The UMass Lowell Fall (and Summer) 2020 Planning Committee on Research and Scholarship Support, comprising faculty, staff, and administrative leadership from across campus, was charged with developing a re-entry plan for conducting research on campus while adhering to state and federal guidelines for minimizing the spread of COVID-19 and supporting remote faculty and student scholarship.
The plan outlined herein describes a structure for providing access to research facilities following UML safety protocols and requirements. The plan includes safety guidance, processes for requesting, reviewing, scheduling, monitoring, and granting access, as well as communicating and evaluating the plan. The plan was put up for campus comment from 5/26/20 – 6/1/20, and the committee received 39 ad hoc suggestions as well as several comments from the Union Coalition Health and Safety Team. Many of those suggestions have been incorporated into the plan. The plan and documentation may be modified as conditions and directives change. Requests for access are strictly voluntary, and no researcher should feel pressure to return to the lab, during these re-entry stages.
The committee recommends a staged approach to campus re-entry:
At any time, in response to ongoing assessments of COVID-19 conditions and state guidance, and in consultation with campus leadership, the committee may recommend reverting to an earlier stage of the plan.
Committee on Research and Scholarship Support: Julie Chen (chair), Anne Maglia (co-chair), Dhimiter Bello, Tim Cook, Gary Delehanty, Tom Estabrook, Tom Ferraguto, Jennifer Fish, Matt Gage, Christine Gillette, Karen Hamlin, Meaghan Healy, Ingrid Hess, Tom Hoole, Shannon Kelleher, John Lamb, Joey Mead, Kerry Meisinger, Glenn MacDonald, Gary Nolan, Matt Nugent, Tom O’Donnell, Arlene Parquette, Amy Peterson, MaryAnn Picard, Paulette Renault-Caragianes, Richard Serna, Jim Sherwood, John Shirley, Eric Si, Scott Stapleton, Ann Storer, Berk Talay, Jon Victorine, Ken Wilson.
The Research and Scholarship Support Committee evaluated several draft campus research re-entry plans (e.g., UC Berkeley, U North Texas, MIT, Missouri S&T, U Georgia, etc.) and identified at least 11 major areas to be addressed in a comprehensive plan for gradually re-entering campus to conduct research and scholarship. The committee formed subcommittees to address these issues:
The figure below outlines the plan process and the relationships of the subcommittee deliverable.
The health and safety of UMass Lowell faculty, staff, and students were the primary focus of the committee. The committee developed the following operational safety guidance to be consistent with campus, federal and state guidelines. The committee felt a conservative, staged approach to re-entry focused on minimal person-to-person contact, good personal hygiene, time-limited access, and critical/urgent requests was the best approach to assure reasonable levels of safety while still allowing on-campus research activities to progress.
The committee considered several possible scenarios for limiting exposure, including mandatory temperature testing at building entries and mandatory testing for COVID-19 or antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 prior to access. However, because many (up to 70%) of people positive for COVID-19 do not show signs of fever while they can spread the disease and because the accuracy of both the virus and antibody tests has been questioned, the committee was concerned that testing could provide a false sense of security and negatively impact social distancing and hygiene practices. Instead, for this re-entry period, the committee recommended following strict practices of limiting the number of people in rooms, floors, and buildings, daily self-assessment of symptoms, social distancing, mandatory face coverings, and regular disinfecting of workspaces, common areas, and touch points (see Safety and Operational Guidelines below).
To implement these practices in a controlled and assessable manner, the committee recommends using a four-stage approach, as follows:
The following guidelines are provided to ensure approved research and scholarship can be conducted safely during a staged re-opening of research spaces on campus. This document describes the minimum required activities for research personnel, including strategies for social distancing, maintaining good personal hygiene, cleaning and disinfection, and other safety considerations. Strict adherence to these guidelines is required. Researchers will jeopardize their access if these procedures are not followed.
According to the CDC, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is spread from person-to-person. This happens most frequently among close contact (within 6 feet) with an infected individual over some extended time period. This type of transmission occurs primarily from respiratory droplets formed when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. Wearing a face covering is meant to minimize the distance that respiratory droplets are expelled into the environment, and social distancing is meant to limit the exposure to respiratory droplets.
Transmission of COVID-19 to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus, though possible, is currently not considered a likely mode and can be mitigated by preventing touching of one’s eyes, nose, and mouth. There is evidence that suggests COVID-19 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials. Cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, especially high-touch surfaces, is a best-practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 as well as any other viral respiratory illness.
Researchers must follow all University guidelines with respect to COVID-19 (e.g., Coronavirus Updates website).
The following list of locations and equipment are examples of high-touch areas in the laboratories. These types of areas represent a higher possibility of viral loading in the work area and should be disinfected on a routine basis following the proper procedure described below:
Faculty/lead investigators should develop a list of high-touch locations and equipment in their laboratory. Special attention should be given to those areas that will have continued or shared use. Clean and disinfect identified locations on a routine basis. At a minimum, it is recommended this be done when an individual enters the laboratory to begin work and then before leaving the laboratory when work is completed. A cleaning log template is available from UMass Lowell Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) by emailing EHS@uml.edu.
The University will initially provide EPA-approved disinfectants effective against COVID-19. As lab access progresses, PIs will be responsible for replenishing supplies with University-approved disinfectants. Pay attention to disinfectant contact times, also listed on the EPA-approved list. Do not assume that a disinfectant works on contact. Wear appropriate PPE when using cleaning and disinfectant products. This may include safety glasses and chemical-compatible impervious gloves. Reference the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for further information on PPE or any other hazard information. Contact EHS at any time with questions 978-934-2618 or email: EHS@uml.edu.
Use care with delicate equipment to avoid damage. It is recommended that you spray a paper towel with appropriate disinfectant, wipe the surface, and let it dry for few seconds. Commercial cleaning products may not be appropriate to use, or could damage, certain electronic equipment. In such cases an approved disinfectant wipe may be appropriate for more delicate tasks. Faculty/lead investigators should develop cleaning protocols for equipment specific to their lab and share it with all persons who have access.
NOTE: Campus Custodial staff will continue to clean and disinfect public and common areas such as hallways, building entry doors, and restrooms with their disinfection protocols.
As with any laboratory work, individuals must be trained in performing critical tasks and should have access to any personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to perform these tasks. While it is imperative during this time that individuals practice social distancing, high-risk tasks should not be performed alone in a laboratory. When an individual is working alone in a laboratory, other colleagues and supervisors should be made aware and provide remote monitoring and/or regular check-ins as necessary.
Compliance with these guidelines and maintaining a safe working environment is a shared responsibility. If you see someone not following these guidelines, please remind them of our shared responsibility and if needed contact EHS at 978-934-2618 or email: EHS@uml.edu (or you can email the Research and Scholarship Support Committee: ResScholSupport@uml.edu).
Face coverings are required to be worn in circulation, community, or shared spaces inside UMass Lowell buildings and any time social distancing requirements are unable to be observed (except when unsafe due to medical condition or disability). During Stage 2 and 3, disposable masks to be worn only in the research labs will be provided by the University to assure uniform compliance with face covering requirements in these spaces. It is expected that researchers will wear a personal face covering to/from campus and while entering/exiting the building and will switch to the disposable mask upon entering the lab. Disposable masks should be discarded in the trashcan at the end of the shift. Recognizing current challenges in ordering supplies, enough disposable masks will be supplied by the University initially for each researcher to use one disposable mask per shift. The continued inclusion of disposable masks will be evaluated during Stage 3.
During Stage 2 and 3, cleaning products (e.g., the green certified cleaning products normally used to clean bathrooms and common areas on campus) will be provided by the University for use within laboratories and research spaces. Researchers are responsible for making sure the cleaning kit stays in their spaces. Supplies may become limited as additional access is granted across the University, and the lab will eventually be responsible for purchasing refills to the cleaning kits (once there is a clear centralized procurement process available for these items).
Disposable masks and cleaning kits will be delivered to the researcher (to the primary location they requested access for) upon access approval. If the need for additional face covering or supplies arises, researchers should email: ResScholSupport@uml.edu.
