Below are answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the Penn campus response to COVID-19.  Answers will be updated to reflect new guidance from the CDC, the State of Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia and the University. 

Other resources

CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

PA Department of Health: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx

City of Philadelphia: https://www.phila.gov/programs/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/

Penn HR: https://www.hr.upenn.edu/PennHR/wellness-worklife/communicable-disease-health-and-safety

OVPR: https://research.upenn.edu/

 

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FAQs (Issued 5/14/20)

Administration (9/1/20)

Question  

Answer 

Revision Date

Do I need to self-isolate when I come back to campus?

If you have traveled, or plan to travel, to an area where there are high amounts of COVID-19 cases, it is recommended that you stay at home for 14 days.  If you travel to the following states, you should quarantine for 14 days upon return.

If you travel to a state on this list from the State of Pennsylvania you must quarantine for 14 days.  Note the list is updated weekly.

 

 

09/1/20

What should students do when they have questions about their health or symptoms of COVID-19?

Students should go to Student Health (Penn Student Health)

5/25/20 

Are there maximum occupancy guidelines? Who is going to coordinate and determine staffing levels BETWEEN labs since spaces are all connected?    

Refer to the guidelines of your department or school regarding phases of return and requirements for work resumption and lab re-occupancy.  

EHRS has guidance on return to research (EHRS Research Resumption Checklist).  

 

How will staffing levels be regulated in the animal facility? 

Consult ULAR regarding phases and requirements for research resumption in animal facilities. 

 

How do you report suspected/probable or confirmed COVID-19 cases? 

All Penn affiliates who visit campus at any frequency should use Penn Open Pass to symptom check every day (regardless if you plan to visit campus).

Employees who receive a red pass will be contacted.  

9/1/20 

Are lab directors expected to take temperatures and monitor health, or are staff self-reporting symptoms?   

At this time, employees should be self-monitoring and reporting symptoms through Penn Open Pass 

9/1/20 

Will confirmed cases of COVID-19 require temporary shutdown of a building for cleaning? 

No. Enhanced housekeeping services will be provided on floors with approved research resumption, and vendors are available to assist in the event of confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

 

Will regular testing for COVID and/or antibodies be available to staff members? 

Currently unknown. 

 

What is the emergency plan for COVID incident?  How will staff in the area be notified of a spill? 

Work with live virus is confined to specialized BSL-3 facility with enhanced facility and personnel safety features. Work with potentially infectious patient specimens is confined to dedicated locations with closed doors. In the event of a spill, personnel will notify users in the immediate area. EHRS will be provide guidance on spill decontamination.  

 

Are employees with underlying health concerns required to return to work? 

Follow HR guidelines (Penn HR COVID-19 page).   

 

 

What training is required for lab personnel and PIs before research can resume?   The course "Resumption of Research at Penn" must be completed in Knowledge Link before work resumes.  5/28/2020
Biosafety (5/14/20)

Question  

Answer 

Revision Date

Do BSL-2 safety cabinets need to be recertified if they have not been in use during shutdown?  Does this change if they have been turned off? 

For unducted biosafety cabinets (BSC) (class II types A1 and A2), unless the BSC goes out of certification during lab closure or needs maintenance or repair, a new certification will not be needed.  For ducted BSC (class II types B1 and B2 and A2 with thimble connection), contact EHRS Biosafety for guidance (ehrs@ehrs.upenn.edu, 215-898-4453).  NOTE: If certification is required, post a note on the BSC to alert workers not to use the BSC until it is certified. 

  

Baker Co. Quick Guide can be used as a resource for BSC shut down and return to operation 

 

Are there any updated protocols needed/available for biohazard waste handling, storage, removal when we reopen? 

Currently, there is no change in biohazardous waste management.  Follow the procedures specified in Penn’s Biohazardous Waste Guidelines for disposal of biohazardous waste:  

EHRS Biohazardous Waste Guidelines. 

  

Any updates on the procedures and guidelines will be communicated through the EHRS website and BioRAFT. 

 

We've heard that some labs are using chemical or heat-based inactivation of SARS-COVID virus on tubes of whole blood. Can EHRS tell us if this is an effective protocol?  Is it safe and has it been approved? 

SARS-CoV-2 inactivation methods that are approved by EHRS-Biosafety and based on CDC guidelines, published literature, and validation of Penn’s BSL-3 investigators can be found on the EHRS website – Guidance for COVID-19 Research Projects: 

EHRS COVID-19 Research Guidelines. Contact EHRS-Biosafety for additional guidance (ehrs@ehrs.upenn.edu, 215-898-4453). 

 

Can lab areas where COVID work is being conducted be clearly marked so that those areas can be avoided by high risk staff and vendors? 

Labs working with patient specimens will be labeled BSL 2. 

 

Are COVID and normal biohazard trash being handled differently in the autoclave rooms?  

