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Lab Research Ramp-Up to Yellow-Level Survey Results

Published October 6, 2020

Dear Faculty, Staff and Trainees,

Recently, the OVCR conducted a Laboratory Research Ramp-up Survey to get feedback since transitioning to the Yellow Level. We wanted to know about your recent experiences with the communications, access, adherence to guidelines, screening process, productivity barriers, and any other issues or challenges with the ramp-up process. The results of the survey and your comments helps us identify areas that need improvement as we continue to monitor the ramp-up activities for laboratory-based research. We thank those of you who participated in the survey and would like to share the results.

There were approximately 600 people across both campuses that responded to the survey. Overall, the data indicated most respondents (67%) found the Yellow Level ramp-up process to be extremely easy or somewhat easy, a 4% increase from our previous lab survey back in June. Only 12% found the process to be difficult or somewhat difficult; and more respondents indicated they were comfortable with conducting research on campus (80% now vs. 71% in June).

Around 77% of respondents indicated the ramp-up plans for their lab were clear and coherent; 73% indicated the plans for shared spaces (break rooms, shared equipment, etc.) were shared with them. There were some who indicated that they did not have adequate information.

Action item: We want to remind all PIs to review the lab and shared spaces ramp-up plans with everyone in their labs, and to periodically evaluate the effectiveness of the plans. Everyone working in a lab should have a copy of the ramp-up plans, as well as the schedule for the lab. If a lab member has not received a copy of the plans, or has questions, they should ask their PI.

Regarding the precautions, guidelines, and access portion of the survey, 99% responded that people in their labs and shared spaces were wearing masks all or most of the time. This is fantastic! Our experience, as well as other data, suggests that mask wearing is one of the best mechanisms to reduce the spread of COVID. People are also doing a good job (88%) physically distancing all or most of the time while in the labs. We do know that some procedures may require having people closer than 6 feet, and there is guidance posted​ on how to manage proximity work. In the comment sections, a large number of respondents expressed concerns about non-compliance with masking by people outside of the laboratories, physical distancing, and adhering to lab schedules and cohorts.

Action item: Everyone should continue to be vigilant about wearing masks, keeping physically distant, and encouraging others to do the same. There have only been a couple of instances of COVID transmission among our researchers, and these occurred during relaxed, social interactions without masks. Wearing a mask on campus while indoors is a requirement that must be followed by all WashU personnel, as well as contractors and other visitors to both campuses (see the Danforth and School of Medicine websites for specific requirements on each campus). We encourage all departments and PIs to continuously monitor the situation, and provide positive reinforcement to the vast majority of people who are protecting their friends and colleagues by wearing a mask and keeping distant.

About 90% responded ​they were mostly or always able to be productive while on campus. The top barriers to productivity were not enough time to complete lab activity (42% indicated this is a major/moderate barrier), and lack of a reasonably convenient place to work, eat, and drink while maintaining appropriate distance from others (31% indicated this is a major/moderate barrier).

Action item: Available time in labs will vary for each group. Some labs may need to develop creative scheduling solutions to increase each individual’s time in the labs, while still adhering to all the safety precautions. Leadership will consider whether to allow more activity on campus, if it can be done at low density and physical distancing. Each lab/department/school should have plans that identify space for where people can take a break (e.g. private offices, conference rooms, etc.). McKelvey School of Engineering has opened up some socially distanced designated eating areas in multiple buildings to help address the eating/drinking difficulties some personnel and students were having.

More people (87%) are finding the self-screening website easier to use (a 10% increase). Similarly, an increased number of respondents (90%) on the Medical Campus found the check-in stations to be an easy/somewhat easy experience (up 29%). On the Danforth Campus, 87% of respondents indicated that they found the experience of reporting their self-screening results to be easy or somewhat easy.

Action item: While most respondents indicated they are using the self-screening website always/most of the time, we must stress the importance of completing and passing the health self-screening each day prior to coming onto campus. You do not have to self-screen if you are working remotely. The self-screen is a reminder to monitor yourself for symptoms, and is required for all students, faculty, staff, and trainees on both the Danforth and Medical Campus. There were a few comments about the clunkiness of having to use Duo to log into the system. Duo is required to enable the automatic notifications of screening failures that go to Occupational or Student Health and supervisors.

20% of the respondents did not know who to talk to if they had a concern about their own health or the health of their family.

Action item: We want to remind everyone that employees can talk to their HR employee relations consultant to educate them about the University’s existing return-to-work safety protocols and, if necessary, to explore potential accommodations beyond those protocols. The business office of your department should be able to direct employees and PIs to the appropriate HR employee relations consultant. Similarly, concerns about students or students with concerns about their underlying health conditions should consult Student Health Services for advice and support. These consultations with HR or Student Health will trigger a multistep process that will include the supervisor/PI as an important part of the team.

Thank you all for your comments and feedback! I appreciate everyone that is doing their part to help us safely and successfully ramp-up laboratory research.

Jennifer Lodge, PhD
Vice Chancellor for Research