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Check this page for ongoing Sanford Lab updates regarding COVID-19

This page provides the latest updates from Sanford Lab regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, including information on operations and cancelations. For public resources on COVID-19, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the South Dakota Department of Health.

See our complete list of COVID-19 resources and information for employees.

Click here for answers to Frequently Asked Questions about our response to COVID-19.

COVID-19 information reported to the Sanford Underground Research Facility

April 6, 2021 (This report is updated weekly)

Confirmed Cases

  • Current: SDSTA—0; non-SDSTA—0
  • Total: SDSTA—22; non-SDSTA—20

Quarantined Individuals

  • Current: SDSTA—0; non-SDSTA—0
  • Total: SDSTA—69; non-SDSTA—50

SDSTA refers to the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, which manages the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF).

Non-SDSTA refers to individuals not employed by the SDSTA but who are doing work at SURF.

NOTE: Individual patient care information is kept confidential. 

SURF COVID-19 Response and Control Requirements (September 16, 2020)

The South Dakota Science and Technology Authority (SDSTA) recognizes the responsibility of employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment for their personnel. As we strive to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), we regularly evaluate the level of disease transmission in our community, state and multistate region. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to provide unprecedented challenges, requiring a continuous examination of governmental guidance and the implementation of associated risk-reduction controls. SURF utilizes a risk-based approach to inform our operational status decisions, which is based on the level of the virus transmission, governmental guidance, availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and personnel, local medical care capacity, and our overall ability to provide for the safety and health of those who work at SURF.

These response and control requirements are based upon and aligned with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) requirements and guidance for employers to implement COVID-19 preparedness, response and control plans, including appropriate screening. All employers with employees on site at SURF are required to develop plans that:

  • Follow CDC hygiene guidance and basic precautions,
  • utilize a risk-based approach supported by associated risk analysis,
  • are specific to your workplace and practices,
  • include control measures to eliminate or reduce COVID-19 exposures, and
  • use the hierarchy of controls to establish best practices.

Plans, including screening protocols, shall be provided to the SDSTA promptly upon written request.

Physical Distancing and Mask Requirements

Research groups and contractors performing work on site at SURF shall implement policies and practices to achieve physical distancing. When possible, telecommuting is a preferred engineering/substitution control to minimize exposure. All work planning shall address considerations for physical distancing. This includes alteration of workspaces to allow personnel to maintain physical distancing whenever possible. To carry out the foregoing, the following shall be implemented:

  • All on-site personnel shall carry a CDC recommended face covering (surgical or cloth mask) with them at all times to ensure ready access to a face covering for planned and unplanned interactions.
  • Personnel shall stay at least six feet from other people, whenever possible. When this cannot be achieved, personnel shall wear a face covering for even short duration interactions. A respirator can also be used to meet this requirement, and its use should be considered when assigned tasks require short duration contact (exceeding a total of 15 minutes in 24 hours) addressed in the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) for the work activity.
  • Personnel working in any SDSTA-owned enclosed building space or operational laboratory space (surface and underground) shall wear a face covering at all times except when the individual is alone in a room such as an office.
    • Hoist operators working alone on the hoist platform are exempt from this requirement due to critical communication duties. Personnel who wish to enter the hoist platform must first receive permission to do so, wear a mask and allow the hoist operator to don a mask.  Persons engaged in tours of hoistroom are to wear a face covering.
  • Personnel shall avoid congregating in common spaces for meals or breaks.
  • Personnel are reminded to discard used disposable masks in a trash receptacle.

Requirements for meetings and gatherings on-site at SURF:

  • Telecommuting shall be utilized whenever feasible.
  • All are encouraged to use electronic communications tools whenever possible.
  • No unnecessary mixing of on-site personnel; all persons on-site must plan to minimize unnecessary interactions.
  • Gatherings should be limited to no more than 10 persons when on-site.
  • In the event a conference room is required, the table below defines the maximum occupancy using room size and maintaining a six-foot physical distancing. In-person attendees must wear a face covering and maintain the required six feet of physical distancing. The maximum headcount shall be posted at the entrances of each room.
Conference Room Maximum meeting attendence
Admin 1st Floor Vault 6 persons
Admin 1st Floor Executive 6 persons
Admin 2nd Floor Vault 12 persons
Admin 2nd Floor Executive 4 persons
E&O Main 25 persons
E&O Classroom 6 persons

Underground Access Requirements

  • Normal underground access is a maximum number of 144 personnel, the same number that can be accommodated in the refuge chamber if required. Depending on the work being done, that number is subject to change. Personnel are required to fill out the Trip Action Plan (TAP) well in advance of going underground. The SDSTA will manage the maximum headcount.
  • The maximum headcount for the Yates and Ross shafts cages is 24 personnel, including the cage operator.
  • Mandatory respirator use is required for all personnel riding on conveyances. The respirator must have the protection level of an N-95 mask or greater. Also, all personnel riding on conveyances must wear gloves and a face shield. Safety glasses with a foam gasket encompassing the eye area can be worn in lieu of a face shield.
  • When mandatory respiratory protection is required, it is the responsibility of each employer to have an established Respiratory Protection Program that meets the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.134 ( SDSTA has a stakeholder equivalency mechanism that provides for fit-testing support as required in 29 CFR 1910.134.

