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Guidelines for Shared Laboratory Spaces Under Covid-19 Reduced Operations

Many research laboratories have open plans, lab spaces shared among multiple PIs, common pooled graduate student desk areas, and shared facilities, tools, and instrumentation. In such environments, coordination is necessary among multiple users of the space. These guidelines represent a discussion of best practices learned during the Summer 2020 semester as research ramped up and reflect guidance developed within schools for shared lab spaces, facilities, and maker spaces. This is a set of recommended best practices. It does not dictate or change any official guidance regarding lab operations, PPE, or maintaining physical distancing and one person/150 square feet density requirements.

Guiding Principle: Protect the health and safety of our researchers. Shared research spaces should maximize physical distance between researchers, utilize creative solutions (barriers, remote cameras) when physical distance is not possible, limit usage to essential functions, and engage in sanitization practices that protect our researchers when sharing space and equipment. Communication and coordination among all users of shared laboratories are critical for effectiveness. Specific recommendations are listed below.

Access and Traffic Flow

  • Discuss traffic flow and points in ingress/egress, label appropriately (floor markings, wall signs, one-way flow when possible).
  • Post a checklist for all to read prior to and when entering the lab with Covid-19 safety guidance and any reminders about facility-specific rules.
  • Coordinate access and scheduling among all users when from multiple labs. Utilize shared calendars as well as whiteboards/magnet boards where a room (e.g. behind a closed door) can be labeled as occupied or free.

Occupancy

  • Only do in the lab what needs to be done in the lab (“collect data and leave”).
  • Avoid small group and 1:1 in-person meetings – use teleconference facilities.
  • Determine space specific capacity (room, work station, instrument). Clearly mark occupancy limits (wall sign, floor markings) and the way to reserve or indicate usage. Note that the number of work zones in a room may be more than a room’s total person capacity. For example, a room may have six work zones but a 3-person capacity. No two people should be in any one of these six work zones at the same time. Concurrently, only 3 people should ever be in the room total, i.e., the room is only at 50% capacity.
  • Remove furniture and/or section off spaces that promote communal gathering.
  • Graduate student desks are often in open bays or rooms with 10-30 desks. Develop a system among all participants to limit both total room occupancy as well as desk seating (maintaining 6 feet of distance). For example, adjacent cubicles cannot be occupied. Desks are to be used for storage of daily essentials or work related to teaching/GTA duties only.
  • Utilize physical separation (e.g. Plexiglas shields, rearrange space) when distance cannot be maintained between work locations.

Sanitization

  • Develop a schedule (and designate people) to sanitize door knobs, common work surfaces, equipment, and work stations (e.g. keyboards, mice, touchpads) after each use and at regular intervals. Do not assume that Georgia Tech Facilities is doing this within the laboratory (though they may, in limited building-specific cases).
  • If possible, provide each user of the shared space with his/her own computer peripherals (e.g. keyboard, mouse, touchpad) to avoid communal use.
  • Wear gloves whenever possible for shared equipment, touchscreens, etc.

Operations

  • Consider working in teams or cohorts or designating “experts” to run all experiments on one piece of equipment.
  • Maintain a “buddy system” for safety reasons. Do not cut corners; always have someone within earshot.
  • Wear a face mask and face shield when training in person.
  • Rethink operations. For example, can some training or activities be safely done remotely instead of in-person? Can you use pre-recorded online videos to replace in-person trainings?
  • Consider using two-way cameras or meeting applications (e.g. Teams, BlueJeans) on laptops and cell phones for remote instruction, experimental planning/discussions, and trouble-shooting/guidance.

- Posted August 19, 2020