Three months ago, life in the laboratories in these United States carried on as usual, and no one could probably have predicted where we stand today. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way laboratorians work everywhere. Some staff have had hours cut because of decreased workloads, other labs worked around the clock to bring new testing on board, and others dealt with staffing shortages due to illness. It has been a wild ride, and through it all, a great many safety issues have arisen. Common lab practices are now viewed through a new lens- is it acceptable to bring hematology slides for review into a clean pathologist’s office? Can we wear surgical masks worn in the lab into the break room? There are many good questions, but some of the answers can be found using references offered from reliable sources. Not everything you read online can be believed, but here are some references that may be necessary and that provide important information.
The pandemic has created a world-wide shortage of PPE, and some have wondered what can be done as resources diminish. The CDC has some good information about calculating how long PPE can be used and how long it can last. There are good guidelines about re-use and extended use of PPE.
PPE Burn Rate Calculator:
Strategies to Optimize the Supply of PPE and Equipment:
There are specific references regarding respirators and how they should be used.
Respiratory Protection During Outbreaks: Respirators versus Surgical Masks
Understanding the Use of Imported Non-NIOSH-Approved Respirators
Proper N95 Respirator Use for Respiratory Protection Preparedness
Some laboratory disinfectants have become more difficult to purchase. The gold standard for disinfection remains a 10% bleach solution, but there are many other options that can be used as well.
Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (EPA List N):
EPA’s Registered Antimicrobial Products Effective Against Human HIV-1 and Hepatitis B Virus:
The CDC also offers laboratories a set of COVID-19 guidelines for performing testing, biosafety issues, waste management, and protection against aerosols. These guidelines are thorough, and they can be very helpful should safety challenges arise.
Interim Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines for Handling and Processing Specimens Associated with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19):
Many of these references are updated regularly, so be sure you go to go to the source when making safety policy about COVID-19 tasks.
Laboratorians are now literally on the front lines during this novel coronavirus pandemic. While many public and commercial services have been scaled back, restaurants are closing, and many people are staying or working at home, lab staff are doing their level best to keep coming to work despite the extremely unusual circumstances and hardships.
I am here to serve as well. If you have questions about how to safely navigate this national (and global) emergency while working in the lab, ask me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I will do my best to provide any lab safety resources you may need. Make sure the decisions you make during these days are safe, sound, and based on the most recent resources available to you.
–Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP), SLS, CQA (ASQ) has over 25 years experience as a certified medical technologist. Today he is the Laboratory Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, a system of seven hospitals and over 20 laboratories and draw sites in the Tidewater area of Virginia. He is also known as Dan the Lab Safety Man, a lab safety consultant, educator, and trainer.