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Return to Research During COVID-19

Jun 15 2020

Posted In:

20/20 Blog

Palo Alto, CA — Despite the near complete shutdown of in-person laboratory activities at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Stanford Ophthalmology research laboratories remain incredibly productive. A number of graduate students successfully defended their theses via video conferencing, submission and publication of peer-reviewed articles is up, and grant awards are at an all-time high.

Vinit Mahajan M.D., Ph.D., professor and vice chair of research at Stanford, said, “Very quickly, we were able to implement a number of web-based tools to keep our collaborative environment thriving. Our informatics and ‘dry-lab’ work really picked up. Our educational programs and seminar attendance grew because of the video conferencing.”

Santa Clara County’s strict stay-at-home orders prevented many deaths and slowed the pace of COVID-19 in the Bay Area, and the Stanford research community did a remarkable job adapting to the changing situation. Now the labs are starting a staged reopening.

“We are excited to start getting back into the lab for hands-on research. We have learned how to make human interactions safe from the policies and procedures we have used in the clinic and operating room,” Mahajan said. 

“This includes frequent hand washing, wearing masks, limiting the number of people allowed in a certain space, social distancing, the use of calendaring systems, and a daily attestation to identify researchers with COVID-19 symptoms.” 

The department is using a gradual, stepwise approach informed by public health expertise to return to research, which is described in the Stanford Research Recovery Handbook. All of the research staff has also taken a course in COVID-19 hygiene to curb the spread of disease. 

Stanford has implemented a massive testing program to identify asymptomatic workers. With these procedures in place, the asymptomatic rate of Stanford faculty and staff is incredibly low. 

Mahajan said, “All of this gives us a sense of optimism. It’s so important that we get back to the research that makes such a difference in the lives of our patients.”