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Social Distancing Measures in Our Academic and Research Operations

March 16, 2020

To: The Caltech Community
From: Thomas F. Rosenbaum, President and David A. Tirrell, Provost
Date: March 16, 2020
Re: Social Distancing Measures in Our Academic and Research Operations

As indicated in this morning's message on Social Distancing, we are instituting a series of measures to protect the Caltech campus and our broader community. This message provides more detailed guidance for our academic and research enterprises. We realize these measures have significant implications; at the same time, this is an unprecedented emergency, and it is critical that we do what we can to limit the spread of disease and support the efforts of public health authorities to mitigate the impact on our healthcare infrastructure.

Research continuity

  • All non-essential research operations should be deferred or transitioned to remote (home office, private space within residence, etc.) activities whenever possible.
  • All heads of laboratories and research units should immediately evaluate their continuity plans and identify any critical operations that require human, in-person support for maintenance and preservation. Information on critical operations should be communicated immediately to the Division Chairs.

Graduate students

  • Faculty, lab managers, and anyone with responsibility for graduate students should instruct those students to work remotely to the extent possible.
  • Do not insist that graduate students report to campus, unless they are involved in an essential research function. Such determinations should be part of a laboratory's research continuity plan.
  • If a graduate student has an essential role in a critical research function or whose work is at a critical stage in the laboratory, accommodations should be made to conduct those essential functions in a manner consistent with social distancing while maintaining laboratory and experimental safety protocols. For example, minimizing the number of people in a laboratory space while adhering to relevant safety protocols may require supervision or a buddy system.
  • If possible, graduate students should focus on reading and writing papers, data analysis, preparing for candidacy or thesis defenses, and any other activities that do not involve close contact with others.
  • Stipends will continue to be paid, and students will not need to use their 10 days of vacation time if they are ill or working from home.
  • Graduate housing remains open, as well as critical Institute services to support graduate students (dining, wellness, Graduate Studies Office)

Faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows

  • Faculty, staff, and others over the age of 65 have been asked by public health authorities to self-isolate at home until further notice.
  • Do not insist that faculty, staff, and postdoctoral fellows report to campus, unless they are involved in an essential research function, consistent with a laboratory's research continuity and safety plans.
  • Whenever possible, allow all constituents to work remotely; follow the guidance provided by Human Resources regarding telecommuting.
  • The cautions and limitations regarding social distancing and lab hygiene for graduate students also apply to postdoctoral fellows.

Lab meetings and gatherings

  • All lab meetings should be conducted via teleconference, Zoom, or other virtual tool.
  • One-on-one meetings should be conducted in-person only if the objectives of the meeting require in-person interaction, in an environment where individuals can practice social distancing, and only when both parties agree.
  • Do not invite or host visitors on campus.
  • Lab group members and administrators should use electronic communication whenever possible to order supplies, reconcile reports, and accomplish other crucial administrative functions, practicing appropriate hygiene and social distancing when picking up and dropping off materials.

Hygiene and social distancing

  • The schedules of everyone who must be in the lab or shared office space should be staggered as much as possible, and everyone should work remotely whenever possible to reduce person to person contact.
  • Maintain 6 feet (2 meters) of distance from other people.
  • Practice good hygiene and follow recommendations of the CDC, including when using shared instrumentation and resources.
  • If you are ill, stay home and do not come to campus. In the event of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, notify the Institute (students should notify Student Wellness Services; faculty, staff, and postdoctoral fellows should notify Human Resources). Follow self-isolation instructions.

Cleaning practices

  • Follow CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting
  • Notify supervisors, Environmental Health and Safety, and Student Wellness Services immediately if you believe that you or someone in your group has been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Facilities staff may need to ramp down typical cleaning practices in order to prioritize other areas of the Institute; cleaning and disinfecting may need to be done internally until other resources become available
  • In the event of a diagnosed case of COVID-19, contact facilities and EHS. Laboratories, offices, and other impacted spaces will be closed for cleaning and prepared for re-occupancy.