Phase 3 of Reopening UH on Monday, August 10 was announced by President Khator on August 3 in her email to the UH community. UH’s goal continues to be flexible with our employees, including working remotely or having a modified schedule as long as the arrangement continues to be productive and efficient, while maintaining the necessary level of service to meet the demands of those we serve. Coming on campus is no longer on a voluntary basis. The decision of whether an employee needs to come on campus for work is made by the supervisor. Any flexible arrangements require a formal agreement.
Work Schedule Flexibilities
PIs are responsible for approving and managing all flexible arrangements that are provided to employees they supervise. Remote work remains a possibility, and so does a modified schedule that provides flexibility to fulfill a regular workweek schedule while accommodating other obligations. UH has additional options, such as a temporary redistribution of duties or assigning employees to other departments. For a list of options, consult the following guidelines. However, work time can only be charged to a grant if it is grant related.
With Phase 3 Reopening UH, the campus is working as close to normal as can be expected in the middle of a pandemic. The most significant implication for you and your research group is that working from home requires a formal agreement with the supervisor. Coming on campus is no longer on a voluntary basis. Specifically, if work cannot be performed remotely, the supervisor may ask the employee to come on campus. This removes the salary flexibility that OMB addressed in its most recent memorandum M-20-26, which authorized federal agencies to allow salary flexibilities under the condition that the same flexibilities are afforded to other employees as well. Starting August 10, if an employee paid on a grant continues to be unable to perform their assigned duties, alternative options need to be explored but the employee can no longer be paid on the grant for that portion of work.
The UH COVID-19 Information website has detailed information about what UH requires when you or an employee/student you supervise has been in close contact with someone who has been lab-confirmed or is suspected/presumed to have COVID-19, or if you suspect/presume or are confirmed to have COVID-19. Refer to this website for general guidelines.
Continue the practice of routine cleaning and disinfection of workspaces and frequently touched surfaces in your laboratory spaces as those are not cleaned by UH Facilities.
Be prepared that if an outbreak occurs in the building where your lab is located, your lab group may have to vacate the space for a period of time and monitor their health more closely. This type of information will come from your college and the building coordinator, and you therefore must monitor your email closely. If an evacuation occurs, make sure everyone in your lab is aware of it.
Research in Shared Spaces
Shared Spaces are defined as research spaces where members of a research group routinely interact with each other in the same space, such as science and engineering labs, core facilities, shared spaces in institutes or centers. These guidelines apply:
- Spacing: Desks in common areas should be arranged so that individuals occupying desks at the same time are at least 6 ft apart at all times (consider temporary walls between workstations if this spacing cannot be achieved). If people occupy desks for prolonged period of times, you should consider spacing out the desks even further. If a space is designed for single occupancy, the space should not be occupied by more than one individual on the same day.
- Work Schedule: Based on occupancy limitations, consider implementing a staggered work schedule that minimizes the number of people who are in the lab or other shared research areas at the same time. Work shifts, including work during non-regular business hours, should be considered. The work schedule must be posted inside the shared research space in an easily accessible place. Allow for at least 15-minute buffers between shifts to avoid contact of individuals during transition. Minimize rotating individuals among shifts to reduce the number of unique contacts.
- Protective personal equipment may be required in the lab. Obtaining these items (except face coverings for lab members) is the responsibility of the PI. For human subjects research, all subjects and research personnel must wear masks, provided by the lab. Subjects should be given the option to wear gloves.
- Meetings: Routine lab/research group meetings should not be conducted face-to-face. If a face-to-face meeting is necessary, limit the number of participants and hold the meeting in a large, open and well-ventilated space continuing to maintain a distance of 6 feet apart and wear a face covering at all times.
- Working alone in the lab: If research is conducted by a single individual in a lab setting where under normal circumstances, two or more individuals are present, notify at least one other person outside the lab as a safety precaution prior to entering the lab and upon leaving.
