How Broad Institute is ramping up on-site scientific activity
Scientists are returning to on-site lab work with new health and safety protocols
By Leah Eisenstadt, Broad Communications
Credit: Scott Sassone
To enter any Broad building, each person must complete this daily online mobile health check and show this green checkmark at the security desk.
In line with “reopening” guidance issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts based on encouraging local public health trends, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard has begun a phased return to on-site lab activity after winding down most scientific work in mid-March.
Scientists who normally work at the lab bench are returning in stages. On Tuesday, May 26, about 300 people arrived on site as part of "wave one" to reinitiate experimental work — joining approximately 200 Broadies who have remained in labs, working on and supporting critical science, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. By mid-June, the nearly 900 Broadies who normally work in labs will be able to conduct their work on site.
Broad engaged with public health experts (including experts from within the Broad community), partner institutions, and Massachusetts state government officials to develop protocols to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure or transmission at work.
This page outlines our own initial protocols for safely returning to the workplace and describes our reasoning.
We recognize that different institutions may reasonably make different choices about policies based on their circumstances. We will be sharing experiences and learnings with partner institutions.
A Broad employee checks in for COVID-19 testing. Masks are mandatory in all Broad facilities. Credit: Scott Sassone
Broad is providing surgical face masks, and everyone on site is required to wear a mask at all times (except when alone in a private office). As always, anyone working in a lab is required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as appropriate, such as lab coats, gloves, safety glasses with side shields, and in some cases, face shields. We are enhancing some PPE protocols as necessary.
Our reasoning: Evidence indicates that infected individuals can be contagious even if asymptomatic and/or before developing any symptoms. Wearing a surgical mask significantly reduces the risk of an infected individual transmitting the virus. If everyone wears a surgical mask, the risk of transmission in the workplace will be significantly decreased.
Before entering a Broad building, everyone must complete a daily online health check (using a web tool adapted from a partner hospital) and show a green checkmark on their mobile device at the security desk. The tool asks about travel history, risk of exposure, and symptoms.
Our reasoning: The self-assessment provides a daily reminder to Broadies to report changes to their health or risk level and to adjust their behavior accordingly. As a general practice, individuals who have symptoms suggesting an illness are asked to refrain from coming to work. Specifically, in this COVID-19 era, if someone reports that they have any symptoms or have been in close contact with an infected family member, the tool will tell them to speak with our Environmental Health & Safety team before coming into work that day. We believe the comprehensive online health check is more effective than simply performing temperature checks, which detect only a single symptom that is present in only a subset of infected individuals.
Broad employees get a barcode that allows them to access their COVID-19 test results. Credit: Scott Sassone
Broad is providing — and requiring — free regular COVID-19 viral testing for all Broadies working on site, including contractors (such as for security and janitorial services); we will initially be testing everyone twice a week. We have partnered with an external organization (Color) to manage the collection of samples and return the results, with the tests themselves being processed in the Broad’s CLIA-certified diagnostics lab. Working in partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory, and medical facilities in the Commonwealth, the lab processes samples collected from patients in Massachusetts and beyond and has capacity to process more than 10,000 samples per day.
Our reasoning: The serial interval of COVID-19 (time between a person becoming infected and transmitting to someone else) is about six days. Our goals are to detect infections before there has been much opportunity for transmission and, through other measures (such as masks and physical distancing) to keep the risk of transmission low. If there is an infection, we want to be able to ensure that (a) the infected individual does not come to work and receives medical attention, (b) any close contacts within the building can be identified, supported and tested as appropriate, and may be asked to self-quarantine, and (c) cleaning and lab schedules can be adjusted as needed. Broad is covering the full cost of the tests. We expect testing costs will decrease in the weeks ahead, making it feasible to continue regular testing. The Broad will assess the results over time to determine the optimal use and frequency of testing in creating the safest work environment; thus, the frequency of testing may change over time, depending on prevalence in the local community, cost, and improved understanding of viral transmission. We’re working with our partner institutions who may wish to apply similar strategies.
Taped squares on the floor designate appropriate physical distance. Credit: Scott Sassone
Broadies on site need to remain at least six feet apart, including in labs. (In some cases, people wearing proper PPE may be closer together, for example to use certain equipment.) We have developed initial density targets for the number of people that may be within each lab at one time and will revisit these regularly. To stay within the density targets, teams have developed plans to work in shifts as needed. Formal meetings are still being done virtually, and teams and individuals who can continue to work fully remotely are continuing to do so for the moment. We have also closed common spaces, such as lounge areas and seating in lobbies for now.
Our reasoning: Transmission often occurs through sustained close contact (such as two people having a long conversation). Physical distancing measures reduce risks by decreasing the opportunity for individuals to acquire the virus from infected individuals.
Hygiene, cleaning, and common spaces
New signs remind everyone to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly. Broad is providing hand sanitizer and supplies for cleaning frequently touched surfaces, and is continuing enhanced cleaning protocols of common areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, doors, and elevators.
Our reasoning: Touching one’s face with hands carrying virus is a common route of infection in many infectious diseases.
Travel and visitors
Business-related travel remains suspended and Broad is not currently able to accommodate visitors. Broadies who have recently traveled by air, bus, or train (not as part of a normal commute) may be asked to self-quarantine.
Our reasoning: While we take steps to ensure the risk of transmission inside Broad is low, we also want to limit the risk of exposure from people who have been exposed to higher-risk settings or whose infection status is not known.
A culture of safety
Broad is asking everyone to feel free to remind one another about safety precautions. In addition, employees are encouraged to report any issues.
Our reasoning: Safety is everyone’s responsibility. By holding each other accountable and reminding ourselves that these steps are designed to protect one another, we can create a lasting culture of safety.
Follow the science
These protocols for re-opening are deliberately cautious. As we learn more, we will continue to evaluate them and adjust our response accordingly.