Prior to being approved for access, all researchers must take COVID-19 safety training. During Stage 2, EHS and the ETIC access team will provide a combination of self-directed and interactive training. During Stage 3, The New England Consortium (TNEC) will provide a one-hour interactive training about the hazards and risks of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and the methods of controlling against exposures, along with their risks. By the end of the one-hour training the participants will be able to describe the hierarchy of controls, list high-touch areas to be cleaned and disinfected, describe the three safety zones, and describe the proper method of donning and doffing PPE. The content of the TNEC training includes routes of transmission; general health recommendations; hazard/risk analysis; cleaning and disinfecting; personal protective equipment (PPE); Decontamination; and Safety Zones. For a complete schedule of upcoming training sessions, please email: ResScholSupport@uml.edu.
Research with human subjects must include additional safety precautions to protect both the researchers and the subjects. The Committee and IRB are evaluating safety protocols for face-to-face/in-person research and will release approved guidance during Stage 3. This guidance will include considerations for verbal pre-screening of subjects for COVID-19 symptoms and contact, use of PPE for subjects, and limiting on-campus access for people at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Until face-to-face/in-person research guidance is released, research and scholarship that involves face-to-face interaction with human participants is not permitted on campus. Researchers should continue to follow the guidance from the VCRI outlined here.
The most notable aspects of the current guidance:
In general, staged summer re-entry for human-subjects labs will follow the course outlined in this document; researchers will be subject to the same safety guidance and processes for requesting, reviewing, scheduling, monitoring, and the granting of lab access.
Requests for fieldwork or work at an off-campus location must be submitted through the UMass Lowell Research & Innovation Opportunities Portal (aka "InfoReady") by a faculty member/lead investigator. The faculty member/lead investigator is responsible for the compliance of their research team with the guidelines outlined in this plan.
Offsite researchers should take every precaution to maintain a minimum of 6 feet physical distancing (apart from transient unavoidable situations such as passing in a hallway) and should follow the safety guidelines outlined in this plan. The research team must maintain a log of daily entry and exit times, close contacts (as defined by the CDC as being within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more), confirmation of lack of known exposure, and confirmation of no symptoms (checked daily; see self-checklist above).
Face coverings must be worn during fieldwork (except when eating/drinking). Face coverings should be worn during the entire commute for all research personnel taking public transport or carpooling. For carpooling to research sites, it is recommended to have no more than 2 people per vehicle, preferably sitting on opposite sides of the vehicle (and faces covered), to maintain maximal distance.
Hands should be washed/sanitized frequently. Researchers should carry hand sanitizer and disinfectant. Avoid shaking hands or sharing food if possible. Researchers must clean and disinfect all actively used equipment at the beginning and end of each day, before transporting, and before using with a research participant. High-touch areas (e.g., door handles, steering wheels, tent zippers, etc.) should be disinfected frequently.
Any offsite researcher who has had recent close contact with a confirmed positive COVID-19 individual should follow the quarantine directions of public health authorities and notify the COVID-19 HR Response Team by email at: COVID19@uml.edu (or call Kim Casey at 978-934-3557). At any time, in response to ongoing assessments of COVID-19 conditions and state guidance, and in consultation with campus leadership, the committee may recommend reverting to an earlier stage of this plan. Researchers working offsite may need to return and should be prepared to suspend their research within 24 hours if necessary.
Any individual or research unit found to be in repeated non-compliance with the guidelines listed herein may be suspended from, or lose access to, off-campus research activities.
During Stage 2 (the Saab ETIC pilot stage), access to campus facilities is extremely limited, and only short amounts of time will be approved for access to conduct research in the Saab ETIC building that falls into one of three categories:
During Stage 3, access to additional campus facilities for limited time periods will be approved so researchers may conduct work on critical, urgent research and scholarship. Time on campus should be limited to only those activities required for continuing progress on the project and efficiencies in on-campus time must be demonstrated.
Possible criteria for demonstrating that a project is critical and urgent may include, but is not limited to:
In rare circumstances, access may be granted to undergraduates, however priority when maintaining <25% total occupancy will be given to graduate students, postdocs, and faculty.
