Frequently Asked Questions

Presence on campus

What is the long term plan for campus operations?

We have to continuously adapt our operations to the current risk. The guiding principle is to be more cautious than the government—but not excessively so. Our prime goal is to keep the campus operational and open. Priorities on campus are:

  • critical infrastructure; e.g. animals, sample storage, instrumentation maintenance
  • experimental sciences and ongoing construction work
  • theoretical sciences and teaching that require interactions
What does it mean to avoid social contacts?

Please avoid gatherings and unnecessary interactions with others and keep a maximum distance (at least 1m, preferably 2m) at all times:

  • On the way to campus e.g. in the shuttlebus.
  • At work: at the bench, during all support work like delivering or picking up stuff, cleaning, repair work etc., and in the office.
  • During breaks, in washing rooms etc.
  • In elevators with a maximum of one person per elevator ride. Generally, elevators should only be used for transport purposes.

Limit the time at the Institute to work purposes. Only employees and contractors are allowed in any building, the supervisor must approve any visitors.

Am I allowed to prepare my lunch in the tea-kitchen?

Yes, please keep the tea-kitchens clean and put your used utensils directly in the dishwasher after you are done with them. The social areas on campus are still open, but please do not forget keeping appropriate distance at any time.

Can I use the Cafeteria on campus?

The Cafeteria remains open for the time being. Please adhere to the registration procedures with your IST card at its entrance, wear a mask if not at your table, and to keep a distance of at least 1m.

How many people per group/admin team are allowed on campus at a given time?

Our highest priority remains to keep the campus accessible to those, whose science depends on it, and to keep the campus safe for those who live on campus, those who must come to campus in order to advance their research and training, and those who are needed to support them.

Therefore, home office is the default working mode. The presence on campus is strictly limited to activities that cannot be conducted at home. The stay on campus must also be as short as possible. Best make notes with whom you are interacting on and off campus for potential contact tracing.

In case of controls when commuting, carry your IST Austria ID (the one with the picture) with you or a work confirmation from your supervisor. However, currently no limit per group/admin team is defined.

If you do not need to come to campus for one of the above stated reasons, please talk to your supervisor and make arrangements for staying at home. If you do come to campus, please remember that both your on-campus and off-campus behavior matters when it comes to preventing the transmission of the virus. A certain fraction of people is vulnerable to the virus and you or your co-worker may belong to this group without being aware of it.

I just got a slight cold; nevertheless, I can go to the campus to run my experiment, right?

No, only fully healthy staff members are allowed to come to the campus.

I am a supervisor, do I have to know which employee is on campus at which time?

Yes, please make sure that employees enter the dates and time frames they are on campus in their calendars or another common list you set up, so you are informed about their whereabouts. Recording all close social contacts on and off campus also helps for contact tracing in case of an infection.

As was discussed with the PIs, scientists should send this information daily to corona_presence@ist.ac.at.

Admin and SSU staff should also track home office work in the DPW time sheets.

How does the Library Service work now?

For up-to-date information, please consult the library’s website.

Can we establish a higher frequency of the shuttle bus to reduce passenger density?

No. The shuttle bus is not operated by IST but by Lower Austria in order to support IST Austria. We can control neither the frequency or schedule nor the operational rules on public transport.

Consider to use the bus off peak hours, i.e. before 9am or after 10am.

Working Remotely

You must always inform your supervisor in advance about working remotely and they have to approve it.

What if I am working from home and need IT support?

Our IT services are prepared to provide remote support in case you need assistance at it@ist.ac.at or +4322439000 1300.

For more information please see the comprehensive IT guide on working remotely or its shorter quick start version.

Can I take research equipment home to continue my work?

If you are taking home any IST equipment, please inform your supervisor beforehand.

In case of IT equipment (screens, etc.) report the equipment to it@ist.ac.at indicating the QR-code (example below) usually stuck on the back of the object. This is not necessary for laptops and mobile phones.

For other equipment, write to invoice@ist.ac.at and state the asset number (example below), also usually stuck on the back of the object. If no asset number is stated, describe the piece of equipment. Return the items once we switch back from working remotely.

In any case, please report the items. The guideline for asset inventory always applies.

Example QR code:

Example asset number:

What regulations apply to admin/SSU staff for working remotely? (Update on October 2, 2020)

The handling and measures set out below will be extended under the same conditions until January 31, 2021.

Kindly note that this measure is taken on a voluntary basis and at the sole discretion of the Institute without any legal entitlement. It will not constitute to a legal entitlement to the same or similar measure in the future. As of February 1, 2021 the teleworking guideline of the Institute will come into force again.

