Lab Reopening Checklist
May 12th, 2020

Things to consider before re-starting research - Updated May 11

As some labs prepare for return-to-work and limited re-opening, the following items should be considered. Also refer to the Duke Coronavirus Response and the Duke Coronavirus Research-Related Updates web pages as well as the Duke Guide to Returning to the Workplace and the Medical School’s guidance for Reopening Research Labs, this Duke Today article about reopening research labs and Dr. Carin’s slide deck from the May 7th Town Hall. The School of Medicine and Pratt School of Engineering guidelines for returning to research labs are also linked. If you have questions about the recommendations below, please contact OESO Lab Safety.

General Items to Consider

  • Be aware of the current restrictions and approvals needed to return to work. See the above links and check with your Department Chair or Business Manager for details.
  • Supply Chain
    • Be sure to have stocks of PPE, chemicals (including soap and disinfectants), and other lab ware prior to restarting work
    • Plan for limited Personal Protective Equipment availability including face covers, face shields, and gloves (and – where needed for research purposes or animal allergies – N-95 respirators)
    • Plan for some reagents having limited availability
    • Plan for some consumables (including disinfectants) having limited availability
    • If you have questions about supply availability or if you encounter issues finding certain items, please contact researchprocurement@duke.edu.
  • It is natural that you will want to dive back into your exciting research, work longer hours to catch up, etc. but remember:
    • Everyone is in the same situation!
    • Plan and conduct work carefully and methodically.
    • Accidents are more likely to happen when you are hurried and tired.
    • Don’t overstay your scheduled time in the building.
    • Only work on approved projects.
  • Keep in mind that all reopening procedures should be reversible if lab operations need to be curtailed again. (In other words, be aware as we move to “Phase 3” that we may need to return quickly to “Phase 2”. See the guidance for Reopening Research Labs for a description of the four phases in Duke’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Social and Temporal Distancing

  • Develop staggered schedules (AM/PM, alternate days, alternate weeks)
  • Develop plans for how social distancing will be maintained in the office and bench spaces (alternating bays/desks)
  • Shared Resources - Have conversations with relevant core labs about scheduling for shared equipment and how it will be cleaned (and responsibilities for cleaning).
  • To the extent feasible, work remotely when performing tasks that can be done remotely. Use time in the lab for tasks that cannot be done remotely.
  • If research is conducted by a single individual in a lab situation where, under normal circumstances, two or more people are present, notify at least one person outside the lab as a safety precaution prior to beginning that work and upon finishing.
  • Social Distancing poses special challenges for teaching new techniques. Some options for teaching techniques that require close proximity are listed below
    • If possible, delay teaching that technique. This may not be feasible, but eliminating close contact is ideal.
    • Use technology to demonstrate the techniques. This could mean recording yourself performing the technique and narrating what you’re doing or using Zoom or WebEx to show the technique and then allow the trainee to try the technique while still having live feedback.
    • If live, in person training is the only feasible method (high risk activity, high value samples or equipment) use chemical splash goggles or a face shield to protect the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) of both the trainer and the trainee in addition to other recommended PPE such as gloves and face masks.

Cleaning/Disinfecting work surfaces and equipment

    • Regularly clean and disinfect shared lab equipment and spaces (e.g., tissue culture rooms, microscopy rooms, etc.). Be sure to check the equipment manufacturer’s website and specific documentation for your piece of equipment for the correct cleaning information (See last note below).
    • Before disinfecting surfaces/equipment, clean with soap/detergent and water.
    • The following disinfectants will kill SARS-CoV-2 on clean, non-sensitive, non-porous surfaces:
      • 70% ethanol (70% isopropanol will also work well but is not recommended for widespread use due to irritation. Methanol is less effective according to the CDC).
      • Dilute bleach solution (Labs working with SARS-CoV-2 should follow their approved SOP, which may indicate a 1:10 bleach solution for cleaning up spills. Otherwise, a 2% bleach solution (at least 1000 ppm sodium hypochlorite), as indicated on the CDC’s page on Cleaning and Disinfecting your Facility, will be sufficient.  See OESO’s Guidelines for Working Safely with Bleach.
      • This article shows surface decontamination effectiveness with 1 minute of contact time for either 70% ethanol or 1000 ppm (0.1%) sodium hypochlorite.
  • For cleaning Electronics/Computers/Keyboards
    • Use 70% ethanol wipes to avoid use of harsher disinfectants
    • Avoid getting liquid into equipment openings
    • Avoid use of spray cleaners
    • If wipes are not available, a dry cloth soaked in 70% ethanol can be used; avoid saturation/dripping
    • Gently wipe the surface until visible wet and let evaporate on the surface
  • Notes about use of disinfectants:


    • Check eyewash (See Eyewash Checklist) and flush for several minutes.
    • Check gauge on fire extinguishers and report any issues to OESO Fire & Life Safety (919-684-5609).
    • Ensure all other lab utilities are operational (water, vacuum, electrical, etc.) and report any issues to your maintenance provider.
    • Flush any water fixtures in the lab for several minutes to remove any stagnant water.
    • Pour water down dry traps, cup sinks, and floor drains to mitigate sewer gas smells that are often confused with natural gas leaks.
    • Ensure that all water sources (e.g. circulating water baths, aspirators, etc.) are not leaking.

Safety Training and Documentation

    • Review Chemical Hygiene Plan, chemical SOPs, biological SOPs, and ensure all lab members have reviewed and signed them.
    • Ensure availability of Safety Data Sheets for any cleaning and disinfecting chemicals being used.
    • Train or review training for use of new PPE such as surgical masks or other face coverings, in particular the donning and doffing procedures.


    • Check that all refrigerators, freezers, and incubators are functioning correctly.
    • Check any Liquid Nitrogen freezers or other alternative storage methods to ensure they are working correctly.
    • Review equipment manuals for safe startup instructions for equipment that was powered down.
    • Review equipment status and safely release or mitigate any stored-up energy sources.
    • Check your biological safety cabinet (BSC) certification date. Assure that, prior to use, your BSC has been certified within the last year.  
    • Check your chemical fume hood (CFH) certification date and the functionality of your fume hood monitor. Assure that, prior to use, your CFH has been certified within the last year. Report any issues to your maintenance provider.
    • Post the Lab Equipment Hazard Assessment form on any laboratory equipment to be disposed of or sent to surplus. Clean the equipment prior to surplusing.


    • Inspect all chemical storage areas for leaks and container integrity.
    • Pay special attention to any time-sensitive chemicals
      • Peroxide formers (including isopropyl alcohol)
      • Chloroform
      • Picric acid
  • Clean up/put away chemicals, supplies, equipment, glassware, and other items left out during the shutdown
  • Secure, correctly label, and/or request a pickup for Hazardous Wastes with open dates in the last 90 days


    • Don’t work in a biological safety cabinet that is overdue for certification
    • Check infectious material and toxins that were put away for storage are still secure.
    • Any work with COVID-19 patient samples, SARS-CoV-2, and genetic elements of the virus must be approved by Biological Safety PRIOR to starting work.

Use of masks and homemade face coverings

  • See these tips for wearing masks at work.
  • Homemade masks may be worn instead of the provided disposable masks (Ref). See the CDC’s guidelines on the use of cloth face coverings in addition to a DIY tutorial on sew/no sew cloth face coverings.
  • Be sure to wear a clean mask or face covering each day. Follow the above-linked instructions on cleaning and doffing cloth face coverings, and on donning, doffing, and storing masks.

*Photo Credit: Matthew S. Jurgens, https://www.acc.af.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2002278660/