BEAUFORT, MOREHEAD CITY — As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spur agencies, organizations and institutes to ramp up safety measures, local marine labs are locking down and turning to virtual classes.

In Carteret County, there are three university-affiliated marine research labs – the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, the N.C. State University Center for Marine Sciences and Technology and the Duke University Marine Lab – and one federal facility, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Southeast Fisheries Science Center, which houses staff from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Ocean Service.

On March 19, DUML Director Dr. Andy Read issued a notice the Duke lab was closing at 5 p.m. March 20 until further notice.

“We’re taking this measure to allow all our students, staff and faculty to stay home and practice social distancing in an effort to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus,” Dr. Read said. “After we close tomorrow (March 20), security will be stationed at the lab entrance and only essential personnel will be allowed to access campus.”

While the lab is closed, classes are still being held. Dr. Read said online classes were scheduled to start Monday.

“We have a great group of folks who are working to keep us all connected while the lab is closed through virtual events, including seminars, MMISS and more,” he said.

Dr. Read said updates on the situation from Duke University would be made available at coronavirus.duke.edu.

“These are unprecedented times,” he said, “and I’m asking for your patience and understanding as we move forward together. We can all do our part to limit the effects of COVID-19 by staying at home and limiting our contact with others.”

DUML is situated on Pivers Island, next to the NOAA Beaufort lab. NOAA public affairs specialist Jerry Slaff said the NOAA lab is following U.S. Department of Commerce and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, which includes “employing maximum telework.”

“The health and safety of our employees and our community is paramount,” Mr. Slaff said. “Through these efforts, we’re maintaining mission-essential lab functions, such as care of living organisms (fish and algal cultures) and lab safety walkthroughs and emergency repairs.”

Meanwhile, to the west in Morehead City, UNC-IMS Director Dr. Rick Luettich said in an email March 19 to the News-Times that according to UNC’s policy in response to the coronavirus outbreak, as of March 19 the institute was officially open, but “requiring everyone to work from home, teach and hold meetings remotely, and cease any work related travel out of North Carolina.”

“All lab-based research or core activity that isn’t designated as critical research activity is being ramped down, curtailed, suspended or delayed as expeditiously as possible,” he said. “As of now (March 19), we don’t know whether any IMS research falls under the critical category, although it would only be a small amount, if any.”

Dr. Luettich said the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic are affecting the institute’s ability to perform its normal activities.

“However, we’re making the best of the situation and realize that these are steps we must take to help protect the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff and the community we live in,” he said. “I’m hopeful that if we all do our parts, the disruption will be sufficiently short lived that we can quickly recover from its impacts once the threat has passed.”

Just down the road on Arendell Street from UNC-IMS is CMAST. There, Director Dr. Dave Eggleston said March 17 CMAST faculty and instructors – like those at UNC-IMS and DUML – are holding online courses instead of face-to-face lessons in the classrooms.

“We’re developing continuity plans for instruction for the remainder of the semester,” Dr. Eggleston said. “The students will be moving out of their dorms unless and exception is made. Research activities will continue, with the caveat that research will not involve groups, and have extremely limited travel (in-state only).”

Dr. Eggleston said he hasn’t received guidance from NCSU main campus as of March 17 on extension activities. However, he said he expects they’ll be “extremely limited.”

“This situation is very fluid,” Dr. Eggleston said, “and has been changing on a near daily basis.” 

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt. 

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