Guidelines for resumption of research activities at the Douglas

May 27, 2020

Preamble

These guidelines were developed by the Executive Committee of the Research Centre and follow those established by McGill University and public health authorities, as well as the timeline that these groups have outlined. They have been written with researchers in mind, but will provide useful information to all members of the Douglas Research Centre. In particular, they offer specific implementation strategies that need to be carefully followed as you plan to resume your research activities. Once you have familiarized yourself please complete the application form and send to research.centre@douglas.mcgill.cawith the subject line: Resumption of research activities.

We have constituted a Resumption of Research Working Committee with the following mandate:

  • Review guidelines and Resumption of research activities form
  • Review the requests received and prioritize those as a function of established guidelines
  • Assist the Health & Safety Committee to monitor the situation and identify cases of non-compliance, as required

 

This working committee will be tasked with reviewing the applications and emitting recommendations to the Executive Committee, who will then issue formal decisions. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us by email at research.centre@douglas.mcgill.ca.

These guidelines are issued with the express caveat that they are subject to abrupt change.

The following rules must be observed at all times:

  • Individuals who have flu-like symptoms (cough, fever, difficulty breathing)  or gastroenteritis symptoms or symptoms similar to COVID-19 (consult list here) must not come to work and should call (514) 644-4545.
  • Staff and students should remain off-site unless actively conducting research for which it is absolutely necessary to be physically present at the Douglas (e.g. animal or wet lab work, consultation of files that may not be taken off the  premises of the Douglas). Work that can be carried out off-site (e.g. writing, data analyses) should not be conducted at the Douglas.
  • All staff and students should self-perform a daily screen for risk exposure review, symptoms, and conduct a temperature check prior to going to the lab. Please consult Public Health information for details about what to do.
  • In the case of research centre members testing positive for COVID-19: 
    • Any faculty member, employee or student who has been in contact with a positive case will be advised by Public Health on what to do. Alternatively, individuals may contact the COVID-19 helpline at (514) 644-4545.
    • Infection status does not need to be shared with colleagues unless directed by health professionals/public health services. It is important to respect confidentiality.
    • Return to work will be determined by Public Health authorities and/or doctor’s note.

 

Guidelines for return to on-site research activities

The priority remains the safety of all research personnel, including researchers, employees, and students.

As such, it is imperative that:

  • We start small and slowly increase on-site research activities. The first phase of research activities began on May 25, 2020, for a 2-week trial period with a limited number of research personnel on-site. For this trial period, approvals were restricted to a maximum of 25% of eligible work personnel (graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, technicians and research associates, as well as PIs, but not undergraduate students) who cannot perform their tasks remotely.

 

  • If conditions remain favourable during this trial period, we will consider issuing Phase 2 authorizations for expanded research activities, which again will be valid for a 2-week period:

    • For labs with fewer than 10 people - a maximum of 5 individuals may be authorized
    • For labs with more that 10 people - a maximum of 50% of individuals whose tasks required them to be physically present at the Douglas may be authorized

 

  • Every PI take responsibility for ensuring that safety protocols are strictly adhered to by personnel under their supervision or guidance:

    • Proper techniques, available here, are used for hand-washing, physical distancing, cleaning, and use of PPEs.
    • Anyone wishing to retrieve or consult items from the Douglas requests and receives explicit authorization from the DRC Executive Committee, with dates and times of visit clearly stipulated.
    • Authorized personnel should remain only in the rooms for which they have been authorized (if authorized for lab work, then only in the lab, not in the offices) to reduce the movement of personnel between buildings.
    • Urgent, unplanned visits to offices must be documented through email permission from the researcher.
  • Before beginning any research activities, each member of the research personnel completes an “Acknowledgement of Return to Research Activities” form.

 

  • Any situation that changes the circumstances surrounding the granting of permission (e.g. change of timeline, change of employee or student conducting the work) be reported in a timely manner by the PI for subsequent review by the Executive Committee.

The return to on-site activities must be progressive to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 at the Douglas.

  • Prioritization of research requests will be based on:
    • Prioritizing continuing research
    • An assessment, at a higher-level, of the impact of the proposed protocol on the overall level of activity and number of individuals in a given building/floor, including assessing the ability for the researchers to conduct their clinical trials and/or in-person subject participation
    • Availability of a robust and viable pipeline for procuring required equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) for the research
    • Contribution to graduate student project completion, and in particular the research of those students who are close to graduation
    • Post doctoral fellows nearing the end of their contract
    • Urgency of carrying out the research project because of timing issues (seasonal requirements, specific timelines for testing), funding issues or publication purposes

Research with human participants is not permissible for the initial phase of return to research activities (planned for May 25)

However, all personnel should be cognizant that research involving in-person participants faces specific challenges; the same principles as above should be applied when considering how to restart once permitted to do so. The first priority should be to move to an online participation; if that is not possible, participation respecting the two-metre physical distancing could be considered; finally, if the latter is not possible, the implementation of physical barriers must be considered, including for instance Plexiglas dividers and wearing of appropriate personal protective equipment, as per current advice from the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST).

