What was the shift in roles and responsibilities in your lab as a result of the pandemic?
I think already being a laboratory that practices at Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2), we were probably more prepared for the pandemic than those labs that had to learn new biosafety techniques. In the department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics (CBMG), each PI of a research lab was required to develop specific Phase I (initial re-opening) and Phase 2 protocols for their particular lab and oversee their implementation. Every lab member had to fully understand all of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the lab and how to deal with any emergency, because they might be the only person there due to reduced occupancy. Unlike normal lab operating conditions, time in the lab needed to be tightly scheduled, and how people moved and worked together while in lab also required extra effort. To do their research during a pandemic, everyone had to become more aware, know the guidelines, and become more organized.
What were some of the COVID-19 specific practices (e.g., reduced occupancy, social distancing, etc.) implemented within your lab?
Phase 1 required limited occupancy of 2 people at any time in a 1000 sq. ft. lab with extra time between shifts for cleaning. This was probably the biggest adjustment. My lab went to working 7 days a week and we did AM and PM shifts. This was scheduled online to avoid time conflicts. Mask wearing was and still is mandatory in the lab. We limited our break room to one person at a time, to allow people to remove masks, and eat & drink. Social distancing was mainly problematic at the choke points (i.e. doorways, common equipment, and ends of galleys) in lab, of which there are many. When we expanded to Phase 2, social distancing became more difficult because more people were allowed to work at the same time.
In our lab, all of our guidelines specific to COVID-19 are posted, and there is plenty of personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitizer available.
How did the Biosafety Office assist you during different phases of the shutdown?
Which Research Safety / Biosafety documents have you found particularly useful? Since the University pandemic guidelines were coming from the VPRs office officially, that is where we had to look. As a BSL- 2 lab PI and member of the IBC, I was already aware of many practices coming through interactions with Dr. Sherry S. Bohn, PhD, MSL, CBSP and the Biosafety staff. We used the UMD ESSR webpage at https://essr.umd.edu/ for all of the ’final’ protocols used to set up our pandemic plan