EH&S COVID-19 Guidance

Welcome to the Columbia University EH&S COVID-19 Hub.  Please check back often for updated information as the circumstances of the public health situation and the University’s response change.

EH&S Service Updates

EH&S’s Biosafety Program is providing active support of COVID-19 research, including discussion with researchers about proposed work, and review and approval of Rascal Appendix A submissions.  The Institutional Biological Safety Committee (IBC) meets regularly to review and approve such research. 

Please see the link below, under “Advisories and FAQs” to submit a request to perform COVID-related research. 

EH&S’ team of safety professionals is working on-site, in rotations Monday – Friday during normal business hours at the Morningside, Manhattanville and CUIMC campuses.  Our office can be reached via all normal phone and email channels.

In addition, all EH&S staff are available via email and phone to help support your laboratory regardless of whether your research operations are temporarily closed, in “maintenance” mode, or operational and continuing to perform essential research. Waste management services are still available – albeit on a modified schedule to account for the reduction in research activity – and EH&S will be actively working to ensure that your laboratory is prepared to resume research activities as soon as the University is ready to return to normal operations. 

Finally, please note, when laboratory personnel are on-site, personnel are strongly advised to adhere to social distancing requirements and other advisories to limit the spread of COVID-19  (https://preparedness.columbia.edu/)

EH&S is here for the Columbia University research community, and look forward to working with you, whether on-site or remotely.

EH&S wishes to sincerely thank all laboratories for the orderly and efficient ramp down of research operations in accordance with University requirements.  If your laboratory has now completed any work that may have extended beyond the March 19, 2020 deadline, the ramp down checklist is a useful guide to safely preparing to close the lab.

Resources

Where can I get more information?

Columbia University:

External Links:

Additional Media and Educational Content

Instructional Teaching Laboratories

General Laboratory Ramp-Up FAQs 

Effective June 22, 2020, laboratories are permitted to begin limited re-occupancy and resumption of non-critical research, in accordance with their Department- or School-approved plans.  All laboratories are required to adhere to University guidance on permitted research activity, physical distancing, personal protective equipment, and other applicable protocols.   

EH&S has prepared a list of frequently asked questions to address several common issues related to the resumption of laboratory research.  Please see the list below, and please reach out to labsafety@columbia.edu if your question is not addressed here. 

Laboratory Ramp-Up FAQs (click each of the topic tabs below)

GENERAL

General

Refer to the guidelines of your PI, department or school, regarding phases of return and requirements for work resumption and lab re-occupancy. In Phase 2, which began on June 22nd, laboratories should be operating at no greater than 1/3 of their “normal” occupancy at any given time. Six feet of physical distance in all directions should separate you and the nearest person.  

No. Labs are designed to have a high rate of room air changes with outdoor air delivered through a supply vent. Propping open the door disrupts the lab's air balance, leading to inadequate ventilation in rooms and bringing air from the hallway rather than from outside. Open laboratory doors also represent a security concern in terms of potential theft of research materials and/or personal property. Note that closed laboratory doors are required to be in compliance with FDNY regulations.  

Individual employees should be self-monitoring, using either the mobile symptom self-check app or the website, and reporting the development of symptoms to their supervisors and lab director. If there is a concern related to COVID-19, contact your supervisor or department chair, the Dean's Office, Human Resources, the Compliance Hotline*, the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office, or the University Ombuds Office*. (* - Denotes anonymous resource). Each department has also assigned an Ambassador to assist with any questions related to the research ramp-up. 

The University also offers Quick tips for encouraging others to follow Columbia’s safety policies - https://covid19.columbia.edu/stepping-in

Please visit covid19.columbia.edu for more information.  

According to the EPA, when used properly, air purifiers can help reduce airborne contaminants including viruses in a confined space. However, by itself, a portable air cleaner is insufficient to protect against COVID-19. Use best practices including frequent and thorough hand washing, physical distancing, and wearing of a face covering.  

