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EEB Community of Practice

To keep all students, post-doctoral researchers, staff (including non-departmental staff, such as custodians and facilities service employees) and faculty safe and healthy, EEB has enacted a community of practice for the EEB Department and all activities EEB is associated with, including classroom teaching, research and organizations such as Naturalist Club and GREBE. Our intention is to follow best practices and use state and university guidelines as a baseline but also incorporate additional protections as they seem appropriate to our community. Field work and lab work pose unique challenges, and we are fortunate to have disease experts within the department willing to offer their expertise to help mitigate risks for all.

Within the department, lack of progress on graduate students’ dissertation or faculty research (from March 2020 until the pandemic’s impairment of research ceases) will not be penalized (through graduate student progress reports, faculty tenure or promotion decisions, or similar metrics).  We are considering alternatives for graduate students facing delays in completing their thesis work including (1) extra TA funding beyond yr 5, (2) availability of modeling or synthesis projects to replace data-intensive chapters, (3) number of chapters required to defend.  Graduate students please discuss your concerns and options with your advisor and committee.

Pre-tenure faculty are encouraged to apply for the extension of the pre-tenure period offered by UT (deadline to apply 31 Dec 2020).  College of Arts and Sciences Guidelines: https://artsci.utk.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/COVID-19-Extension-to-Probationary-Period.pdf

and request form: https://artsci.utk.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/CAS-Covid-19-Tenure-Clock-Extension-Request-Form.pdf

Key ideas driving this document:

  • Individuals differ in the risk COVID-19 poses to them and to others in their household
  • Individuals differ in their tolerance of this risk
  • Individuals with the greatest tolerance of risk should not impose their standards on others
  • Individuals do not have to document or justify their own assessment of risk (i.e. medical conditions) to others to experience conditions that make them feel secure

Extending EEB Community of Practice policy: Individuals should feel empowered to take reasonable steps and be even more cautious for their own safety (while we hope to create a situation where individual steps are not needed). If one needs to leave a space because it feels unsafe, please do so. Reporting this unsafe situation to department head, Susan Kalisz (skalisz@utk.edu) is recommended, but not required. Failure to follow these departmental policies and protocols will be viewed as violation of EEB’s workplace standards and health and safety requirements and may lead to disciplinary action.

University policy: Individuals must comply with all University regulations, including daily self-assessment and reporting before going on campus (during Phase 2) and following guidelines for self-quarantine when required. See the UT return to work plan: https://www.utk.edu/coronavirus/guides/return-to-work

Self-isolation

  • In the event of exposure to COVID-19, EEB community members must self-isolate.
  • Those who are self-isolating will complete the reporting form, as required by UT.

Mask protocol

  • The chance of an infected person passing on the disease is substantially lowered by wearing a mask (those with exhaust vents lose this capability)
  • The chance of an uninfected person getting the disease is somewhat lowered by wearing a mask
  • Thus, choosing not to wear an effective mask is not so much assuming a risk to oneself as imposing a risk on another without their consent. This is contrary to EEB’s community standard of care for each other.
  • University policy requires that a mask be worn in any spaces with other individuals: in a classroom, in a lab, in a shared office, in a hallway or stairwell, or restrooms, as well as outside of buildings (UT policy: Face coverings will be required both indoors and outside except within private spaces and controlled environments. Fall semester overview: What students can expect on campus / Guides / COVID-19 Information )
  • Masks will be provided by the University, including by EEB, to prevent a financial burden on individuals (contact the EEB office eeb@utk.edu if you need a mask)
  • Masks must be worn properly: they should cover the mouth and nose. With a proper mask, it should be impossible to blow out a birthday candle: no one way valves, no big gaps on the side, no exposed nose.
  • If an individual appears in a group setting, such as a classroom, without a mask, they may be reminded to put a mask on, asked to leave the room if they do not comply, and/or reported to the Provost’s office. The instructor must dismiss a class session entirely if they believe this is a way to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Offices

  • Even for faculty members, staff, post doctoral students, grad students, and undergraduate students who have offices or work spaces that are not shared with others, the safest place to work is still your home. Please do not come to campus if you can work well from home. If you do not have reliable wifi to work from home please contact OIT: https://oit.utk.edu/  If you have a private office, you may work without a mask if you are alone and behind a closed door. It will be expected that you will answer the door to the office wearing a mask if someone knocks.
  • Graduate students who work in communal offices should practice social distancing (spatial and/or temporal) when possible. When not possible, graduate students’ office space will be relocated to open faculty labs or offices or unused classrooms.  Please contact eeb@utk.edu if you need assistance with respect to graduate student office space in EEB.
  • In-person interactions with the office staff in the EEB departmental office continue to be restricted. The office will maintain high function via the use of more online forms, alternative arrangements for receiving mail, using e-signatures, etc. Drop-in, face-to-face meetings with office staff are on hold for the foreseeable future.
  • Staff are happy to meet via Zoom, talk on the phone or conduct business via email. In person meetings should only be scheduled when absolutely necessary. Please contact EEB department staff via email if you need their assistance to set up an appointment. 

