Research Density Update

January 15, 2021

Dear Research Community:

We continue to monitor COVID-19 pandemic metrics in our efforts to make informed decisions about the allowable density of researchers working safely in our UCSF buildings.

In early December, numerous factors strongly suggested that we should prepare for a holiday surge of infections, and we made the difficult decision to reduce allowable research density to 25% in our laboratories, and to 12.5% for Category 3 clinical research, from December 24, 2020 to January 4, 2021 (original message). A subsequent message extended the period of reduced density to at least January 19, 2021.

We have continued to monitor the situation closely and reassess research density based on our review of our current metrics, discussions with various stakeholders across the UCSF and broader UC research community, and consideration of the active public health guidance for the City and County of San Francisco. As a result, we are extending the current research density reductions beyond January 19, but are planning to increase laboratory research density again as soon as Monday, January 25, 2021.

Laboratory Research Outlook

We are encouraged that the number of infections in UCSF campus research laboratories, where critically important biomedical research is conducted, has remained at a low level. Notably, the infection rates in our research laboratories are the lowest across all UCSF categories monitored as reported on the UCSF COVID-19 Dashboard. Furthermore, due to the concerted efforts of researchers to take care of themselves and each other by following public health orders and UCSF policies, transmission of the disease in our research facilities remains negligible, as it has been throughout the pandemic.

It is too soon to be certain that a major post-holiday surge has been avoided in our campus facilities. Nevertheless, in light of the low infection and transmission rates in our laboratories, we anticipate being able to return to 50% lab research density in ten days, on Monday, January 25, 2021, barring major changes in the number of workplace infections or other metrics.

Clinical Research Outlook

For on-site Category 3 clinical research, there are two additional considerations: the involvement of volunteer participants coming onto campus from the community and the space sharing between clinical care and much of clinical research. We have listened to the research participant perspective and considered the public health implications for the clinical environment in setting our Category 3 clinical research policy. At this time, we expect on-site Category 3 clinical research to remain at 12.5% density for the near-term (beyond January 25, 2021).

Workplace Safety

Contact tracing by Occupational Health Services indicates that essentially all infections among lab researchers are likely acquired in the community and not in the UCSF workplace, indicating that our research buildings remain safe. This can be attributed to the outstanding safety practices of our researchers, the great majority of whom adhere tightly to public health safety protocols requiring wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distancing, completing the daily health screening, and practicing good hand hygiene. There is no question that all these safety protocols are responsible for the low COVID-19 transmission rate in our workplace, and we are very grateful for your adherence to these measures. Anyone concerned about adherence to public health safety protocols in their neighborhood or building should email EH&S at [email protected] or submit an anonymous employee hazard report online.

We greatly appreciate your commitment to safely conducting research activities during this pandemic, so that we can ensure UCSF’s ability to care for patients and protect the health and well-being of our faculty, staff, students, visitors, and the general public.


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