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Princeton begins partially redensifying campus labs

New regulations allow for a minimum of 125 square feet of laboratory space per occupant, down from 160 square feet per occupant.

<h6>Ans Nawaz for The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Ans Nawaz for The Daily Princetonian

On Nov. 2, the University announced that campus laboratories can partially re-densify, with a minimum of 125 square feet per occupant. Researchers must continue to use personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as follow strict social distancing guidelines.

This announcement follows the University’s decision in June to reopen non-essential labs, which had initially closed as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the United States, with a minimum of 160 square feet of laboratory space per occupant. 

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In an email to The Daily Princetonian, Dean of Research Pablo Debenedetti noted that the University’s “labs have been operating safely and with a high level of compliance since they re-opened in mid-June.”

“The low occupancy level that we allowed initially (160 sqft/researcher at all times, plus strict social distancing) leaves room for safe partial re-densification,” he wrote.

The decision to re-densify is voluntary and left at individual labs’ discretion. Researchers with each lab must submit a revised plan outlining how they intend to comply with the new University regulations. Plans to increase occupancy must map out lab layouts and workstations, as well as how social distancing and safety guidelines will be ensured.

“The plans must then be approved by the Dean for Research Office (DRO),” Debenedetti added. “This voluntary partial re-densification allows labs to safely carry out their work while increasing the level of participation of on-campus researchers.”

Lab reactions to the changes were varied, with some labs altering their plans to increase density and others deciding to stick to their original layouts and plans.

Saw Kyin, a senior scientist and acting manager for the Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry Core in the Department of Molecular Biology, believes the decision will be very beneficial to the lab. Kyin said the lab would “plan to re-densify so that more researchers can utilize our facility.”

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A.J. Maziarski works as a faculty assistant for professor of molecular biology Yibin Kang’s laboratory, which specializes in molecular mechanisms of cancer metastasis. Maziarski wrote in an email to the ‘Prince,’ “Our lab operation plan will not change with this re-densification plan as the current two shift arrangement works well and the density of the lab is limited by the bench space arrangement in the lab.”

The announcement signals the University’s continued efforts to phase in on-campus activities at pre-pandemic levels, as Nassau Hall prepares for a potential in-person spring semester, at least for some students.

When asked for his opinion on the decision, Maziarski said, “We trust the University leadership in making appropriate adjustments to keep the COVID-19 risk low while allowing research activities to continue.”

According to the Revised Density Guidelines, close contact operations between researchers would require Emergency Health Services consultation and further approval by the DRO. Researchers will continue to observe previous guidelines when using rooms with limited ventilation, such as those kept at cold temperatures and those that simulate certain environmental conditions.

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With the update, the University remains on Level 2 (phased resumption) in its plan to eventually resume all on-campus research activities, with the eventual goal to reach Level 1 (normal operations). Additional information on all lab protocols and activities permitted during COVID-19 can be found here.

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