Latest information and updates about COVID-19 (coronavirus) from McMaster University
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Given the dynamic situation, we recognize that additional pressing question will develop, so we’ll be updating this frequently. Please keep an eye on the site and send any questions to research@mcmaster.ca.  Additional information and guidelines for returning to on-campus activities can be found on the Human Resources Services website.

PHASED INCREASE OF RESEARCH ACTIVITY GENERAL FAQs

How can I access the Federal Government’s assistance for research staff?

We are pleased to learn that the Federal Government is providing universities with assistance for research staff, although we do not have specific information at this time.  As we receive information, we will work closely with the Deans and ADRs to allocate these funds, and will communicate any updates to the research community.

After the province’s COVID-19 and social distancing update announcement on May 14th for Ontario’s reopening, am I permitted to return to campus immediately?

No. Ontario’s announcement opened the door for McMaster to begin to implement its phased return to research activity. The health and well-being of our research community is our top priority and, as such, we continue to work with Environmental and Occupational Health Support Services (EOHSS) and Facility Services, to ensure our faculty, staff and students, and the labs and buildings in which they work, are properly prepared for return.

Does this mean all researchers are allowed back?

No. This does not signal a return for all researchers; rather only those granted permission for Phase 1. This includes researchers who require campus-based equipment and facilities or whose inability to conduct fieldwork presents serious obstacles and consequences for graduate students and researchers completing their studies.

When can I return to my lab or my fieldwork activity?

The University has stated that Phase 1 activities will commence no later than June 1st although fieldwork may proceed sooner than on-campus research. In both cases, written approval to continue must be obtained from your Chair and/or Associate Dean of Research (ADR) before research commences.

How do I apply for the return to on-campus or fieldwork research?

You will need to complete the on-line form. Once complete, this information will go directly to your Chair and/or ADR for approval, and you will be notified of your status by email.

 If there are multiple co-PIs related to my research, who is responsible?

This should be addressed by the PIs prior to submitting their individual on-line request for approval, as it is important that the numbers of research personnel returning are not duplicated, and only accounted for by one PI.

If I am approved, does that mean my entire research team is able to return?

No. The health and safety of our university community remain our top priority.  During Phase 1 of our increased research activity, in order to respect physical/social distancing requirements, researchers are asked to limit the number of individuals to the minimum required to conduct the research.

Even if I’m eligible, do I have to return to work in Phase 1?

Absolutely not. No researcher, nor any member of a research team, should feel compelled to return to their lab or conduct fieldwork. Returning is completely voluntary and the sole choice of the individual. In fact, working from home continues to remain the preference, although we recognize that some research cannot be completed without access to on-campus infrastructure or facilities.

My research takes place in a hospital setting or at MIP. What should I do? 

You are still required to complete the on-line form to request approval from your Chair and/or ADR before returning to your lab. Once granted approval, you must respect and follow all protocols and directives defined by the respective partner hospital or MIP.

Can I impose stricter health and safety measures than the University?

All researchers must abide by the University’s health and safety measures at a minimum. If you feel that additional measures are required to ensure the safety of your research team, such measures should be considered in consultation with EOHSS or FHSSO. It is important to remember that no one should feel compelled to return to the lab or conduct fieldwork.

When will the rest of the phases begin?

Our phased approach to increase research activity was developed to respect the sentiments of Ontario’s “A Framework for Reopening our Province.” Specific dates for the implementation of each Phase will be set by the Presidents and Vice-Presidents and communicated by the (acting) VPR, and is dependent on the success of the previous phase. More detailed instructions on Phases 2 & 3 will be made available before specific dates are announced. In each phase, we will continue to adhere to Environmental and Occupational Health Support Services (EOHSS) and Facility Services’ directions on physical/social distancing, hygiene practices and (re)defined maximum occupancies/personnel density.

What if someone on my research team is experiencing mental health issues related to the current pandemic?

The health and safety of the McMaster community continues to be of critical importance. While McMaster proceeds with the phased increase in research activity in accordance with Ontario Public Health and government guidelines, its important that no one should feel compelled to return to research at this time. Research personnel who feel uncomfortable about their return to work, for any reason, can speak privately to their Dean, Associate Dean of Research (ADR) or the (acting) VPR. If you believe someone is experiencing mental health issues, please direct them to the University’s information on COIVID-19 Wellness Support, Employee and Family Assistance Program or the Student Wellness Centre.

CAMPUS- AND LAB-SPECIFIC FAQs

Does McMaster have specific protocols for physical/social distancing measures in my lab or in the field?

Yes. All members of research teams are to comply with McMaster’s Workplace Preventative Measures for COVID-19: Hierarchy of Hazard ControlPlease scroll down to the bottom of the diagram and click on each separate link to get specific details on each section.

  • Continue to work remotely – remove the risk of potential exposure to COVID-19
  • Adjust the workplace – redesign or modify the workplace configuration to enable physical/social distancing
  • Adjust work processes – implement hand hygiene practices and/or make adjustments to stagger shifts of the limited researchers required to conduct your work
  • Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – where previous measures are not possible or are ineffective, PPE may be necessary to reduce the potential exposure

I want to purchase PPE for my research team prior to their return, is there somewhere on campus that I can do so?

