COVID19 Laboratory Guidelines

General Guidelines for Continuity of On-going Research in Laboratories 

Restrictions on everyday activities are increasing as COVID-19 pandemic is becoming more widespread throughout the country.  The University of Texas System Chancellor announced Wednesday that starting immediately all instruction will be provided online at all the system’s universities for the rest of the Spring 2020 semester. There is also the recognition that the research enterprise will require a more customized response and each university is granted discretion to determine if research work will continue and to what extent.  

Consistent with the Centers of Disease Control (CDC)’s Guidelines, UTRGV’s Division of Research, Graduate Studies and New Program Development recognizes that each research project is unique and involves different complexity and level of challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are general guidelines for ongoing research in laboratories with the understanding that Principal Investigators (PIs) have the knowledge and expertise on how best to apply these guidelines to their individual projects. Therefore, the continuity of the research work should be determined on a case-by-case basis, with an initial determination made by each PI considering the unique operational settings.  

Please know that the primary objective of these guidelines are to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of students, faculty, and staff as well as the community, and to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  Continuation of research is important, but secondary in nature under these extenuating circumstances. Should you choose to modify or continue your research operations, these guidelines will apply to you. Keep in mind this is an evolving situation and guidelines are subject to change. 

General Guidelines:

  • All activities MUST, at least, meet the minimum standards for social distancing as per CDC, UTRGV, the State of Texas Governor’s Executive Order GA-08, and other governmental agencies. Note the Interim IRB Policy
  • All research laboratories must have a sign-in and sign-out sheet easily accessible at the entrance to the laboratory. All persons entering or leaving the lab must legibly write their name, contact phone number, and the date and time of entry and exit.  These records will be kept in the lab and made available to EHS&RM personnel as needed.
  • All lab personnel using the facility should clean all work-area surfaces when they first enter the lab and upon exit.  Use the most stringent environmental cleaning and disinfection solution as approved by UTRGV or as recommended by the CDC. Colleges, Schools, Centers, and Facilities may provide additional guidance that is stricter in nature. University personnel from EHS&RM will be available to assist in securing cleaning solutions as needed.
  • All laboratory personnel should asses their health status daily by monitoring for fever and any signs of respiratory change (coughing, shortness of breath). Lab personnel must not come to the lab if they are sick.
  • All PIs should be prepared for a complete shutdown of laboratory activity on relatively short notice. PIs must have a plan in place for their lab including closures that may be lasting in nature and be prepared. 
  • Laboratory personnel must use good judgement in confined areas, along lab benches, elevators, and other areas that may put them in close physical proximity with others.

Best Practices for Modified Laboratory Use Protocols

Reduce the likelihood of infection by decreasing the number of people in any laboratory or work place at any given time and controlling for airborne and surface spread. We suggest the following considerations:

  • Prioritize. Consider suspending/postponing lower priority projects to allow for distancing and de-population of the research space. Give priority to students needing to finish a degree, hard-to-interrupt experiments and to your most important research projects. Refrain from launching any new experiments and studies.
  • Limit room occupancy. Establish modified or extended operational hours and “split shifts” among those hours, so that fewer people are in the lab at any given time.
  • Remember to maintain a safe environment while practicing social distancing. Working alone in a potentially hazardous lab space is never encouraged.
  • Require cleaning of surfaces by lab personnel, as needed.
  • If work can be done virtually or outside the lab, proceed in this manner until further notice. This includes data analysis, literature searches, writing thesis chapters, etc.
  • Require Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as appropriate, but anticipate shortages of key PPE in the future, namely N95 masks and gowns, gloves and face shields. Begin limiting the number of personnel entering lab spaces that require donning of PPE.

 Anticipate for possible future changes

  • Prepare a shutdown plan for your lab, including a plan to address closures that may last hours, days, or weeks. Think this through carefully, including how and when deliveries may be impacted. 
  • Prepare plans for what to do if someone in your lab develops symptoms of COVID-19 or tests positive for the virus. For example: 
    • Contact Emergency Response at 956-665-2658.
    • Notify individuals potentially exposed to the virus that they should self-isolate for 14 days and contact medical provider for guidance.
    • Put a quarantine notice on the door of the lab and notify your team not to enter until laboratory has been properly cleaned and cleared by EHS&RM.
    • Work with EHS&RM to discuss proper cleaning and re-opening of the laboratory. EHS&RM will provide direct assistance and any necessary equipment/supplies to help clean the lab properly.    
  • If you have questions specific to your laboratory, please consult with your supervisor and/or the associate dean for research in your college.
  • Visit utrgv.edu/coronavirus to stay updated with the latest information regarding coronavirus and what the university is doing to mitigate the outbreak’s impact to our campus community. Division of Research, Graduate Studies and New Program Development will continue to monitor and support essential on-campus research functions and communicate updates to our research community.  

Note that many of our administrative offices are working remotely during this time. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us at research@utrgv.edu.

  • May/Should you continue UTRGV associated research activities?

    PIs may elect to continue their research activities, including work within their UTRGV research laboratories, subject to adherence to this guidance and any stricter guidance from their respective colleges, schools, centers, or facilities.  Pls should exercise discretion in pausing all or part of their operations, if it is in the best interests of the research personnel to avoid any health risks related to the COVID-19.
  • Who determines access to specific UTRGV research labs?

    • Laboratory Directors (LDs) or supervising PIs have full authority to establish safety and access protocols for individual laboratories, Core Facilities and/or research space under their supervision, up to and including closing the lab or research facility. The name and current contact information of the supervising PI or LD must be posted outside the door to such facilities, as well as any access restrictions.
    • All protocols should meet or exceed the most stringent of CDC or funding agency guidelines, as well as college or departmental requirements.
    • For laboratories shared by multiple PIs, the PIs must immediately select a supervising PI for the shared space and post their name and contact information at the entrance to the shared space.
  • Who may/may not have access to UTRGV research spaces?

    If you or your laboratory staff traveled, especially outside the country or to the states currently banned by UTRGV you should fill the required Form and stay out of campus until cleared. However, you or your staff can work from home with specific deliverables.

    • UTRGV Emergency and Safety personnel have access to all spaces at all times.
    • PIs or LDs with supervisory authority over individual laboratories or other research spaces have access to their assigned areas only.
    • Individuals explicitly approved by the supervising PI or LD of a particular area, may access the respective laboratory and must follow distancing protocols.
    • All undergraduate and graduate students, including but not limited to those working in laboratories as paid employees, should work with their supervisor to accomplish their work remotely as much as possible, following Human Resources Guidelines. Paid students may be assigned alternative work, such as writing, analyzing data, or teleworking as a substitute for normal work requirements. 
    • Laboratory staff, including postdocs, may request telework from their department chairs and/or project directors, following any policy put in place by the University and their respective colleges.
    • Group or lab meetings, including one-on-one meetings with your personnel, should be held virtually.