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We'll be back in the lab one day...

(Crosspost from the CAT Facility website)


I started to think about what the CAT Facility will look like when we get back to work. The COVID-19 social distancing and hygiene measures are going to be required for the foreseeable future and must be reflected in the way we operate in the lab. I'd like to share a few ideas I've had so far regarding 1 - the use of space, 2 - sanitization, and the use of PPE, 3 - the training and support offered by the facility. At this point, I have not received any guidelines, so none of this is set in stone in any way. I was told discussions are underway at the UoC to develop those guidelines. I would welcome the readers opinion on the matter, just drop a note in the comment section below.


1 - Use of space and social distancing


It's a common opinion that social distancing measures are going to be applied for quite a while. So it will be expected of us to distance our instruments from one another. We're fairly lucky to have been granted a decent amount of space when we moved in the BSLC building in 2015. For a quick glance at our floor plan, see the bottom of this page. So I'm confident this is something that we'll be able to do. We'll likely have to move the Fortessa HTS 4-15, and I don't look forward to that. But that should be the heaviest thing to move around.


I initially thought we should designate a specific entry and exit door and keep a path clear of instruments between the two. Having witnessed clusterfudges at my neighborhood coffee shop where several customers bump into each other a the door, I thought it might be a useful idea. The downside is that it requires a lot of space that may be better utilized to separate the instruments. Since users may be sitting on a benchtop analyzer for hours I'd prefer that each person is spaced out as far as possible, even if it means that every now and then, one user might walk by on the way to the door.


As far as cell sorting goes, I've been happy with the set of guidelines we started with the shutdown, and those are likely to remain in place going forward. The idea is to restrict to a maximum the number of people in the (fairly small) cell sorting room.


Some remaining questions have to do with the staff office space. Currently we have 4 desks in a 10'x10' space. I'm not quite sure what is an acceptable number of people in a room, I'm hoping UoC guidelines will clarify this point.


2 - Clean working environment, protective equipment for the staff and users


It seems that masks are actually a pretty nice tool to protect against floating aerosols and they should be used more and more going forward. Some restaurants on Milwaukee have actually posted No Masks, No Service signs in their windows. So it's likely that staff and users alike will be asked to use them when visiting the CAT Facility. You should invest in a cool looking one, you might need it for a while.


Any opinion on lab coats?


The question I had was with the decontamination of stuff in general. We can easily wipe door handles at regular intervals. But I'm not so sure about keyboards and mice. With 10+ instruments, getting staff to clean at regular intervals might get complicated, and definitely time consuming. I looked a protective films to put on keyboards, but it turns out to be expensive in the long run.


Here's a thought: let's force users to use gloves at all time, and just replace the mice and keyboards every month or so. Keyboards and mouse are sold for ~$15. This is a very wasteful/cost effective solution.


And overall, we'll need a solid space sanitization protocol. I'm not sure where to start on that one. What exactly needs to be cleaned, how often, and how?


3 - Training and support: can we do everything on Zoom?


I can imagine that we'll be required to limit contact between staff and users. The CAT Facility was offering Flow Basics class, along with hands-on training and the regular user group meetings and seminars. Is that all out the window at this point, to be all replaced by webinars? Again, I'll wait for the UoC guidelines on how many people can meet in person in a single room.


The one thing we have mastered lately has been the use of webinar tools such as Zoom. Our eye got better at detecting poorly lit speakers, bland background, and dogs stealing the show. We now have a sense of what is needed to improve the quality of the image and audio - hardwire internet connection, people! So it's possible to create quality material for training purposes. It could be recorded material made available on YouTube. I still think the initial training session should be, if not in person, at least live so that the new users can build a connection with the staff of the facility.


What about hands-on training and assistance on the benchtop analyzers. Presuming we can't do it in person, the solution would be to install remote access software on the instruments. Geez this is so 2007!! Might need to invest in webcams for the instruments, or utilize the users smartphone as a means of communication.

We'll need to put a lot of thought into creating a safe working environment for the staff and users alike. Please feel free to share you insights below. More likely than not, they will help us with the task at hand.

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