Waste generated from activities with materials containing or suspected to contain SARS-CoV-2 that are not mixed waste (i.e. not mixed bio+chem, bio+rad, or bio+chem+rad waste) are handled as biohazardous waste and disposed of as infectious waste following Penn’s Biohazardous Waste Guidelines. Hazardous waste should be kept in secured locations. For information and resources/guides for the various schools, refer to:  

EHRS Biohazardous Waste Guidelines. 

 

Buildings (5/14/20)

Question  

Answer 

Revision Date

Will there be directionality to corridors, and “up” and “down” and elevators with limited access to a few people at a time? 

Refer to the guidelines of your department or school regarding phases of return and requirements for work resumption and lab re-occupancy. 

 

Will we be able to use service elevator access and stairwells - can people walk up? 

Stairwells may be used for travel in most buildings.  Refer to the guidelines of your school for service elevator access. 

 

Will all access points to the building be open for entry and exit or will there be a directional flow? 

Refer to the guidelines of your department or school regarding phases of return and requirements for work resumption and lab re-occupancy. 

 

Will temp monitoring and mask distribution occur in the building entrances?   

Refer to the guidelines of your department or school regarding phases of return and requirements for work resumption and lab re-occupancy. 

 

When can we expect complete normalization of loading dock and deliveries to resume? 

Currently unknown. 

 

 

Can lab doors or stairwell doors be propped open so that lab workers do not have to touch handles? 

Doors cannot be propped open.  The air balance of the building and necessary negative room pressure for lab spaces could be compromised as a result.  Wash hands often and after touching possibly contaminated surfaces or use hand sanitizer when handwashing is unavailable.   There will be enhanced housekeeping of public spaces. 

 

Cleaning and Disinfection (5/14/20)

Question  

Answer 

Revision Date

Who will manage the disinfection of common equipment, use schedules, maintenance of ethanol bottles, and contact information for users on equipment?   Who will remove materials from common equipment such as shakers or centrifuges- as this could be potentially infectious or hazardous materials? 

Refer to guidance from your school.  Labs and research facilities should have in their Standard Operating Procedures a schedule for routine cleaning and decontamination, as well as plans for research ramp down and resumption.  Consult lab/facility leaders for these procedures, and refer to EHRS COVID-19 website for additional information. 

 

What can we expect for increased Housekeeping cleaning in common areas, bathrooms, lunchrooms, conference rooms, and public areas where people eat lunch? 

Penn Housekeeping is performing enhanced cleaning of public areas. 

 

Who will provide additional paper towels, cleaning supplies?  Biohazard disposal container outside of bathrooms?  Will there be additional hand sanitizer stations installed outside each bathroom so we can use going in and out of heavily used common areas. 

Soap and paper towels for research areas are the responsibility of the lab  

Contact your building administrator regarding hand sanitizers. 

 

What is the minimum amount of time required between shifts to allow for sufficient air turnover in the lab before the next group of people enters? 

There is no minimum required time between lab shifts.  Refer to your lab’s procedures for routine cleaning and decontamination of surfaces and equipment, and adhere to universal mask precautions (EHRS Universal Mask Guidance) and social distancing requirements. 

 

Laboratories (5/18/20)

Question  

Answer 

Revision Date

What is the policy for working alone? 

Lab personnel may not perform lab activities alone.  See EHRS Research Resumption Checklist. Determine Lab Member Shifts/Rotation to ensure lab members are not alone.   

 

What is the current level of EHRS oversite of research labs conducting COVID research?   

Research involving COVID-19 patient specimens and SARS-CoV-2 virus is subject to enhanced oversight by EHRS-Biosafety.  Refer to EHRS website for guidance for COVID-19 research: 

EHRS COVID-19 Research Guidance. 

 

Can we get Penn to provide Plexiglas (or other material) shielding in between the benches and the first shelf in the lab areas? 

The state of Pennsylvania does not consider plexiglass shielding as a primary control measure.  If desired, the lab would have to initiate a construction project. 

 

Will there be lab pre-checks prior to opening?  Will facilities provide a checklist or form to submit any paperwork needed for BioRAFT? 

Follow normal procedures for submitting facilities-related issues and inform your Building Administrator of any needs found during a walk through.  For lab ramp-up guidance, refer to EHRS Research Resumption Checklist. 

 

Who provides approval to reoccupy the lab?  We need that before we submit Resumption of Research Notification Form to EHRS. 

Refer to the guidelines of your department or school regarding process to obtain an approval for work resumption and requirements for lab re-occupancy.  EHRS must be notified via the Resumption of Research Notification Web form when you plan to return to the lab.  EHRS will update your lab status in BioRAFT and notify housekeeping to conduct enhanced cleaning on the floor of the building where your lab is located. 

 

Who will purchase masks and disinfection products for laboratories when they return to research? 

Individual lab groups must purchase these supplies.

5/18/20

 

Lab or Department Specific (5/14/20)

Question  

Answer 

Revision Date

How will the blood collection, processing and dispersing of blood products be handled by the HIC once we reopen?   Will there be testing of donors?  Are there additional safety measures that have to be made in HIC TC room?  Do they need BSL2 + TC room?  Often people come and collect blood products without gloves or secondary containers and travel within CCI but also across campus with cells in 6 well plates or T25 flasks. Can we require leak proof secondary containers in order to pick up cells? 

