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Research Ramp-Up Frequently Asked Questions – Updated August 3, 2020

 

Research at Georgia Tech is among the institution's core missions, and it is essential to providing learning experiences for graduate students across the six colleges. In addition, the output of our research programs directly impacts society in the form of new discoveries and technologies. Finally, research activities at Georgia Tech have a significant impact on local and regional economies. For all those reasons, it is imperative that we ramp up research activities in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.

All members of the Georgia Tech community should recognize that our ability to transition from one phase to another of the ramp up depends on both internal and external factors. Internally, we control how we work, how we protect ourselves and our colleagues, and the extent to which we are exposed to the virus based on our personal adoption of the guidelines created for our community. However, we are also subject to the behavior of the public at large.

As part of a gradual return to more typical operations, an effort is underway to ramp up more research and bring the faculty, graduate students and staff related to that research back to campus safely and gradually. Starting in June 18, Georgia Tech has resumed research activity for the purpose of fulfilling research grants and contracts, and to ensure student degree progress. It is estimated that research may ramp up to approximately 75% over the course of the summer, with priority given to researchers who are unable to perform their work in a remote environment. Researchers will continue to be encouraged to perform work remotely to the greatest extent possible.  

Additional information is available at the websites below:

Covid-19 Health Information (Information on how to recognize symptoms and how Georgia Tech is protecting its community)

GTRI response to Covid-19 (Information for researchers in the Georgia Tech Research Institute)

Office of Sponsored Programs Coronavirus page (Impact on sponsored activity at Georgia Tech)

Research Coronavirus Response (Archival information on the research ramp-down)

Return to Campus Faculty Guidebook (What faculty members should expect on campus during fall semester)

Tech Moving Forward, Our Road to Recovery (Georgia Tech's plan for returning to in-person teaching, learning and working)

If you have a question about the research ramp-up, please send a note to research_rampup@gatech.edu  For GTRI-specific questions, please email covid_ask@gtri.gatech.edu

 

Below are frequently-asked questions about the research ramp-up:

 

Are there guidelines for the role that undergraduates can have in research?

Yes. Please follow this link to the guidance page. - August 3, 2020

 

What will be the research density during Fall Semester?

We have received questions regarding our current level of research personnel density (50%), when it may change, and the possible impact of the arrival of students for the fall semester. We offer the following guidance:

  • Research will remain at 50% personnel density. We will revisit this level after the start of the fall semester.
  • We expect that buildings with a mix of academic and research labs will see a significant increase in foot traffic. Researchers should consider alternate paths to their lab that can avoid expected routes used by undergraduates attending class. Avoid known class transition times when entering or exiting a research lab. - July 31, 2020

 

What will be different about campus for those who are returning for the first time since March?

In recent months, some campus procedures have changed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and may people on campus have been working to implement new practices to get ready for fall semester. Face coverings have been ordered, signage has been installed, and cleaning protocols have changed. Learn what else is being done to prepare for the fall semester in this article from the Georgia Tech News Center. - July 24, 2020

 

Is there a list of Georgia Tech research projects being done to address the coronavirus pandemic?

The Covid-19 Research Projects site provides a centralized location for information about all projects inside of the Georgia Tech community related to the Covid-19 response. Designed to promote cross-campus collaboration, the site allows anyone internal to Georgia Tech to filter and sort through the database and glean pertinent information about projects of interest. The site has also been fitted with a new interactive dashboard to display project data. Project abstracts are available to visitors outside the Georgia Tech community. - July 24, 2020

 

Do the new coronavirus restrictions announced by the city of Atlanta affect Georgia Tech research operations?

Last week, the city of Atlanta announced a city-wide mask order and the roll-back of its reopening plan to phase I within the city. Georgia Tech’s guidelines for face covering and PPE usage in research buildings remain unchanged, and ongoing research activities can continue, which are consistent with the city’s guidelines for social distancing. We currently remain at a phase 2 density level of 50% and will continue to evaluate that in light of possible changes in our external conditions and infrastructure, including the PPE supply chain and campus testing efforts. - July 15, 2020

 

What is the status of the Georgia Tech research ramp-up process?

According to our research ramp-up plan, we are set to move into phase 2 on Monday, July 13.