Travel Controls

  • All SDSTA staff international work travel is suspended until further notice.
  • All SDSTA staff domestic work travel will be limited to essential functions only and requires approval in advance from the Executive Director.
  • Travel by vehicle is preferred over air travel.
  • All personnel traveling to SURF are encouraged to follow CDC recommendations for travel including hygiene during travel.
  • All personnel coming to SURF should be alert to COVID-19 symptoms including coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell. Personnel shall follow CDC guidance including self-isolation if symptoms develop or if the individual becomes sick.
  • Personnel who appear to have illness symptoms upon arrival at work or who become sick while at SURF should:
    • Immediately be separated from other personnel and be sent home.
    • Employers shall have a procedure in place for the safe transport of an employee who becomes sick while at work.

SURF Health and Wellness Screenings

Two screening checkpoints have been established at the entry gates to the Ross and Yates surface complexes. All potential entrants must either provide proof of screening by their employer (by way of a colored wristband) or will be asked questions regarding recent travel and illness symptoms. An individual’s access to the SURF site may be restricted based on recorded illness symptoms. 

Upon successful completion of screening activities, the tested individual is provided with a colored wristband that readily identifies screened personnel.

  • The wristbands and color-schedule are provided to site employers who use their own screening process.
  • Screening is required once daily when personnel first enter the access gates.
  • As personnel enter and leave the gated accesses, they must:
    • Maintain a slow speed when entering and leaving screening areas.
    • Come to a complete stop at the screening location.
    • Wear a mask that fully covers their mouth and nose. 
    • Show their wristband to the screener and then slowly proceed.

Requirements when an individual has been denied SURF access for health reasons

Individuals who are denied access to the SURF site will be encouraged to follow CDC guidance and seek medical care as needed. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has established guidance regarding Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act. This guidance enables employers to take steps to protect workers, including requiring workers to stay home when necessary to address the direct threat of spreading COVID-19 to others.

SURF requires the employer to perform an investigation to identify on-site personnel who may have been exposed to the virus through their interactions with a suspected individual. At a minimum, the investigation shall determine:

  • Persons with whom the suspected individual has been in contact, those with direct or prolonged interactions, and those with incidental or casual interactions. Notifications of potential transmission may be required. (Employers should seek guidance and follow the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act).
  • The locations in which the suspected individual was working and high-touch areas, i.e. doorknobs, handles, food prep equipment, office equipment such as a keyboard or mouse, etc.
  • The tools and equipment the suspected individual was using.
  • Identify the nature of interaction, including:
    • What was the interaction(s)?
    • Length of interaction.
    • Type (if any) of physical contact.
    • PPE used at the time of interaction.

COVID-19 Reporting Requirements

All employers with staff working at SURF are required to report positive COVID-19 cases along with the number of staff quarantined within 24-hours of the positive test result to the SURF Occupational Nurse at All employers with COVID-19 positive staff members or staff in quarantine shall provide an update on the number of currently active positive cases and quarantined staff to the SURF Occupational Nurse by Friday at 5PM MT each week.

Work Area Cleaning Requirements

The employer of the suspected individual or the organization responsible for the work area shall arrange for professional deep cleaning of affected areas, tools and equipment. If it has been less than seven (7) days since the sick employee has been in the facility, the organization responsible for the work area shall  close off and isolate any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the suspected individual. The CDC suggests:

  • If possible, wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other personnel being exposed to respiratory droplets.
    • If waiting 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible.
    • During this waiting period, open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in any isolated areas.

If it has been seven (7) days or more since the suspect individual has used the facility, additional deep cleaning is not required. Continue routine disinfection and cleaning practices at a minimum following the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.


We recognize we all are facing an unprecedented event with constantly changing dynamics. These changing dynamics require all employers, research groups and contractors to stay current on regulatory and CDC requirements and guidance. As the risk profile of the COVID-19 contagion changes, so may our processes. The SDSTA appreciates everyone’s cooperation as we all strive to keep SURF a safe and healthy place to work.

If you have any questions, please contact your supervisor or SDSTA point of contact.