and nose). This is more effective than most vaccines.
- Maintain social distancing except when necessary for experiments and minimize those times without social distancing.
- Some desk carrels in our laboratories are spaced <6’ apart. Minimize such time by performing many tasks (reading, writing, analyzing data, Zoom meetings) in other settings (open areas, conference rooms, home, etc.). Staggering work hours is also very helpful.
- Departments/institutes/divisions can consider purchasing plexiglass dividers to provide greater separation for closely spaced desks, but in most cases this shouldn’t be needed due to the above measures.
- Be particularly observant at lunch, when masks are down and social distancing is especially important. Please use any and all conference rooms, open areas, outside spaces, etc. and stagger lunch hours.
- Many of us are resuming 1:1 meetings with members of our labs and with other colleagues. This is safe but only when people sit ≥6’ apart and wear masks correctly throughout the meetings.
- Lab meetings and other small group meetings are also allowable but again only when everyone is sitting ≥6’ apart and wearing masks correctly.
- In all cases, anyone who is uncomfortable with in-person meetings should be allowed to meet by Zoom except when such in-person meetings are required to get work done.
- People engaged in computational work can continue to work from home but should come to campus any time as required by their research.
- Our medical center is following a rigorous methodology to test symptomatic people (at no charge to them) and to track any close contacts of those individuals. We are confident that this methodology is what the science recommends. (By contrast, please see why frequent, universal testing is deemed not scientifically sound under the present conditions by Mount Sinai’s infectious disease experts and advisors—second entry on attached email.)
- This year’s recruitment efforts—for new graduate and medical students, new postdocs, and new faculty—will present particular challenges for us all but I am confident that we will devise imaginative and creative solutions that will continue our track record of being the very best and recruiting the most diverse workforce possible.
- We will be developing new laboratory space on the West side of Manhattan in close proximity to Mount Sinai West and expect to have this space available in early 2022. This is just the latest demonstration that we are open for business and continuing with our exciting strategic plan to grow and build our biomedical research efforts.
On behalf of our entire leadership at the medical center, I want to thank all of our students, postdocs, research staff, and faculty for getting Mount Sinai’s research enterprise back on track after an extraordinary challenge this past spring, We are in this together and with everyone’s vigilance and discipline we can continue to get our work done while keeping everyone safe.
This coming year will be different for sure, but let’s make it as successful, safe, and productive as any other.
COVID-19 Updates – Graduate Students & Postdocs Impact (09/04/2020)
Heartfelt Appreciation for All That You Do
Dear Students and Postdocs,
Your commitment and dedication to Mount Sinai’s basic science and translational research enterprise during this unprecedented time continues to be an inspiration for all of us. Your contributions have not gone unnoticed, and we will make sure to bring them to the attention of the Board of Trustees during upcoming meetings this month.
So many of us, at Mount Sinai, in New York, and around the world, have been asked to push forward and to keep doing more, even while we are simultaneously expected to make sacrifices. It is not easy to show up for our coworkers, to press on with our research, and to look after one another, at a time when the potential detriments to all our mental and physical health range from smaller inconveniences, such as not being able to visit easily with friends, to very serious threats to the health of family and loved ones. The current times are not easy for us, and so we know they are not easy for you, either.
Your enthusiasm, generosity, and incessant work during one of the most challenging times in your personal and professional lives exemplify the spirit of Mount Sinai and make us extremely proud of our trainees.
A very heartfelt thank-you for all you are doing,
Marta Filizola and Eric Nestler
Scientific Basis for No Routine, Universal COVID-19 Testing
There has been considerable debate—both scientific and political—about the value of mass-testing individuals for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). Certain colleges and universities have instituted routine (weekly or even more frequent) viral testing for all undergraduate students as part of their reopening strategies, although testing of graduate and professional students and faculty remains voluntary on most campuses.
Our position is that there is no compelling scientific basis for routine, universal testing under the current circumstances. First, infection rates in the NY metropolitan area are extremely low at the present time: the percent of tests that will come back positive would be infinitesimally small. Second, getting a negative test result means little when one is feeling well; tomorrow one may be ill and have a virus level high enough to possibly give a positive result. Third, the SARS-CoV-2 testing platforms that are amenable to testing many thousands of people on a regular basis have very high false negative results—up to 40% in some studies. A negative result is therefore even less useful than meets the eye. Conversely, in the setting of low incidence in the community, the likelihood of false positive results increases when testing asymptomatic persons. By contrast, testing asymptomatic persons who are returning from an area with high risk for transmission is useful. Fourth, from an epidemiological point of view, routine testing—in the face of rare infection—is only useful when everyone involved is in a bubble—truly quarantined. Students in Aron Hall, whether graduate or medical students, do not even remotely fall into this category. Finally, a negative test result under these conditions can give people false confidence to let their guard down with respect to recommended precautions (universal masking, social distancing, etc.).
A far more effective regime—which we are following—is to monitor community rates of positivity in both the Mount Sinai community as well as more broadly throughout NYC, through targeted testing, and to assiduously test people who become symptomatic or who have known close contacts. We then perform contact tracing and isolate people who test positive and furlough their close contacts. An important feature is to pay particularly close attention to those with underlying conditions who are more susceptible to the deleterious effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Schools that are performing weekly or more frequent testing of students are doing so more to demonstrate that they’re doing something, not for sound scientific reasons. We think this may be counter-productive by giving people a false sense of security and being lax about general precautions which are extremely effective in preventing infection.
The most effective ways to prevent transmission of COVID-19 remain social distancing and wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment for the situation—in the labs this means a face mask. You should always wear a face covering in public and a surgical mask on campus including in research, clinical, and public arenas.
We will continue to monitor our conditions very closely and keep our community informed.
