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Researchers return to the lab, but it’s far from business as usual

June 29, 2020

Facilities across Johns Hopkins began a phased reopening this week, but with new safety measures and rotating staff schedules, the lab space—and experience—has changed dramatically

Scientists across the Johns Hopkins enterprise have begun reopening laboratories after a university order in mid-March shut down nearly all research operations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. As of June 15, laboratories were permitted to reopen with approved plans that reduce capacity and improve cleaning protocols. But as research resumes in a phased approach, these scientists are learning that returning to the lab doesn’t quite mean a return to business as usual.

“Overall, the research community is excited to go back to work, but understandably everyone is concerned about doing so safely,” says Denis Wirtz, a cancer researcher and vice provost for research at Johns Hopkins. “There is widespread awareness of new safety precautions, but as we return, we’re also identifying new areas to improve safety and limit interactions between people. It’s a process that’s new for everyone, and we’re being adaptive and adjusting our practices accordingly.”

In order for research facilities to be reopened, individual departments must prepare and submit for review operating plans that establish new safety protocols and strategies for reducing traffic within buildings and lab spaces. In some cases, that means reducing the number of researchers working at a given time, or creating a rotating schedule if the space can only safely accommodate one person at a time. Department proposals are reviewed by a dedicated restart committee and approved on a rolling basis. Procedures are consistent with federal and state guidance. Undergraduate researchers are not returning at this time.

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