Research Townhall FAQs (3/18/2020)

What are the guidelines for skeleton crews?

Each lab should select 2-3 (4 for only labs with very large animal colonies) to serve as skeleton crews. The identity of these individuals can change over time. Members of the skeleton crews are considered essential employees and will not be affected adversely by the Governor’s new stay-at-home order. Make sure to have your Mount Sinai IDs with you.

What happens if a member of a skeleton crew gets sick?

People should come to lab if they are selected by their PI as part of the lab’s skeleton crew. A person who is symptomatic (cold/flu symptoms) should immediately leave the lab, go home, and self-quarantine. And notify their PI so that the PI can appoint someone else to substitute on the skeleton crew as well as get help to clean the area occupied by that sick person.

Can I be forced to serve on a skeleton crew?

If you do not feel comfortable coming to the lab, then you should tell your PI. If your PI feels there is no one else who can serve essential functions, then this should be brought to Dr. Nestler for adjudication.

What do I do if I cannot perform meaningful work at home?

We would love to deploy employees who cannot work remotely and who can assist the health system in clinical and non-clinical areas. If you cannot work remotely and are a visa holder please speak with international ersonnel on alternate work options. If you are not a visa holder, please contact Caryn Tiger-Paillex or Danielle Tyson to get more information about being redeployed by the staffing labor pool.

How long will these restrictions on laboratory research continue?

We simply do not know and it is impossible to estimate. The best we can do is keep you updated as we learn more.

Are there plans to close any of our research buildings? Do research staff still have access to their labs if they need to check on things, get data, etc?

Everyone with a Mount Sinai ID will continue to have access to our facilities. There are no plans to close or lock down our buildings at the present time. People will be allowed access to their labs if they need to collect data, etc. This should be coordinated with your PI and lab skeleton crew to ensure no more than 2-3 people are on hand at any point in time.

Are there plans for research space to be reallocated for clinical care?

Research space will not be used to expand clinical care capacity. Other contingency plans are under way to accomplish that goal.

Will there be a way to onboard new postdocs/staff to work remotely?

Yes. For positions that are needed (pending Position Control approval), we will onboard individuals as usual with virtual orientation. For any non-U.S. individuals who are scheduled to join us, we will have to confirm whether or not they can still travel (if out of the country, probably not). For grant-funded positions, we are moving forward with business as usual as much as we can, if not, we are reviewing on a case-by-case basis.

What are directions from CCMS?

The most recent correspondence from CCMS can be found here.

Will we be allowed to order animals?

No. The only animal purchases that will be approved effective immediately are to support Covid-19 research.

I’m new to the institution and have not yet had my CCMS orientation. What should I do?

Investigators who are new to the institution and have not yet had animal research orientation should contact CCMS to get this scheduled. You should get orientation in case you’re needed to care for your lab’s animals as part of a skeleton crew.

Am I allowed to start new experiments?

No. All work with laboratory animals—outside that used for Covid-19 research—should wind down. Do not start new experiments. Just finish the work that is already under way and close to being completed.

How do you define Covid-19 related research?

Covid-19 related research should be obvious. Anything related to the virus, its infectivity, spread, treatment, and vaccines. If someone is not certain, they should direct inquiries to Dr. Nestler, All other research should ramp down so that within a couple of weeks there should be virtually no ongoing research that is unrelated to the viral outbreak. Designation of non-Covid-19 research as essential during the next few weeks is not a decision for the PI, but rather a decision for the Dean’s office. Direct any questions to us.

If we need to change patient contacts from in-person to telephone or video, is the IRB ready to evaluate such requested changes in an expedited manner?

Yes. The IRB is poised to be responsive to changes in protocols that will enable your clinical research studies to continue. Please contact the IRB directly, or (212) 824-8200, with your questions and contact the Dean’s Office with any concerns. Also, please see related resources on this webpage concerning clinical research.

Will we be able to submit grants during this period?

Yes! GCO and InfoEd will continue to be fully operational. We encourage people to submit MORE grants.

What is your advice on travel?

We are advising all personnel to not travel domestically or internationally. You are taking a risk if you travel as you might not be able to get back to NY.

What happens if a shelter-in-place order is given?

Any shelter-in-place order will exempt healthcare workers and biomedical researchers working on Covid-19. Any shelter-in-place order is expected to have sufficient flexibility so as not to interfere with our current plans.

What should we do if someone around you at work is symptomatic, and refused to self-quarantine at home?