Infection Prevention Updates for Students from the ISMMS Education Infection Prevention Team
We are writing with some Infection Prevention (IP) updates since our last communications. We will send another more comprehensive update next week that addresses testing data as well as other infection prevention topics. As a reminder below are the general IP guidelines that must be strictly followed on and off campus:
General Infection Prevention Guidelines
All members of our community must:
- Social distance whenever possible
- Practice frequent hand hygiene
- Wear face coverings in public
- Wear surgical masks in the school arena
- Clean high-touch surfaces
Exposures and Contact Tracing
We have had two recent situations in which students were exposed to a known positive person with COVID-19. Both were social contacts. Students with an exposure to a known positive person with documented COVID-19 are contacted by both Mount Sinai and New York City contact tracers. Close contacts are required to quarantine for 14 days. Close contacts have a PCR test 5-7 days after contact in order to establish whether isolation is necessary, but must complete their 14-day quarantine even with a negative PCR. To avoid being a close contact, always practice social distancing and mask wearing.
Note that the definitions of close contact in the healthcare setting (clinical arena) and the educational, research or social setting are different, per CDC, state and institutional guidance.
If a close contact occurs in the healthcare setting (clinical arena), it is defined by Mount Sinai Healthcare System as an interaction within the previous 48 hours with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 where all the following criteria are met:
- The interaction was longer than 15 minutes
- The interaction occurred closer than 6 feet apart
- One participant or both participants were not wearing a face covering*
If a close contact occurs in an educational, research or social setting*, it is defined by NYS Department of Health as an interaction within the previous 48 hours with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 where all the following criteria are met:
- The interaction was longer than 10 minutes
- The interaction occurred closer than 6 feet apart
*The recent NYC DOHMH definition of close contact in a research, educational or social setting is here and does not allow for closer than 6 feet for longer than 10 minutes even if masked
We are all in need of social contact so this is challenging. But please protect yourself, your colleagues, your friends, your family and patients. The students who had a close contact with a known positive had their educational progression disrupted. This is critically important. They were simply eating lunch with friends and colleagues. These are trying times but we all must be vigilant.
Thank you to those who have partnered with us during this pandemic. The point prevalence PCR testing, the testing of the incoming students, and the testing of travelers have all been successful. The incoming student testing is almost done and we will share data and results with you next week when it is complete. We are also working on a dashboard to share the student related data used in policy decisions, which will be rolled out in the coming weeks. Please stay tuned for more information regarding this.
Please continue to fill out the Travel Registration Form at least one week in advance for each trip you are planning to take, as it is imperative that we follow guidelines to keep each other healthy. Registering on this form is critical for our ability to alert you of the need for testing and/or quarantining. Make sure you review the Travel Policy and Infection Prevention FAQ before travel. It is your responsibility to be aware of NYS and ISMMS policies regarding quarantine and testing, and how it may affect your health and your academic progress. Note that decisions about testing for students returning from non-hot spot states are made on a case by case basis, taking into account current data trends. If we determine that you require testing after you return, the IP team will reach out to you directly.
We all need to work together to keep our communities healthy. Please know that maintaining public health requires a strong and responsible community that protects one another. We are partnering with Student Council representatives to include student voices in these conversations. If you have questions or concerns please contact us at StudentInfectionPrevention@lists.mssm.edu.
The ISMMS Education Infection Prevention Team
Questions can be directed to: StudentInfectionPrevention@lists.mssm.edu
Health / Wellness Resources
Student Health is unable to accept walk-in visits due to social distancing requirements. Please schedule appointments via MyChart or by calling 212-241-6023 during regular business hours.
Some of the mental health resources available to all trainees at Mount Sinai are listed below.
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;
Student Trainee Mental Health
9 am – 5 pm: 212-659-8805
After hours 24/7 support hotline dedicated specifically for Mount Sinai Students and Trainees. 212-241-2400 (or 1-866-339-7725).
Trainee Health and Wellness Committee (THAW)
Wellness events open to all employees through Sinai Calm
COVID19 Testing for Postdocs
The current COVID-19 Testing Policy for Employees applies to postdocs and is maintained by Employee Health Services. Please take a moment to review it.
Postdoc Travel Policy
The MSHS travel policy for employees, including postdocs, contains significant new quarantine rules, growing out of the New York State policy on “hot spots.” If you are thinking of traveling outside New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, please review this policy carefully. Also, be sure to check the latest state hot spot list, as it changes frequently. And please know that exceptions to the new quarantine rules will be extremely rare. If you are traveling to a hot spot, you should expect to quarantine when you get back.
Emergency Postdoctoral Trainee Support Fund
The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences has established an Emergency Postdoctoral Trainee Support Fund. Following a generous gift from an initial donor, several faculty members have pledged their financial support to help us grow this new resource. Please go here to access instructions for requesting funds, including some updated FAQs. To apply for assistance, complete the GSBS Emergency Request Form. Applications are now being reviewed, and applicants are being contacted by the Graduate School on a rolling basis. Applications will be reviewed until the fund has been depleted. You may contact Bradley Gano, Associate Dean for Graduate School Administration, at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Financial Aid Relief Grant for Students
The Emergency Grant provides one-time financial assistance to currently enrolled ISMMS students who are unable to meet immediate essential expenses, because of current hardship related to COVID-19. If you had an emergency attributed to COVID-19, please complete the ISMMS Emergency Request Form. You may contact LaVerne Walker, Director of Student Financial Services, at email@example.com should you have any questions. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis and available until the school’s allocation has been depleted. Students with immediate need should complete the form as soon as possible.
Laboratories - Getting Back to Work – August 1 Update (07/31/2020)
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)
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)
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
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)
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)
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)
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!