In the Lab

Returning to Campus-Based Laboratory Research


The University’s research labs and facilities began operating at approximately one quarter capacity in March 2020. In the initial phase of ramp-up beginning June 1, we will increase operations in Carolina’s research labs, clinics and other facilities up to 50% of their on-site capacity.

Because no two school research programs are alike, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, in consultation with our infectious disease and public health experts, is partnering with each school and the College of Arts & Sciences to determine the order in which on-campus research programs should resume. Each school’s research dean will be responsible for developing the specific details and plan under which their on-campus research programs will resume.

While labs and facilities will be opening at 50% capacity, any research and scholarship that can be done remotely will continue to be done remotely through the summer. If work can be done effectively off campus, it should not be conducted on campus in June.

Phased Return Plans

Because faculty and the staff and graduate students who support the teaching and research missions of the University are key to our instructional and research efforts, these employees will be among the first to report back to campus, beginning in June, and throughout July. Additional employee groups who work in support of teaching, research, and on-campus student support will follow, though some employees and units may be asked to continue to work remotely to aid with physical and spatial distancing until further notice.

Flexibility and Accommodations

As we plan for our phased re-entry to normal campus operations, we request and expect that we will all operate out of compassion, understanding and concern for each other. We will work to balance individual needs for flexible work arrangements with the broader needs of the campus unit/department and the overall University mission. We will do so with a strong sense of community and a compassion for one another. Ultimately, where an employee works and when they return to campus is not an individual decision, but rather the result of consultation among supervisors and employees, together with leadership and resources such as the EOC Office and HR.

Where there are requests for flexibility that are based on medical circumstances, we will ask that employees use the secure Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations process administered by the University’s EOC Office. This process will allow employees who self-identify as being at high risk for contracting COVID-19 or for more severe complications if COVID-19 is contracted or who are unable to work as requested because of a physical or mental medical condition to seek accommodations without having to share confidential medical information with a supervisor. Accommodations may include options such as such as an altered work schedule, assignment to a remote work environment, or a changed office environment. More information about this process and how it works is available on the website.

Where there are requests for flexibility for reasons other than medical circumstances (e.g., child care matters, age, caretaking responsibilities for or cohabitating with a high-risk individual), employees are encouraged to work with managers, supervisors and department chairs to identify solutions that balance individual needs with those of their respective schools and units, and the University as a whole. The Academic Personnel Office, Human Resources and EOC offices are available to assist employees, managers, supervisors and department chairs with these discussions and decisions as well.

Safety Guidelines and Protocol

To ensure safety while conducting research in laboratories, the following practices should be adhered to at all times:

  • Before leaving home for work, all employees must check for symptoms using the COVID-19 screening checklist. Anyone who is experiencing any symptom(s) indicated on the screening checklist must not come to campus. Instead, contact the UNC Health Respiratory Diagnostic Center or the University Employee Occupational Health Clinic and act on their instructions. (This requirement does not apply to persons with symptom(s) known to be attributable to an existing condition unrelated to COVID-19 infection).
  • Any individual who has tested positive for COVID-19, who has been referred for testing or who is awaiting test results, should notify their supervisor that the EOHC has advised them not to report to work.

Each person working in a research laboratory must wear a University-approved and provided face mask when in the presence of others and in public settings where physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Individuals who solely occupy an office do not need to wear a mask while in their office alone.

  • Face masks will be provided to each person working in a laboratory on campus weekly. If an individual’s work duties require more frequent disposal and replacement of masks, those needs will be accommodated. If the mask becomes damaged or visibly soiled, the face mask should be replaced.
  • Disposable face masks are not meant to be laundered. Persons using such masks must not touch their face after removing the mask and must wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water after removing the mask.
  • When on campus, all individuals should maintain appropriate physical distancing, which is at least six feet.
  • Hand hygiene throughout the day is critical, especially after touching public surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, railings, desks, equipment) after sneezing or coughing, after using the bathroom, and before and after eating.
  • Laboratory research work may involve the frequent use of shared equipment. The University is increasing the cleaning frequency of common/public spaces; however, it is critical that all faculty, staff, and students share the responsibility of cleaning and sanitizing high-touch surfaces in their workspaces (e.g., light switches, doorknobs).
  • Cleaning and disinfecting supplies will be provided in each laboratory by the University for this purpose. All occupants of research facilities should wipe clean all high-touch surfaces at the beginning of the workday, at the end of the workday and at least four additional times daily. Shared equipment should be cleaned and wiped before and after each use by the person who has used it.
  • Research facilities and buildings will be monitored periodically to ensure required safety measures are being practiced. Anyone found to be out of compliance with these required measures will be counseled on the need for compliance with the required practices outlined in this guidance. Further instances of non-compliance may result in the employee being subject to disciplinary measures in accordance with applicable University policies.
  • All individuals are encouraged to avoid face-to-face interaction whenever possible and communicate with colleagues and supervisors using the extensive range of available networking applications, e.g., Zoom, WebEx, Facetime, Microsoft Teams, etc.

Starting in June and July, the University will be conducting a real-time evaluation around the efficacy of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, utilizing Carolina employee volunteers. Lessons learned from this experience will inform updates to this Roadmap over the summer and into the fall.

For additional information regarding resuming campus-based laboratory research, visit UNC Research guidance for all on-campus research.