*Content taken from Mass General Brigham Research Connect

We would like to update the Research Community on the following 3 items:

1. Guidelines for Undergraduate (and Graduate) Students Engaging in Research

Members of our community have asked us to clarify our policy on allowing undergraduates to return to our (wet bench) labs. In collaboration with MGB Infection Control and Emergency Preparedness leadership, as of September 1, we will be allowing undergraduate college students to return to our laboratories provided the following conditions are met:

  • Students must be in a post high-school “gap year”, undergraduate or at a graduate level of training. High school students are not permitted at this time.
  • Students must intend to work for a minimum time of 3 months.
  • Students should participate in a meaningful experience, and not simply attend as observers in the laboratory.
  • Students should review and discuss with PI’s the institutional Guidance and Policies for Return to Onsite Research
  • Students must complete all training requirements and submit their employee attestations (including one-time attestation and daily COVID pass) prior to coming on campus.

All students who meet the above criteria must also have a signed approval by the Principal Investigator prior to their first day of work. This should be submitted to your hospital’s SVP/CAO. As a reminder, students participating in research are not authorized to engage in any live clinical activities (ambulatory or inpatient) at this time. Participation in virtual learning conferences however is allowed, if approved by Division or Department leadership. For active undergraduate or graduate students from institutions outside of the Harvard system, the student should make sure that the research experience is consistent with their home institution’s safety guidelines.

These criteria are subject to change based on state regulations and will be consistent with our evidence-based system wide infection control guidelines. Finally, we continue to reinforce that physical distancing should be followed whenever possible and masks must be worn at all times.

2. Phase 2 Guidance Remains in Effect

On June 29th we removed the requirement of 50% bench density in our labs to give our PI’s additional flexibility in resuming their research programs. This change has allowed PI’s more flexibility in scheduling their laboratory staff who need to work onsite and enabled two people who share a lab bay to both work at the same time. For the foreseeable future, we remain in this state of Phase 2.

All staff must work in a way that is consistent with their submitted work plan. Furthermore, masks must be worn at all times, and physical distancing should be followed whenever possible. Importantly, eating must be in designated locations with 6 feet distancing.

Everyone who can work remotely and those who can work staggered schedules should continue to do so to minimize the number of people present in the lab at any one time. They should continue to arrange their schedules to work remotely whenever they have tasks that do not require physically being in the lab (e.g., grant and manuscript writing, experimental write-ups, literature searches, etc.).

For additional questions, please refer to MGB’s Infection Control Guidance on Returning to Work: Physical Distance and Working Together Safely While Masked.

3. Reminder: Guidance on Human Subject Research and the Massachusetts COVID-19 Travel Order

When conducting clinical trial visits, we continue to encourage remote subject follow-up visits using approved technologies and with appropriate IRB approvals. The visitor policy for clinical research should parallel the visitor policy for clinical care, including guidance around visitors from lower-risk vs restricted states. As a reminder, please always reference the COVID-19 Updates Site on the Pulse and our Visitor Policy for the most up to date information. While awaiting changes to official policy, please continue to follow the guidelines below as outlined on August 11th:

Are research participants exempt from the Massachusetts COVID-19 Travel Order?

Effective August 1, 2020, all visitors and returning residents to the state must comply with this Travel Order which includes a 14-day quarantine or testing requirement. Research participants must follow these requirements unless they meet one of the exemptions noted below:

  • Traveling from a COVID-19 lower-risk State as noted on the Travel Order website. NOTE: this listing can change at any time based on the changes in COVID-19 cases and positive tests. Participants coming from outside Massachusetts and MGB research teams should monitor this site regularly for changes.
  • Meeting the “Patient” exemption which states:
    “Patients Seeking or Receiving Medical Treatment: Patients who are traveling to Massachusetts to seek or receive specialized medical care from a physician located in the Commonwealth and persons accompanying and providing needed support to the patient.”

Not all research participants will meet this exemption. Ultimately participants must decide for themselves as they are the ones exposed to significant fines if the State determines they do not meet an exemption. However, we are providing the following guidance in interpreting this exemption:

  • The exemption may include research participants who are enrolled in clinical research protocols that provide interventional treatment or medical care. This would include individuals who are in screening to enroll in such clinical research protocols. Individuals who accompany the participant to a research visit may not be exempt from the Travel Order requirements. Participants and research teams should follow their hospital’s Visitor Policy as to whether this is an essential support person for the purposes of the research visit.
  • The exemption does not include research participants who are enrolled in non-clinical research where no interventional treatment or medical care is included as part of the protocol.

Participants who are unsure as to whether their participation in research meets this exemption should seek independent guidance from DPH or the Governor’s office.

REMINDER: PIs and research staff are reminded that all research participants are to be queried/screened prior to their encounter and at the time of presentation for symptoms, active infection, and exposures in compliance with hospital screening procedures.