Skip to Content

Coronavirus Information for NIH Trainees

Message from Sharon Milgram, Director, OITE

Two Important NIH Policies Regarding COVID-19: Testing and Travel: Email from Dr. Sharon Milgram, 11-24-2020

What happens when an NIH employee or trainee tests positive for COVID-19?

Coronavirus Safety Links and Requirements

Travel Guidance

Asymptomatic Testing

Read an Important Message from the Division of International Services Regarding SCAMS!


Dear NIH Trainee,

I hope you are feeling well and dealing with these uncertain times with a sense of calm focus and resilience.

The staff of the OITE may not be on campus, but we are continuing our activities on your behalf in the virtual space. This webpage is intended to provide support and keep you informed. Watch for group sessions on wellness, resilience, and mindfulness meditation plus career and professional development opportunities. Because activities are now online, trainees on any campus can participate easily.

Please contact us with ideas for webpage improvements and additions that would make your life easier … or perhaps just more fun.

I appreciate that each of you has unique situations to sort out and contend with. Please do not hesitate to email me (milgrams@nih.gov); I will do my best to address any concerns you may have.

In the meantime, be safe, wash your hands, and take care of yourselves and each other!

Sharon Milgram, PhD, Director, OITE


 

Two Important NIH Policies Regarding COVID-19: Testing and Travel: Email from Dr. Sharon Milgram, 11-24-2020

Dear All, I am writing with two important NIH policies relating to Covid testing and travel over the holidays. These is a lot of important information here and I encourage you to print this email out in case you need the information and do not have access to your email when you are working from home.  Thank you in advance for your attention to these important notices.  Sharon

VIRUS TESTING:


If you have not already read this email from Dr. Collins about coronavirus testing, please carefully read it now. Compliance with these policies will help keep all of us as safe as possible in these challenging times. You can find all of this information archived at https://www.training.nih.gov/coronavirus_info_for_trainees .

I want to remind everyone of the importance of several issues that relate to COVID-19 testing.  First, it’s important to protect the privacy of NIH staff when communicating about COVID-19 exposures or illness. NIH has established a robust and effective process for testing and contact tracing through Occupational Medical Service (OMS) and Clinical Center Hospital Epidemiology Service. This process is outlined in detail on the NIH Guidance for Staff on Coronavirus intranet page. Professional staff familiar with this process are tasked with notifying individuals of their test results and those who may have come into contact with an infectious person, while still safeguarding all personal and protected information. At no time should supervisors or staff share information about suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infections of NIH staff with anyone other than those authorized by the affected individual(s) to receive such communication. There are many risk-mitigation measures in place at the NIH and following these helps to keep everyone safe. 

Second, the intranet page also contains information about what staff should do if you believe you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or if you have symptoms of COVID-19. If you are in that situation, do not come to work, or go home immediately if you are at work. Call your healthcare provider for medical advice and as soon as you are able, let your supervisor know that you’ve gone home and submit this form to OMS. OMS will contact you within 24-48 hours and manage the process from that point forward.

Finally, it’s important that we follow up with all NIH staff who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2. If you receive a positive COVID-19 test at a location other than NIH, please report the results of those tests to OMS via this form. A positive test begins the evaluation by OMS of determining if contact tracing is required (i.e., a staff member was infectious while onsite). OMS will contact and provide guidance to all individuals who have a significant exposure risk and the Office of Research Facilities will take the necessary steps to remediate affected areas as necessary and recommended by the Division of Occupational Health and Safety Guidance.

TRAVEL OVER THE HOLIDAYS:

Travel is associated with increased risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Whenever you or a household member return from travel, or you are gathering with people outside your household or pod, it’s important that you to follow the CDC guidance to reduce your risk.

Determining when it is safe to return to NIH facilities is dependent on timing and the level of risk of exposure. The NIH Occupational Medical Service recommends staff consult with the most current guidance and requirements issued by local health departments at both the travel destination and for returning home.

Instructions Before Returning to NIH Facilities

  • Regardless of travel or gathering with others, anyone who had high-risk exposure within 14 days prior to returning to the physical workplace should self-quarantine, notify your supervisor, complete the OMS Coronavirus Screening Questionnaire, and follow recommendations for further care.
    • High-risk exposure means close contact (within 6 feet) for more than 15 minutes (cumulative over 24 hours) with a person likely or known to be infectious with COVID-19. It can also refer to close contact of any duration with an infectious person who is coughing, sneezing or singing with or without a facial covering.
  • NIH encourages employees who have traveled to high-risk areas or spent time closely associating with friends or family outside of their household or pod from high-risk areas to take the following steps before returning to NIH facilities:  
    • Refrain from coming to your on-campus physical workplace for a week, followed by testing at least 7 days after travel or gathering with others; you may use asymptomatic onsite testing as long as you have not had any Covid-19-like symptoms during this period of observation. If you do not get tested, at seven days, then a 14 day quarantine at home is appropriate.
    • Participate in the NIH asymptomatic testing program. These sites are located in Maryland (Bethesda-Building 10, Baltimore-Bayview Research Center, NCI-Frederick, and NCI-Shady Grove), North Carolina (NIEHS Campus), Montana (RML) and Arizona (NIDDK-Phoenix). Go to this website to schedule an asymptomatic test.
    • If symptoms or fever are present, you must refrain from coming on campus, self-isolate and complete the OMS Coronavirus Screening Questionnaire .