LAB-SPECIFIC QUESTIONS

Lab-specific questions

As always, laboratories are free to operate at the schedule of their choosing.  In fact, labs may wish to explore extended schedules as a means of limiting occupancy at a given time. Please note that FDNY C-14 regulations continue to apply; a C-14 holder must always be present when the laboratory is in operation. Alternatively, labs may enter into an arrangement with a neighboring research group to share C-14 coverage. Please refer to the Laboratory C-14 Coverage Plan.

Laboratories are strongly discouraged from conducting work with highly hazardous materials (e.g., pyrophoric compounds) after-hours, when available emergency support is limited.

Fume hoods are certified on an annual schedule.  In general, it will not be necessary to re-certify your hood upon arrival to your laboratory.  Please notify EH&S if there is any concern that your fume hood is experiencing mechanical difficulties, as indicated by its face velocity monitor or otherwise.

Each laboratory’s ramp-up plan must be approved at the department and/or school level. EH&S has provided a checklist (PDF or Word) to safely ramp up your laboratory. This document is intended for internal guidance, and does not need to be submitted or returned to EH&S.

At Morningside, submit a pickup request of Regulated Medical Waste (RMW): https://cumc.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6gqSpJrYyxX5lul.  At the Medical Center, follow your regular procedures. Place all RMW in the appropriate gray TB-02 dumpsters on your floor, or place the fiberboard boxes in the hallway. Chemical and radioactive waste pick-up requests also are submitted through the above link. For RMW pickup at Manhattanville campus, drop off full red bags and full sharps containers at designated locations, which is then serviced by Facilities.

Refer to guidance from your department or the respective Shared Facility Manager. Labs and research facilities should have protocols in place for routine cleaning and decontamination. 

There is no minimum required time between lab shifts. Refer to your lab’s procedures for routine cleaning and decontamination of surfaces and equipment, and adhere to the University’s PPE and physical distancing requirements.

Please also note that the University has made significant upgrades and enhancements to air handling systems in many campus buildings.

CUIMC – https://www.cumc.columbia.edu/facilities-management/building-specific-enhancements

Morningside - https://covid19.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/content/Documents%20&%20Forms/HVAC%20Protocols%20for%20Covid-19%20Pandemic.pdf

Disposable surgical masks are required in laboratories where hazardous materials are used. However, if your research involves a hazard that cannot be controlled by engineering controls or work practices, face shields can be used in tandem with the face masks.

Laboratories should consider the removal of obsolete, outdated or excess materials in order to open space for optimum physical distancing. Chairs should be removed or relocated to discourage gathering in groups in common areas such as meeting rooms and pantries.

The direct link to the LION/LATCH login is http://research.columbia.edu/lion. The links in the checklist lead to the general CU homepage which in turn has the link to LION/LATCH.

PPE and FACE COVERINGS

PPE and Face Coverings

Columbia University will be providing two cloth facemasks to all personnel. Individual departments may provide disposable surgical face masks to personnel performing certain tasks/roles. Please contact your department chair or supervisor to determine how the face coverings will be distributed.

As always, PPE must be based on a risk-assessment. Consult your laboratory’s LATCH for information on specific PPE required for a given hazard or task. In addition, face coverings are required at all times, except while working alone in a private office or space with the door closed.

Several departments may already have a laundering service in place. Please contact your principal investigator (PI) to determine whether there is a preferred vendor for your group or the department. Lab coats must not be taken home for laundering under any circumstances to avoid contamination of your personal clothing and laundering equipment. EH&S strongly recommends laundering lab coats more frequently through approved vendors to minimize potential transmission of COVID-19.

The 6-foot social distancing rule is to be strictly followed at all times. If it is impossible to perform your work at a distance of 6 feet, contact EHS at labsafety@columbia.edu to perform a job hazard analysis.

We recommend that surgical masks be discarded at the end of the workday and not reused. Columbia University will be providing all personnel with two cloth face masks, which can and should be laundered for reuse. 