If employees are observing physical/social distancing and hand washing as per the Public Health guidelines, PPE is not necessary and will not be provided by the University.  If physical distancing is not possible under normal operations, work should be scheduled accordingly to accommodate this practice with people continuing to work from home wherever possible.

If other controls have been properly applied, there should be no circumstances where face masks or gloves are necessary while working in offices. Individuals can choose to wear a mask if they wish and are responsible for providing their own mask (non-medical).

Should PPE be needed, however, Campus Stores staff members are working closely with Procurement in securing stock for the McMaster community. Please email hscstore@mcmaster.ca to inquire about placing an order, recognizing that the priority is given to those in the healthcare sectors or those who require it for their role, such as cleaning staff. A Mosaic chartfield and employee ID number are required to place your order.

Do I need to wear a mask to access campus?

No. Medical masks are only required if physical distancing can’t be achieved through other means or if there is a hazard present due to the nature of the work that requires the use of a mask. Cloth face coverings are not PPE and are not a substitute for medical masks. Individuals may choose to wear non-medical masks (cloth face coverings) due to COVID-19 concerns, but they will not be provided by the University. Please see the Provide PPE section of the Hierarchy.

Is there a formula for calculating how many people I can have in my lab to respect the physical/social distancing guidelines?

No. As each lab is configured differently a blanket formula won’t work for all spaces. If you require assistance determining how best to configure your space to accommodate your limited research team members, please consult with EOHSS or FHSSO for further guidance. Tips for reconfiguring lab space can be found in Adjust the Workplace section of the Hierarchy.

How will the flow of people be organized to allow for physical/social distancing in campus buildings and labs?

The University will provide overall guidance and install signage in buildings to direct traffic flow in the main/common areas, i.e., corridors and stairwells, including social distancing markers on the floors. As PIs have the best understanding of their labs and who needs to be working in it and when, they will need to describe how they will manage their space, respecting the COVID-19 Hierarchy of Hazard Control guidelines, in their request for approval. If you need guidance or advice, please consult with EOHSS or  FHSSO. Distancing markers will be available through Media Production Services.

Is there anything I should know about re-starting my lab after having it sit idle for so long?

Yes. EOHSS has provided guidelines for PIs to help with a safe re-start before allowing access to research personnel. Please see return to research checklist, along with a copy of the Research Guidance document. In addition, here are some examples of things to look for as you restart:

  • Sinks, including pot sinks, may have air pockets due to shut offs – at first use turn taps on slowly and run until clear.  Ensure the flushing of the eyewash/showers for at least 15 minutes.
  • Check all rubber tubing before connecting to glassware – it may have dried out and cracked. Replace as necessary.
  • Check all solvent stills and peroxide formers before using. Consider hazardous waste disposal as necessary.
  • Drain traps may have dried out – this will create a sewer gas odour in some labs. Pour water down the floor drains to refill the traps (running the sinks will have helped but some floor traps may be missed).  Contact Facility Services for trap oil that will float on top of the water and prevent it from drying out.

Will there be hand sanitizing stations in all buildings?

Hand sanitizer is currently in short supply across the country, however, the University is doing its best to source sufficient levels. Individuals are reminded to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds where possible. In combination with physical distancing, appropriate hygiene practices are a critical prevention measure for COVID-19. Please post the following in visible areas within your lab:

Will I have to/can I do my own cleaning or will it be done by the University?

All buildings will be fully cleaned prior to researchers returning to their labs. Cleaning of labs – wiping down benches and equipment, sashes, knobs, etc., before leaving for the day – is the responsibility of the occupants. PIs should place signs or label shared equipment with reminders to wipe down before and after use, and remind all research personnel to wash their hands – at least 20 seconds with soap and water or using an alcohol-based sanitizer – when entering and leaving the lab. Custodial staff will increase the frequency of cleaning highly touched surfaces (handles, elevators, washrooms). The University is working to obtain additional cleaning supplies, should they be needed. More details can be found in Adjust Work Processes section of the Hierarchy.

Will the University be installing plexiglass shields or dividers?

Plexiglass shields and dividers can be installed if necessary to ensure physical/social distancing and should be discussed with your department Chair and Facility Services.

Will we need to monitor temperatures?

McMaster will not be monitoring temperatures. Anyone who is feeling unwell must stay home. If someone has symptoms of COVID-19 or believes they have been exposed, they should utilize the Government of Ontario’s COVID-19 self-assessment tool. More details can be found in Adjust Work Processes section of the Hierarchy.

What if someone in my lab becomes sick?

Anyone who is feeling unwell must stay home. If someone has symptoms of COVID-19 or believes they have been exposed, they should utilize the Government of Ontario’s COVID-19 self-assessment tool. More details can be found in Adjust Work Processes section of the Hierarchy.

Will coffee shops and common areas be available to those who are on campus?

The expectation is that personnel will come to campus only to do work that cannot be done remotely; going directly to their labs and then returning home. Research personnel will not have access to food outlets/coffee shops and, given restrictions in labs, researchers are asked to use their offices to store their food and personal belongings during Phase 1. More details can be found in Adjust the Workplace section of the Hierarchy.