Phase 3: Expansion of Onsite UCSF Research Activities

September 11, 2020

Dear UCSF Research Community Colleagues:

Thank you for your hard work in providing a safe environment in which trainees and staff can carry out their research at reduced population densities as we adjust operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are writing to announce plans for Phase 3 of increased onsite research, which will include an increase in the allowable densities for both laboratory-based and onsite clinical research. We anticipate that Phase 3 will begin on September 17, pending leadership approval. We are providing this advance notice to allow faculty to work with their staff and neighbors to make plans for these changes, and to raise any concerns or questions they might have before more staff return to work on campus.

Laboratory-Based Research

Laboratory-based research has been operating since June at 25% density, or about one person per four workstations. In Phase 3, the allowable density will increase to 50% density, or the equivalent of one person per two workstations.

Clinical Research

Clinical research has been divided into several categories. Onsite COVID-19-related clinical research and clinical research essential to the health of the participant have continued throughout the pandemic. Onsite clinical research that is not essential to the health of the participant (termed Category 3 research) has been operating since June at 12.5% density. In Phase 3 of research reopening, the allowable density for onsite Category 3 clinical research will increase to 25%. Clinical research occurring off-site is not affected by Phase 3 and is governed by separate guidelines.

Safety and Policy

As before, PIs and their research teams should be familiar with the detailed directives and safety information found in the current policy documents:

As we move to higher density in research activities, it is critical that we redouble our efforts to ensure a safe work environment by following public health orders such as using face coverings, maintaining physical distancing of at least 6 feet, and taking other measures that are known to dramatically reduce the risk of transmission. Regular surveys by EH&S staff indicate that compliance with these safety measures is generally good, but the following locations will require more focused attention to ensure continued compliance:

  1. Break rooms. Based on evidence from our occupational health experts, the highest risk of disease transmission in the UCSF workplace is likely to be in shared rooms where staff gather for lunch or other breaks and remove masks while eating or drinking. Any conversation of greater than 15 minutes, at less than 6 feet distance, is considered a “close contact,” and the risk of transmission is greatly magnified if one or both participants do not wear a mask. Faculty should work with neighboring faculty to develop clear guidelines to ensure that shared break rooms are occupied at the lowest density possible.
  1. Cell culture rooms. Increased laboratory density could lead to an increased risk of disease transmission in small accessory rooms used for cell culture. Rooms containing multiple biosafety cabinets must not be occupied with more than 50-66% of the room’s capacity: one occupied hood in a 2-hood room; 2 occupied hoods in a 3-hood room, and so on. In those cases where two or more people occupy a single small room for extended times, it is critical that every effort is made to minimize interactions and use sufficient PPE. Eye protection, in the form of face shields, is strongly encouraged under these circumstances.
  1. Animal care facilities. Here again, increased density could increase risk of infection in small animal care rooms, where laboratory staff often share the space with LARC staff or other researchers from different laboratories. In these cases, it is important that all room occupants consider others’ health and do their part to minimize interactions and use appropriate PPE.
  1. Core facilities. Core facilities provide critical services to the research community and are often in high demand. There are reports of crowding and unsafe distancing at some of these facilities. For this reason, the directors of some core facilities will not increase density in Phase 3 and density at these core facilities will remain at current levels. Facility staff have the authority to turn researchers away if the facility has reached its maximum safe capacity. PIs should remind their lab staff to be considerate of others’ health while working in these facilities. 

Another key component of our safety measures is completion of daily health screenings and not coming to work when symptomatic. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 at an outside facility must report the positive test to Occupational Health or Student Health, as described on the UCSF coronavirus website. All positive tests are investigated in detail through contact tracing and further testing, ensuring the health and safety of the UCSF community.

Safety in the research laboratory also requires that lab staff continue to comply with existing biological, chemical, and radiation safety regulations. As a reminder, eating and drinking in the laboratory are not allowed.

More information will be forthcoming in the near future, including a Research Resilience Town Hall (September 16, 4 p.m.) to review the policies and procedures governing COVID-19 prevention and testing at UCSF.

I greatly appreciate your commitment to safely and gradually increasing our research activities during this pandemic, and I extend my sincere wishes for your health and well-being in these challenging times.


Lindsey A. Criswell, MD, MPH, DSc
Vice Chancellor of Research
Professor of Medicine and Orofacial Sciences