“Many of these new protocols are about establishing new habits,” said Fleming.
As Massachusetts commences phase I of the Governor’s reopening plan, we plan to allow all of our members to access NSIV facilities while preventing infection between members, staff, and potential visitors. In order to do so, extensive disinfecting and social distancing precautions are necessary to limit the spread of this coronavirus and keep our members safe.
Essential precautions include wellness checks for all individuals who enter the shared space, required masks and PPE for use in labs, daily thorough cleanings by NSIV staff, social distancing and clean-in, clean-out policies. Although reopening comes with its own challenges, NSIV is doing all we can to support our members through this time.
Every person who enters NSIV is required to perform a wellness check which requires all personnel to have a temperature less than 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit and be free of symptoms that day and not to have been in contact with someone tested positive within 14 days. This self-certification will be filed and may be used for contact tracing if an individual tests positive for the virus. Every day an NSIV staff member disinfects common spaces thoroughly, using an alcohol-based solution to clean everything from light switches to door handles to printers.
“Cleaning the common spaces takes us about 45 minutes,” said NSIV Director of Mentoring Trish Fleming. “You don’t really realize how many things we touch in common.”
Facial coverings must be worn by everyone, as well as a 6-foot separation between all individuals in all spaces including labs, common spaces, and kitchen. As it is difficult to properly maintain social distance in a lab environment at times, all spaces are recommended to function at 25% capacity. If social distancing is not possible in a lab space, then it is recommended to not remain in contact for over 10 minutes. Members who hold meetings in conference rooms must follow a clean-in and clean-out policy and wipe down all common surfaces with alcohol before and after the meeting.
“Many of these new protocols are about establishing new habits,” said Fleming. “It’s really just getting used to a new normal.”
Many challenges arise when creating and following the safety policies in a pandemic. Despite reminder signs and alcohol spray disinfectant strategically placed around the facility, compliance with the rules sometimes poses a problem as individuals must feel a sense of social responsibility and need reminders to check-in, wear PPE, wipe down their workspace, social distance, etc. NSIV staff members come into the facilities on a rotating schedule so either one or two staff members are present each day. Scheduling is also important when allowing members to use lab space while also limiting the number of people in a small environment.
“The harder thing for several of our members is that they’re scientists and their work is in the lab. If they’re not in the lab they’re not doing what they really want to be doing,” said Fleming. ‘It’s been harder for the more technical people and they are anxious to get back into the labs.”
COVID-19 also resulted in an increase in demand for products like hand sanitizer, alcohol, PPE, and more products that are essential to running a safe life science and cleantech incubator. Having enough of an alcohol disinfecting solution is essential to completing the necessary daily sanitation of NSIV. With shortages of fairly priced alcohol found in ordinary drug stores, NSIV must search for the best deals on disinfecting solutions, protective eyewear, masks, and more. Our member Gloucester Bio was helpful in providing us a solution that they produce that can work as hand sanitizer and surface disinfectant.
“We look at this as part of the services that we provide to our members because we want them to feel safe and secure when they come here and know that someone is paying attention to these details,” said Fleming. “It’s our contribution to the community.”
Our professional cleaners from All Clean give the offices and labs a weekly cleaning. In response to COVID-19, they now wear face masks and gloves while cleaning and wash hands frequently. They wash the floors with a higher grade floor disinfectant and take care to sanitize all surfaces, especially high touch areas.
With everyone working together as a team to create a safe environment, NSIV will be able to open more fully while we continue to carefully monitor the situation.