August 20, 2021

With the substantial rise in COVID-19 cases in the North Texas area fueled by the delta variant, I am writing to share suggestions to promote safety, well-being, and data integrity.

  1. As soon as possible, please transition team meetings to a virtual format utilizing MS Teams or Zoom. It is recommended that PIs and research staff, including students, post-docs, and technicians, suspend in-person group meetings through the month of September.
  2. Please engage with your research team to address concerns about any risks perceived in coming to the University or your laboratory and associated common space. I am concerned that some graduate students may be experiencing increased anxiety during this time of rising case numbers. I am confident that any staggered scheduling to promote social distancing that you or your team pursues can be organized locally. We will not restrict access hours so you are fully capable of maximizing flexibility.
  3. It is imperative that data quality is protected. You, as PIs, dictate standard operating protocols (SOPs) in your own laboratories, a function that is critical to ensuring quality data. It is the responsibility of each PI and within the purview of the Office of Research to take measures to ensure that scientific data generated by funded research are accurate and are not confounded by exposure to the SARS CoV-2 pathogen. Each day, new peer-reviewed publications emerge revealing the capacity of SARS CoV-2 viral particles to alter a vast array of biological pathways. The fact that the pathogen can interact at multiple scales – from cells, to tissues, to the organism behavioral level – necessitates that we do all we can to minimize risks to data integrity by reducing the emissions of the main source of SARS CoV-2: human respiration. For this reason, my laboratory, which is engaged in both cell culture and animal surgical procedures, will require as part of our SOPs the use of masks to preserve data integrity both in laboratory and associated common spaces. I encourage you as PIs to thoroughly consider adjustments to your SOPs to ensure that you continue to meet your sponsor obligations for high quality data. For those of you who are conducting entirely dry-lab, non-biological work, please consider the potential impact of mask use within your labs and common spaces as part of your SOPs to avoid cross-contamination of colleagues’ bioscience studies.
  4. Lastly, please encourage vaccination and self-reporting of vaccination status to the University for your team. While a significant fraction of the University research community has self-reported that they are vaccinated, there remains concern for those of us who either cannot pursue vaccination or have chosen not to do so.
  5. Signage will become more prominent throughout the University research buildings recommending the use of face coverings. Please reinforce the message to your students and staff about the value of being vaccinated to protect themselves, their laboratory teammates, and their families. COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance nor identification.