As research labs reopen at universities across the world, maintaining personal safety of researchers is a top priority. Research ramp-up plans include exhaustive detail on how researchers can keep themselves and their colleagues safe as they return to their labs. But these plans can be daunting, sometimes providing too much detail and burying the most important information that individual PIs need to know. To help institutions craft more actionable ramp-up plans—and ensure they have taken the appropriate steps to safeguard researcher well-being—we have outlined the minimum health and safety measures they should enact for individual researchers.
Once a researcher has been cleared to return to campus, they are asked to begin monitoring and reporting their symptoms. The most important symptom they should check daily is their temperature: nearly every research ramp-up plan explicitly states that any researcher whose temperature exceeds 100.4°F (38°C) should not come to campus. In most instances, researchers whose temperature exceeds 100.4°F should report it to their supervisor, speak with a doctor, and begin self-quarantine. Some universities –like UC Davis—have gone a step further and are also checking temperatures upon entry to some research facilities; this is particularly effective for high-density buildings and spaces that are used for non-COVID related human subjects research.
Broader self-certification symptom checks
Beyond self-temperature checks, researchers planning to return to campus are asked to provide their supervisors with a broader symptom review that also includes:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste/smell
Some campuses—like the University of Washington—require researchers to complete a form certifying that they are symptom free. The form is submitted and archived on the university’s ERP system. While individual units can use other methods to collect and maintain symptom reports, the use of the HR system form better protects confidentiality. Other institutions—like the University of Connecticut—require that researchers only send in a report to their PI or lab manager if they are experiencing any of the listed symptoms. In this report, they also notify supervisors if anyone in their household or recent social circle has experienced symptoms.
Mask requirements for on-campus research spaces
Most research ramp-up plans explicitly require researchers to wear some sort of mask while on campus. For researchers whose work does not usually require a mask, a simple cloth or paper surgical mask is sufficient—so long as cloth masks are cleaned regularly, and paper masks are disposed of appropriately. For research requiring more specialized masks—especially those being repurposed for use in hospitals and health centers—research offices are organizing large-order procurement efforts as supplies become available.
While some stakeholders have raised questions about whether masks should simply be recommended rather than required, most research leaders write research ramp-up plans to impose intentionally stricter requirements than some of those present at local businesses. Such measures are consistent with federal guidance around reopening certain spaces, and most universities anticipate each subsequent ramp-up phase will at least require masks to the worn.
Guidance on cleaning, space planning, and procurement
Along with well-established standards for individual researcher protection, ramp-up plans should provide details on how research spaces will be maintained. EAB has developed case studies and considerations for how campuses can meet the many operational challenges associated with returning to campus: