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Penn State Lab Protocols Creating Safe & Efficient Learning Environment Amid Pandemic

Penn State’s coronavirus procedures and enforcement policies are far from perfect, but on-campus labs are setting the standard for what they should be.

Last Wednesday, I had my first and only in-person lab in Mueller. Truthfully, I expected to see a bottle of hand sanitizer and half my class wearing their masks below their noses. It was a pleasant surprise to have student expectations spelled out immediately and to know that the space around us was actually disinfected.

This summer, Penn State subgroups of the Academic Matters Coronavirus Task Force researched and tested effective means of lab and PPE instruction. Rather than coming up with an unrealistic, elaborate plan, this group created recommendations to maximize student lab space and continue to update these instructions as coronavirus needs evolve.

In an effort to social distance, lab sections are split in half into groups A and B. Group A meets in person one week while Group B has their lab online. Every other week, the groups switch roles. Students not in State College can still participate, as they just watch the in-person lab from Zoom and have a few other assignments.

Labs in Mueller are typically four students to a table. But now, with only eight to 10 students in person at a time, it’s one or two students per table which are separated by a thick sheet of tall plexiglass. I have no doubt that those barriers will shield Penn State students from whatever germs are across the table.

Immediately upon entering the lab, students were advised via a Powerpoint to disinfect their work stations and stools. Each table had an abundance of Clorox wipes, bleach, and paper towels available.

Once students were situated, PPE guidance and classroom expectations were explained clearly and extensively.

Masks are required at all times, but students are left with two options: Option one allows for students to wear their normal masks as is, and only one person can work at the surrounding lab stations at a time to do things like pick up materials or go to a weigh station. Option two is when students wear clear face shields in addition to their masks, and everyone in the lab can move around much more freely.

When working at the surrounding lab stations, gloves are required and all lab equipment must be disinfected after use.

Rather than just listing off these rules and not actually enforcing them, they’re 100% mandatory. During my lab, I went to seal mesh together and forgot to grab a pair of gloves. Fortunately, my lab TA was paying attention and reminded me before my grimy hands got all over the equipment and material.

After lab is complete, all students disinfect their lab stations again with bleach and Clorox wipes.

Penn State’s new lab protocols were deliberately developed and fleshed out to allow for efficiency without needing to sacrifice the safety of students. I’m incredibly pleased with how students and professors have handled the changes so far and gracious for the opportunity to keep learning in person.

All I have to say is, HUB-Robeson Center…please take notes.

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About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a senior biology major from York, Pa, and is one of Onward State's associate editors. She overuses the ~tilde~ and aspires to be no other than the great Guy Fieri. You can find Colleen filling up her gas tank at Rutter’s, the ~superior~ Pennsylvania gas station. Please direct any questions or concerns to [email protected] For the hijinks, always.

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