This will allow up to 50% of our research personnel to get back to their laboratories, subject to the continued ability to maintain recommended physical distancing. Based on our performance in phase 1, and while we are not yet able to conduct testing and contact tracing, I do believe that we can proceed into phase 2, based on the following factors:   

  1. The research enterprise has done well under our phase 1 guidelines. We have had a few incidents to-date, all of which were rapidly remedied.
  2. While we still do not have the testing plan and capacity implemented, we have received the CLIA certification and are able to start implementing our testing pilots. This will help us learn how to manage and increase our capacity in preparation for the fall semester. 

Please note that phase 2 does not require people to come back into the laboratories but gives them the option to do so, subject to the guidelines that have been tested and monitored during phase 1. Be reminded that those who desire to return to their labs must complete the “Returning Safely to Your Lab” video series prior to their first day back on campus.

The decision to do so remains with the research leaders and is subject to the ability of maintaining safe practices. Also note that this stage is always reversible, and we can revert back into phase 1 or earlier, if we run into problems.

 

What is the updated policy regarding face coverings on campus?

Effective July 15, 2020, University System of Georgia (USG) institutions will require all faculty, staff, students, and visitors to wear an appropriate face covering while inside campus facilities/buildings where six feet social distancing may not always be possible. Face covering use will be in addition to, and is not a substitute for, social distancing.

Face coverings are not required in one's own dorm room or suite, when alone in an enclosed office or study room, or in campus outdoor settings where social distancing requirements are met.

Anyone not using a face covering when required will be asked to wear one or must leave the area. Repeated refusal to comply with the requirement may result in discipline through the applicable conduct code for faculty, staff, or students.

Reasonable accommodations may be made for those who are unable to wear a face covering for documented health reasons. - July 7, 2020

 

How will PPE supplies be replenished in labs starting July 1?

Georgia Tech supply chain and logistics experts have put their knowledge to work on the problem, using the kind of modeling and machine learning technologies that major retailers rely on to keep products on store shelves. In just one month, the research team has built an automated centralized system to replace traditional purchasing systems in which individual labs had to hunt for their own supplies.

By asking researchers to report details of the PPE they use each day, the labs will provide data the system needs to predict demand, allowing Georgia Tech to place large orders and stock a centralized warehouse that will help bridge the gap between supply chain hiccups. Based on usage data, the system will know when each lab’s stock of PPE needs to be resupplied from distribution centers located in 22 major laboratory buildings. The goal will be for each lab to have a robust three-day supply of PPE at all times. For more information and FAQs on PPE supplies, please read this article on the Research Horizons website. - June 29, 2020

 

What should I do if I observe someone not wearing a face covering in a research lab?

In a research laboratory, this would constitute a lab safety violation and should be reported to Georgia Tech Environmental Health & Safety and the unit director. - June 18, 2020

 

How has the timetable for the research ramp-up been adjusted as of June 16?

We look forward to the initial ramp-up of academic research as Phase 1 begins on June 18. We want to inform you that the transition to Phase 2 will be pushed out to July 13. The transition date is changing to ensure that robust testing and tracing infrastructure are in place before transitioning to Phase 2.

We are also revising density guidance. When Phase 2 begins on July 13, lab occupancy will be limited to 50% of normal (pre-Covid-19) occupancy, with no more than one person per 150 square feet in enclosed spaces, whichever is less. This is a percentage of occupancy (i.e. all people needing access to Georgia Tech research facilities, working to maintain 50% or lower occupancy), not a percentage of specific personnel (i.e. 50% of people working full time, and 50% of people having no access). Labs are encouraged to utilize shift work to maintain target densities.  

We recognize this Phase 2 target date shift will cause changes in ongoing ramp-up plans. This change was not taken lightly and is supported by the faculty serving on the Research Continuity Task Force.

If you have any questions, please email research_rampup@gatech.edu.

- Rob Butera, Vice President for Research Development and Operations

- Chris Jones, Professor and William R. McLain Chair, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

 

Is there a maximum number of people who can work in an enclosed laboratory space during Phase 1?

Yes, the maximum density of personnel in a lab during Phase 1 is one person per 150 square feet of space, or 25% of normal, pre-Covid operation, whichever is smaller. (Note: This percentage will increase in later phases of the ramp-up). This is a measure of the density of personnel at a given point in time, not a percentage of overall laboratory personnel. For example, an entire lab could work if they engaged in shift work. - June 16, 2020

 

How are we handling research that relies on human subjects?

The following guidance document and information sheet are to be used to determine how and when non-essential in-person human subjects research can restart. The information sheet listed below is to be given to ALL in-person human subject research participants during the informed consent procedure.  Please contact the Office of Research Integrity Assurance if you have any questions. - June 15, 2020

GT IRB Guidelines: Resuming Non-Essential In-Person Humans Subjects Research

COVID 19 Information Sheet for Human Subject Participants

 

How will I learn about special protocols in effect this summer to protect faculty, staff and graduate students working in labs?

