WPI Plans for Fall Opening Latest Information

The university has already begun the process of resuming on-campus research. To date, there are more than 70 labs open with 300+ researchers adjusting well to the new guidelines. The process began as a phased, deliberate, and guided approach and continues into the summer months.

Our guiding philosophy has been and will continue to be protecting and supporting our community, both by mitigating the risk and extent of viral infections and by finding safe and creative ways to restart research on campus. We are asking for your help and your patience in this reopening effort, as we cannot do it alone.

WPI’s Research Lab Reopening Guidance document (originally drafted in May) lays out critical information on WPI’s evolving approach to resuming on-campus research, the responsibilities of all members of our research community, and the principles guiding our efforts. You may wish to download the complete Research Lab Reopening Guidelines document.

Established Timelines

The university continues to manage the resumption of on-campus labs in phases, based on access priorities and estimated timelines presented below:

1. Critical research – May 26 (completed)
• Research where a delay would have significant financial impacts.
• Research where a delay would catastrophically disrupt the project or protocol.

2. Time-sensitive existing research – June 8 (completed)
• Research where further pause or deferral would lead to significant delay or loss of research results.
• Research where further deferral would lead to inability of students to graduate.

3. Critical new on-campus research – June 22 (ongoing)
• New research where a delay would have critical impact on the commitments to sponsors, on the faculty’s research program, and on the ability of students to graduate.

4. Expansion of on-campus research – August (estimated)
• All research that must be done in-person is permitted on campus.

Remote Activity

Research and lab activities that can be conducted remotely at this time should continue to be conducted remotely. Research meetings must continue to be held virtually.

Because the resumption of on-campus research will require careful orchestration of people, all principal investigators (PIs) and center directors are being asked to develop detailed written plans for their labs. Please see information below regarding Resumption of Research Activities.

Visitors Update

Human subjects research that requires in-person interaction is not allowed at this time, but will be permitted in future phases. We will continue to communicate as decisions and plans are made later this summer. Meanwhile, PIs are encouraged to find alternate ways to continue this research. Plans for restarting in-person interaction in human subjects research in the future should be discussed with the Vice Provost for Research. 

In addition, visitor access to core facilities at WPI is limited at this time. Should you need request access for a visitor at WPI, please discuss this with the Vice Provost for Research.

Researchers Return to Campus Laboratories

Four months after WPI restricted nearly all campus access—closing labs and sending researchers home—because of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers are carefully returning to their labs. A total of 90 principal investigators have received approval to re-start on-campus operations, and about 15 other investigators are seeking approval to return.

Resumption of Research Activities

  • Procedure for Requesting On-Campus Lab Access

    All principal investigators (PIs) and center directors who manage on-campus labs, facilities, and centers must take the following steps to request access to their labs on-campus:

    1. Carefully review this Research Lab Reopening Guidance and the Return to Campus Guidance.
    2. Draft a Laboratory Reopening and Social Distancing Plan that complies with the Laboratories Checklist issued by Massachusetts. Use the template available here (WPI login required). Laboratory Reopening and Social Distancing Plans are required even for labs that have continued on-campus operations since March 2020.
    3. Draft a Research Personnel List. Use the template available here (WPI login required)
    4. Submit your plan and personnel list for approval by uploading via the Research Lab Reopening Webform and completing the additional questions therein. The Research Lab Reopening Webform is available here (WPI login required).
    5. Complete COVID-19 training with EHS prior to returning to campus and sign the acknowledgement. This training must be completed by all PIs, center directors, and the researchers in their labs. The training consists of two modules: Module 1 and Module 2 (WPI login and VPN required).
  • Drafting Laboratory Reopening and Social Distancing Plans & Research Personnel Lists

    Please review this Research Lab Reopening Guidance, the Return to Campus Guidance, and the Laboratories Checklist issued by Massachusetts when you draft your Laboratory Reopening and Social Distancing Plan and your Research Personnel List.

    We recognize that our researchers operate in a wide variety of contexts and that PIs and center directors will need to use their judgment to customize their Laboratory Reopening and Social Distancing Plans and Research Personnel Lists. For example, some researchers may already work in isolation, while others may operate in tight lab spaces that will require strict social distancing practices and alternating work schedules. Please customize your plan to the best of your ability, discuss it with your team, and draw upon your professional network by consulting colleagues in your department, your mentors, or those who do similar research for input on your plan.

    If you need to update your Laboratory Reopening and Social Distancing Plan or your Research Personnel List at any point after it has been approved, you will need to resubmit these documents for approval.