Trainees who are required to self-quarantine may work from home and continue to receive their fellowship stipend during the quarantine period.


What happens when an NIH staff member tests positive for COVID-19?

If an NIH staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the following steps (PDF) are activated:

  • If NIH did the testing, the Occupational Medical Service (OMS) will contact the individual directly with guidance on home isolation, including for household members within 24–48 hours.
  • OMS and the NIH Clinical Center Hospital Epidemiology Service (HES) will initiate contact tracing to identify staff who work in close proximity to the individual and may have been exposed. If testing is done elsewhere, staff are expected to notify OMS of their positive result, so contact tracing can proceed if warranted.
  • OMS will advise staff who test positive to work with their primary care physician to determine a plan for medical care.
  • OMS or Clinical Center Hospital Epidemiology Service must report positive test results to the public health departments with jurisdiction over the home area where a worker who tested positive for COVID-19.
  • OMS also will notify the staff member’s supervisor that the individual is sick with a health condition and is advised to stay at home.
  • At no time should supervisors or staff share information about suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infections of NIH staff with anyone other than those authorized by the affected individual(s) to receive such communication.
  • Those potentially exposed individuals will be contacted by OMS to assess their risk. They will be asked to quarantine and monitor themselves for possible COVID-19 symptoms if their exposure constitutes a significant risk of infection according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. The OMS Active Monitoring Protocol allows contacts of COVID-positive persons to identify earliest signs of illness and determine the need for testing.
  • Areas where the staff member worked will be evaluated for cleaning and potential closure if the space is not needed for immediate occupancy. If the person has not been on site more than 5 days prior to symptoms, then the workspace will not require cleaning. Any questions can be directed to the Division of Occupational Health and Safety for guidance.
  • Staff who work in those areas will be notified of this requirement.

 Visit the NIH Intranet for additional FAQs and further information regarding the coronavirus pandemic.


 


IMPORTANT: NIH Coronavirus Safety Links (7-13)

Prior to returning to their NIH worksites individuals must (1) read the NIH Safety Guidance, (2) watch the accompanying video, and (3) certify to their supervisors that they have done both and are aware of the requirements and expectations.

NIH Safety Guidance: https://www.ors.od.nih.gov/Documents/Return-to-Work-Guidance.pdf (updated 7/23/20)

NIH Safety Guidance Video: https://lms.learning.hhs.gov/Saba/Web/Main/goto/GuestOfferingDetails?offeringId=dowbt000000000042232&isFromDeeplink=true (The video can be accessed by those with an NIH email account; neither VPN nor a PIV card is required.)

NIH Safety Guidance Video Technical Tips: https://employees.nih.gov/pages/coronavirus/docs/NIH-Coronavirus-Safety-Guidance-Video-Technical-Tips.pdf


 

Guidance on Travel (from Francis Collins, MD/PhD, Director, NIH, 8-14)

But while we are talking about taking breaks this month, I do want to take this opportunity to remind you again to think carefully about your vacation travel plans. As we all know, travel is associated with increased risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide clear guidance on factors that increase your risk during travel, and steps you can take to mitigate them. As I mentioned in last week’s email, Diane and I took the CDC guidance very seriously, and intentionally chose a vacation spot that is isolated from others and will not put us or anyone else at increased risk, or place restrictions on us when we return. The guidance to protect yourself and others should always be followed, whether you’re at your local grocery story or traveling – wear a face covering, keep a 6-foot distance, and wash your hands frequently. I shared the below resources last week, but am sharing them again for good measure:

These links also are available on the NIH Guidance for Staff on Coronavirus Intranet landing page. Many states are requiring or recommending isolation or quarantine for individuals traveling to or from certain states, so be sure to check the guidance from the state health departments for those states to which you are traveling and where you reside before you leave for or return from vacation.

I think many staff who are working onsite are wondering how travel to a high-risk area might affect their ability to return to their NIH worksite. To address these questions, we’ve launched a new page on the coronavirus intranet page called Guidance on Returning to NIH Facilities After Travel. Anyone who has had a high-risk exposure within 14 days prior to returning to NIH physical workspaces should self-quarantine, notify your supervisor, complete the OMS Coronavirus Screening Questionnaire, and follow OMS recommendations for further care. A high-risk exposure means close contact within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes with a person not wearing a facial covering and likely or known to be infectious with SARS-CoV-2. Please review the new page for additional guidance.


 
Asymptomatic Testing (from Francis Collins, MD/PhD, Director, NIH, 8-14)

This week, the NIH Clinical Center began offering testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection to all asymptomatic staff approved to work onsite in NIH Bethesda-area facilities. I encourage onsite staff to take advantage of this free testing and schedule an appointment via this website.

Other NIH locations in Baltimore, Maryland, North Carolina, and Montana also have begun conducting asymptomatic testing of approved onsite staff, with all lab analyses done at the NIH Clinical Center.