Research Reboot FAQ

We welcome questions about the Research Reboot. Please submit questions at this link.


How will masks be passed out? Is there currently a supply chain delay in acquiring masks? What if there is a long delay in replacing items that we donated?

Harvard-issued emission-control masks will be distributed through areas/departments. We have an adequate supply for the foreseeable future. If your lab needs non-COVID related PPE, that supply must be replenished before resumption of research that requires it. We suggest multiple paths for procuring that PPE be explored.


Will Harvard be reaching out to Federal agencies to ask about exceptions around purchasing new desired PPE which many not be applicable to the research but will enable my lab to perform research in a safe manner?

In the event additional measures beyond masks are needed, we will evaluate those requirements in conjunction with occupational health experts and Harvard will procure items as needed.


What is being done to ensure equitable resources among the labs in terms of acquisition of PPE above and beyond what the university is providing? i.e. better resourced labs getting more PPE vs less resourced labs getting less.

Harvard is providing face coverings to all.


For staff that cannot sufficiently perform their job duties remotely and have moderate/severe asthma will a higher form of face protection be provided such as an N95 mask?

Instances like this will be referred to occupational health services.


How are wipes used for disinfecting surfaces to be disposed of?

They can go into the regular trash. They are not biohazardous waste.


Where are we receiving our funding for plexiglass? or other PPE related items?

Harvard is committed to providing and sustaining a workplace that meets our goal of virus suppression. If individuals or PIs have concerns about their workspace they should bring this to their supervisor or department chair and we will address it case-by-case.


Can labs procure different face masks for cleanrooms? The surgical masks may release particulates that are harmful to research.

Yes, please contact Bill Wilson in the Center for Nanoscale System for recommendations on face masks.


Will the University provide N95s to those that need them for health reasons or live with someone that has health issues?

Those masks are in short supply, with priority to health care providers. Individuals who cannot work remotely and who require workplace accommodations should contact disability services:


What PPE will be provided by Harvard, and what PPE will individual labs have to acquire?

  • Upon rebooting our labs, only face coverings will be required at all times - not gloves, or other PPE.
  • Harvard will provide face masks (and procurement is being coordinated with Central.) 
  • Facilities will provide hand sanitizer in shared spaces
  • Crown fabric lab coat program is ongoing
  • Only Harvard-provided face coverings will be allowed inside the buildings.
  • Labs who use gloves or lab glasses are responsible for procuring them. If labs have difficulty in procuring these, let Sarah Elwell (FAS) and Leigh Needleman (SEAS) know and we will engage University Strategic Procurement to help in the purchases.

What disinfecting guidance procedures are recommended for shared tools, equipment & spaces?

  • Harvard Environmental Health & Safety has provided and will be updating the following guidance documents:
  • Minimizing the use of shared equipment is optimal. Anything touched by multiple people should be disinfected before and after use. This includes:
    • Tissue culture rooms, eating areas, tools, microscopes, incubators, biosafety cabinets, laser cutter, milling machine, drills, screwdrivers, pipetmen, etc.
  • Recommendations to faculty
    • Identify opportunities for purchasing additional equipment and tools where possible, so as to avoid or minimize sharing.
    • Explore how any existing equipment or tools can be modified to minimize contact or risk of person to person transmission. (ex. Saran Wrap on microscope optics or knobs)
    • Identify where a single person may be the sole user of tools or equipment where they perform work for others.
    • Identify where single use gloves, paper etc can be used.


Why is testing not being required before people return to work?

We are working to implement required viral testing. Stay tuned.


Governor Baker says labs can open on May 25th. Can I start back then?

Lab re-occupancy planning is underway and there are still a number of important issues to be worked out. FAS and SEAS Leadership will inform faculty of the reopening dates and share the new policies as they become available. The health of our community is our top priority; we are using an abundance of caution and will reopen under careful oversight and guidance.


Can local undergraduates be included in re-boot plans and work in labs?

As part of their laboratory re-occupancy planning, PIs can select undergraduate researchers as part of their returning laboratory personnel.


The Scientific American Article raises concerns about airborne virus transfer even when members of the community maintained social distancing. How will enclosed spaces such as the restrooms ensure quick air refresh rates?

FAS Science and SEAS are conducting a review of air circulation, including mitigation measures.


I am a theory group, and have at least one person (a postdoc) who wants to return to campus, in his case because of two toddlers at home. Do I only need to complete form 5B (and if so, where is it?). Can I also choose to nominate my faculty office for him to use?

Yes, complete 5B, and refer to page 22 for more details.


I recently heard guidance from my PI, following discussions at department faculty meetings, that labs might be reopening at 25% capacity as soon as May 21 (pending access approval). While I am aware there is a general appetite for reopening across the US right now, I am very disturbed that Harvard would rush to reopen labs as soon as governmental restrictions are lifted. It is abundantly clear that state governments across the country are risking lives with premature re-openings. By attempting to open as soon as legally possible, albeit with additional safety measures, I fear Harvard is being dangerously incautious and putting the health of students and staff at risk.

