Published June 26, 2020
Dear School of Medicine Faculty, Staff, and Trainees,
As we work to ramp up our laboratory based research, we have sought your input on this process. On June 9th, the OVCR launched a Laboratory Research Ramp-up Survey to get feedback on experiences with the transition from Red Level to Orange Level. Specifically, we wanted to know about the communications, access, precautions, guidelines, the screening process, and any other issues or concerns outside those areas.
There were over 1,000 School of Medicine respondents to our Laboratory Research Ramp-up Survey. Thank You! The results of this survey and your comments helped us identify areas that need improvement as we ramp up to the yellow level for laboratory-based research.
Overall, the data indicated most respondents (66%) found the ramp-up process to be easy or relatively easy, and only 13% found the process to be difficult or extremely difficult; and 75% of you were comfortable increasing your time on campus.
Around 90% of respondents indicated they had adequate communication about the ramp-up plans for their labs and shared spaces. Because there were some who indicated that they did not have adequate information, we have asked all PIs to review the lab and shared spaces ramp-up plans with everyone in their labs, and to revise as needed. Everyone working in a lab should have a copy of the ramp up plans as well as the schedule for your lab. If you do not have a copy, ask your PI (or if necessary your division chief or department chair).
With respect to the precautions and guidelines, more than 92% responded that people in their labs and shared spaces were wearing masks all or most of the time, and that people were physically distancing in shared lab spaces. Two problem areas were break areas (14% indicated that they had difficulty finding a place to take a break) and physical distancing within the lab (15% indicated that people were not physically distancing all or most of the time). We will be working on providing more break areas (we have encouraged departments to use conference rooms as break rooms), and want to remind everyone that physical distancing in the lab is important. We do recognize that some procedures may require having people closer than 6 feet, and there is a new FAQ with guidance posted on how to manage this.
Most found the self-screen (83%) and check-in (79%) stations easy/somewhat easy.
In the free text sections, there were many comments. We have grouped them into themes, and provided responses below.
The transition to orange felt rushed, PIs did not seem to have enough time to put together plans that comprehensively covered everything.
- On May 18th, the Medical Campus announced that the laboratory-based research can begin the ramp-up from Red Level to Orange Level as early as May 20th, providing that plans have been approved and all preparations are complete. It is apparent that the short notice evoked a sense of pressure for labs to ramp-up quickly. We recognize that we should have clarified in the announcement that departments and labs were not expected to open up on that date. For the transition from Orange Level to Yellow Level we provided more notice for labs to initiate the planning process. We also emphasized that, although June 26th is earliest labs can start transitioning, they are not required to transition on that date, and not all at once. We are hopeful PIs and departments understand that only after careful review of their plans with their lab personnel, revisions and additional planning, communication with their laboratory personnel, and readiness, should they increase activity at a pace that is convenient and appropriate for their labs.
There was not clarity about the guidelines.
- When we announced the transition from Orange Level to Yellow Level we clarified and highlighted the key points about expectations for the transition. For more details on the ramp-up process, visit the OVCR website. If you have questions or need further clarifications about the guidance documents, contact my Chief of Staff, Johnnie Cartwright (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The communication on how to address shared spaces was not great.
- Details on how to address shared equipment/lab support rooms, elevators, restrooms, corridors, breakrooms, and areas of potential congestion should be addressed in the common area plans. These should have been developed by the relevant PIs, the floor, the division, the center, or department, depending on who is sharing the space. All plans should be reviewed and adjusted if necessary, and then shared with all of the lab and departmental personnel who use the space prior to moving to the yellow level. If you do not get a copy of these plans, ask your PI, division director, department chair, or center director, depending on who is appropriate.
There were issues about non-compliance with masking and physical distancing.
- We have received complaints about people failing to follow our COVID-19 guidelines, such as universal masking, physical distancing, daily self-screening, and staying home when feeling ill. This is a significant culture change for our research community, and it may take a little time for everyone to adjust. We are working on education and communication materials to help with this culture change. During this time we should exercise patience and gently remind our colleagues to wear a mask and keep appropriate distance from each other. However, if you have concerns or witness persistent unsafe behaviors and non-compliance, report the issue to your supervisor, Division Chief, Department Head, or Associate/Vice Dean for Research. If you still have concerns, visit this link to report your concern.
There is inadequate staffing for check in stations, especially during off hours and weekends.
- The hours of operation for each check-in station hours will vary by location. Please visit Medical Campus Screening Locations to see the list of locations and hours of operations. If you do not encounter a screening station at your normal entry location, we ask that you use another entrance where a screening station is in operation. We recognize the challenge of finding an active check-in station outside of peak hours. Therefore, we have changed the policy, and researchers arriving before 6:30 a.m. M-F, after 3 p.m. M-F, anytime on the weekends, or who do not pass a check-in station on the way to their lab, now have the option to do the WashU self-screen, and then email the result to a person designated by your PI (PI, lab manager, safety officer, etc.) in their group.
The requirement to perform the self-screening and stop at a check-in screening station seem redundant. Why do we have to do both?
- Both the self-screening and the check in stations are important for a multi-layered approach to ensuring that people with symptoms do not come to campus. Many of us are committed to our research and in the past have come to campus even when not feeling well. We need multiple reminders to stay home when we have symptoms. Anyone feeling pressure to come to campus when experiencing symptoms should discuss it with their PI, Division Chief, Department Head, Associate Dean for Research (as appropriate), or report it here. Finally, the school is looking at alternative solutions to the check-in stations.
Thank you all for your feedback, and I appreciate everyone that is doing their part to make the ramp-up successful!
Jennifer Lodge, PhD
Vice Chancellor for Research