On Monday, some CBMR staff returned to their laboratories for the first time since the University of Copenhagen closed its doors six weeks ago. But it’s not a return to normal – far from it. The government has allowed for a controlled and limited reopening, which have required new comprehensive health and safety guidelines limit the number of staff on each floor, and which also require them to follow strict social distancing measures.
Still, staff are happy to continue their science, even in a limited capacity, reports Laboratory Manager Fie Hillesø. She is one of a few staff members who has been allowed into CBMR’s facilities in the Maersk Tower over the past six weeks, in order to carry out critical maintenance and upkeep.
What has been keeping you busy these past few weeks?
There’s lots to do while the tower has been asleep! I’ve carried out maintenance on equipment, which has had to be put on standby. Then there are packages that need to sorted and stored as some are temperature sensitive.
What’s it like to go to work in an empty tower, which is normally buzzing?
It’s very odd to be in here because there are a lot of coffee cups and things like that standing out, which makes you realise that people must have left quite quickly. We’ve been away much longer than we thought. So I’ve had to clean up a bit and throw out the garbage to make sure it doesn’t smell.
How have the new guidelines taken shape?
They have been underway for a couple of weeks. We have measured all of the laboratories to determine how many staff can be in them at one time, while maintaining a safe distance. Group Leaders have also had to prioritise their research and decide which staff can come in and when. And a lot of work has gone into implementing new disinfection and cleaning procedures – there is disinfectant and ethanol wipes everywhere!
I understand that you’ve been sharing the lab upkeep responsibilities with some colleagues, and worked from home the other days. What’s home life like at the moment.
I have two kids at home that need to be home schooled, which is a lot. The younger one got to go back to school this week, but the older one is still at home. It’s been nice to eat breakfast together and not have to deal with the stress of the pick up. But the first week I definitely felt a bit guilty because it was hard to both work and help the little one with their homework! Then we developed a routine to divide up the time and we got adjusted.
The first staff returned this Monday, what was that like?
People were so happy! There aren’t that many, only six per floor so it’s not full of life still, but people are very happy to be back and can start up slowly. My main job now is to organise the shift plan so that people know when they are allowed to be here. People send me their wishes and I try to give them slots that they can use – if they need to be in for a specific number of days in a row or if they are more flexible. We put it into an online booking system so that everyone can keep track.
How do you enforce social distancing rules in the laboratories?
Well the labs are different sizes so we have had to make rules for how many people can be in each room at one time. But people are very good at keeping a safe distancing and waiting for each other to leave the smaller rooms. Its been a lot like supermarkets, where we have gotten used to giving each other a lot of space. Really people have just been very flexible and kind and excited to be back!