Updates on the campus response to coronavirus (COVID-19)

Second Research Town Hall Details Updates to On-Campus Operations

Atlanta, GA

More than 400 researchers, staff, and faculty members tuned in to Georgia Tech’s virtual town hall on Wednesday to learn about the latest updates in the ramp-up of the Institute’s research enterprise.

Moderated by Gail Spatt, director of Research Administration, the town hall featured presentations and commentary from the following panelists:

  • Chaouki T. Abdallah, executive vice president for Research
  • Chris Jones, professor and William R. McLain Chair in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
  • Benoit Montreuil, Coca-Cola Material Handling and Distribution Chair, professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, director of the Physical Internet Center, and co-director of the Supply Chain and Logistics Institute
  • Robert Butera, vice president for Research Development and Operations

Abdallah opened with a message of support, especially for black Americans, given current local and national events demanding an end to systemic racism.

“People are going through a very difficult time. This is a moment in history that we’re witnessing right now,” Abdallah said. “I’m hoping and encouraging everyone to be understanding and to do their part to make sure everybody is able to focus on their lives as well as on the job at hand.”

Jones, whom Abdallah charged with leading a task force to oversee the ramp-up in research operations, continued with a brief message regarding the progression of laboratory reopenings:

  • The ramp-up plan isn’t static and will adapt to changing circumstances and constraints as time goes on, especially as collaboration and feedback indicate.
  • For the Institute’s vital research enterprise to resume, even partially, everyone must support and be patient with one another and persistently strive for safety as situations and conditions continue to change.
  • Research faculty and staff must keep in mind that the Institute’s primary purpose is to serve students and work together to help undergraduate and graduate students progress toward degree completion. At the same time, Georgia Tech’s research enterprise is critical for national security as well as the local and national economy, so ramping up in some way is imperative.

“This is why we’re ramping up our research in this slow but deliberate way,” Jones said. “Our institution is important to the city, important to the state, and important to the nation.”

Montreuil followed, explaining the two phases of research recovery: Phase 1 began on June 18 and Phase 2 will begin on July 13.

Given the high uncertainty surrounding the supply and demand of personal protective equipment (PPE), Montreuil and his team have developed a “safe, smart, agile, executable, and scalable” system for managing the Institute’s PPE supply chain. The system takes into account three categories of campus distribution: facilities, labs, and individuals.

Open to all members of the Georgia Tech community, and currently in a testing phase through use of a mobile app, the system not only predicts consumption and supply of PPE inventory, but also adapts to real-time usage and replenishment reports of each size and type of PPE: cloth and surgical masks, nitrile gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant spray. With nine supply and demand scenarios modeled through the end of the Fall 2020 semester, Montreuil’s system updates daily, using logs submitted by everyone involved in the distribution of PPE throughout campus.

Montreuil’s system works to ensure every Institute lab has a robust three-day supply of PPE, while each building has a two-week supply. Campus distribution will proceed from Environmental Health and Safety, which will assign campus distributors to supply each building at a predetermined PPE depot. Building distributors will then use these PPE depots to supply every lab and office in their building. Based on daily user-submitted logs, the system eliminates the need for anyone to reorder inventory; it will arrive automatically as reports indicate.

“Every campus in America and across the world is dealing with this same situation,” Montreuil said. “So, if we can prepare for it and prove that we’re handling it well, this system can become a role model that we can export and feed to many campuses around the world.”

More Information on the Research Ramp-Up

Phase 1 of the research ramp-up began on June 18. Phase 1 gives priority to researchers who are unable to perform their work in a remote environment, with maximum density of personnel in labs limited to 25 percent of normal (pre-Covid-19) operations. Phase 2 will begin on July 13, allowing time for a robust testing and tracing infrastructure to be put in place. During Phase 2, lab occupancy will be limited to 50 percent of normal (pre-Covid-19) occupancy. At all times during Phases 1 and 2, the maximum density of personnel in a lab should be kept to one person per 150 square feet of space.

Any returning lab personnel must complete the “Returning Safely to Your Lab” video series prior to their first day back on campus.

Face Masks and Coverings

All employees are strongly encouraged to wear a cloth face covering on campus. Cloth face coverings are especially important in preventing transmission from asymptomatic individuals who have Covid-19. A face covering is required for employees who work in areas where social distancing is difficult to practice. Ongoing PPE requirements in laboratories also apply.

  • Single-use surgical masks are required in lab spaces where chemical, biological, or radioactive agents are present. 
  • Cloth face coverings will be used in lab spaces that do not contain chemical, biological, or radioactive agents. 

Appropriate face coverings and PPE will be provided to employees who are required to wear them. Employees who are required to wear a face covering and consistently fail to do so will be referred to Georgia Tech Human Resources. Failure to wear a face covering in a research laboratory is treated as a laboratory safety violation and should be reported to both the unit director and Environmental Health and Safety.

Face coverings are required in general campus locations where social distancing is difficult to consistently maintain (e.g., lab spaces, reception areas and lobbies, elevators, stairwells, restrooms, conference rooms, breakrooms and kitchens, etc.). Face coverings are encouraged, but not required, when a person is alone in an individual office or cubicle, or in indoor and outdoor spaces where social distance can be consistently maintained. For more information about face coverings, review the guidelines from Human Resources.

Research Enterprise Town Hall Q & A

Leadership fielded questions from viewers submitted in real time during the town hall. Here is a sampling. Watch the complete recording of the town hall here.

Will undergraduates be able to work in labs in the fall?

Jones: Our current plan is that we do want to facilitate undergraduate research in the fall. Undergraduate research is an important learning experience for undergraduates and an important mentoring experience for our graduate students and postdocs. But we’ll also provide some guidance about the types of projects we anticipate are appropriate for the fall. There are few, if any, reservations about welcoming back undergraduate researchers who are already familiar with the laboratory.

We ask that PIs [principal investigators] think carefully about starting new projects with undergraduates and make sure that it’s possible, with our social distancing guidelines, to give them the attention and training they need to be both safe and successful in the laboratory. We also will encourage all mentors to make sure activities for the fall involve a fallback plan that is pedagogically and experientially meaningful, should we have to move off campus due to a resurgence of the pandemic.

How will we ensure cleaning standards are met in off-campus buildings, such as the Biltmore, where the cleaning is not done by Georgia Tech employees?

Butera: Facilities is actively discussing this issue. Each one is managed differently, but this is being very actively worked out this week.

What are the guidelines for shared spaces such as elevators, lounges, and bathrooms? Are there occupancy limits? How will this information be shared?

Butera: Capital Planning and Space Management (CPSM) has been working with building managers on a per-building basis on signage, which some buildings are already deploying for the research ramp-up, for where to enter, where to exit, and traffic flow. In some buildings, like IBB [Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Biosciences], they are already blocking off some furniture, removing it from public spaces depending on space, and marking off some stalls to say they’re not for use. That’s happening on a building-by-building basis by the building managers working with CPSM on initial guidance for the building.

A regularly updated list of Research Ramp-Up FAQs is available on the Research website.

If you have any questions regarding Research Ramp-Up plans, please send them to research_rampup@gatech.edu. For questions specific to the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), please contact covid_ask@gtri.gatech.edu.

Last revised June 22, 2020