    We acknowledge that some questions remain unanswered. WPI’s Research Lab Reopening Guidance and Return to Campus Guidance will be evaluated and updated regularly to ensure compliance with all federal, state, and local guidelines and best practices.

  • Approval Process

    The Office of the Vice Provost for Research (VPR) will share each Laboratory Reopening and Social Distancing Plan and Research Personnel List submitted with the relevant department head (and center director, if applicable), the Director of EHS, and the Research Approval Committee.

    The Research Approval Committee is comprised of the VPR, the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies, and the Chair of the Committee on Graduate Studies & Research (CGSR).

    The Research Approval Committee will evaluate each plan and will consider: the input from the relevant department head (and center director, if applicable) and the Director of EHS; the requirements of WPI’s Research Lab Reopening Guidance and the Return to Campus Guidance; and the access priorities listed above. The Research Approval Committee will make a recommendation to approve or deny the plan and submit this recommendation to the leadership of WPI’s Coronavirus Emergency Response Team (CERT).  The CERT leadership will officially approve or deny plans on a rolling basis. 

    If a plan is approved, the VPR will communicate this outcome to the PI or center director. PIs and center directors will be responsible for sharing their approved plans with their researchers prior to returning to labs on-campus. If a plan is denied, the VPR will communicate next steps to the PI or center director, which may include revising and resubmitting the plan or delaying the return to the lab on-campus until a future date.

    Please remember that lack of compliance with WPI’s Return to Campus Guidance, Research Lab Reopening Guidance, the lab’s specific Laboratory Reopening and Social Distancing Plan will result in the revocation of lab access privileges.

Additional Research Lab Reopening Plan Guidance

  • Reduce Density of People in Lab and Shared Facilities
    1. Prioritize on-campus research based on the access priorities below and phase-in the return to labs across campus.
    2. Limit laboratory access to essential research personnel.  Visitors are not permitted. Only approved, critical vendors will be allowed on campus and in the labs.  Deliveries should be completed in designated areas. PIs and center directors must keep a daily log (name, contact information) of all persons who have accessed the lab, including vendors.
    3. Reduce the density of researchers in the lab.
      • For example, create sub-teams with distinct schedules (e.g., Sub-team A works M-W-F, or mornings) to reduce density in the lab and limit cross-team contact. Some possible options for scheduling sub-teams are available here (WPI login required).
    4. Ensure separation of 6 feet or more between researchers at fixed working positions in the lab unless this distance is unsafe due to the nature of the work or the configuration of the space.  Designate workspaces in the lab that are a minimum of 6 feet apart.
      • All research and activities that can be done remotely should continue to be done remotely, such as office work, data analysis, drafting papers and presentations, notebook recordings, and meetings.
    5. Work with the research team to determine research priorities and adjust expectations and research plans in light of reduced laboratory time.
    6. Consider having teams share responsibilities, so each person can easily cover and share other teammates’ responsibilities as needed.
    7. Continue to conduct virtual meetings for any group discussions, even if you are in the  same building.
    8. Use visual reminders (such as tape on the floor and signage) of proper social distancing around shared equipment, fume hoods, biosafety cabinets, etc.
    9. Develop schedules for access to shared core instrumentation facilities and shared spaces.
    10. Remember that shared common spaces, such as kitchenettes, breakrooms, and conference rooms, have been closed or reconfigured to allow for 6 feet of physical distancing.
  • Implement Best Practices to Reduce Transmission of Infection

    As we reopen labs on the campus, we must strive to mitigate the spread of any infection by implementing the following best practices:

    1. All WPI employees, including researchers, must follow the Return to Campus Guidance at all times, including training, daily monitoring of symptoms, staying home when sick, wearing cloth face coverings, etc.
    2. Follow all building and lab-specific signage, including elevator limits, one-way hallways and stair wells, restroom limits, etc.
    3. Avoid any direct contact between researchers in the laboratory and others on campus, if possible. Researchers must remain in their assigned lab or floor, when possible, to limit movement throughout the building and to minimize contact with others on campus.  Researchers should also operate as if lab-mates are potentially infectious.
    4. Always wear a cloth face covering (or the appropriate PPE required by the research) when in the lab.
      • Cloth face coverings are not PPE and may not be used to substitute for masks or respirators when PPE is required by the research.
      • Each lab is encouraged to purchase masks and other PPE sufficient to carry out their research-related activities in the short term.  Please contact your department head or EHS regarding the purchase of PPE, as it is in limited supply.
      • Cloth face coverings are not required when wearing them would introduce a safety hazard or where an individual is unable to wear a cloth face covering due to a medical condition or disability.  In such cases, individuals must practice social distancing to the greatest degree possible.
    5. Wash your hands frequently. Researchers are strongly encouraged to perform an extended and thorough soap-and-water hand washing (or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol) upon entry into and prior to exiting from the lab, and on a regular basis during lab occupancy.
    6. Clean and disinfect your own labs at least daily and more frequently if feasible. Review EHS guidance on cleaning and disinfecting laboratories here.
      • WPI has provided cleaning supplies for each lab in centralized locations, however labs will be required to provide and source their own cleaning supplies and 70% alcohol solutions for cleaning and disinfecting sensitive equipment, as appropriate. Please contact your department head or EHS regarding the purchase of cleaning supplies, as they are in limited supply.
      • Each lab must maintain a cleaning log that includes the date, time, and scope of cleaning.
      • Facilities will continue to clean and disinfect the common areas of the building at least daily and more frequently as needed, in accordance with the Return to Campus Guidance.
      • If there is a positive COVID-19 case in a lab, WPI will shut down the lab and other areas of campus (as needed) and engage the EHS HAZMAT team to properly deep clean and disinfect areas of suspected infection with COVID-19 in accordance with current CDC guidance.
    7. Establish a schedule and clean and disinfect shared surfaces, shared instruments, and high-touch surfaces at least daily and more frequently if feasible
      • Implement wipe-downs of all shared surfaces, shared instruments, and high-touch surfaces after each use, and again at the end of a team shift.
      • These include instruments, workstations, benchtops, doors and equipment handles, tables, screens, keyboards, cabinet handles, hoods, etc., to reduce the likelihood of person-surface-person transmission.
      • For shared spaces, identify who is responsible for cleaning the space.
      • For shared equipment, identify how it can be cleaned and who is responsible.
      • Maintain a cleaning log that includes the date, time, and scope of cleaning.
    8. Clean safety glasses and non-disposable gloves daily with warm soapy water. 
      • Do not share safety glasses or gloves.
      • Wearing gloves does not reduce the surface-hand-face transmission mechanism. When wearing gloves to protect from hazardous materials (radioactivity, BSL2 materials such as human cells or genetic materials, chemicals), dispose or set aside these gloves before contacting general use surfaces such as doors, freezers, or general laboratory equipment.
    9. Do not eat in the lab. No food or drink is permitted in the labs at any time.
    10. Improve ventilation for enclosed spaces where possible by using mechanical ventilation and hoods in labs.
  • Prioritize Communication & Safety
    1. Once approved, PIs and center directors will distribute their Laboratory Reopening and Social Distancing Plan and proposed work schedule to the research team.
    2. Researchers should consider this Research Lab Reopening Guidance, the Return to Campus Guidance, and all other WPI guidance to be an extension of the plans and supervisors should ensure that all lab members understand what is expected.
    3. WPI encourages researchers who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 to work remotely or arrange for an alternate work assignment. If you have questions about accommodations, please contact Heather Mulry in Talent & Inclusion.
    4. All researchers must complete COVID-19 training for researchers with EHS prior to returning to campus and sign the acknowledgement. This training for researchers covers COVID-19 hygiene and other safety measures specific to working in labs. The training consists of two modules: Module 1 and Module 2 (WPI login and VPN required). The text of the acknowledgment is available here.
    5. WPI, PIs, and center directors will post visible signage throughout the building to remind researchers of health information and safety measures and protocols.
    6. Lack of compliance with this guidance and the lab-specific plan will result in revocation of laboratory access privileges.
  • Be Prepared for Illness

    Anticipate the possibility of illness among researchers. PIs and center directors must ensure that all researchers who return to labs on campus are aware of their reporting obligations in the event they test positive for COVID-19 or come into close contact with someone who has tested positive. Please follow the guidelines in the Return to Campus Guidance. PIs and center directors should track the illness and absence rate for their staff and identify any trends for the VPR.

  • Be Prepared to Shut Down or Ramp Down

    Be prepared to shut down or rapidly ramp down research in on-campus labs on short notice. Given the possibility that research will have to be scaled back again with little notice, we encourage you to ramp up research that can be ramped down quickly and with relatively little cost and complexity.

Additional adjustments to our reopening plan and operations may be needed based on updated guidance and public health trends. We recommend you check back regularly for the latest updates.