Lab-specific procedures for handling blood and blood products should be described in lab’s Standard Operating Procedures and Bloodborne Pathogens-Exposure Control Plan.  Consult lab/facility leaders for these procedures, and refer to Penn’s Biosafety Manual for additional information: 

Penn Biosafety Manual  

  

Guidance for handling specimens from confirmed or suspected COVID-19 individuals can be found here: 

EHRS COVID-19 Research Guidance 

  

Consult EHRS-Biosafety for guidance for specific procedures (ehrs@ehrs.upenn.edu, 215-898-4453).   

 

When will Core Facilities resume operations?  (For example: Flow Core servicing of equipment) 

Contact the respective Core facilities for information regarding their operations.  NOTE: COVID-19 projects utilizing the UPenn Flow Cytometry and Cell Sorting Facility require prior review and approval by Dr. Jonni Moore. Investigators must present a written justification and description of experiments to Dr. Moore (moorej@pennmedicine.upenn.edu) to receive approval.  Refer to Guidance for COVID-19 Research Projects: 

EHRS COVID-19 Research Guidelines. 

 

We always have Resident headshots taken Lobby area each year with our hired photographer. We also do a group photo.  Can we still have the 1:1 head shot taken for the chiefs and then a modified group photo with everyone wearing masks and standing 6 feet apart (perhaps just faculty and residents)? 

 

Photos may not be taken indoors without a face mask. 

 

Face Masks and Lab PPE (8/6/20)

Question  

Answer 

Revision Date

Are surgical masks being provided for labs?  Should we advise people to keep using them for a day, week, longer?  How best to store so they don’t stay moist in between uses?  Are people allowed to use homemade, fabric masks? 

Follow the EHRS guidance on universal mask precautions (EHRS Universal Mask Guidance). 

 

Are safety glasses or goggles required? 

Penn has a policy for appropriate attire and personal protective equipment for laboratory workers.  For information, refer to EHRS website: 

EHRS Lab Attire and PPE Guidance. 

 

If I wear a face shield, do I still need to wear safety glasses? Yes, When face shields are used, they are to be used in addition to required safety eyewear.  

Are disposable lab coats acceptable?    

Disposable lab coats should not be worn in the lab.  Lab coats should be made of 100% cotton except for the elastic cuff. Lab coats should be laundered as needed.  Each lab worker should have a spare coat to wear while their primary coat is being laundered. Any Penn-approved vendor may be used for lab coat cleaning.  Lab coats are available from Thermo-Fisher.  Researchers who work with liquid pyrophorics, open flame, or high volumes of flammable liquids must wear fire-resistant lab coats. Contact EHRS for more information about fire-resistant lab coats.

EHRS Lab Attire and PPE Guidance. 

5/18/20

Are there acceptable alternatives to surgical masks that are safer to wear in the lab? 

Penn’s universal mask policy must be followed inside all Penn buildings (EHRS Universal Mask Guidance). Surgical masks are acceptable for most lab activities; however, if a risk assessment determines that the use of a mask introduces a hazard that cannot be adequately controlled by engineering controls or work practices, face shields may be considered.

Face shields do not contain aerosols and droplets as effectively as face masks.  Face shields may only be used in place of masks while working directly in front of the fume hood and while maintaining 6-foot physical distancing.  Acceptable face shields must extend beyond the chin of the wearer and wrap around the sides of the face.  Safety glasses must still be worn while wearing a face shield.

 

What do I do if I can’t wear a mask due to a medical condition? 

Contact the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs  (https://www.upenn.edu/affirm-action/forms.html).  Reasonable accommodation request form (https://www.upenn.edu/affirm-action/docs/Reasonable-Accomm-Req-Form-2020.pdf).   

 

How can I prevent my safety glasses from fogging while I'm wearing a face mask? To help prevent safety glasses from fogging, ensure your face mask fits properly, and wash safety glasses with soap and water.  A commercial anti-fog product may also be used.  Anti-fog wipes are available from Fisher Scientific (catalog# 19-047-208).  

Can I remove my mask in a private office? 

Yes. Employees isolated in their personal office space, when not shared with any other colleagues, do not need to wear a mask. However, when the employee leaves their individual office or has invited a colleague into their office, they must wear a mask.

 6/17/20

Do vendors have to wear a face masks in Penn buildings? 

Yes.  This is for your protection. Let a supervisor know if a vendor is not wearing a face mask. The supervisor should notify the appropriate Penn contact to inform the vendor's management of the requirement to wear face masks at Penn facilities (Penn COVID-19 Vendor Policy).  

 

What is the difference between surgical masks and non-surgical masks? Surgical masks are FDA approved medical devices.  Surgical style masks are made the same way but not approved for medical use. 9/1/20
Can you reuse surgical masks? Yes.  A surgical mask can be reused until it becomes torn, visibly soiled or hard to breathe through. Follow EHRS Universal Mask Guidance for storage and reuse. 5/20/20