- Sanitization: Sanitize common research areas and frequently touched surfaces (lab benches, doorknobs, sink handles, freezer doors, fume hood sashes, keyboards, microscopes, etc.) at the end of each shift prior to the next shift arriving at the workplace. Designate one or more individuals responsible for cleaning and disinfecting and have them initial on the daily work schedule that they completed the cleaning.
- Sanitizing Equipment: Minimize the sharing of equipment and devices. If they need to be shared, thoroughly disinfect the device between uses by different individuals.
Travel restrictions are posted on the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) page. Please check for restrictions prior to planning any travel, whether it is business or personal travel.
Information on visitor and vendor protocols can be found on the COVID-19 page, with separate pages for Visitors and Vendors. Please familiarize yourself with the steps prior to having visitors or vendors in your lab space.
Access to Services
Mail and package deliveries will resume on Monday, August 10, for those areas that are open and have staff on site. Any oversized packages will need to be picked up via appointment at UH Delivery Services located in the General Services building.
Private couriers, such as FedEx and UPS, will be notified of the opening of the facilities beginning Monday, August 10. They will resume direct deliveries to noted package recipients next week. If they attempt delivery and the office is not open, they will follow their established protocol for deliveries (leave or attempt delivery at a later date). If the areas would like packages delivered to UH Delivery Services when they are not open, they may place a sign instructing the private couriers to do so. There is no guarantee that the private couriers will follow the instructions on the sign, but if they do, UH Delivery Services will process the package as soon as they receive it, per their established guidelines.
All locations will open on August 17 to UH students, faculty and staff. Hours will vary. Check the Library Hours page. Masks will be required and occupancy levels will be monitored. M. D. Anderson Library access will be limited to floors 1-3 for individual study with access to computers, printing and copying. The stacks will be closed with staff paging requested volumes. Materials can be mailed out or picked up on campus via previous arrangement. Interlibrary loan service is currently available for materials in electronic formats and will open more fully as research libraries around the country reopen. Special Collections will be open by appointment only. Reference and research support services will continue remotely. Each of the Libraries’ websites will have the most current information on schedules and services.
Human Subjects Research
As of March 26, 2021, some previously required restrictions have been lifted. In the current phase of reopening of the campus for research, additional categories of human subject research activities are permitted under stringent subject and research personnel precautions detailed on COVID-19 Human Subjects page.
We ask you to familiarize yourself with all requirements prior to commencing research, as additional screening, documentation (including signed PI agreement to COVID-19 procedures), disinfection, and PPE must be put in place prior to restarting human subjects procedures.
IMPORTANT – permissions for human subjects activities may change on a day-to-day, or week-to-week basis, based on the current county/city/state or federal outlook. Ensure that you and your research team closely monitor emails from the Vice President for Research and Tech Transfer.
As a reminder, we continue to fast-track new protocols related specifically to COVID-19 as well modifications to currently approved protocols to adjust for remote or alternate research procedures during this time.
- Limit face-to-face interactions. The ACO team will limit face-to-face interactions between ACO staff and individual researchers. ACO staff will communicate with researchers via phone, through email, or other electronic communication methods such as Skype, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams meetings.
- Restricting hours of the animal facilities. To limit staff exposure, ACO is restricting all investigators from entering the animal facilities until 10 am. ACO staff will be able to complete the husbandry duties with limited contact with the investigators. By entering the facility, individual researchers certify that they do not have clinical signs of illness.
- Prepare for supply changes. ACO currently has enough inventory of PPE and cleaning agents to cover current needs within the animal facility. The situation, however, may change rapidly. Investigators are prohibited from removing PPE and cleaning supplies from the animal facility. Failure to adhere to this policy may result in denial of future access to the animal facility. ACO will inform everyone if the rationing of the PPE supplies is required. The leadership staff of ACO will also gladly provide the contact information for PPE vendors.
- IACUC approval. If any modifications to the animal protocol are being made due to the COVID-19 situation (for example, shortening procedure durations or ordering animals over the number approved by the IACUC), please ensure a modification is submitted and approved through ICON.