The guidance below is effective April 12, 2021, and supersedes previously published guidance for laboratories. Faculty should remember many laboratory staff and trainees may need time to adjust their schedules with this new guidance, so they should give their laboratories adequate time to implement any changes.

Summary

  • Guidance is for laboratory-based research only
  • Faculty/PIs are responsible for monitoring the behavior in their laboratory and compliance with this guidance
  • Universal masking, 6 feet physical distancing, and hand hygiene are emphasized as the major mechanisms to prevent transmission
  • No unmasked gatherings – eating and drinking with others is high risk!
  • In-person lab meetings may recommence – with masking, physical distancing, and no food or drink
  • Approval of lab plans is no longer required
  • Shifts and cohorts may be discontinued
  • Vaccinations do not impact on-campus guidance
  • No COVID-related restrictions on types of personnel
  • Domestic travel is permitted while international travel continues to require a petition to the International Travel Oversight Committee

Monitoring and compliance

Faculty/PIs are responsible for the behavior in their laboratories and ensuring that the guidelines are followed. Lab members should discuss concerns with their lab manager, lab PI, division director/department chair, the Associate Dean for Research or submit concerns via the OVCR’s website.

Masking

Masks must be worn on campus when indoors in all public and shared spaces, unless you are alone in a room. The CDC recommends masks with two or more layers that cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly.

WashU recommends disposable masks in settings that contain biological, chemical, or radioactive hazards, which includes most laboratories. Do not use neck gaiters, poorly fitting or thin masks with low thread counts or loosely woven material. Surgical/isolation masks are recommended or required if people have to work with others in close proximity (less than 6 feet) for more than 15 minutes.

Density Restrictions and Physical Distancing

Physical distancing will be the only density restriction in place. Pre-COVID activity or occupancy levels are no longer a factor.  Six feet physical distancing is still recommended by the CDC and directives from the city and county both call for 6 feet physical distancing in workplaces. Therefore, we continue to require a minimum of 6 feet between occupied workstations.  Any closer interactions are limited to no more than 15 minutes. We do recognize that some tasks require being closer than 6 feet for more than 15 minutes. In that case, it is recommended that an isolation/surgical mask be used and the encounters be recorded for future contact tracing.  Because there have been no documented cases of transmission in the laboratories or classrooms, the risk of having to shut down an entire lab for quarantine is very low, so cohorts and non-overlapping shifts are no longer recommended as a hedge against complete lab shutdown.

Hand Hygiene and Disinfecting Surfaces

The CDC has recently revised its guidance on surface disinfection to emphasize hand hygiene and de-emphasize frequent surface cleaning.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 can land on surfaces. It’s possible for people to become infected if they touch those surfaces and then touch their nose, mouth, or eyes. In most situations, the risk of infection from touching a surface is low. The most reliable way to prevent infection from surfaces is to regularly wash hands or use hand sanitizer.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 5, 2021

Therefore, we continue to recommend frequent hand washing and once or twice per day sanitizing of frequently touched surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, elevator buttons, coffee machines), and are eliminating the recommendations for general surface sanitization.

Break Rooms

Eating and drinking with others is the major activity that has resulted in transmission on campus.  All faculty, lab managers, and departments should ensure that all personnel have adequate space for taking a break that is at least 6 feet from others. With the nicer weather, personnel are strongly advised to take their eating and drinking breaks outdoors.  Any in-person gatherings or discussions should be masked and not include food and drink. Items like coffee machines are allowed in break rooms, and personnel are encouraged to wash hands after touching shared surfaces and before eating or drinking.

In-person Lab Meetings

In-person lab meetings for work purposes (not social activities), are now permitted as long as all participants adhere to campus guidelines, and all participants wear masks and are 6 feet apart.  Do not exceed the occupancy limits of the room, which are determined by the size of the room. On the Danforth campus, the county limits conference rooms to 10 people. Importantly, no food or drink is allowed. Of note, there has been no transmission in our classrooms, indicating that this kind of gathering is safe when guidelines are followed.

Plans

Our faculty, staff, and trainees know how to operate in their laboratories during this pandemic. Faculty PIs and lab managers should continue to be responsible for ensuring that everyone in the lab, including new personnel, are adequately trained and are following our guidance, and have places to work and take breaks that are 6 feet from others.  Plans, or revisions to plans, no longer need to be submitted to the school or department for review and approval. Other aspects of the plans that were initially included in the guidance can be de-emphasized or removed, including items like directional arrows in labs and hallways.

Vaccinations

COVID-19 vaccinations are still voluntary. Not all of our personnel are vaccinated and the City and County have not relaxed their mandates for organizations or businesses that have achieved certain vaccination rates. CDC guidance on interactions between vaccinated people is only for private, not workplace, interactions. Therefore, on-campus guidelines will not be relaxed based on vaccination status. Washington University strongly encourages all personnel to get vaccinated and is now providing vaccines to all WashU personnel according to state guidelines. Email  covidvaccine@wustl.edu or consult occupational/student health or your physician if you have questions regarding COVID-19 vaccination.

Self-screening

All personnel should continue to self-screen daily before coming to campus using the screening website and follow the guidelines for School of Medicine or Danforth Campus.

Personnel

There are no COVID-19 specific restrictions on the types of personnel that can work in the lab, providing there is sufficient space for them to work with 6 feet physical distancing. Until schools and daycares are operating at near normal hours, faculty/PIs should continue to be sensitive to the scheduling needs of our laboratory personnel and should provide sufficient time for personnel in their laboratories to modify their schedules due to this new guidance.

Travel

Work-related domestic travel can resume and no longer requires pre-approval by the chancellor or the provost, a dean, executive vice chancellor, or vice chancellor. Schools, departments, and units may have other pre-approval processes unrelated to the pandemic.  Undergraduate student and group graduate/professional student university-sponsored and supported international travel is suspended through the fall 2021 semester. Exceptions are made for essential research-related travel.