During Stage 3, requests will be accepted for non-lab based research and scholarship spaces such as studios and performance spaces. Most requests for access to campus offices will not be approved (to minimize the number of people on campus, required cleaning, etc.). However, these requests will be considered for limited cases with demonstrated special circumstances. Access to lab, studio, and performance spaces will take priority over office access. (Brief access to offices to pick up materials should be requested through Dean's offices and Campus Police.)
The Committee will begin working on an access and re-entry strategy for Stage 4 once Stage 3 has been implemented and evaluation data are available.
The UMass Lowell Research & Innovation Opportunities Portal (aka "InfoReady") will be used by faculty/lead investigators to request access for a specific project and a specific time period to complete urgent work. Only a faculty member/lead investigator may apply for access, and the applicant is responsible for assuring that all people given access through their request maintain compliance with safety guidelines.
Applicants may request access for more than one project, but they must be able to demonstrate that each request is both critical and urgent. Multiple projects in a single lab should be prioritized and conducted sequentially if possible to maximize compliance with safety criteria and minimize the number of people on campus.
Approved researchers are defined as only those PIs, technicians, technical staff, postdocs, and graduate students who have been approved by the Access Approval Committee to re-enter buildings. UCARD card access will be given to approved researchers only during the days and times approved by the Access Approval Committee. Approved researchers should not let anyone else into the lab or buildings or give their UCARD to anyone in order to gain access. Any changes to access must be requested via InfoReady and the Access Approval Committee. PIs and graduate students will not be allowed to occupy offices unless approval has been given by the Access Approval Committee. Request for office hours must show an urgent, critical, or special need. Otherwise, office work must be done from home. This measure is to ensure that laboratory activities that cannot be conducted at home take precedence over office use in order to keep building occupancy to a minimum, while maximizing research and scholarship space occupancy for researchers.
Access recommendations will be made by the Access Approval Committee, which will include faculty, staff, and administrative representatives from units across campus, including representatives from the Colleges (nominated by the Associate Dean for Research), Facilities, Environmental Health and Safety, Research and Innovation, and the Union Coalition Health and Safety Team. During Stage 2 and 3, the Committee will evaluate the urgency and critical nature of the request based on the impact to ongoing research and scholarship. The Committee will not evaluate the intellectual merits of the requests. As such, information will be requested from the applicant that will allow the Committee to judge the request using the following evaluation rubric:
While it will not be possible to provide access to all spaces and all researchers for unlimited time during Stages 2 and 3, the Committee has developed a fair and transparent process to minimize person-to-person contact, provide time for Facilities to clean common areas, and slowly increase access to research spaces.
During Stage 2 access will only be permitted during the following time blocks: Monday -Friday: 8 a.m. - Noon and 1-5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
During Stage 3, access will be assigned across one or both of the daily shifts 7 a.m. - 1 p.m. and 2-8 p.m. Researchers with all-day approval are not required to leave the building during the hour between shifts, but that time does allow housekeeping to clean common areas and the HVAC systems to exchange air with few people in the building. Note that all of the building HVAC systems exhaust to the outside rather than recirculate air within the building. All-day access researchers are strongly encouraged to take a break away from the building during this time. Researchers should attempt to stagger their arrival/departure times to avoid congregating near bathrooms, card readers, and stairwells.
Researchers should request the minimum amount of time required to complete their project work and demonstrate efficient use of time on campus. Time blocks will be allocated by the Access Approval Committee based on several factors, including: the amount of time needed, other researchers present on the floor at a time, the need for Facilities to turn on hoods, Housekeeping to maintain bathrooms, etc. To minimize cross-contamination and aid in contact tracing, researchers working in the same lab should buddy-up and work in teams, working during the same shifts for the same time period whenever possible. During Stages 2 and 3, the Committee will strive to keep overall building occupancy under 25% capacity at any given time.
Access on weekends and weekdays beyond the hours stated above will be considered in rare circumstances and only when required by the nature of the work. Access on weekends and after hours requires additional support staff to be available/on call (Police, Security, EHS, etc.) putting these workers at risk.
