The Big Return
What to Expect Coming Back to the Physical Workplace
Hundreds of NIH’ers who were on maximum telework throughout the pandemic began a staggered return to the physical workspace on Mar. 28. Questions, concerns and emotions abound. Everyone is returning to an altered landscape that may affect them both physically and emotionally. Staff will need to adapt to evolving safety guidelines, reduced amenities and anticipated service backlogs as the kinks get worked out.
Excited to see colleagues in person and move closer to normalcy? Apprehensive about safety? Wondering where to park? Curious what amenities await?
The online NIH Guidance for Staff on Coronavirus has been tracking such developing issues since the start of the pandemic and has comprehensive updates available at a click.
For some quick basics, the NIH Record has you covered.
Resources for the Big Return
Keeping Each Other Safe
The big return operates under the premise that some level of Covid-19 likely will persist, though now we have an array of tools to minimize community and workplace transmission. Regular risk assessments continue, and NIH may loosen or retighten its guidelines accordingly.
Every Friday, the Office of Research Services (ORS), Division of Occupational Health and Safety (DOHS) will assess workplace community levels and issue guidance that applies for the following week.
In non-healthcare areas, when workplace community levels are:
- Low: mask-wearing, physical distancing and testing are optional.
- Medium: masks remain optional but physical distancing is required; testing required for unvaccinated individuals.
- High: mask-wearing and physical distancing required for all and testing required for the unvaccinated.
Masks continue to be required at all times at locations with patient touchpoints and other facilities with elevated safety needs, including:
- The entire Bldg. 10/Clinical Center complex
- The Children’s Inn and the Safra Family Lodge
- All NIH shuttles
For weekly community-level updates and evolving guidance for all NIH buildings and facilities, see: https://go.usa.gov/xzyrV.
Parking and Getting Around
All staff returning to the main Bethesda campus will be greeted by large, multi-year construction projects, but a little patience and flexibility will help get you where you need to go.
The construction that began on campus this year adjacent to Bldg. 10 will affect staff parking and traffic flow for years to come, but ORS and the Office of Research Facilities (ORF) have launched efforts to alleviate the burden.
- A new express shuttle now runs from staff parking Lots 41 and 42 to Bldg. 10, from 6:30-9:30 a.m. and 4:30-7:30 p.m., daily.
- The MLP-9 garage on Convent Drive and the P2/P3 levels of Bldg. 10’s underground garage have converted to parking only for Bldg. 10 employees.
- Lot 4A, the visitor lot across from Bldg. 31, has converted to patient valet parking.
- The new Lot 18 being built on the south side of campus will open this summer as a dedicated visitor parking lot. In the meantime, visitors can park in MLP-11 near the Medical Center metro station.
Off-campus shuttles return to operations. For routes, times and updates, see: https://ors.od.nih.gov/pes/dats/nihshuttleservices/Pages/shuttle.aspx
Road and Entrance Closures
- The Lincoln Drive entrance off Old Georgetown Rd. is closed until June for upgrades.
- Once the expanded Lincoln Drive entrance reopens, the Old Georgetown Rd. entrance at Center Drive will close for 6 years. It will become a dedicated entrance for construction materials. This closure will include Center Drive from Old Georgetown Rd. to just past the front of the Northwest Child Care Center, as well as Convent Drive north of MLP-9.
- The Rt. 355-North Drive staff entrance will soon open for exiting in the afternoons, after the Center Drive entrance closes. Note, there’s no light there, so it will be a right-turn-only exit.
“There was extensive traffic modeling and studies done to determine if and how to make this all work,” said ORF/ORS communication director Brad Moss. With these mitigation strategies, along with an assumption of increased, across-the-board telework, it was determined pre-pandemic traffic levels could be maintained.
When construction is completed, there will be a 9-story Surgery, Radiology and Laboratory Medicine wing of the CC, a 5-story addition to the Vaccine Research Center and a new patient and visitor parking garage with a utility vault housing backup generators and electrical equipment. Ultimately, these additions will revolutionize research capabilities and improve hospital operations and patient access.