Standard rules apply for glove use. Gloves should be worn as usual for lab research, and should not be worn outside the lab. Gloves are not necessary to protect against COVID-19. Instead, follow rigorous hand washing protocols and use hand sanitizer containing a minimum of 60% alcohol when soap and water are not available.

Laboratories may place requisitions to order items from a central purchase order that has been secured by the University. Refer to the following for more details and instructions: https://finance.columbia.edu/content/covid-19-personal-protective-equipment-ppe-purchasing

In accordance with the Governor’s Executive Order Number 202.17 and CDC recommendations, all members of the Columbia community are required to wear a face covering when in close proximity to others in both indoor and outdoor settings. The use of cloth face masks with good hand hygiene and physical distancing mitigates the spread of the virus. However, certain circumstances may necessitate a greater degree of protection. Refer to EH&S Fact Sheet #8 for more guidance.
 

  • Lab coats – Utilize regular laundry services as well as alternating between two lab coats to allow time for cleaning and disinfection.
  • Safety glasses/goggles - Use soap and water to keep safety eyewear clean.
  • Avoid sharing PPE if possible. Use only individually assigned PPE.
  • Wash hands before and after using PPE, especially if using shared PPE items such as cryogloves.
  • Do not wear laboratory PPE outside the laboratory.

In research settings, engineering controls and work practices should provide sufficient protection. If this is not the case, face shields over face masks may be an appropriate solution to provide an additional physical barrier for the facial area (e.g., fluid contact with eyes and mucus membranes).

An N95 respirator (sometimes referred to as an “N95 mask”) is a respiratory protection device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles. The 'N95' designation means that when subjected to specific testing, the respirator filters out at least 95 percent of very small (>0.3 micron) test particles; the “N” refers to “non-oil” particles. N95 respirators are certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is a research unit within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N95 respirators worn by healthcare personnel during clinical procedures are meant to protect both the patient and health care professional from pathogenic microorganisms, body fluids, and particulate matter.  Refer to this guidance document for more information.  

A surgical mask is a loose-fitting device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment. A surgical mask can help block droplets of the wearer’s saliva and respiratory secretions, thus limiting the spread of viral particles. Surgical masks can also protect the wearer by preventing large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain pathogens (viruses and bacteria), from reaching the wearer’s mouth and nose (https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/n95-respirators-surgical-masks-and-face-masks).

The intended use and purpose of a surgical mask is to provide the wearer protection against large droplets, splashes, or sprays of bodily fluids. A surgical mask can also prevent the wearer from spreading their own respiratory secretions to others. Surgical masks DO NOT provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles and are not certified as respiratory protection. An N95 respirator reduces the wearer’s exposure to particles, including small particle aerosols and large droplet (only non-oil) aerosols. N95 respirators filter out at least 95% of airborne particles including large and small particles and are intended to be used by medical professionals performing clinical procedures (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/pdfs/UnderstandDifferenceInfographic-508.pdf).

On April 3, 2020, in response to continued N95 respirator shortages, the FDA issued a new Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for non-NIOSH-approved respirators made in China, which makes and certifies KN95 respirators eligible for authorization if certain criteria are met, including evidence demonstrating that the respirator is authentic. The web page link provided below is the complete Emergency Use Authorization by FDA: https://www.fda.gov/media/136664/download  

For additional information about the FDA EUA for non-NIOSH approved respirators, please visit the following web page: https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/emergency-situations-medical-devices/non-niosh-approvedrespirator-eua-faq

KN95 refers to the regulatory standard for filtering face piece respirators certified in China. The standard requires a design to form a seal with the face and use against most non-oily particulates with a filtration efficiency of 94-95%. The requirement for a KN95 certification is almost identical to the United States’ NIOSH N95 certification procedure. Authentic KN95 respirators provide equivalent protection of an N95 respirator.

