COVID-19 Preparedness - Laboratory Research

7:25 pm, March 22, 2020 Update

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, UTHealth remains committed to maintaining the integrity of our research mission while taking the necessary measures to protect our people. We are monitoring state and federal COVID-19 response recommendations and remain in frequent communication with city and county officials. Based on these guidelines, and following conversations with research leaders from across the university, we now ask all investigators to scale back research activity, prioritizing what they define as critical and essential experiments. Please begin to implement the following directives effective Monday, March 23, with the intent of having changes in place by Wednesday, March 25

Workforce: Our highest priority is to ensure the safety of our workforce and provide accommodations for those faculty and staff members most at risk.

  • PIs should identify the minimum essential personnel (skeleton crew) required to access the laboratory or other UTHealth facilities to maintain what they define as essential research activities only. These essential personnel must continue to work in shifts to minimize exposure. Please provide the names and contact information for skeleton crews to departmental administrators. PIs may elect to completely halt all activities and move to remote work at their discretion.
  • PIs should work to accommodate staff who are not able to come to work for various reasons (childcare, travel, etc.).
  • Personnel exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or identifying as sick in any way (CDC COVID-19) may not serve on skeleton crews and may not access laboratories.
  • All non-skeleton crew personnel should work remotely.

Animal Research: Changes are unfolding daily, and preparation is key to weathering the next several weeks. We request that our animal investigators strengthen their preparations for downscaling research to allow for the best allocation of support resources during this time. Toward that end, please review the information below and begin to implement these directives on Monday, March 23. Please have plans in place no later than Wednesday, March 25:

  • CLAMC staff and veterinarians will continue to be on-site daily to provide veterinary care and husbandry for all animals. CLAMC has received extra supplies and feed and is well-provisioned to care or your animals.
  • All chronic animals on study (> 3 months) and large animal models can be maintained.
  • New animal orders should be canceled or reconsidered unless critical.
  • Animal transports are suspended unless part of a critical study.
  • Breeding of wild type and commercially available strains should be stopped to allow space for strains that are difficult to obtain.
  • Plan for breeding critical strains only (genotypes that are difficult to generate, double or triple KO or transgenics) at maintenance levels.
  • Researchers should continue to use iCARE to deactivate batches/cages.
  • CLAMC should be informed of those responsible for maintaining the colonies. Please email acare@uth.tmc.eduand robinson@uth.tmc.edu with the PI name, contact person's name, cell phone number, and email address of the primary and secondary responsible persons if you have not done so already.
  • If lab personnel are unable to provide treatments or care for post-operative or sick rodents, please contact the CLAMC veterinary staff at 713-500-7728 for assistance.
  • Strains that are currently maintained with no forecasted plans for use in a study should be cryopreserved. Information is available on the Jackson Lab website

Animal Welfare Committee (AWC)

  • The Animal Welfare Committee continues to operate on normal schedule. The AWC will continue to meet using videoconferencing technology.  Researchers submitting proposals related to COVID-19 should submit their proposals as usual via iRIS. The AWC office (awc@uth.tmc.edu) should be notified if the submission is urgent.

Biological Materials

  • Ensure stocks of cell lines, organoids, etc. are frozen down with passage number recorded.
  • With restricted access for the collection of patient samples and to core labs, please prioritize and store materials for future analysis.

General Activities

  • Ensure that the list of emergency contacts on the lab door is accurate.
  • Develop a line of succession for emergency lab contacts if PI cannot be reached.
  • Identify critical research materials (notebooks, hard drives, files) and secure them.
  • Back up all research data. Ensure electronically stored data are accessible for the ability to work remotely.
  • Ensure you are signed up to receive UTHealth Alert text messageson emergency events affecting UTHealth.

Laboratory Equipment and Supplies

  • Fill Dewars and cryogen containers for sample storage and critical equipment. Document procedures for obtaining dry ice/liquid nitrogen for critical samples, if refrigerators/freezers fail. Plans should be made for maintenance of liquid nitrogen stores. UTHealth will continue to ensure timely delivery of liquid nitrogen throughout this period.
  • Department administrators should have an inventory of -80 freezers and liquid nitrogen tanks, including location, PI name, contact person, and current emergency contact phone number.
  • Ensure that all chemicals, radioactive, and hazardous waste containers are properly covered, sealed, and/or in secondary containment. No hazardous materials, waste, or equipment should be left on the lab floors.

 Environmental Health and Safety (EHS)

  • EHS will have a skeleton crew in place, at minimum. If any health and safety needs arise during this time, or if you need assistance with any issues in your laboratory, please contact EHS at 713-500-8100 (main number) or 713-500-5832 (24-hr. hotline).

 Facilities

  • Facilities, Planning, and Engineering staff will be monitoring the building conditions for the function of power, water supply, and the like. Staff will also be on site to monitor for power outages, possible water leaks, and other building-related issues.

 Security

  • UT Police and building security remain in place and on active patrol.

The university will closely monitor the implementation of these directives beginning Monday, March 23.

Please continue to check the COVID-19 website and your emails for additional guidance