Update: RIT laboratory activities and guiding principles

Dear RIT Research Community,

RIT has received permission to begin the process of resuming some of our laboratory activities.  Specifically, we have been provided an exemption from the New York State Empire State Development to resume research activities in our laboratories that are engaged in work that supports of the US Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and/or support other essential industries including healthcare. These areas are deemed essential and are therefore not subject to current New York State restrictions (i.e., Governor’s Executive Orders and other recommendations from the New York State Department of Health).

The will be an application process required before any activity will be allowed to return to any laboratories.  We are currently in the process of scheduling a Zoom town hall meeting to discuss the guiding principles and requirements associated with this NYS Exemption. During the town hall will provide additional details on the application process and will entertain questions. The following are the Essential Guiding Principles that will be associated with this limited lab reopening.

Essential Guiding Principles:

1. Follow the applicable Local, State, and National Public Health Authority directives including, for example, social distancing and public travel restrictions.

2. Protect the health and safety of the research workforce. Safety within research spaces must be rigorously maintained and monitored.

3. Continue to work remotely whenever possible. Activities and time spent in on-campus research facilities should be kept to an absolute minimum.

4. PIs/Lab Directors will have the primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of their researchers. In particular, they should consider the safety of their students and protect them from any unnecessary risks associated with returning to research activities in the lab.

5.  PI’s/Lab Directors will ensure that their operations and researchers adhere to the seven business precautions outlined by the State of NY.

     (1). Reduce density in workplace

     (2). Enact social distancing

     (3). Restrict non-essential travel

     (4). Require all employees to wear masks and face shields if circumstances dictate (i.e., people who must work in close proximity)

     (5). Frequent washing of hands and refraining from touching the face

     (6). Strict cleaning and sanitation

     (7). Continuous health screening upon entering the workplace

     (8). Contact tracing

6. No one shall be required to work in a laboratory or any other on-campus research facility at this time if they do not feel comfortable is doing so.

Before anyone will be allowed to resume any on-campus research the must obtain written permission from the Vice President for Research. There are a number of requirements that must be completed in order to qualify for such permission.

Requirements for Resuming Lab Activities Related to this NYS Exemption:

1. Meet the criteria for this exception as stated in our letter from NY Empire State Development (i.e., supports US DOD, US DHS, of other NYS Essential Industries such as Healthcare).

2. Fill out an application which anticipate would include the following information:

     a) What areas will be accessed

     b) Individuals who will be accessing the above areas

     c) Specific activities to be performed in the aforementioned areas and justification for their necessity at this particular time

     d) Sources of financial support for these activities and why they pertain to Requirement #1

     e) Lab specific safety plans relating to Covid-19

     f) Planned use of personal protective equipment (PPE) both due to Covid-19 and for the nature of the specific activities

     g) Any additional safety considerations due to the nature and location of the specific research activities

     h) Plans for cleaning/sanitizing labs and research work spaces prior to restarting work

     i) Plans for reducing the density of personnel in the labs and how social distancing will be maintained

3.  All personnel allowed to participate in on-campus research activities must complete Covid-19 safety training.

4. All facilities must maintain logs of personnel enter labs to facility any required contact tracing.

As I’m sure you appreciate, even the reopening of a small subset of our research labs at this time given the obvious health and safety considerations is no simple undertaking. It involves the coordination of our Facilities Management Services, Global Risk Management Services, Office of Environmental Health and Safety, amongst others. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we assemble the necessary policies and procedures to achieve this partial reopening of labs as safely as possible. In addition, we do understand that the majority of our research community will not qualify under the state exemption. These individuals will unfortunately not yet be allowed to resume their laboratory activities, although many are quite eager to do so. We do hope that the experience gained in this first resumption of at least some of our laboratory activities will help pave the wave for the broader resumption when health conditions permit and NYS state provides us the necessary authorization. We will continue our close communication with our regional authorities and state officials and provide updates to our research community as they are available. The requirements associated with the limited laboratory reopening are subject to change at any time. Additional university-wide safety plans for the broader opening of campus facilities are currently being developed. All individuals involved in this limited laboratory opening will be required to comply with those once released.

Dr. Ryne P. Raffaelle
Vice President for Research and Associate Provost
Office of the Vice President for Research