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Mass. General, Brigham and Women's, Harvard Medical School shutting down most research labs to try to slow spread of coronavirus

Officials at Partners HealthCare - which includes MGH, Brigham and Women's and McLean Hospital - yesterday directed their large research staffs to begin shutting down their labs to keep people away from each other, and told them to expect the labs to stay shut for up to eight weeks. Researchers working on Covid-19, however, will be allowed to continue their lab work.

We realize that our investigators are working hard to improve our understanding of disease and develop new treatments for our patients. This is essential work that we don’t want to derail, but the urgency of the current pandemic will require that some of this work be temporarily put on hold.

The memo alerts researchers that, as employees of hospitals at the center of the crisis, they could be called back to work to help clinicians deal with a possible crush of Covid-19 patients.

Separately, Harvard Medical School sent a similar memo to its researchers, calling for them to close things down by Wednesday.

The memo details the new policy:

In response to the rapid spread of COVID-19, it is imperative that we minimize to the greatest extent possible the number of personnel working in our laboratories. Therefore, we are moving policy for research operations to Level 4 - Only work needed to perform essential maintenance activities such as preserving important samples and critical animals may be performed. [Principal investigators] must begin to implement Level 4 immediately and have their entire lab in compliance not later than 5pm, Friday, March 20. We will reassess as the situation evolves, but anticipate being at Level 4 for the next 6-8 weeks.

It continues:

Lab experiments/operations will shut down completely with virtually no one remaining in a lab or research core after 5pm on Friday, March 20. Only personnel who, in the judgment of their supervisor/PI, are in Level 4 (needed to perform essential maintenance activities such as preserving important samples and critical animals) may access our laboratories. Those who do are reminded that they must still abide by the current published Partners guidance related to social distancing and reporting illness symptoms.

All personnel in Level 1 (work that can be accomplished remotely), Level 2 (work that can be delayed or stopped, i.e., non-essential lab experiments that would require onsite presence to continue), and Level 3 (work to ensure that long-term experiments and vital lab programs remain operational) are directed to stay home and work remotely.

Supervisors/PI’s should have staff members perform tasks that can be done remotely. This could include writing a paper, literature searches on new techniques, assistance with grant applications, online training, updating documentation in LabArchives, updating online research profiles and lab websites, etc. For clinical researchers, consider updating clinicaltrials.gov records, protocol reviewing/writing/updating, completing OnCore reconciliations, and conducting virtual or phone clinical trial visits. For animal researchers, complete triennial review protocols and review/write/update IACUC applications.

In addition to Covid-19 researchers, researchers with "a long-term experiment underway that is critical to the survival of their lab once operations resume" can petition to be allowed into their labs.

The memo adds that "the salaries of personnel directed to stay at and work from home will be covered for a period of time," but that Partners is still figuring out a long-term policy.

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