RESEARCH OPERATING PROCEDURES
Guidance for Developing COVID-19 Specific Standard
Operating Procedures for Research Environments

BACKGROUND

As PIs or laboratory directors continue or ramp up their research activities, ensuring that USU researchers are protected from COVID-19 transmission is paramount. The Office of Research and the Research Stabilization Working Group have developed the guidance presented herein for USU principal investigators (PIs) and lab directors to reference in developing specific COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) for their research environment. Researchers who work independently or do not have a research space other than their office should also formulate an individual plan to mitigate risk of exposure to and transmission of COVID-19 during research activities.

Download the SOP Template

Town Hall Q&A — Standard Operating Procedures

EXAMPLE COVID-19 SPECIFIC SOPs

Lisa M. Berreau
Vice President for Research
College of Science
Alexa Sand
Associate Vice President for Research
Caine College of the Arts
Michelle Baker
Associate Dean
College of Science
Shawn Whitman
Associate Dean
Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services
Abby Benninghoff
Associate Dean
College of Agriculture & Applied Sciences 

REQUIREMENTS

Per the USU Safety and Health Policy (USU Policy 337), each USU principal investigator (PI) or laboratory director is responsible for developing safety-specific SOPs for their research environment. Consistent with that policy, each USU PI or laboratory director is required to develop COVID-19 SOPs for their research environment. These SOPs will augment (not replace) existing research environment SOPs. Understanding that there are a wide variety of research activities underway on the USU campus, as well as research activities occurring off-site, individual PIs must carefully consider their research circumstances and develop appropriate SOPs. Because departments may have common types of research work environments, we encourage faculty to discuss and develop shared COVID-19 specific SOP content where appropriate. Importantly, the COVID-19 SOPs can be updated as the risk of widespread disease in UT changes. The COVID-19 SOPs will remain in effect until further notice from the Office of Research.

TEMPLATE SOP DOCUMENT

To assist PIs in developing their COVID-19 specific SOPs, the USU Office of Research has provided a template SOP document (attached).

APPROVAL PROCESS

Each principal investigator (PI) or lab director will complete the template for their research environment and submit to their Department Head or Supervisor for review and approval by June 30, 2020. Department Heads/Supervisors will be provided access to a Box folder under the Office of Research where the approved SOPs will be filed. Deans, Associate Deans and Office of Research administrators will have access to these plans for further review.

PIs, research supervisors and research personnel should implement their COVID-19 specific SOPs immediately while the SOPs are under review by their Department Head or Supervisor.

EXPECTATIONS

USU researchers are required to follow their approved COVID-19 specific SOPs. Failure to do so could result in discontinuation of research activities as directed by the Department Head, Dean, and Office of Research.

OTHER RESOURCES

USU COVID-19 Stabilization working groups for travel, events, and fall course scheduling are providing guidance that augments this document and may be useful for USU researchers in developing their SOPs. USU Environmental Health and Safety staff members (contact Eric Jorgensen, eric.jorgensen@usu.edu) are available to consult on COVID-19 SOP development as it relates to general safety issues. USU Facilities (435-797-3535) can provide information on the cleaning procedures currently employed in specific research environments and on the availability of disinfectants or other cleaning supplies.

HUMAN SUBJECTS RESOURCES

While the vast majority of human subject research at USU remains ongoing utilizing remote research procedures, all in-person research procedures (including recruitment, informed consent, data collection, and analytic efforts involving in-person interactions such as member checking or meaning-making processes) between researchers and participants remain paused. The IRB will notify researchers and provide COVID-19 specific SOP development guidance when these procedures are once again permitted. Information about exceptions to the stoppage can be found on the IRB website.

GUIDANCE FOR DEVELOPING COVID-19 SOPs
FOR RESEARCH ENVIRONMENTS

The following best practices have been compiled from multiple sources, including peer institutions, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), State of Utah, and Utah State University. This list is not exhaustive and does not comprehensively restate the principles laid out in the University’s Reducing Workplace Exposure to COVID-19 website (http://usu.edu/covid-19/operations/workplace). Principal investigators/lab supervisors should use their best judgement, personal knowledge, and contacts in developing COVID-19 specific SOPs for their particular research environment.

