COVID-19 Update: March 15, 2020
March 15, 2020
In light of emerging information about COVID-19 that includes evidence of possible transmission during early asymptomatic or mild symptomatic phases of infection, the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology are enacting programs to further increase interpersonal physical distance, to further decrease interpersonal interactions in the workplace and to provide additional protections for employees and their family members who may be at elevated risk. These programs become effective Monday, March 16 and will remain in effect until further notice. Please note that the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology are open and operational, having developed a unit level approach (see below) in coordination with the most current Virginia Tech policy announcement. While we are taking the additional steps outlined below to further ensure faculty, staff and student well-being and we are working to maximize flexibility, individual work plans should be discussed with each individual’s supervisor, following the guidelines described below.
1) Most communications and meetings between i) central administration employees, ii) between central administration employees and other Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology personnel including faculty, students and staff and iii) between central administration employees and personnel from outside FBRI or OVPHS&T, should be held either by email, telephone call, conference call, zoom and/or other virtual technologies. Most employees can accomplish this by working in their individual offices.
2) In-person meetings between i) central administration employees, ii) between central administration employees and other Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology personnel including faculty, students and staff and iii) between central administration employees and personnel from outside FBRI or OVPHS&T, in the same confined space will be severely limited to only such rare situations where it is absolutely essential to meet together physically, and in such cases, it should involve only a small number of the necessary people distributed as far from each other as possible (preferably in a larger conference room or outside the building vs. in an individual office) and with no sharing of physical materials such as handouts and no food or beverages served.
3) Central administrative employees who cannot report to work because they must provide supervision or care to a child or family member due to a school/care facility closing and/or due to unavailability of a care giver or because the employee or a family member living with them are at high risk for COVID-19 morbidity (e.g. age, underlying chronic health condition that increases their susceptibility to morbidity due to COVID-19 infection, immuno-compromised, etc.) may telework from home with prior permission and a work plan from their supervisor. In such cases, it is important that the employee works during regular hours and is available for telephone calls and email communication with their supervisor and co-workers and is able to carry out their duties on their computer from home and access the internet. Employees may discuss other issues of concern that may also prevent them from safely coming to work with their supervisor. Each situation can be considered on a case-by-case basis. Employees should not bring children or other family members or visitors to work during the COVID-19 emergency in order not to increase their potential exposure and the potential exposure of employees.
4) Central administration and facility support employees whose work can only be done satisfactorily on site through their physical presence should continue to report to work, communicate with their supervisor about changing conditions and follow established practices while at work for maximizing physical distances between themselves and other employees and for personal hygiene.
5) Individual primary faculty PIs will determine procedures (within VT’s policies) for their research operations and team members under their supervision. It is recommended that whenever possible, primary faculty PIs make available the possibility for their research team members to telework from off-site, if such an arrangement won’t jeopardize the research operations. When teleworking is not possible, it is recommended that primary faculty PIs make sure to follow similar guidelines for their research team members that are recommended for central administration employees above for eliminating/severely minimizing in-person meetings and increasing physical distancing in the laboratory between their research team members. It is also recommended that PIs eliminate/severely curtail research team members physically meeting with other FBRI personnel including faculty, students and staff and with personnel from outside FBRI. In addition to routine laboratory environmental cleaning, it is recommended that commonly touched areas in labs such as freezer and refrigerator doors, bottles and jars, cabinet handles, fume hood sashes, doorknobs, sink handles, telephones, and shared instruments be disinfected with effective disinfectants. The VT OEHS and the FBRI Office of Facility Development and Technical Operations can help provide additional information for maintaining clean research areas to minimize possible exposure to the COVID-10 pathogen whenever possible.
6) Existing guidelines remain in effect such that anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 infection, is living with anyone who has such symptoms or is positive for COVID-19, has a known recent (within last 14 days) exposure to someone who is COVID-19 positive, has traveled to an international site designated as a warning level 3 or 4 or has recently (last 14 days) traveled to a domestic COVID-19 hot spot, should not come to work and should telework.
7) Whenever possible, please use the stairs and avoid traveling in the elevator where people would interact in a small space. If you must use the elevator (other health reasons, carrying things, delivering things, etc.), please try to travel alone and have other people wait for the next elevator.
8) While refilling water bottles at a water cooler, please try not to touch their bottle/cup to the cooler spigot and potentially contaminate it.
9) Please remember to wash your hands frequently.
Thanks to everyone for your help with implementing these programs. They are in the spirit of trying to do everything reasonable to minimize possibilities for FBRI and OVPHS&T faculty, staff and students (and their families) being exposed to this infection and for working together as a team! Please make sure to talk with your supervisor in making any plans. Also, I am available to answer questions you may have.
Michael J. Friedlander, Ph.D.
Virginia Tech Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology
Executive Director, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC
Senior Dean for Research, VTCSOM