Guidance for restarting research activities in SMPH research laboratories (Phase 1)

SMPH guidance on the university’s Research Reboot Phase 2 was announced on July 1, 2020. It is available here.

Updated June 8, 2020: 

Below is guidance from the SMPH Office of Research and Graduate Studies pertaining to laboratory research and clinical faculty who require use of their research offices for telehealth activities only. Campus guidance has been issued from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (see OVCRGE “Return to Research Phase 1” overview, and the OVCRGE Research Phase 1 guide). A helpful guide about restarting research labs is also available from the UW–Madison Office of Environment, Health and Public Safety.

If you are involved in basic laboratory research as:

  •  a chair or director overseeing research activities in your unit, or
  • a Principal Investigator, research staff, trainee or student, or
  • as a clinical health faculty member who requires the use of your research office for telehealth activities,

then please review the SMPH guidance below and corresponding OVCRGE guidance carefully.

PIs must complete an online form as part of their request to conduct on-site research during Phase 1.

>> Access the OVCRGE form here.

In completing the form, when you are asked for a collaborator, please list the person (e.g., chair, center director, or section chief) who should be notified that you are submitting a request.

Questions about SMPH guidance may be directed to: Andrea Poehling,, SMPH Office of Basic Research, Biotechnology, and Graduate Studies.

Also see: FAQs: Research Activity and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Guidance for restarting research activities in SMPH research laboratories

This outlines SMPH-specific guidance that supplements UW-Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCRGE) phase I research restart policies. Policies described here and in the OVCRGE guide supersede prior COVID-19 related compliance requirements.

All research that was approved through the prior SMPH essential research approval process may proceed without interruption as we transition to the new process. However, previously-approved research must also be resubmitted through the application process described in the OVCRGE guide and below so that campus can create a complete listing of approvals.

Information for all researchers:

  • Allowed use of laboratory and office space: During the initial phase of restarting research, only work that requires a laboratory environment may be carried out in SMPH lab space. Work that can be done remotely should be done off site. Researchers should organize their schedules and plan experiments in such a way that avoids more than one trip to/from campus per day.
    • Clinical faculty who require use of their research offices for telehealth activities will be allowed office access and should apply for such access using the OVCRGE application process. Requests approved previously should be resubmitted through the new OVCRGE process so that campus can create a complete listing of approvals.
    • Other faculty will not have access to their offices without an approved request in their application for authorization of research activities.
  • Safety: Personal safety for researchers is our first priority during the restart and subsequent expansion of SMPH research activity. The first phase of restarting laboratory research will be at less than normal activity due to the need for maintaining stringent COVID risk mitigation strategies. At any time during the restarting of research, increases in COVID-19 infections may require suspension of research in the affected laboratory or laboratories. PIs, research staff, and trainees should be prepared for rapid, temporary cessation of research should such an event occur.
    • Researchers who require training on lab equipment or procedures where physical distancing cannot be maintained should not return to the lab at this time.
    • Masks are required for all personnel in SMPH space at all times. Updated June 8, 2020: Since this guidance was issued, the following updates have been made: The one exception is that individuals are allowed to remove their face mask if they are in a room alone with the door closed. Also, the recommendation that single-use facemasks should not be used for more than four hours that was originally included in SMPH guidance has been removed. You may use your facemask until it becomes unserviceable.
    • All personnel are required to clean their workspaces with 60% ethanol, 70% isopropanol, or another appropriate disinfecting cleaner prior to use and prior to leaving each day. All shared equipment should also be cleaned after each individual use.
  • Population density: Refer to the OVCRGE guidelines for metrics on allowable personnel density. At a minimum, all personnel must maintain at least six (6) foot distance from all others in their vicinity. Labs may stagger personnel work schedules to ensure compliance with this density limit within research groups.
    • Consistent with OVCRGE guidelines, the number of researchers within a given research laboratory area may not exceed one researcher per 350 square feet. Each unit (e.g., department, center) will be provided with the calculation of the number of people allowed within their assigned unit space at any point in time, and their chair/division chief/director will be responsible for the proper application of this aspect (see below).
    • Only one person may occupy a given laboratory research bay at any one time. In instances when researchers must be in adjacent bays, they may not face each other from opposite sides of a lab bench since benches are typically not six feet across. Rare exceptions to this rule may be requested for specific procedures that require two people. In these instances, the plan must include detailed information on PPE required for such procedures.
    • Installation or repair of laboratory equipment and other instrumentation may proceed at this time, only if social distancing guidelines can be appropriately followed. Demonstrations of laboratory equipment operation should be delayed unless all personnel are able to maintain at least six foot distance from all others in their vicinity.
    • Only one person may be in a rest room at any time.
    • Only one person may be in an elevator at any time.
  • Self-screening and contact with known COVID-19 carriers: Anyone displaying any of the following COVID-19 symptoms may not enter SMPH space: cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Individuals with symptoms should seek COVID-19 testing through their healthcare provider or a free testing service.
    • All approved researchers planning to enter SMPH research facilities must self-screen each day by taking their temperature. Temperatures above 100.4°F are considered to be a fever.
    • Any researcher who has had contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 14 days or who has failed to adhere to federal, state, or local government social distancing guidelines must not enter SMPH research space.