Proposals for on-site research must include mechanisms to limit risk

This should take into account the specific circumstances of research being conducted. Requirement for on-site presence must be demonstrated.

  • Any research carried out on-site requires prior approval by the Executive Committee; such approval will be granted for a limited time period (renewable) and can be revoked at any time.

  • Travel between buildings and locations within buildings must be kept at a minimum. Therefore, no research activity that can be carried out from home will be approved for on-site operation. If the research involves a combination of activities that must be conducted on-site and activities that can be conducted remotely (e.g. data analysis and other computer work), research personnel must not carry out the portion of research activities that can be performed remotely while they are on-site. Exceptionally, some limited on-site data analysis work could be approved for cases when the experimental work process includes idle/waiting periods that are significantly shorter than a work shift. In this case we encourage personnel to conduct on site analysis during the waiting period in the location where they are performing the research, and avoid travelling elsewhere to perofrm the analysis.
  • Plan shifts as appropriate for your situation/nature of research (2 weeks work, 2 weeks home; half days…)
  • Coordinate activities with colleagues on the same floor (16m2 per person, 2-meter rule, physical barriers as required, cleaning between shifts, etc.)
  • Maintain a COVID-19 free environment in offices and laboratories through:
    • Physical distancing (16m2 and 2-meter rules at all times) and regular hand washing
    • Staggered staff at work (i.e., if not in lab should be off Douglas premises)
    • Limiting who can be in lunch spaces at a given time to ensure physical distancing
    • Wiping down surfaces before and after use (i.e., lunchroom, conference room, lab bench).
  • Minimize or eliminate COVID-19 exposure to and from the work environment, including using PPE (even self-made masks) when distancing is not possible (e.g. public transit).
  • Encourage Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) use in the offices and laboratories as recommended by Public Health Guidelines; this PPE should be distinct frorm PPE used when travelling to/from work. 
  • Plan for ordering supplies (including PPE) with ample advance notice.

Non-human research – Specific implementation strategies

  • Tools or devices that are used by several employees will need to be cleaned between shifts. This may mean developing mandatory protocols for beginning and end of work periods (e.g. cleaning of shared tools, protocol for entry/exit to avoid crowding physical areas, etc.). Specific platforms or core facilities may implement specific measures therefore it is the responsibility of all to inform themselves by communicating with the platform/facility director.

Human/Clinical research – Specific implementation strategies

  • Face-to-face human participant studies  cannot be undertaken unless 2-meter distancing can be maintained. Consider plexiglass barriers, PPE, online studies where possible.  
  • Establish Plan B for student projects that can’t be accommodated.
  • Consider moving to online evaluation of participants if possible.

Any return to on-site research activities must include contingency planning.

  • Every PI who decides to apply to ramp up their research must be prepared for a sudden shut down following university or government directives or should other circumstances arise that would limit activities (e.g., a reported case of a COVID infection in a lab group).

  • PIs should make provisions for personnel absences due to health-related circumstances or care responsibilities.

 

Procedure

  • PIs wishing to restart on-site research activities will submit one Resumption of research activities form to the Executive Committee, outlining how the proposed protocol abides by all the rules for on-site work. Depending on the success of the phase 1 implementations; PIs may be permitted to submit additional requests in subsequent phases.
  • Only PIs are permitted to request resumption of work activities. Therefore PIs are required to coordinate with their personnel when preparing all requests.
  • When preparing to complete the form, PIs should prioritize which portions of their research program to restart (as per the priority guidelines provided above).
  • Additionally, in the return to work application form, PIs are required to provide a full list of their personnel, indicating their Douglas employee number or student ID if employee number is not available.
  • Resumption of research activities forms will be centralized to permit tracking of individuals on-site at the Douglas Research Centre for health and safety reasons. PIs may not restart on-site research activities before obtaining the authorization of the Executive Committee.

 

Core facilities and common areas

Directors of Core facilities are responsible for producing clear guidelines for their use and all users are required to comply with these guidelines in order to retain the right to conduct their research. Users are expected to consult/coordinate with others on the same floor/using the same platforms. Common areas such as meeting rooms and lunchrooms also should be used sparsely and surfaces should be wiped down after use.

 

Monitoring of research activities and compliance with our guidelines

  • It is of paramount importance that all community members involved in on-site research activities comply with established safety protocols.
  • The Health and Safety Committee of the Douglas Research Centre has been mandated and will be responsible for monitoring our research activities with the assistance of division leaders and leadership of the Research Centre.
  • It is important to note that some circumstances can lead to perception of non-compliance, when there is none; an example would be the case of individuals working in close contact, but who happen to live in the same apartment. A quick discussion with the individuals involved will often help resolve such perceptions.
  • Non-compliance with safety protocol within a lab/research space is reported to the Health and Safety.

If a claim about safety protocol violation is substantiated, the Executive Committee will determine appropriate actions, which may range from small corrective measures such as sending some of the staff home until additional measures can be put in place (e.g. PPE) to  indefinite suspension of on-site research.