Working flexibly from home will still be supported based on approval by supervisors to reduce overall presence on campus. The extend of teleworking needs to be discussed and approved by the supervisor in advance and can exceed the currently valid guideline for teleworking (one day a week).

Please continue to follow the time management handling mentioned below:

  • Please record your working hours as usual in dpw and choose in the field absence “Home Office” if you work from home. If you work on Campus just record your working hours as usual.
  • If your child is sick and you cannot work please inform your supervisor and hr.administration@ist.ac.at. This is regarded as a “normal” care exemption (Pflegefreistellung).
  • If you are sick and cannot work please inform your supervisor and hr.administration@ist.ac.at. Sickness confirmations can be requested by telephone until further notice.
  • Overtime compensation or vacation can be requested as usual and agreed between supervisor and employee. Please request those absences as usual via dpw.

Please note that during teleworking our flextime agreement is still valid. (Employees with childcare duties may arrange other working times with their supervisor.)

Core working time is as follows: Monday to Thursday: 9.45am to 3.30pm, Friday 9.45am till 1.30pm. Our flextime framework: Monday to Friday 7am to 8pm.

For additional information on teleworking please refer to our guideline on teleworking: https://wiki.ist.ac.at/index.php/Rules_and_Guidelines#Alternating_Teleworking

Each employee who works from home is fully insured within the social security system in Austria. All agreements of employment contracts remain valid. Only the place of work is temporarily moved from the Institute to the private residence in order to support the national containment strategy.

Please get in touch with HR (humanresources@ist.ac.at) in case you have any questions.

What is special care time and how can I request those days?

The Austrian government has published a new regulation on special care during the crisis. The regulation at IST is analogous and can be agreed upon with your supervisor if necessary:

  • Special care time applies under the condition that there is a duty to provide necessary care for at least one child under 14 years of age or a disabled person and if the institution or school/childcare facility where the care is normally provided is closed in whole or in part (e.g. classes or groups) due to official measures.
  • Special care time cannot be used for times when these facilities would be closed anyway, e.g. during school vacations.
  • Employees must notify the employer immediately after the closure is known and do everything reasonable to ensure that the agreed work performance is achieved.
  • Necessity of care: The entitlement only exists if the care of the child is necessary, i.e. if no other caregiver is available. Only in cases where there are no alternative childcare options is there a claim to special care time.
  • In case of quarantine: Special care time can also be claimed if the child for whom care is compulsory is separated (= has to be placed in officially ordered quarantine).
  • The special care period is valid from November 1, 2020 and runs until 9 July 9, 2021 (end of the school year 2020/2021)
  • The entitlement is 4 weeks in total. It is not allowed that both parents take special care time at the same time – but it is allowed that the parents do this one after the other.
  • Special care time can be taken for whole days.

How to request a special care time day? – You can request a special care time day the same way, you would request a vacation day in our time recording system DPW. Therefore please choose “sb” instead of “u” (for vacation) as an absence.

Please contact your supervisor if the need for special childcare arises. Wherever possible and based on job tasks and responsibilities, we will continue to provide the best possible support with a flexible organization of working hours and location. If additional care taking time is needed please get in touch with your supervisor.

If you have any further questions, please contact hr.administration@ist.ac.at .

Am I insured while working in home office in Austria?

As a general rule working from home should always be approved by your supervisor in advance. If you are working remotely from home in Austria, then your existing insurance will continue to be upright and you do not need to do anything else.

Can I work remotely from outside of Austria?

Also as a general rule, if you would like to work remotely from abroad, you always need to check back with HR upon obtaining the approval of your supervisor because HR needs to verify the request from various legal point of views. After completion of the verification you will be notified by HR if the request meets all legal requirements or if there are any restrictions due to different legal regulations.

What insurance do I have if I get stuck abroad due to travel restrictions?

In case if you are stuck abroad due to the current pandemic and if you are working remotely from abroad please see below the regulations with regards to your insurance:

  1. EU, EEA countries, Switzerland and UK

If someone is stuck in another EU or EEA country and Switzerland they are still covered within the Austrian social security system. The UK is also included to this coverage until December 31, 2020 according to the current legal information.

Someone who has been employed in Austria for one year can request an e-card with the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) on the back (before that, it is filled in with asterisks only) and it is a proof of insurance within the EU for visiting contracted doctors and contracted hospitals. If someone does not yet have an EHIC on the back of their e-card, they can request a temporary certificate as a substitution for the EHIC from the ÖGK.