Information for PIs:

  • Application process for research restart:
    • 1. The Principal Investigator initiates the request:
      • Discuss your plans to restart your laboratory-based research activities with your department chair, section chief, or center (unit) director.
      • The OVCRGE will forward the request to your unit director for evaluation.
    • 2. Your department chair/center director evaluates your request:
      • Your request will be reviewed upon receipt, with particular attention paid to risk mitigation strategies described in the OVCRGE guide and herein.
      • Your request may be returned to you for clarification to address any concerns.
      • Upon approval by your unit director, your request will be forwarded to the Dean’s Office as part of your unit’s overall plan to restart research.
    • 3. A reviewer within the SMPH Dean’s Office reviews your request:
      • Your unit’s request will be reviewed upon receipt to affirm the adequacy of the COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies that will be employed within your research group and in the context of activities in adjacent laboratories.
      • The request may be returned to your unit director for revision if the proposed research does not conform to OVCRGE or SMPH guidelines.
      • Once your request is approved, a message authorizing an immediate restart will be sent to your unit director, who will notify you and update the status of your OVCRGE application to reflect approval by the Dean’s Office.

Information for chairs, division chiefs, and center directors:

Chairs, division chiefs, and center directors will be responsible for initial review of PI requests for research access and must first ensure that requests conform to OVCRGE and SMPH safety guidelines. Non-SMPH PIs in SMPH space will be subject to SMPH policies and should be included in unit plans. SMPH faculty occupying space outside of SMPH are subject to the local policies governing the PI’s lab.

Once all PIs in a unit have applied for research access or have reported that they will not apply, the unit director will develop an overall plan that minimizes personnel density within labs, building floors, and buildings. Information on the number of personnel allowed on each floor of your unit will be provided by SMPH. This information will be calculated to ensure that personnel capacity will not exceed one person per 350 square feet. For example, the occupancy of research space within a half-floor of WIMR II (9,618 sq. feet) may not exceed 27 researchers at any time. This area reflects the space dedicated to shared research resources but does not include enclosed faculty or staff offices, carrel work stations, mezzanine space or public corridors.

Submit your overall plan to the SMPH Dean’s Office by email to for further review and attach the unit’s individual PI requests. Important considerations for the unit-wide plan are listed below:

  1. Review personnel densities for individual labs and building floors and confirm that individual lab plans conform to OVCRGE and SMPH guidelines.
  2. Define communication strategies that will be used to allow labs to equitably and safely schedule commonly used instruments, such as autoclaves, dishwashers, centrifuges, etc.
  3. Communicate with other chairs, division chiefs, and center directors whose units directly border your unit’s space to ensure that differing unit plans do not inadvertently create clusters of personnel. In cases where two or more units share space on a common floor, report how many researchers from your unit will be present in your unit’s assigned space. Confirm that this communication has taken place.
  4. Confirm that building managers have created safety signage that prevents personnel clustering (e.g. only one person per elevator or rest room and closing or repurposing meeting rooms). The SMPH Dean’s Office will work with Mark Wells to ensure that building managers are involved in implementation.

Additional guidance for chairs, division chiefs, and center directors is posted in #14 of this FAQ.

Please direct questions to Andrea Poehling,, SMPH Office of Basic Research, Biotechnology, and Graduate Studies. See this FAQ page for answers to some common questions.