Counterfeit respirators bearing the NIOSH name or logo do appear in the marketplace. They are advertised as NIOSH-approved and often sold at low prices. An easy way to verify is to check for the presence of NIOSH approval TC number (TC-84A-XXXX) on the respirator’s packaging, the user instructions, or the product itself. If the TC number is not present, it is not NIOSH-approved. The following web page provides examples of counterfeit products that are not NIOSH approved: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/usernotices/counterfeitResp.html

The donning procedure may vary for each manufacturer. However, a proper seal checking procedure must be performed by the user at the time of donning a KN95. If a proper seal is not achieved, a different sized mask of an N95 must be used instead of a KN95. The CDC guidelines on how to properly put on and take off a disposable respirator are available here: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2010-133/pdfs/2010-133.pdf

BIOSAFETY

Biosafety

Biosafety cabinets are required to be certified on an annual basis by a certified vendor. Some vendors, such as DigeLab, have been continuing to certify cabinets during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please contact one of the following companies to get your biosafety cabinet certified: https://research.columbia.edu/companies-accredited-certification-biological-safety-cabinets

Refer to the following guidance document for recommended inactivation methods, acceptable kit reagents, RNA extraction options, and other relevant information: https://research.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/content/EHS/COVID-19/COVID-InactivationMethodGuidanceforInvestigators.pdf

Refer to this guidance document for the appropriate biosafety containment level and work practices, depending on the specimen type: https://research.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/content/EHS/COVID-19/Enhanced-biosafety-precautions-COVID-specimens.pdf

Collection of blood from patients who do not exhibit COVID-19 illness, or have recovered, should be handled using strict universal (standard) precautions.

No, all specimens (tissue, blood) should be treated with rigorous attention to universal (standard) precautions. Enhanced BSL-2 precautions are not required. Universal precautions are also appropriate for specimens from a convalescent patient who has tested negative by NP-swab, or equivalent, prior to specimen collection.

TRAINING

Training

COVID-19 Training: Safe Research at Columbia is mandatory for all CU researchers and the COVID-19 Training: Safe Practices at Columbia is required for all CU staff and personnel before returning to work. The purpose of this training is to increase health and safety awareness and to provide guidelines to decrease exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19)

Out of an abundance of caution, all training is being offered online until further notice.  Refer to the following page to determine the in-person and RASCAL equivalents: https://research.columbia.edu/safety-trainings. To ensure training credit, take and pass the post-test. 

You can still obtain your C-14 training either in Brooklyn or online.  First, review the instructions for obtaining FDNY’s C-14 certification requirements here: https://research.columbia.edu/certificate-fitness-information

If your qualifications require that you complete testing at FDNY Headquarters in Brooklyn, they are open and offering C-14 testing. If you are qualified for on-site testing at Columbia University, complete the online training course online, Certificate of Fitness (C-14) Holder Training for Supervising Non-Production Chemical Laboratories (TC5451): https://www.rascal.columbia.edu/tc/courseListings

Take the post-test to ensure training credit.  Submit your completed documents (FDNY only accepts documents in English) AND a passport-sized photo to EH&S fire-life@columbia.edu for processing.  Your photo must be passport-sized AND in color. You will be notified when your C-14 card arrives in 2-3 weeks.  
 
Please note that until your C-14 card is issued by FDNY, you must not conduct unsupervised laboratory work if a valid C-14 holder is not physically present.

DISINFECTION

Disinfection

Frequent hand washing with soap and water is essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and all other pathogens. Wash hands before putting on PPE, after removing PPE and anytime you come in contact with “high touch” surfaces with your hands. Always wash hands for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water is not immediately available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol until you are able to wash your hands with soap and water. When removing PPE, be careful not to transfer contaminants from your gloves to your skin or clothes.

Columbia University Facilities and Campus Life have instituted a number of protocols and strategies.  Refer to their website and their FAQs for more information.

Individual researchers should clean and disinfect their personal areas daily, including work stations/desks.  Routinely wipe down all frequently touched surfaces such as workstations, keyboards and phones, countertops, copiers, light switches, and doorknobs. 