The Access Approval Committee will maintain an ongoing record of all persons provided access to spaces, including name, building/room(s), access date range, days, and shifts. Information will be maintained in a spreadsheet with a visual representation (which includes each building, floor, room, including square footage, and person), so that the Committee can quickly determine the number of people with approved access on any floor at any given time. This will allow the Committee to develop a schedule that meets the floor and building occupancy under 25% capacity goals. Facilities, EHS, the Emergency Operations Committee, and Campus Police will have shared access to the schedule so they know who will (and should) be in any space at any given time.
Congregating in hallways and open and public spaces, as well as roaming the hallways and visiting other floors (unless previously approved), is strictly prohibited. Researchers should plan to take their breaks away from the building (e.g., eat lunch in the car or off campus). Elevators are limited to 1 person at a time. Regular hand-washing is highly recommended. Users must wear face coverings and must comply with all posted signs. Work must be planned and executed to ensure 6 feet (2 meters) of social distancing is possible in research and common spaces. PIs are responsible for ensuring compliance with the schedule in their labs during the daily shifts. Failure to maintain social distancing protocols, wear face covering, or adhere to other COVID-19 guidelines recommended by the CDC and/or required by the University may result in loss of access.
Lead Investigators whose teams require access to shared laboratories and research resources are strongly encouraged to work with other faculty whose teams use those facilities to develop a schedule compliant with the guidance herein prior to requesting access from the Access Approval Committee. For departmental shared resources, the Committee recommends that the Department Chair develop a safety guidance-compliant schedule that can be included in access requests.
During Stage 2, the CRF labs will remain closed for self-use (except the Nanofabrication lab cleanroom for approved, trained users). Service work will be available in all CRF labs during Stage 2 and 3. If self-use is approved during Stage 3, the following requirements will be implemented:
Faculty/Lead Investigators are responsible for assuring that safety guidelines are adhered to in their labs and common areas. EHS may conduct inspections to assess compliance with guidelines, and EHS 978-934-2618 and email: EHS@uml.edu will be available for reporting any observed non-compliance. Non-compliance will be tracked and reassessed. Depending on the non-compliance, penalties will range from losing access for the day and re-taking the COVID-19 safety training to suspension of access for several weeks. Repeat non-compliance could result in long-term suspension of access, at the discretion of the Access Approval Committee.
An Evaluation Committee will be established to assess the performance of the Campus Research and Scholarship Re-entry Plan. The Committee will include representatives from the Colleges (nominated by the Associate Dean for Research), Facilities, Environmental Health and Safety, Research and Innovation, and the Union Coalition Health and Safety Team, and Campus Police. The Evaluation Committee will establish procedures to collect, analyze, and review the following performance indicators:
The Evaluation Committee will analyze the performance indicators weekly to determine if the plan is operating as intended, is effective in controlling potential hazards (e.g., lack of social distancing, lack of PPE, exposed surfaces, etc.), and is making progress toward meeting established safety goals and objectives. The scope and frequency of evaluation may change as state safety guidelines change and the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic changes. Activities include:
If a problem is identified in any part of the Campus Research and Scholarship Re-entry Plan, the Evaluation Committee team will take prompt action to correct the problem and prevent its recurrence, and will:
The source and responsibility for collecting performance indicators is outlined in the table below.
Requirements, timelines, guidelines and other aspects of this plan and overall resumption of research activities will be communicated to the campus community via channels including university email, Today@UMass Lowell announcements, UMass Lowell websites, and campus signs. Signage and safety communications will follow the Massachusetts Safety Standards circulars issued by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Governor's Office. Events, such as townhalls and forums via Zoom, at various times during resumption of activities, will offer opportunities for group discussion and communication.
Any response to positive cases in research spaces will follow the University and Department of Public Health protocols for reporting, managing, and tracking positive COVID-19 cases on campus.
At any time, research and scholarship spaces or building may be required to close quickly for safety reasons. Lead Investigators should develop an Operational Continuity Plan for their research spaces, and each researcher should know how they will immediately secure/shut down their work if the need arises.