Whether you are one of the mission-critical researchers who has continued to work on campus since March or you are returning to your campus lab for the first time, you should review a video series that has been prepared. The six videos explain new protocols designed to ensure your safety and the safety of others and describe the changes you can expect to see and safety protocols as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Georgia Department of Public Health, and Governor Kemp’s Covid-19 Task Force. You will have to login and view the videos before returning to campus or continuing your laboratory work. Here's how to do that:

  • Log in at https://training.osp.gatech.edu/
  • Click “My Online Classes” in the left menu
  • Select the first item: “Returning Safely to Your Lab”
  • In “Available Courses” – click “Returning Safely to Your Lab”
  • Click ‘Enroll Me’
  • There are six video segments — when finished with each segment, go to the menu on the left side of the screen to start the next video.
  • After segment six, click Quiz in the menu and follow next steps to record that you have viewed the videos.
     

The videos include links to these websites for more information.

 

Is there a set of procedures and checklist for starting up labs that have been closed?

Yes, that information is available on the EHS website: https://ehs.gatech.edu/sites/default/files/lab_ramp_up_guidance_checklist_2020-06-16.pdf

 

For labs that require the use of surgical masks, how many will be provided per day?

Labs whose occupants must wear surgical masks will be provided one mask per occupant per day. When you leave the lab during the day, place your surgical mask into a labeled plastic bag and store it until you return. - June 12, 2020

 

How should non-GTRI laboratories obtain required personal protective equipment (PPE)?

A critical component to reopening campus safely and responsibly is providing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to our community members. Non-GTRI laboratories should make requests for surgical masks, gloves, sanitizer and other PPE to their building manager, who will coordinate with Environmental Health and Safety (EHS). EHS will support PPE needs for the research enterprise during the summer ramp-up. By coordinating orders across campus through EHS, we can better ensure quality consistency as well as help the Institute make more cost-effective purchases. Building managers can use the web forms at www.ehs.gatech.edu/Covid-19  to request PPE supplies for their buildings. GTRI laboratories will obtain PPE through a GTRI-based process. - June 5, 2020

 

What role will students have in the research ramp-up this summer?

Graduate students who are part of laboratories that are ramping up this summer should report to campus as requested by their PIs. Undergraduate students may be involved in research projects this summer if they can do their work off campus, but will not be returning to campus research labs until fall semester. June 5, 2020

 

What will building access be like this summer for research buildings?

Research buildings will continue to be closed to the public and accessible only by persons with appropriate Buzz Card access. If you need access to a research building for which you currently do not have Buzz Card access, contact your building manager or associate dean for research. - June 5, 2020

 

Where can I get information about proper sanitation of my lab?

Please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html - June 5, 2020


Who will be returning to campus?

Only researchers and staff who must return to campus in order to carry out their job duties should return to work on campus. To reduce the number of people on campus, researchers and staff who can substantially carry out their work at home should continue to do so. Supervisors may implement staggered schedules, shift work, or split work (part time on campus and part time at home) in order to lower personnel density. Any such changes to schedules will be communicated directly. Employees are encouraged to discuss these options with their supervisors and with their Human Resources Business Partner. - May 30, 2020
 

When should I return to campus?

A small number of researchers have been working on campus since the ramp-down to perform essential work and projects in support of specific Covid-19 projects. Georgia Tech plans to gradually increase the number of labs in operation during the next few months. You should not return to campus or your lab until you receive notice from your PI, lab manager, or supervisor. - May 30, 2020

 

How will campus research buildings be different when I return?

Campus buildings are being equipped with new signage to show how social distancing requirements can be met. For instance, you will see signs outside restrooms and elevators listing the maximum number of occupants. You will see chairs and other seating arranged to provide proper distancing, and you may see clear shields at the desks of building attendants to provide separation. Hand sanitizer will be readily available. You will notice more frequent cleaning of buildings, and written disinfection plans for each laboratory space. - May 30, 2020

 

Why is it necessary to have alternate and staggered work hours?

Reducing the number of occupants is essential to providing proper social distancing in research facilities. Georgia Tech has chosen to accomplish that, in part, by re-arranging work schedules. To accommodate this, labs may be open for longer hours. - May 30, 2020

 

What are the expectations regarding the use of face masks/face coverings in research facilities?

