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The university is in the middle of resuming on-campus research. To date, most, if not all, labs that require in-person work are open with researchers adjusting well to the new guidelines. The process began as a phased, deliberate, and guided approach and continues into the Fall semester.

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 of performing research on campus during the pandemic. We are asking for your help and your patience in this effort, as we cannot do it alone.

WPI’s  Research Lab Reopening Guidelines document (originally drafted in May and updated in July) lays out critical information on WPI’s  approach to resuming on-campus research, the responsibilities of all members of our research community, and the principles guiding our efforts. While some of the processes have changed (see below), the principles and general guidelines outlined in this document still constitute the framework under which we perform on-campus in-person research this Fall. 

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 (completed)
• 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 (ongoing)
• All research that must be done in-person is permitted on campus.

Guiding Principles

  1. WPI supports and protects our faculty and students’ research enterprises.
  2. WPI prioritizes the health and safety of our researchers.
  3. WPI works to ensure that social distancing and practices to reduce transmission of infection are implemented in labs and shared spaces.
  4. WPI works to ensure that there is open communication and that WPI responds to any concerns appropriately, such as compliance with this guidance and in response to positive COVID-19 cases.
  5. WPI must be nimble and prepared to ramp down or shut down on-campus research on short notice.

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.

Procedure for Requesting On-Campus Lab Access in Phase 4

With the beginning of A-Term, access to Campus and labs has become part of the departments’ reopening plans, and any lab access approvals and monitoring of lab occupancy is the responsibility of the department heads. The principles and guidelines used for reopening labs in earlier phases remain the same and still apply, and department heads are advised to require faculty to complete a reopening and social distancing plan similar in format and content to those required in earlier phases.

Human Subjects Research

Any human subjects research that can be done remotely should continue to be performed remotely. In order to be allowed to re-start or commence in-person human subjects research, the study director needs to complete the Research Lab Reopening process (if not previously completed) and the “Research Plan Update: Conducting In-Person Human Subjects Research During COVID-19” that outlines appropriate safety precautions. 

A request to re-start or commence in-person human subjects research needs to be approved following the approval of re-opening the lab. If this has not been prior to the start of A-Term, this approval process will be handled by the respective department head.

In-person human subjects research presents unique issues. In addition to the Guidance above, all researchers conducting human subjects research on campus are required to comply with these guidelines

External Research Partners

Research partners may only have access to WPI labs and research facilities if such access is essential. Any research that can be done remotely should continue to be performed remotely. All principal investigators (PIs) and center directors who manage on-campus labs, facilities, and centers must follow these guidelines. These guidelines apply to external research partners – collaborating researchers and corporate partners. They do not apply to visitors touring a WPI laboratory or research facility.

Scheduling Lab Space and Monitoring Occupancy

In order to facilitate lab space scheduling, occupancy monitoring, and contact tracing, we are in the process of creating booking calendars for your spaces. It has been determined that Bookings was a tool to be used for this and several other types of booking activities on campus, accessible from the web Schedule Research Lab as well as from the WPI mobile app. We have been working to adapt it to our groups of users’ needs. You will need to let your students know to use Bookings for lab access. Some departments have opted to not post the links but to give the students the link to the bookings calendar; when this is the case, it’s indicated on the website.If you want to access your calendar(s)—one calendar for each lab/space—please follow these instructions:

  • From myapps.microsoft.com (or the “waffle” in the upper left corner of Microsoft web-based apps), click to open Bookings.
  • Under the Bookings calendar name, choose Open and search for the name of your calendar by entering the beginning of its name. Each space will have a separate calendar.
  • In the menu on the left, click to open Calendar and you will see reservation blocks. Click open the item to see details about it, including who has made a reservation. Use week or work-week view so you don’t see multiple calendars.

 

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.

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.

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