You should let your PI, department/institute head, or the Dean’s office know ASAP. This is bad behavior and very poor citizenship.

Are we free to share these guidelines with others outside of the Mount Sinai community?

Yes, these communications are public. Feel free to communicate what we are doing with external collaborators.

Laboratory Infrastructure

Will deliveries continue? We will still be able to receive packages from FedEx, UPS, etc?

Deliveries will continue. This includes courier services (FedEx, UPS, etc.). Lab skeleton crews must be available to receive packages.

What about liquid nitrogen, dry ice, etc?

Deliveries of dry ice and liquid nitrogen will continue. The school has backup repository tanks which you should consider utilizing for your cell lines and other material. Cryogenic Facility:

Cryopreservation Support (Freezers, C02, Liquid Nitrogen – LN2) During COVID-19 Lab Disruptions

To: Basic Sciences Research Personnel

Reginald W. Miller, DVM, DACLAM
Dean for Research Operations & Infrastructur

Re: Cryopreservation Support (Freezers, C02, Liquid Nitrogen – LN2) During COVID-19 Lab Disruptions

Thank you for participating on the recent Basic Sciences Town Hall Webinar on March 18th. This document addresses several concerns related to cryopreservation support that came up during the call:

Liquid Nitrogen (LN2) and Carbon Dioxide (C02):

The primary vendor for LN2 and C02 in the Metropolitan NY Area is TW Smith. This vendor delivers large, 50 gallon, tanks to campus 2-3 times per week. As a critical care vendor to hospitals and other essential services, TW Smith has received approval to continue operations during emergencies as an Essential Service. Furthermore, healthcare facilities/research institutions receive priority delivery during any shortages in supply. Deliveries of LN2 will continue, without interruption. Labs should plan to have someone on site to receive scheduled deliveries. Note: By design, LN2 tanks continuously evaporate during use or storage to prevent dangerous pressure build-up. Thus, it is impractical to store extra tanks on campus to prevent shortages. Regular deliveries are the best option.

Cryogenic Storage Facility

Although deliveries are expected to continue, best practices suggest establishing back-up plans for unanticipated emergencies (natural disasters, work stoppages, etc). The use of small, Dewer LN2 units, is a common practice within many labs using cell lines.  These units, due to their small size, require frequent refilling. The ISSMS has established a Cryogenic Storage Facility outfitted with several large, stainless steel, LN2 tanks, each with a capacity for 700 boxes. These units have an LN2 tank duration of four (4) weeks.  Each tank is temperature monitored 24/7 with remote call-out features.  It is highly recommended that researchers consider establishing a back up supply of critical cell lines in this facility.  Please see below the information for the Cryogenic Storage Facility:

Cryogenic Facility

We maintain a state-of-the-art cryogenics facility for long-term storage of cell lines by ISMMS investigators. We can accommodate deposit and delivery of cells as well as viable freezing of cells on a regularly scheduled basis. You can rent a safety deposit box, which contains space for 81 individual vials for $60 per year. We can provide back-up to investigators who have their own freezers or serve as the primary means of viable cell storage. A cost estimate can be obtained by filling out a Cryogenic Facility Rental Request Form.  Contact Shen Yao at for additional information.

Freezers (-150, -80, -40) and Refrigerators (4C).

Each laboratory should ensure current contact information is attached to each freezer on campus. Contact information must include one external number for after-hours emergencies.  Ideally, each unit would also be attached to a temperature monitoring system with a remote call out feature.  Finally, where feasible, emergency power should be prioritized for (-80) freezers or other critical storage units (expensive reagents, valuable specimens). Freezers should be checked daily to ensure proper operation.

Freezer Failures:

Failures are an unfortunate reality for all mechanical equipment and freezers are no exception. These failures often occur after-hours or on weekends resulting in catastrophic losses. The ISMMS has engaged with a commercial entity, LabVendor, for after-hours responses to freezer emergencies. The company provides specimen relocation into one of the Hess Freezer Farm back-up units.

To access this service see the Hess Freezer Farm under http://

Contact: Tamjeed Sikder- Manager, Hess Freezer Farm to make arrangements for specimen transfers.  Please contact the Hess Freezer Farm if you have specific questions on this program.

Offsite Housing for Freezers:

The ISMMS has maintained an offsite freezer farm in the Bronx, NY, for many years. Storage is free to all Mount Sinai researchers. Due to the limited space on campus for freezers, shortage of emergency power, and best practice of back up storage, investigators are encouraged to explore the off-site freezer storage option. All archival samples should be maintained off-site rather than using valuable on-campus space. Please contact Shekhar Patil, PhD- Core Admin Director (, to discuss off-site freezer storage at Brooks, Inc.