It is strongly recommended that cloth face coverings be worn at all times while on campus. Face coverings/face masks are required in all lab spaces. There are three primary types of face masks that may be used, depending on the specific conditions. These include N-95 respirators, single-use surgical masks and reusable cloth face masks, also known as face coverings. Employees who, due to their job function, are unable to consistently maintain six feet of separation from other people will be required to wear cloth face coverings while at work.

  • N-95 respirators, which are designed to remove 95% of small particulates from the air breathed by the wearer, are required in only limited circumstances in Georgia Tech laboratories. These masks are designed to protect the wearer from small particles, and are used in health care facilities to protect wearers from the coronavirus. Laboratories where N-95 protection is required were identified before the coronavirus pandemic, and the requirements for using this type of mask to protect laboratory occupants have not changed. Georgia Tech’s Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) is responsible for determining which tasks require this protection. These masks cannot be worn in Georgia Tech laboratories without review and approval of EHS.
  • Single-use surgical masks are required to be worn while in lab spaces where chemical, biological, or radioactive agents are present. Surgical masks should be put on as soon as possible upon entering a laboratory space where they are required. During the course of a day, if the wearer leaves the lab, the surgical mask should be placed into a labeled plastic bag and retained for use when re-entering the lab that day. The mask should be discarded at the end of each day and replaced with a new surgical mask. Laboratory occupants should replace their surgical mask with a standard cloth face covering when leaving the lab.
  • Reusable cloth face masks, also known as face coverings will be used in laboratory spaces were chemical, biological, or radioactive agents are NOT present. They are required to be worn in any facility where occupants cannot maintain six-foot distancing. They are recommended to be worn at all times in research buildings.
  • In lab spaces that have a regulatory requirement for a higher level of personal protective equipment (PPE), those requirements will take precedent.
  • Personnel who, due to their job function, are unable to consistently maintain six feet of separation from other people will be required to wear cloth face coverings while at work. (Cloth face coverings will be provided for employees who are required to wear them).
  • HR will compile a list of units or offices where mask-wearing is required due to inability to consistently practice social distancing. - June 3, 2020

 

What is the purpose of wearing cloth face coverings/face masks?

Recent studies have shown that approximately a third of those infected with Covid-19 do not display the expected symptoms of coughing, fever and shortness of breath. In addition, infected persons who ultimately do display these symptoms can shed virus particles into the air around them for several days before their symptoms become apparent. There is therefore a significant risk that infected persons may be able to infect others before they are aware of their illness. 
Cloth face masks have a limited ability to filter out small particles, such as those containing viruses. However, these masks are able to capture a significant portion of the droplets and aerosols that the wearer may emit through breathing, talking, sneezing and coughing. Wearing cloth face masks can therefore help to limit the spread of coronavirus from persons who may not be aware that they are infected. It is recommended that cloth face masks/face coverings be worn at all times in research buildings and laboratories to limit the potential for community spread of the virus. Cloth face masks/face coverings should be laundered regularly. They should not be used to protect medical personnel from persons with known, active Covid-19 infections. - May 30, 2020

 

May I provide my own N-95 mask where one is not required?

If you wish to wear your own N-95 mask, which you have purchased, on campus, please ensure compliance with OSHA Standard 1910.134 APP D. These cannot be worn in laboratories without approval of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS). - May 30, 2020

 

What other items will be required to maintain laboratory safety?

In addition to face masks, laboratory occupants should expect to wear gloves, eye protection and lab coats as specified in each laboratory’s occupant protection plan. Regular hand washing for at least 20 seconds with soap and water is recommended for laboratory occupants when entering and leaving the lab, and at regular intervals during the day. In addition, alcohol-based hand sanitizer will be provided for facilities that may not have convenient access to soap and water. Laboratory occupants should sanitize their labs with approved sanitizers or disinfectants that are compatible with their laboratories on a regular basis. - May 30, 2020

 

Beyond PPE, what is recommended to help keep research faculty, staff, and students safe?

Personal hygiene guidelines recommended by the Georgia Department of Public Health and the CDC include the following:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Do this upon arrival at your workplace and every time you leave and re-enter the lab.
  • Use hand sanitizer in the absence of soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wear appropriate face masks at all time.
  • Respect the space of others; maintain at least a six-foot separation from others.
  • Use the “buddy system” in laboratories so that someone is always available within earshot in case of an emergency.
  • In case of an emergency call GTPD at (404) 894-2500 and EHS Emergency Phone at (404) 216-5237. - May 30, 2020

 

What does ‘social distancing’ mean in a research facility?

