Research Ramp-Up Frequently Asked Questions – Updated May 30, 2020
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.
Below are some frequently-asked questions about the research ramp-up.
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?
Face coverings/face masks are strongly recommended for the occupants of all Georgia Tech research laboratories at all times. 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 should 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. - May 30, 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
Will face masks be provided?
Surgical masks will be provided to laboratory occupants as required throughout the fall and summer. Other necessary PPE such as gloves, protective eye wear, and laboratory coats will be provided for the first 30 days of ramp-up. PPE requirements for each lab are specified in documentation near the entrance to each facility. If you have questions about the PPE required for the laboratory where you work, please consult with your laboratory manager, project PI or EHS. PPE requests should be made to your building manager for your entire lab, not individual requests. - 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
How should laboratories obtain required PPE?
Laboratories can make PPE requests for surgical masks, gloves and sanitizer to their building manager. EHS will supplement laboratory PPE supplies for the first 30 days of re-opening. After that point, laboratories should acquire their own PPE, with the exception of surgical face masks, which may be supplied throughout the summer.
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
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 will this ramp-up plan likely include?
(See updated information above) The most important goal will be protecting faculty, staff, and students. It is likely that research operations will not resume all at once. It is expected that activities will resume in waves, prioritized to the activities that need to resume most urgently. To reduce the number of people in laboratories at any given time, staggered work hours may be implemented so that people work in shifts. To accommodate parents who don’t have child care available, telework hours may be more flexible and combined with laboratory hours in a hybrid system. Cleaning and disinfection of facilities will be increased. To quickly identify and control any infection, temperature checks, smartphone-based contact tracing, and expanded testing operations are being considered. These are among the provisions that are being examined, but final decisions will be made by leadership at Georgia Tech and in the University System. Research sponsors may also need to sign off on the ramp-up plans.
In addition to local leadership, Georgia Tech is also working with peer universities, national organizations and agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to understand the ramp-up issues and how others are addressing them. The challenge of reopening universities will require the best expertise and thinking from around the world. - April 29, 2020
What will be done to protect instructors and researchers who are more vulnerable to infection?
This is one of the considerations being studied by both the research task force and the institute task force. Unit heads will be asked to consider this issue in determining who should be returning the labs, when they should return, and who should continue working remotely. The needs of people who have significant vulnerabilities are expected to be worked out on a case-by-case basis within each work unit. - April 29, 2020
What about people who have a significant concern about returning to campus?
Many researchers are anxious to get back to campus to continue their work. Others have concerns about working in close proximity to others. Those differing points of view are being carefully considered as part of the research ramp up. Support activities that are not required to be on campus may be allowed to continue to be performed remotely even as some researchers return to campus. These are among the decisions that will be made in the weeks ahead. - April 29, 2020
What about undergraduate and graduate students coming back to do research?
Undergraduate and graduate students are essential to the research program and they are part of ramp-up considerations. The task force is aware of the time pressures many students face as they attempt to complete requirements for graduation. Graduation requirements will likely be handled locally in the schools and colleges in coordination with guidance from the Institute and University System. The needs of students will be paramount in making these decisions. - 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
For labs that require personal protective equipment (PPE), will this be provided?
(See updated information above) PPE is essential to the safe conduct of research and will be provided to laboratories where needed. Much of our existing stock was provided to healthcare organizations facing critical needs, and that will have to be replaced. In addition, ramp-up operations may mandate PPE and different types of PPE for jobs that may not have required it before the Covid-19 pandemic. PPE is difficult to obtain nationally and until the supply chain is replenished, that will remain a challenge. Georgia Tech units are producing some PPE, including face shields and some face masks, but not all needs can be met with these internal resources. Georgia Tech units are also producing disinfectant products. - April 29, 2020
How are we handling research that relies on human subjects?
Human subjects research may require not only that researchers return to their labs, but also that persons from outside campus be brought into Georgia Tech facilities. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) is engaged on this topic and the ramp-up task force is looking at guidelines for how some research may be done remotely. Accommodations for human subjects research during this challenging time will likely depend on individual protocols. - April 29, 2020
Is there guidance for faculty with industry research contracts that have hard deadlines?
The Office of Industry Engagement is working with faculty and individual industry sponsors. Every sponsor has different requirements and the issues created by the inability to access campus facilities are being discussed on a case-by-case basis. A number of no-cost extensions have already been issued. Faculty members should work with their contracting officer to address these issues as soon as possible. - April 29, 2020
What are the implications of Covid-19 for Georgia Tech’s financial situation?
Georgia Tech receives financial support from three main sources: research and other sponsored activities, the state of Georgia, and student-related fees. Each of these areas has been affected differently by the pandemic and the specific implications are unclear right now.