Dry Ice

The campus vendor for dry ice is Dry Ice Corporation. While there are other smaller vendors, most are subcontractors with Dry Ice, Corp. This vendor is recognized as an Essential Service and thus operates during emergencies. Deliveries of dry ice will continue uninterrupted. However, during the decrease in lab activity, the amount of dry ice required will decrease as well. We must use caution in reducing dry ice delivery amounts as the vendor may prioritize those facilities with the greatest perceived need. Note: Many clinical operations also require small amounts of dry ice (specimen shipping, etc) thus reductions in deliveries may affect those areas. Any reductions in dry ice ordering should be discussed with the Dean’s office before moving forward.

The preceding guidelines should be consulted during and after this COVID-19 emergency as best practices to ensure sample protection and research continuity. Please do not hesitate to contact me directly if you have any questions or suggestions.

Where can people get bleach wipes and hand sanitizer for labs?

These are provided by Materials Management or Housekeeping.

Housekeeping: Tony Owhadi 908-307-3764, Carl Brown 347-963-8522, Edwin Mejia

Waste Operations Manager Kenneth Hardwick 347-758-0993

Are Cores open for business during this period?

Cores are open to support Covid-19 research and over the next couple of weeks to complete the ramping down phase of other essential work. Cores will not be available for non-Covid-19 studies after this ramp-down phase.

What do DSO and LSO stand for?

DSO = designated safety officer

LSO = laboratory safety officer

Who is responsible for making sure our freezers, liquid nitrogen tanks, etc. are functional?

Individual labs have this responsibility. The lab skeleton crews are responsible for ensuring continued functioning of freezers, liquid nitrogen supplies, and all other equipment. We are available to help, but this is why we need skeleton crews for each lab. Emergency contact for freezers: Tamjeed Skider, Manager, Hess Freezer Farm, 718-414-7043 or

Students and Postdocs

What do I do if I don’t feel comfortable going to work but my PI is forcing me to?

If you feel that your PI is placing you in an unsafe environment or asking for things that violate the school’s Covid-19 policies, this is considered mistreatment. You should report these types of mistreatment by completing this Feedback Form.

Are there any plans to close Aron hall?

There are no plans to close Aron Hall now. In the unlikely circumstance that Aron Hall may be needed for something else, students will be relocated elsewhere. We do not foresee this happening and hope it can be avoided.

Where do I go to get help with Zoom accounts, home access to online resources, etc?

You can sign up for a free Basic Zoom account at Basic accounts offer 1:1 meetings for unlimited time, and group meetings up to 100 participants for up to 40 mins. For most of your communications with the school you will not need Pro/Licensed Zoom accounts. All course directors, MTA directors, and chairs of committees have been given Pro/Licensed Zoom accounts to handle scheduling of virtual committee meetings, including thesis proposal and thesis defense exams. The Graduate School Office, and specifically, can assist with scheduling as well.

Also please note that core student/trainee tools like gmail, BlackBoard, Echo 360, Empower, and Levy Library content all can be accessed without a VPN. Sinai Cloud and Sinai Central can also be accessed without a VPN. Should students need VPN to access systems or data behind the firewall, they should contact the Academic IT Support Center (ASCIT): Tele: 212.241.7091, Email:

Why was timing of ramping down laboratory research different from changes made to the medical student and house staff programs?

The Graduate School moved all of its courses online at the same time as Medical Education. Research operations are not regulated by the Graduate School and it takes more time to ramp down over 300 research laboratories than moving to online educational material. In addition, our laboratories have relative low densities as compared to large classrooms. The decision to ramp down research therefore followed federal and state guidelines, which have been constantly evolving.

Will I continue to get paid during this period?

All students and postdocs who follows these guidelines will continue to get paid without using sick or vacation time.

Where can I go to get support during these very stressful times.

We have many resources available. Please go to:

Volunteer and Philanthropic Opportunities

How can we help with regard to supplies (face masks, gloves, etc.) required by the health system?

Please contact Reg Miller who is coordinating these efforts.

How do we get information about clinical studies under way at Mount Sinai related to Covid-19 in case we want to help?

Please contact Judy Aberg, Carlos Cordon-Cardo, Laura Huckins, Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, or Miriam Merad. They can in turn refer you to many others.

Are donations helpful?

Yes, financial support at this difficult time is of course most welcome. Please contact for further information.