Maintaining appropriate separation in research facilities and wearing face masks are among the most important practices for keeping faculty, staff, and students safe.

Here are principles for social distancing:

  • Maintain at least six feet of separation from others. Be respectful of others’ personal space. 
  • Georgia Tech recommends room occupancies be limited to one person per 150 square feet during summer 2020 operations.
  • Make adjustments to work spaces to maximize social distancing.  
  • Consult with your PI or laboratory manager on social distancing implementation and staggered scheduling for your lab.
  • Hold virtual meetings, whenever possible. 
  • Provide services remotely, whenever possible. 
  • Do not share phones, desks, offices, computers, or other equipment. In cases where equipment is shared, it should be disinfected before and after each use.
  • Do not gather in groups greater than 10 persons when social distancing (6 feet) cannot be maintained.
  • Faculty, staff and students should take breaks and meals outside, in their offices or personal workspace, or in such other areas to ensure proper social distancing. 
  • Avoid all person-to-person contact, including handshaking or elbow bumps.
  • If using a Georgia Tech vehicle, including a utility cart, limit to one person. Clean the touch surfaces of the vehicle before and after you use it. - May 30, 2020

 


What is the status of a smartphone exposure notification app? Will it be required?

A team of Georgia Tech faculty, staff, and students has been working to create an exposure notification app to made available for those who wish to install it on their smartphones. It is still in development and has not yet been approved for use. - May 30, 2020

 

What are our plans for resuming research this summer?

As part of a gradual return to more typical operations, an effort is underway to ramp up more research and bring the faculty, graduate students and staff related to that research back to campus safely and gradually. Starting in June, Georgia Tech plans to resume research activity for the purpose of fulfilling research grants and contracts, and to ensure student degree progress. It is estimated that research may ramp up to approximately 75% over the course of the summer, with priority given to researchers who are unable to perform their work in a remote environment. Researchers will continue to be encouraged to perform work remotely to the greatest extent possible.  - May 30, 2020

 

How will I know what should be done in my laboratory or work space?

Each lab will develop a written disinfection plan. Lab groups should sanitize labs on a daily basis, with high touch point areas disinfected throughout the day. To allow for thorough cleaning, you can do your part by ensuring that your lab space is free from clutter, counters are clear, where possible, items are stored away, and floors and walkways are clear. - May 30, 2020

 

Our lab has been closed since March. What do we need to do to start it back up?

Environmental Health and Safety has a lab startup procedure and checklist posted at https://ehs.gatech.edu/sites/default/files/lab_ramp_up_guidance_checklist.pdf - May 31, 2020

 

Will work hours for labs be changed?

Target research hours as we ramp up are 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., allowing us to manage for population density and to implement necessary cleaning and disinfection. Other operating hours, including 24/7 operation, may be possible in coordination with building/unit supervisors. Standard safety practices in labs remain in effect, including use of the buddy system outside of regular business hours, or when one person needs to be able to respond in the event of an emergency.”

 

When will the Georgia Tech research community go back to campus?

(See updated information above) The research ramp-up will be significantly more complicated than the ramp-down was in March. Childcare facilities and K-12 schools remain closed, limiting what parents can do. Plans for reducing the number of people working in the same space must be developed and reviewed. Replacement personal protective equipment (PPE) will have to be obtained, and PPE will likely be required for jobs that didn’t need it before. Graduate and undergraduate students will have to return to campus.

A research ramp-up task force led by Christopher Jones, professor and William R. McLain Chair in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is working with a campus-wide task force, and with Georgia Tech and University System leadership, on a research ramp-up plan. It is likely that researchers will begin returning to campus gradually starting in May, though no date has been set.

A small number of researchers have been working on campus since the ramp-down to perform essential work and projects in support of specific COVID-19 projects. What these researchers have learned during this period of modified operations will help with the larger ramp-up process. - April 29, 2020

 

What was the rationale for pushing the visiting scholars earliest start date to September 21?

There are many aspects of this and considerable uncertainty. Students and scholars may have difficulty obtaining a visa or visa renewal, and we don’t know what operations will be like in the fall. Ultimately, we do not anticipate being prepared for visitors who would arrive any earlier than that date. Note that the September 21 date applies to J-1, not F-1 visa holders. At the moment the F-1 students are receiving paperwork with our standard fall start date but we do anticipate significant visa delays. - April 29, 2020