To: Faculty Leads in Research & Library Operating Plans (RLOPs)
Subject: COVID-19 Safety During Training in Research Facilities
Date: January 27, 2021
Cc: All RLOP Participants, Provost, Deans, Directors, Department Chairs and Heads
As we prepare for the spring semester and new students returning to campus, new and existing participants should review their Research and Library Operating Plan (RLOP). The guidelines from May 28, 2020 describe most key points. More recent communications from October 21, 2020 provide guidelines on undergraduates in UMass facilities for spring 2021, and a simplified approach to update the RLOP participant lists. Our communication today adds updates regarding compliance and notifications for the spring semester.
The Public Health Promotion Center (PHPC) has updated COVID-19 Testing Compliance and Notification guidance for the spring 2021 semester classes. Please review this announcement if you have not yet done so.
umass provoIt is particularly important to note that the RLOP participant lists are used to ensure that individuals are correctly entered in the database for asymptomatic testing. The RLOP information may also be needed as part of contact tracing, or for notifications in the event of positive COVID-19 test results (see below).
As stated in the May guidance, “Because faculty and other researchers have the best information on the facilities, the program, and the participants, they are best positioned to propose the RLOP. The RLOP must also be consistent with state and university health and safety requirements.” We recommend that RLOP teams, groups of teams, and geographically proximate groups carefully consider the engagement of student and other RLOP participants in formulating specific plans appropriate for their circumstances. We note reports of success in compliance from groups on campus with high engagement in planning and the recent National Academies recommendation that “College students can enhance the creation and implementation of policies that affect them.”
The PHPC communication referenced above details additional compliance steps that have been put into place for students. This includes all undergraduate and graduate students participating in RLOPs, whether they are registered for academic credit or not. Should a student violate health and safety protocols from the university or within the scope of your RLOP, please first talk privately with the student reminding them of the importance of compliance. A simple reminder may be sufficient to improve compliance.
Should a student demonstrate repeated violations of the public health protocol after you have reminded them of the importance of compliance, please submit a referral to the Student Conduct and Community Standards Office (SCCS) in the Dean of Students Office (Incident Reporting: Student Conduct Referral tab on right hand side of page). The SCCS will send the student a Behavioral Notice reiterating the expectations for their behavior, reinforcing the importance of these expectations, describing the possible consequences of subsequent incidents, and offering to answer any questions. If behavior is persistent and/or egregious, it will be evaluated in relation to the policies in the Code of Student Conduct.
A compliance director has also been assigned to monitor testing compliance for students enrolled in face-to-face classes/labs/studios and will intervene if needed. Faculty leads on RLOPs or others, therefore, do not need to ask students to show their testing compliance status. Instead, this oversight will be handled by the compliance director.
If a student participant in your RLOP tests positive for COVID-19, they will be contacted first by the Public Health Team from the PHPC with instructions on how they need to isolate and for a contact tracing investigation. The student will be isolated on campus or at their home and will be restricted from the RLOP-covered activities and locations while in isolation. Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 typically isolate for at least 10 days from the time they are tested, or symptoms first appeared but could be isolated for longer periods of time if symptoms persist. Students who are identified through contact tracing as needing to quarantine will also be contacted by the Public Health Team. A typical quarantine period lasts 10-14 days.
After a student completes their period of isolation or quarantine and is cleared by the Public Health Team, they may return to participation in RLOP-covered activities and locations.
As part of the public health response, these students will be told to contact their RLOP faculty lead informing you that they will be absent from their RLOP activities. In the event of a positive test, the faculty lead on the RLOP will also be contacted by the Provost’s Office informing them of a positive test without identifying the individual student.
The Public Health Team will determine, through contact tracing and other means of investigating, if you or others need to take additional steps. If so, you and others who need to act will be notified by the Public Health Team. If you are not contacted, you do not need to take any further action.
As in the case of any excused absence from class, any assistance you can provide for the student to continue progress on their research or for alternative accommodations to make up the missed work is expected and will be greatly appreciated.
It is extremely important that you treat any private health information you may directly or indirectly receive in a confidential manner and not share information which is protected by federal regulations. We further recommend that faculty encourage RLOP participants to discuss their individual comfort levels on notifying the rest of the team in the event of a positive test result. They should encourage engagement in this conversation without the RLOP lead present to diminish any perception of undue pressure and should consider anonymized input to gather information.
Research Assistants or Staff
If you have research assistants or other staff assisting with the supervision of RLOP teams, please share this memo with them. To avoid putting them in a difficult situation, you may want to ask them to provide you information or concerns regarding any students not complying with the public health protocols for you, rather than them, to follow up directly with the student behavior.
Best wishes for a safe and healthy spring 2021 semester.
- The notification described here applies only to students, graduate and undergraduate.
- If you are not notified by the Public Health Team or the Provost’s Office as part of the process described above, and hear reports of possible COVID-19 exposure, you should follow the university guidance.
- RLOP participants may decide to share information on their compliance and testing results beyond the notifications provided by the university, provided such sharing is entirely voluntary.
- Graduate students can contact the designated person in their school or college dean’s office for questions about reopening research.