Keeping research safe

November 16, 2020

Image with file name: Mask040620.jpg

With increasing numbers of COVID cases in the community, the UNMC Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research Friday released this message to clarify best practices and procedures as well as outline changes in research requirements.

Masking and de-densifying laboratory research:

Aerosols from asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2+ persons can travel farther and last longer in common spaces than previously thought and distance is not enough when inside common spaces. For this reason, all faculty, administrators and leaders are asked to help educate and monitor compliance with the following guidelines for masking and reducing density in labs:

  • All personnel in research buildings must wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth at all times, even if working six feet apart or alone in a lab or shared space such as a tissue culture room.
  • The two exceptions are if:
    • unmasked in their own single office with the door shut; or
    • eating while at least six feet from others.
  • Anyone unwilling to comply with this guideline are at risk for having their building access revoked.
  • Staff should work no closer than six feet from each other, to be accomplished by scheduling, moving equipment and working remotely when possible. When two or more persons must work less than six feet apart for a specific procedure, they need to wear a surgical/procedural mask or N-95 mask, not just a cloth mask.

Human subjects research precautions and new restrictions:

While additional actions may be needed to minimize risk to research subjects and staff as COVID cases continue to rise, the IRB with the research office has instituted the following restrictions:

  • Effective immediately, the IRB will halt approval of new human subject research projects that involve:
    • face to face contact between subject and research or clinical staff; and
    • no prospect of direct subject benefit.
  • All remaining approved research protocols should implement distance methods to reduce face to face contact with research subjects, whenever and wherever they can.
  • Research personnel conducting face-to-face visits must be masked with at least a surgical/procedural mask at all times (unless an N-95 is required and fit tested); if working less than six feet from a research subject, they must also wear eye protection.
  • All research subjects must be masked for all research encounters, and if they cannot, must be tested within 72 hours and negative for SARS-CoV-2 of the scheduled procedure, unless they are hospitalized and tested negative or on a ventilator or other type of assisted ventilation.
  • Research involving children less than 2 years old or those with a developmental delay that cannot mask may proceed if they either have:
    • known negative SARS-CoV-2 status (inpatients, including newborns from tested negative mothers, or outpatients within 4 days); or
    • on an outpatient protocol with direct benefit, with no known symptoms or recent exposures or for a treatment for COVID.

Visitors and volunteers:

  • Visitors are not allowed in research buildings or spaces at this time, with the following exceptions:
    • known, badged vendors; or
    • service personnel requested for technologies screened with COVID questions, masked, and escorted by a UNMC faculty or staff. Unmasked vendors will have their privileges revoked.
  • Volunteers are not allowed in research buildings at this time.
  • No new visiting scientists or scholar applications are being considered at this time.
  • Study monitor visits remain remote unless reviewed and approved by a special committee.

Frequently asked question:

If I have had COVID-19, do I have to mask?

Yes. Masking is still our policy and reinfection is still possible.


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