Federal agencies continue to pay invoices submitted and have not advised of any expected changes. Researchers have generally been able to obtain no-cost extensions of project deadlines because the agencies are aware of the challenges universities face. Researchers have continued to submit proposals during this time, and grants/contracts have continued to be awarded. So far, there has not been significant reduction in revenues from federal agencies. On the industry side, some companies have indicated they may defer projects until their financial conditions become clearer.
Everyone is aware of what has happened to the economy of the state of Georgia. Reductions in economic activity will have an effect on state revenue collections. The extent of that effect and how that will be reflected in our state funding for fiscal year 2021 aren’t known. At the same time, the state will have much higher costs for unemployment and medical services. The Georgia General Assembly will have to finalize a budget by the end of June.
Student fees are also an area of great uncertainty, particularly for international graduate students. Refunds made during the ramp-down period created a significant budget challenge. International students make up a large part of our student body, particularly in graduate education, and the ability of students to return to campus may contribute to the financial challenge. The extent of that is only now being fully realized.
The University System of Georgia has issued guidance on budgetary issues for fiscal 2021. - May 4, 2020
What financial guidance can be provided until this issue becomes clearer?
Principal investigators and others with financial authority should exercise fiscal responsibility during these times. It is likely that some large equipment purchases and capital projects may be deferred. Georgia Tech will prioritize people over equipment and other expenses to the extent that is possible. - April 29, 2020
What is the status of hiring for research positions?
In general, hiring for positions that are supported totally by sponsored funds is continuing. These positions do not depend on state funding or student fees, so they bring much-needed funding into Georgia Tech and the state of Georgia. Many of these “soft-money” positions are in the Georgia Tech Research Institute, but others are in the academic colleges. Facilities and administration (F&A) costs associated with this hiring are important to maintaining the revenue position of Georgia Tech. Other hiring is paused until Georgia Tech and state of Georgia learn more about the financial issues ahead. - April 29, 2020
Is there specific guidance for people who are on soft money (sponsored projects)?
For the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), which is funded almost entirely from soft money, research work is continuing. About three-quarters of personnel are working remotely and they are continuing to meet deliverable schedules and other milestones. There have been accommodations given through DoD contracts and other mechanisms for no-cost extensions, and there may be a possibility to request additional funding, though that will be up to individual agencies. - April 29, 2020
If researchers cannot utilize campus facilities, can we reduce the F&A rate?
Georgia Tech’s facilities and administration (F&A) rates are set by the Office of Naval Research to recover the cost of providing services necessary to carry out the work mandated by grants and contracts from all federal agencies. Georgia Tech does not set those rates and cannot change them. F&A funds support Georgia Tech’s research program and a reduction would also negatively impact the budgets of schools and colleges, which receive a substantial portion of these revenues. - April 29, 2020
If furloughs and layoffs are necessary, how will they be allocated?
No decisions have been made on these issues. Georgia Tech will prioritize people during financial challenges, and it is likely that any decisions about furloughs and layoffs will be made at the state and University System levels. It should be noted that a furlough is an employer-mandated, temporary unpaid leave from work, often for a certain number of days during a specific period of time. Persons furloughed retain their jobs and usually their health insurance.
The University System of Georgia has issued guidance on budgetary issues for fiscal 2021. - May 4, 2020
Will Georgia Tech receive assistance from federal government recovery initiatives?
U.S. universities will be receiving assistance focused on support to students who have been hurt financially by the pandemic. Georgia Tech is expected to receive approximately $11 million. About half of that will go directly to students, while the remainder will go to programs designed to support students. Guidance on how the funding will be administered and distributed is expected to come from the U.S. Department of Education and the University System. This program is separate from support being provided to small businesses. - April 29, 2020
Can federal grant and contacts be refocused to Covid-19 efforts?
With sufficient justification, NSF, NIH and other federal awards can repurposed with permission from the project’s program manager within the funding agency. Faculty members should work with their program managers if they believe such refocusing would be advantageous. Guidance for this can be found on the website of the Office of Sponsored Programs. Federal agencies have also issued requests for proposals to address specific Covid-19-related objectives, and Georgia Tech has created a website to list those at https://research.gatech.edu/coronavirus-fundingopportunities - April 29, 2020
What is the status of the Small Bets Grants Program?
The budget for the Small Bets program is being funded from non-state sources, including GTRI’s independent research and development program. There were more than 200 submissions and at least 21 have already been selected for funding. The collaboration between schools, colleges and GTRI has been tremendous, and that will be reflected in the awards announcement. - April 29, 2020