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Return to Research Labs: Phase 3 Policies

Duke University Policies for Employees and Graduate Students Approved to Return to Research Laboratories in Phase 3 of the Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Last updated for Pratt labs, May 11, 2021 (details)


The response to the COVID-19 epidemic at Duke, like many of our national peers, can be categorized into four general phases:

Return to Research Labs Info

Policies, FAQs and more:


  • Phase 1: Ramping down of essential activities, continuation of clearly relevant research into COVID-19, and execution of the shelter in place order.
  • Phase 2: Performance of time-sensitive research whose pause would seriously damage future viability of the research program.
  • Phase 3: Gradual, monitored restarting of some research and careful expansion.
  • Phase 4: Beginning of a return to normal operations with permanently enhanced safety guidelines.

We describe below a set of general requirements in research-intensive buildings as we begin the transition from Phase 2 to Phase 3. While we hope to move forward and bring more researchers back to campus, we reserve the right to return to Phase 2 or even Phase 1 if the situation dictates this or to relocate or remove employees as needed. Our guiding principle is and will continue to be to mitigate health and safety risks to our employees and students based on the advice of health care professionals and other experts.

To reduce the risks of employees potentially being exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in the workplace or exposing others, we aim to keep the density of our workforce as low as possible at any given time and to create a balanced daily plan that maintains safe distances between employees.

The most important three elements that will help keep you and others safe are:

  1. Wearing a face covering
  2. Regularly washing your hands, and
  3. Keeping your distance from other people

Compliance with the instructions outlined below, as well as those from your supervisor and administration is required for continued access; violation may result in the immediate revocation of building access privileges and/or other appropriate disciplinary action.

No two laboratories are alike. The directives listed here describe approaches that were devised in collaboration with experts in the area of infectious disease control and have been shared with our peers across the country. However, we urge you to collaborate with us to continually improve the safety of your workplace.

For example, your work may involve the frequent use of shared equipment, such as a microscope:

  • What extra cleaning precautions could you take to further minimize the risk to you and your coworkers?
  • Perhaps the route to your laboratory could benefit from an additional strategically placed handwashing station?

Please reach out to us if you feel you need to discuss your specific situation. In order to reduce our risks as much as possible, this must be a partnership. We are developing a structure in which each research building will have a dedicated coordinator, and this individual should be your first point of contact.

General Principles

  1. If you believe that you are at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and you are concerned about reporting to work or if you wish to seek a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), you should contact the Disability Management System (DMS) or Employee Occupational Health & Wellness (EOHW) to discuss further. You can reach EOHW by calling 919-684-3136, choosing option #2, and asking to speak with a COVID support team provider.
  2. Before you leave home for work, you must complete an online EOHW screening checklist (link will be provided to those returning to the labs). If flagged by the screening checklist, you must contact the COVID-19 hotline at 919-385-0429, as well as your direct supervisor, and act on their instructions.
  3. If you have tested positive for COVID-19, have been referred for testing by EOHW, or are awaiting test results, you must notify your supervisor immediately, and you may not come to work for any reason until approved by EOHW.
  4. Entry to buildings will be regulated and monitored. Based on the lab schedule developed by faculty and approved by department chairs, school leadership and the Vice President of Research, you will be assigned a window of time, as well as a specific door of entry, to access your building. Your Duke card/badge is required for entry to all research buildings; you may not hold or open exterior doors for any other person.
  5. You may not bring visitors, visiting trainees, guests or pets to work.
  6. If you don’t do hands-on lab work (for example, if your role is that of a supervisor, PI, department chair or director) and there is no clear need for you to come to campus, you should not do so in the current phase.
  7. Face covering must be worn at all times in Duke facilities, including leased buildings, until further notice. This includes: when entering the Duke campus; while at work; and when leaving campus. Disposable masks will be provided. We expect you to use only one clean mask per day.
  8. You must wash your hands at regular intervals. Handwashing stations or hand sanitizer dispensers will be installed throughout the buildings, but especially in elevator areas, and common areas. You must wash your hands before entry into the lab and just prior to exit from the lab.
  9. When you begin your work in your lab area and when you leave any room in which you have been working at the end of your day at work, you must swab down all work areas with 70% ethanol or equivalent solution. This includes any shared-space location.
  10. No more than one person may enter an elevator at a time. Please use the stairs whenever possible and do not congregate in those areas.
  11. Convening in groups represents a high risk of viral transmission and is not permitted. No more than one person may be in common/highly frequented areas (e.g., lunchroom, office, bathroom, office, conference room) at a time. You are encouraged to eat meals outside if this is reasonable for your situation, and you may leave the campus for lunch. You should eat alone.  If you utilize common areas (break rooms, restrooms, conference areas, etc., you will need to wipe down surfaces with 70% ethanol or equivalent solution.
  12. During your time at work, you are encouraged to continuously communicate with your colleagues and supervisors by the extensive range of available networking apps, e.g., Zoom, WebEx, Facetime, Livesafe, etc.
  13. Time in labs will be scheduled in shifts. It is essential that you vacate the building at or before the designated time, and leave ample time to swab down areas before you exit.
  14. Your shift is based on the plan submitted by your faculty mentor and reviewed and approved by the department chair.  The shift schedules for the school will be reviewed by Claudia Gunsch, Associate Dean for Research and Infrastructure.
  15. All 24 hours of the day can be utilized. A sample template for lab coordination is provided. 
  16. Nobody may be working in the labs directly in front of you or behind you during your shift.
  17. For laboratories where the typical number of active lab personnel would exceed this density, the PI will be responsible for determining which individuals will be allowed to work in each designated shift for their group.
  18. When you leave work, you must contact the assigned floor coordinator to “check out” in a predetermined way (implementation details will be forthcoming).