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This page provides the latest updates from Sanford Lab regarding COVID-19, including information on operations and cancelations. For public resources on COVID-19, please refer to the Center 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.

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July 13, 2020

SURF COVID-19 Response and Control Requirements

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 onsite personnel shall carry a face covering (cloth or surgical mask or gaiter) 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 half-mask respirator can also be used to meet this requirement, and its use should be 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 (cloth or surgical mask or gaiter) at all times except when the individual is alone in an individual room such as an office. Hoist operators working alone on the hoist platform are exempt from this requirement.
  • 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 onsite at SURF:

  • Meeting attendance shall not exceed 10 people and the combination of meeting attendance and room size should be able to accommodate the required six feet of physical distancing.
  • Telecommuting shall be utilized whenever feasible.
  • All are encouraged to use electronic communications tools whenever possible.
  • No unnecessary mixing of onsite personnel; all persons onsite must plan to minimize unnecessary interactions.

Underground Access Requirements

  • Underground access is limited to a maximum headcount of 90 personnel (starting July 20, 2020) to allow for physical distancing in the event that the refuge chamber is required.
  • 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 Yates Shaft cage headcount will remain limited to 14 personnel plus 1 cage operator.
  • The Ross Shaft cage work deck will remain limited to 9 personnel plus 1 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.
  • 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 (https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.134). 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 COVID-19 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 wrist band) or will be asked questions regarding recent travel and illness symptoms. An individual’s access to the SURF site may be restricted based on health-related concerns.

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

  • The wrist bands 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.
    • Show their wrist band 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 onsite 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.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Everyone is encouraged to access the resources provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn more about COVID-19 and how to protect yourself.