How Life Sciences Labs and Companies Prepped for Mandatory Stay-at-Home Orders
As a critical industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, biopharma companies are expected to remain in operation – but with a skeleton staff. Anticipating stay-at-home mandates, life sciences companies and labs in especially hard-hit regions began preparing a week ago.
It’s a good thing. Over the weekend, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois and Ohio joined California in ordering all non-essential workers to remain in their homes. That represents slightly more than 96 million people – 29% of all Americans.
More shutdowns may be coming. Friday evening, Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) delivered a strongly worded message to the state, warning that unless more people stayed home, a mandatory order would be needed. The city of Everett isn’t waiting. It issued its own stay-at-home order Friday, March 20, which took effect at noon on Monday.
At the same time, 25 of Oregon’s mayors took a similar message to Governor Kate Brown (D), asking her to issue a stay-at-home order. On Saturday, officials in northern Texas sent a similar request to Dallas Governor Greg Abbott. At this writing, neither had issues such an order. Governor Abbott left it, for now, with local officials, noting that what is appropriate for cities with COVID-19 cases may not be appropriate for rural areas with no reported cases.
There are no plans for a national stay-at-home order, but the situation is fluid.
Staying open, even only to essential personnel, requires additional planning. Sensing a tightening situation, managers were scrambling to ensure they had ample stores of liquid nitrogen and critical reagents on hand, recognizing that normal deliveries may be hampered by restricted access to research campuses as well as by reduced staff. Some have set up alternative delivery locations. All are monitoring supplies closely.
When BioSpace asked Amgen about its response to California’s stay-at-home mandate, it referred to its March 17 announcement in which non-essential staff were instructed to remain at home, all in-person meetings were canceled and international travel is banned and domestic travel is restricted through April 17.
Genentech said it enacted similar precautions and also restricted access to its campuses to those needed to ensure business continuity.
Both companies said they are monitoring supplies of raw materials closely but did not elaborate.
A Lab Ramp-Down Checklist
UC-Santa Cruz warned its researchers of a potential campus closure just over one week ago and issued a guidance for what, exactly, that entailed.
The specifics included obtaining approval for any research projects that must remain active, determining which key research personnel would manage them and coordinating to reduce the density of people within the labs at any given time.
UC-Santa Cruz defined critical personnel as those:
- Conducting COVID-19 research.
- Essential to animal care and not-easily-replaced research materials (such as vivarium staff or those associated with cell lines or long-term research).
- Responsible for maintenance that, if not done, could lead to damage or high costs (such as refilling the cryogen on NRM spectrometers).
- Involved in experiments that have a small time window for completion (such as those with rare research materials).
- Necessary for other critical research/lab-related functions to prevent danger or damage to facilities or research activities.
Therefore, the guidance advised, “When determining the appropriate size of your lab’s ‘skeleton crew,’ please also consider any equipment that might require gas or cryogen monitoring/service, such as deep-storage freezers, electron microscopes, mass spectrometers and incubators. Keep in mind that any potentially hazardous operation will require at least two trained and qualified persons (to) be present. We are providing a “Lab Ramp-Down Checklist” that was assembled by…the Office of Research.”
Animal labs will maintain basic care and husbandry operations. That said, personnel are expected to coordinate with others to minimize their time on campus and to “avoid being in the lab or animal facilities at the same time as others.”
The directive continues, “To continue their research at home, laboratory members should be encouraged to work on writing projects, literature review, data analysis or online learning (coding, statistics, etc.). Be sure that lab members are well equipped to work remotely.”
At this point, no one can predict how long the stay-at-home mandates will remain in place. Organizations, therefore, should plan for the worst and hope for the best, ensuring critical research can be continued without risking the safety of employees or the continuity of the company.