“These construction projects don’t just benefit one group at NIH,” said Moss. “They’re meant to benefit everyone, and not just NIH staff but also the country and world as a whole.”
For the latest: https://traffic.nih.gov.
Meetings & Greetings
ORF opened such larger-scale gathering sites as Lipsett Amphitheater, Masur Auditorium and other conference rooms and meeting facilities. To reserve a space, visit: https://ors.od.nih.gov/pes/emb/facilities/Pages/conferencefacilities.aspx.
Dining: What’s on the Menu?
This month, food trucks return to the south side of Bldg. 10 Tuesdays to Thursdays and the weekly farmer’s market resumes Apr. 5. Organizers are aiming to bring new trucks, healthier options, vegan and gluten-free options and more ethnic food diversity.
ORS is working with vendors to expand food services on and off campus in the coming months. Options will be limited at first and increase with demand.
“Amenities we’re able to provide are based on utilization,” said Tammie Edwards, director of ORS’s Division of Amenities and Transportation Services (DATS). “If vendors can’t have a level of profitability, they will be hard to sustain.”
Bottom line: To open cafeterias and concession stands, and keep them open, she said, “we need to use them.”
Hungry? What’s Open or in the Works?
- In the CC, the B1 cafeteria, concession stand and CRC and FAES coffee shops are open.
- Bldg. 35 cafeteria is open with hot food, grab-n-go items, such as pastries, sandwiches and sushi; plans are in progress to open the concession stand.
- Bldg. 31 cafeteria is slated to reopen on Monday, Apr. 4 with grab-n-go items; its concession stand remains closed.
- Cafeterias in Bldgs. 12B, 38A, 45, Rockledge II and 5601 Fishers Lane remain closed.
- Discussions are underway to reopen the Bldg. 12B concession stand and the Bldg. 50 coffee bar.
- Rockledge II concession stand will reopen once population data supports the need; look for food trucks in the interim.
To ensure safety in case of changing Covid-19 community levels, DATS is working with DOHS to create a protective environment in cafeterias and dining rooms, arranging tables for proper spacing and working to add touchless payment self-checkout stations.
“We’re monitoring the situation closely and making changes as we go along,” noted Edwards. “It’s a fluid process and we’re looking at data and trends to make decisions that will help alleviate any type of overcrowding and congestion in service areas.”
That said, anyone who prefers to avoid cafeterias and lines can order in advance using the Eatify mobile app and grab their grub to-go: https://ors.od.nih.gov/pes/dats/food/Documents/EatifyFlyer.pdf.
Also see: cafeteria and concession updates.
Fitness, Banking and Retail
The fitness centers at Bldg. 53 and Rockledge are scheduled to reopen on Apr. 19. The Bldg. 31 gym remains closed while undergoing bathroom renovations. All NIH fitness classes will remain virtual until further notice.
The NIH Federal Credit Union is open in Bldg. 10 and is expanding hours of operation from 2 days (Wednesday and Friday) to 3 days a week (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) in mid-April. The Bldg. 31 Credit Union will reopen 2 days a week (Thursday and Friday). There currently are no short-term plans on reopening the branches at Shady Grove/NCI or at Fisher’s Lane.
FAES retail operations in Bldg. 10—the atrium gift shop and bookstore by the Coffee Bar and the employee store on B1—are open Monday through Friday. R&W retail stores are expected to reopen later this spring.
“That will provide time to gauge what days of the week will have more traffic,” said R&W co-president David Browne. “There’s a chance I can set up opportunities for people to come to the store in late-April, at least to pick up online orders…We’ll see.”
To keep tabs on the changing status of campus services, see: https://employees.nih.gov/pages/coronavirus/status-campus-services.aspx.
If the big return seems overwhelming, you are not alone. You’ll find tips on managing the stress at https://employees.nih.gov/pages/coronavirus/how-to-cope.aspx.