Classes

  • A large number (~60%) of our courses this fall and likely into spring will be conducted online. Those courses that are meeting in person will do so with fewer students meeting at any given time, and will require that all persons wear well-fitted, protective masks, regardless of ability to social distance
  • Cleaning supplies will be made available to disinfect all surfaces (note: the data to date show the primary mode of viral transmission is through airborne droplets)
  • Six or more feet of social distancing space is expected at all times
  • It is likely that many students will have to quarantine over the course of the semester, generally for two weeks at time. Instructors will work with students to accommodate those in quarantine so their learning is not impeded.
  • Some students may wish to learn remotely throughout the semester. They should communicate this with each of their instructors ahead of time; if such an arrangement is impossible (due to the nature of some courses) the student should make arrangements to take another class (student should consult their academic advisor for guidance)

Research

  • To minimize transmission risks, each group should seriously consider the need for on- campus research and office time. Each lab group should prepare a written plan detailing any work that requires in-person, on-campus effort (see point about safety plans below).
  • Research that requires lab equipment or field work will be undertaken in the safest manner possible, and best practices may include use of a sign-up calendar to ensure as few people as possible are in a lab at any given time (following all other safety and hazardous procedure requirements, as detailed in individual labs’ safety plans), enacting work shifts, reducing community space, and other means to reduce contact. Which protocols are appropriate should be included as part of the written plan. Effort in the field to reduce shared equipment use (e.g. shovels, containers, meter tapes, etc.) by each person having designated equipment that only they use and carry. Masks should be worn in the field to minimize transmission. After work is done, everything (including vehicles) should be wiped down with a disinfectant.
  • If working in shifts, please notify the EEB office staff, so that they can coordinate with the custodial staff to minimize their exposure
  • Before any new work is done in an EEB lab in Phase 2 , a full safety plan must be to the form at utk.edu/eebreopen. Include emails of everyone affected by it. Comments on the plan will be gathered from all the people named above and the department before the plan is approved and the lab reopened. (Note: existing work under Phase 1 may continue).
  • Graduate students are encouraged to work with their mentors to consider alternate chapters that do not require lab or field-based research (such as meta-analyses, theoretical studies, analysis of in-house or external datasets, and more). Graduate students should reach out to their advisors, members of their graduate committees, the EEB Director of Graduate Studies and/or Brian O’Meara to discuss ideas and connect to people and other resources

Travel

  • Social distancing is not possible in a vehicle, even a large university van. Air flow, even with windows open, is not sufficient.
  • Before any research travel with more than one person is done in Phase 2 , a full safety plan must be added to the form at utk.edu/eebreopen. Include emails of everyone affected by it. Comments on the plan will be gathered from all the people named above and the department before the plan is approved and the research travel undertaken. (Note: existing work under Phase 1 may continue).
  • Travel within the state and outside the state will follow UT policies. Note, however, the unpredictable nature of travel restrictions, both through reaction to disease spread and new border policies of various states and nations. Please be mindful of self-isolation restrictions that may apply for up to 2 weeks upon either arrival at or return from your destination. UT may ban university-related travel to some locations but personal travel is allowed, but quarantine requirements may hold for both.

Meetings

Common spaces

  • Communal areas (e.g. kitchens, mail room, restrooms) should be occupied by only one person at a time.
  • High-touch areas in kitchens (such as microwave buttons and refrigerator handles) should be cleaned and sterilized before and after use by the user. No composting is available at this time.
  • Greenhouse headhouse and other space use must follow the policy and forms set up by greenhouse manager, Jeff Martin (jmarti90@utk.edu)
  • Rooms with common-use equipment (e.g., autoclaves, ultra-low freezers, growth chambers) should be occupied by only one person at a time. High-touch areas should be cleaned and sterilized before and after use by the user.
  • Restrooms are also communal spaces and therefore all door, faucet, and toilet handles should be disinfected by the user using provided materials.