The health of our community is our top priority; we are using an abundance of caution and following strict guidelines provided by the Governor and Harvard policies. There is no set date for this, and we will do so only under careful oversight and guidance.


Can re-occupancy plans be changed later on? For example, I don't need access to my office now, but if I need it later, may I submit another plan?

Yes, we expect this to be an iterative process and changes can be made as situations change.


Why are the air-exchange shifts locked basically to a 9-5 schedule if we are trying to avoid commute times? Are the shift schedules in the docs that Deans distributed locked in and we should plan around them (and scrap the schedule we've put together on our own)?

The shifts suggested in the planning tools are not mandatory and can be adjusted according to lab and research needs.


What if my lab needs more than seven hours to conduct experiments? Can shifts be longer?

Yes, if longer shift fit with your overall PI plan and can be coordinated with neighbor labs. Attention needs to be paid to issues around fatigue.


How many entrances will be open for the buildings? Do we need to assign entrances for labs?

We will limit the number of external doors used for entering buildings, but not for labs.


Can faculty go to their office now and then to pick up a book or maybe to work there for a few hours to, say, record a video lecture.

One-time access must be acquired by permission of Frank Doyle (SEAS) or Christopher Stubbs (FAS)  -  Contact Sharalee Field (FAS) or Leigh Needleman (SEAS) for guidance on requesting access.

Is there flexibility on the schedule of lab reboots?

Yes, every laboratory is different and we anticipate that what works for one lab may not work for another. So, flexibility and variation is expected and encouraged. 

How specific do you expect the justification for return for each person to be able to return to lab? Do we need to have justifications for each person, or project, or grant?

If the density of a laboratory will be high, this justification will enable decision making. Specifics are needed only if it is useful for your plan. Ultimately it will be up to each PI to decide how they would prioritize within their own lab. Regardless of plan specifics, the goal is to keep occupant numbers as low as possible, with the goal of 25% building occupancy at any given time (where 100% was typical building occupancy pre COVID-19. 

One of my researchers/staff wants to return to campus due to personal issues to work in his/her office in a research building, how do I arrange for this?

Please fill out Appendix 5B (Individual OFfice Re-Occupancy Planning Form) found on page 22 of the "Harvard Faculty of Arts and Science and School of Engineering and Applied Science, Staged Campus Re-Entry Plan" from Version 8.0. If you are from a research group, this form should be completed and submitted by May 15th.

How should we schedule our lab groups to achieve social distancing and isolate different groups of the lab such that if one person becomes ill, the whole lab is not such down? 

  • Have people rotations across days or weeks.
  • Divide groups into cohorts, or subgroups who can work opposing shifts/schedules and do not have any in-person contact between cohorts. 
  • Consider square footage and create occupancy limits of each space within the labs. 
  • We currently recommend that faculty have a minimum of 2 hours between different shifts to separate cohorts from the other’s airborne particulates
  • Create a plan to decrease density and achieve social distancing in the lab

How do we decrease cross-contamination?

Given the highly collaborative nature of our labs, this will be important to manage. Many researchers use space and equipment in different labs in addition to using shared or core facilities. Our plans need to include methods to decrease the potential for cross-contamination.

We recommend minimizing members of your lab performing work in other labs or shared spaces.

How do we use our rest rooms safely?

  • Determining how to minimize the number of people using a specific restroom is a major goal. Our overarching goal is to achieve 25% of the normal restroom load. 
  • Consider having subgroups who already use the same lab space use the same restroom. It is likely multiple subgroups in different lab spaces will have to use the same restroom. 
  • Considering coordinating with other labs that would be using the same restrooms.


Are they going to push out information on the core facilities and resources (e.g., stockroom)? When do we want the Biolabs stockroom to open?

We are working with the VWR stockroom to replenish supplies and to arrange for the equivalent of “curbside pickup”, with the expectation of this service resuming at same time we resume lab research.


If some cores will only be open for fee-for-service work and I usually used the equipment on a self-service basis, will I be charged more? If so, are there funds available to help subsidize fee-for-service cost increases?

We appreciate that there will be fiscal impacts of the constraints under which we are operating. No, Harvard won’t subsidize fee-for-service costs.


Will the cores be available when we return back to campus?

  • Most cores are creating their return to campus plans simultaneously with the faculty research labs.
  • Some are considering only a fee-for-service model at first. Self-service will likely be by appointment only with no walk-ins, to maintain social distancing. 
  • Most facilities will run on modified schedules to be determined soon (CNS, Bauer, Mass Spec, Machine Shops, Wyss, OAR, BRI, etc.)
  • Access for each group should be expected to be significantly less than it was pre COVID-19.