SPACE AND EQUIPMENT SAFETY

  • Maintaining 6 feet distancing in labs and field settings can be supported through physical and protocol adaptations such as the following:
    • Use tape to indicate distancing around workstations when possible
    • In the field, establish protocols for maintaining interpersonal space of at least 6 feet, for example, using stakes and string to cordon off study areas. If handling equipment that requires 2 or more staff in close proximity, wear face coverings
    • Erect physical barriers between workstations/areas when possible
  • Assign workstations, equipment, when possible, to ONE user and keep individual tools/materials stored in the assigned workstation or area to be handled ONLY by that individual. Where spaces must be shared, use closable plastic totes with the worker’s name clearly indicated to store equipment/materials assigned to that individual
  • Follow USU guidance on the number of persons per vehicle (including open vehicles) at a time during field work (guidance is forthcoming); disinfect vehicles prior to and after use
  • Consider ventilation (air circulation) available in the space; use of poorly ventilated areas should be avoided, especially for more than one worker
  • Monitor and ensure regular disinfection of surfaces and equipment
    • Daily disinfection checklist for each work area/equipment with person responsible clearly indicated
    • For advice on cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, see the CDC guidelines.
  • Ensure personal hygiene and appropriate PPE
    • Face covering should be worn on the USU campus when social distancing cannot be maintained
    • Hand-washing reminders should be posted visibly at workstations. All workers should wash hands on arrival, before and after breaks and at the end of their shift (https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/How_To_HandWash_Poster.pdf)
    • Gloves should be available and worn when using shared equipment and in other high-contact zones
    • PPE available at entry to workspace
    • Post signage strongly encouraging workers to follow USU guidance
    • Wear face coverings where social distancing of 6 feet or more is not a practical possibility (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
    • Provide means for proper disposal and removal of used/soiled PPE

TIME MANAGEMENT

  • Use shifts to keep the number of individuals in workspaces (including vehicles, labs, offices) separated appropriately (6 feet; see above) while considering the overall safety needs in the work environment (e.g., need for two or more workers to ensure safety in procedures being performed)
    • Stores and storage facilities: Clearly schedule visits so that only one person at a time is present
    • Shared research facilities (e.g., LARC, Microscopy Core Facility, NMR): Work with facility manager to ensure that the number of individuals in the facility at any given time does not pose a proximity risk
    • Workers who live together can work together with shared equipment/space when necessary
  • Actively coordinate use of research space
    • Daily reporting of planned tasks for next workday in order to maximize safe use of space/equipment
    • Use a team-management app or online spreadsheet to facilitate effective communication
    • Avoid scheduling more than one worker in a designated space or environment at a time when possible, and as other safety considerations permit
    • For large research groups or shared research spaces, designate an individual to manage and assign shifts and a process for checking and updating shift information on a regular basis
    • For field work, coordinate teams to arrive in separate vehicles and respect interpersonal distancing – schedule as few fieldworkers together as safety permits

WORKER HEALTH

  • All workers in the research environment will receive a copy of the COVID-19 specific SOPs and will receive training from the PI or designee
  • Follow all USU workplace safety guidance
  • Know the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and consider asking workers to conduct a daily self-assessment
  • Any worker experiencing symptoms should self-isolate and notify their supervisor
  • Workers should self-report travel (work-related and personal) to supervisors for consideration of risk mitigation (see USU COVID-19 specific Travel guidelines)
  • Online research meetings are strongly encouraged; In-person research meetings should include appropriate social distancing (6 feet) with all participants wearing face coverings
  • If a worker is infected and has been in the workspace, CONTACT Risk Management at 435-797-1951 immediately. Risk Management will determine the period of time that the workspace will be shut down, who was exposed and therefore, should quarantine for a 14-day period and the plan for deep clean/disinfection, including who will perform the deep clean/disinfection.

RESEARCH STABILIZATION WORKING GROUP


Lisa M. Berreau
Vice President for Research (Chair)


Joseph Ward
Dean, CHASS


Patrick Belmont
President, Faculty Senate


Paul Barr
Vice Provost


James Fargo
Executive Associate Dean

GUIDING PRINCIPLES

1. Follow the cognizant Local, State and National Public Health authority directives.

2. Protect the health and safety of the USU research workforce and our human research subjects.

3. Recognize the uncertainty and evolving nature of the COVID-19 situation, and thereby promote a culture of individual and collective responsibility for safety in research environments.

4. Remain engaged in research and economic productivity.

EXISTING POLICIES AND GUIDELINES

  • Federal and state laws as well as University policies.
  • Utah Governor Herbert issued guidelines for employers and individuals during the stabilization period of COVID-19 in the Utah Leads Together 3 Plan.
  • Institutional: President Cockett has issued guidance to USU community regarding COVID-19. The most recent updates can be found here.

On May 1, 2020, the President wrote to all USU employees: Employees will continue to work remotely if they can. Employees who are unable to work remotely or need to meet with others will follow the governor’s guidelines to protect themselves and others. The email reminded students and employees to follow the guidance of public health officials to wear a cloth face covering, follow strict hygiene standards, continue to social distance, and stay home if experiencing any symptoms.