by Sinéad Connolly, Biomaterials and Process Engineering Cluster, Bernal Institute.

Summary

The recent worldwide upheaval due to the novel coronavirus has resulted in requirements for new safety measures to be implemented in laboratory settings to prevent its spread. This study reviews the most recent findings regarding the virus in order to present a well-informed three-point plan to be implemented by laboratory managers to ensure the continued safety of researchers. In short, the author advises a more comprehensive use of ethanol in the laboratory, a reliable warning system for early detection of COVID-19, as well as increasingly stringent criteria for the determination of lab access to individuals.

Article

In the post-COVID-19 era, many governments, including the Irish government, have published a number of guidelines to ensure a safe return to workspaces [1], nonetheless, there remains a paucity of innovative solutions to halt the spread of the virus. Therefore, following an extensive review of the literature, this author has identified a three-point plan containing supplementary measures, reinforced by verified scientific data, which research institutions may employ to ensure the continued safety of their laboratory staff.

Studies undertaken by researchers at the forefront of COVID-19 investigations into infection control have shown that its primary transmission method is through virus-laden fluid particles expelled from the mouth and nose [2, 3]. Furthermore, it has been established that solutions containing 60% ethanol are successful in dissolving the lipid membrane of the virus, rendering it incapable of contamination [4, 5]. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that the ingestion of ethanol solutions into the facial orifices (excluding perhaps the ears) will effectively sterilize the oral cavity of the researcher, preventing further transmission of the virus in a laboratory setting. Indeed, it has been postulated that the inhalation of alcohol will result in a comparable, if not better, outcome [6]. For this reason, it is recommended that laboratory staff are provided with at least one undiluted alcoholic beverage upon their arrival in the workplace, with frequent supplementations throughout the day. Concerns regarding the quality of data produced by inebriated researchers have been satisfactorily mitigated by a study from Jarosz et al. [7], conclusively proving that an increase in blood alcohol content results in improved problem solving capabilities.

Recent clinical findings published by researchers in New York have revealed that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted to, and infect, mammals of the genus Panthera [8]. These were interpreted as negative results by the scientific community at the time, however, it is now believed that researchers simply failed to grasp the scientific opportunity they present. Following appropriate risk assessments, the author recommends the presence of Malayan tigers in the laboratory to alert researchers to the presence of COVID-19 in the surroundings by displaying early symptoms. Similar methods, developed by Haldane, have previously been used successfully by technicians in the mining industry, utilising canaries to warn workers of the proximity of toxic gases [9].

Finally, experts in this rapidly-developing area have observed that this virus disproportionally affects those of the male gender. Indeed, preliminary findings from countries at the most advanced stages of contagion have shown that while men and women are equally infected, those of the male sex experience more severe symptoms, with 70.3% of all recorded deaths attributed to men [10]. Furthermore, it has been shown that the male species are less likely to wash their hands than women [11, 12], and therefore, by extension, they undermine societal best practices, and contribute to the spread of the virus. Some scholars have hypothesized that the male gender should be eradicated entirely [13], while, contrastingly, a number of biologists have argued against this conjecture, claiming that the male gamete is required for procreation [14]. As this can arguably be classed as an ‘essential service’, the author is inclined to agree with the latter. Thus, for the posterity of the human race, and in the best interests of men’s health, it is recommended that those who identify as ‘male’ remain safely in the home, with female researchers exclusively venturing into the laboratory environment.

Additionally, best practice in the field dictates that scientific writers cite their own, often unrelated, studies [15, 16].

To conclude, following a thorough review of scientifically validated literature, the authors have proposed a three-point plan to be used in laboratory spaces in order to ensure a safe post-COVID-19 working environment. Despite this, the author advocates that the non-scientifically validated adage; ‘laughter is the best medicine’ may be more applicable in this scenario, and so, bearing this sentiment in mind, this review article should perhaps be consumed with a pinch of salt.

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