Should we put rubbish bins in the hallways for custodians to empty and replace the bags?

Yes, where feasible, please place trash bins in the hallways. This will limit the amount of time facilities/custodial staff will need to be in the lab.


Is it still okay for us to go to the shared space area where we switch out lab coats?

Yes, one at a time with appropriate attention to shared surfaces.


Can someone help us coordinate with use of shared autoclaves and glass washing facilities?

Yes, please schedule equipment via calendars available on SPINAL. If you need access to the calendar please contact Shanna deBlieck, by email


Can they actually do that air exchange process in all the buildings? What about buildings that don’t have HVAC, like the MCZ?

We are doing an air exchange audit of all buildings.


What building modifications will be required before researchers can begin to resume research in the lab?

Each building is very different and what works for one may not be a solution for another. Facilities is looking into removing doors where possible, reviewing HVAC systems, adding paper towel dispensers near elevators and doors, increasing hand sanitizer stations, etc. 

How can we find out about the ventilation in all of our spaces?

The rate of air turnover in a lab space is an important piece of information. We want to minimize risk of airborne transmission (either across different researchers working in the same space at the same time, or at different shifts). There are many different types of lab spaces and there will be a spectrum of different air turnover rates. Please hold off on reaching directly out to Facilities as they are currently compiling this information. 

Surveys are being conducted and results of these studies will be prepared by Facilities. This is ongoing in earnest but may take up to 2 weeks to collect all of the information for all FAS-SEAS spaces.  

Should we buy individual air purification units for our lab?

After we understand the lab air handling and filtration systems, it will be clearer what labs or spaces may benefit from air purification units. 


How will research studies that involve human subjects be handled? Will there be guidelines for scheduling participants for human subjects studies? Do they need to be spread out with sufficient time in between? Will human subjects studies be allowed in the yellow phase?

Guidelines for human subject research are currently being developed collaboratively with faculty across FAS and SEAS as well as the IRB. Please contact Conor Walsh if you have specific questions. 

What happens if an individual tests positive for COVID19?

As of now we do not have specific university guidance on what will be triggered should an individual test positive. We recommend to approach plans conservatively (isolating subgroups in space and time). 


The policies say that face coverings can be removed indoors for eating and drinking. Can face masks be removed outdoors for eating and drinking? If so, the policy should be updated to explicitly reflect this. In the MA order, there appear to be no exceptions for eating and drinking.

The MA order requires masks when social distancing is not possible. If you are eating or drinking outside and wish to remove your mask, you must be sufficiently distant from others.


So are we allowed to eat in buildings or not? We know that meal service (i.e., cafes) will not be available but we had originally gotten the impression that there would be no eating. The planning form Ancillary Space Considerations & Schedule table clearly says “Eating Area & Time.”

We are allowing carefully scheduled use of, for example, conference rooms for eating, with decontamination of surfaces before and after use. No eating in labs.


Will the power be turned back on to kitchens, including refrigerators?

Not in the near term, no.


Where will my group eat their meals?

  • We plan to encourage eating outside when possible and additionally have distributed eating areas in each building/floor. When inside, we will recommend that people eat alone, and if eating outside, maintain safe distances from each other. No eating in lab spaces will be permitted. Anything that people plan to eat or drink must be brought with them, stored at room temperature in a sterile (in terms of contamination resistant, eg locker or backpack) space, and consumed either without using utensils or using disposable utensils.
  • We are working on alternate plans for eating areas and when determined, will share with the community.
  • Consider collaborating with other researchers on your floor and in your building to identify areas that can be marked off (e.g with colored tape) as single subject eating areas. This could be a single chair and/or small table, identified with one person’s name. Once different areas are identified we recommend each of these get assigned to a group of people that will all be using the same lab space(s). A sign up sheet can be used and breaks of 15 mins (or 30) between slots.


If researchers/students cannot travel to access free shared equipment offsite, are there funds available to help with the cost of using core facilities?

No, we are not able to provide funding for that.


What will be done to help facilitate safe commuting? Could more bike racks or parking spaces be made available?

  • Without undergrads on campus, there are many more bike spaces available. Right now, parking is free, but that will not likely be indefinite. This will be a decision that is made outside of SEAS. 
  • We want to strongly discourage the use of public transportation when possible. We also want to make sure we do not discriminate against people who rely on this.
  • We recommend people walk, bike or drive to work. We are working to ensure that parking remains free and accessible. Use of public transportation and ride share (eg. Uber or Lyft) to work is strongly discouraged. 
  • For people who rely on public transport, ask your group members to explore car pooling where they can. Ideal to have the same group that will work together and share a ride to work.  

Will computational groups be able to return to their lab spaces?

Any PI and researchers can request to return to do research on campus. That said, in the yellow phase, anyone who can continue to successfully work from home is advised to do that.