Individual researchers should disinfect shared equipment before and after use, using CDC-recommended disinfectants.  In a Shared Facility (e.g. NMR, MS), contact the respective Manager regarding any physical distancing measures prior to visiting the space.

The following common cleaning products are included in EPA’s List N. Always review the manufacturer’s recommendations, including concentration, application method and contact time.

  • Quaternary ammonium compounds like CloroxPro™ Clorox Total 360® Disinfecting Cleaner1 - contact time 5 minute
  • Hydrogen Peroxide like Clorox Commercial Solutions® H2O2 Cleaner Disinfectant - contact time 1 minute
  • 10% freshly prepared bleach solution — contact time of 1 minute.  Prepare a bleach solution by mixing 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach in one gallon of water.

For non-electronic surfaces: Use soap and water.

For electronic surfaces: 70% alcohol or other EPA-approved disinfectant approved for electronics.

For fabrics and laundry: Linens that have been in contact with an ill person can be washed with other healthy individual’s clothing. Place the individual’s laboratory coat in a plastic bag and send it out for laundering through your laboratory or department’s usual service provider.

Columbia University Facilities and Campus Life have instituted several protocols and strategies for common areas and offices.  Refer to their website and their FAQs for more information.  Throughout the day, you should also clean and disinfect chairs, desktops, keyboards, phones, monitors, remotes, light switches, doorknobs, door push plates, card readers, refrigerator/freezer doors and sink and cabinet handles. 

Individual researchers should clean and disinfect “high touch” laboratory surfaces both prior to use and after use. These might include equipment panels/switches, benchtops, biosafety cabinet and fume hood sashes and their working surfaces, waste container lids, commonly used hand tools, small objects (pipettors), shared PPE (ex - laser goggles), sink handles, distilled water systems, cabinets (including acid & flammable liquid), phones, freezer and incubator doors.

Always wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including a lab coat, disposable gloves and safety glasses or goggles. Wash hands before and after putting on PPE (lab coat, gloves and safety glasses/goggles) and anytime you come in contact with “high touch” surfaces with your hands. When removing PPE, be careful not to transfer contaminants from your gloves to your skin/clothes. Frequent hand washing with soap & water is essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens. Always wash hands for at least 20 seconds. If soap & water is not immediately available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol until you are able to wash your hands with soap & water.

If a space has been visited by a suspected/confirmed COVID-19 positive individual, close off the area used by that person, and notify your supervisor and Facilities and Operations at 212-854-2222.  Wait at least 24 hours or as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection. Open windows and doors to the outside, if available, to allow fresh air to circulate. If more than 7 days passed since the person with suspected/confirmed COVID-19 was in the space, additional cleaning and disinfection is not considered necessary, so general cleaning of the area(s) by laboratory personnel can proceed as stated above.

Isopropyl alcohol is a flammable liquid and is considered a fire hazard. A flammable liquid fire can spread very quickly and intensely. Some general rules of handling include the following:

  • Keep flammables/combustible materials away from sources of ignition, open flames, hot surfaces, electrical equipment and static electricity.
  • Never heat flammable substances with an open flame.
  • Store flammable liquids in National Fire Protection Administration (NFPA) approved cabinets or storage rooms designed for flammable materials.
  • Keep containers closed and only transfer chemicals in fume hoods.
  • If using alcohol based hand sanitizer, ensure liquid from the hand sanitizer has evaporated before touching any surfaces, to prevent accidental ignition of liquid from static electricity.
     

FACILITIES

Facilities

Columbia University Facilities and Campus Life have instituted a number of protocols and strategies.  Refer to their website and their FAQs for more information.

Individual researchers should clean and disinfect their personal areas daily, including work stations/desks.  Routinely wipe down all frequently touched surfaces such as workstations, keyboards and phones, countertops, copiers, light switches, and doorknobs.