If the contracted doctors or contracted hospitals shouldn’t accept the EHIC than please pay the invoices abroad and ask for reimbursement at the ÖGK in Austria upon return. The ÖGK verifies if a cost replacement is possible. Please note that up to maximum 80 % of the costs that have occurred can get replaced by the ÖGK. Furthermore the verification of the costs are based on a comparable sickness treatment that would have been provided in Austria.

The invoice has to be readable and comprehensible and must include the following information:

  • Name and address of the doctor/ hospital
  • Name and social insurance number of the patient (see e-card)
  • Detailed description of the medical services performed and diagnosis
  • Statement of the fee as well as separate statement of any additional costs for medications and medical aids
  • Separate statement of taxes and dues
  • Place and date of service provision
  • Signature and stamp of the treating doctor
  • Date of invoice
  • In case of local cash payment, please ensure a receipt for the paid amount to be is issued (“received in cash”). Otherwise you have to attach a payment confirmation (e.g. a bank statement).
  1. Third countries

Outside of the European area including Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and UK until December 31, 2020 or in case of utilization of a non-statutory health insurance-accredited doctor of your choice, the costs for treatment on the part of the employee must be paid at the doctor’s locally and directly by the employee.

For the refunding of the costs paid locally, a readable and comprehensible invoice must be provided with all the details described above and in original version.

  1. Business trip accident and health insurance of IST

If someone travels for private premises, the business trip insurance of IST Austria does not apply anyway, independent of the current situation. If someone has indeed traveled somewhere as a business trip and is now stuck there and cannot come back to Austria, then the Business trip insurance is applicable and will cover most expenses (that is, on top of the statutory insurance).

I need to care of my kids because of a lockdown, are there any support measures in place?

The special care period is valid from November 1, 2020, and runs until July 9, 2021, the end of the school year 2020/2021. More details can be found here on the EHS page.

Contact your supervisor if a need for special childcare arises due to the lockdown. Wherever possible and based on job tasks and responsibilities, we will continue to provide the best possible support with a flexible organization of working hours and location. If additional care-taking time is needed please agree on that with your supervisor.

Special care time applies under the condition that there is a duty to provide necessary care for at least one child under 14 years of age or a disabled person and if the institution or school/childcare facility where the care is normally provided is partly or completely closed (e.g. classes or groups) due to official measures.

Due to the new regulations regarding special care time (Sonderbetreuungszeit) valid for parents from November 1, 2020 until July 9, 2021, who have children under the age of 14, HR has installed a technical solution in the time recording system (DPW). If you require special care time place your request like for vacation days, but discuss it first with your supervisor. Only full days can be entered.

Hygiene measures

What does good hygiene practice mean?

Apart from keeping enough distance to other people, it is crucial to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap. Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose. Also regularly use the disinfectant provided on campus.

Sneeze and cough only into your elbow and disinfect potentially contaminated areas, including equipment, immediately.

Open office windows regularly (approx. every hour for 10 min) to exchange the air in the room and make a plan to remember to do it.

What about shared computers and desks in lab spaces; can I use them?

Whenever possible use your own laptop at your desk or shift task on the computer to the home office.

After completion of your work, disinfect all commonly used workspaces and equipment by putting the appropriate disinfectant on a tissue and wiping all surfaces and contact points with it. Do not spray disinfectant directly onto the equipment. Follow the rules of the facilities to avoid damaging the equipment!

Do I have to wear a facemask at all times?

Facemasks covering mouth and nose need to be worn at the Institute whenever another person could be encountered; e.g. on the hallway, in social areas, in the shuttlebus etc. Exceptions apply only while sitting at your own desk or when eating at a table. Also, wear a mask during encounters outdoors. ! New specification regarding protective measures by the government published on Dec 16: Masks are to be worn indoors at all times if physical contact to others cannot be ruled out, typically if you share working spaces with others or outside of your working space like corridors, tea kitchens, etc

Where do I get my facemask?

Facemasks can be ordered from the central storage via ISTOS and they will be distributed via the self-service boxes. You are also allowed to wear your own masks.

How do I properly use my facemask?

Facemasks primarily protect others in case you are infected and help you to avoid unintentionally touching your face. They are not considered personal protective equipment. Facemasks must cover both your mouth and your nose.

Facemasks should be worn for a maximum of 4 hours and should be changed earlier if damp.

In case you want to dispose of your mask, put it into closed waste bag. You can find appropriate disposal bins at the entrances of the buildings on campus.

How does the air ventilation on campus work?

On campus, we only have fresh air ventilation systems. The fresh air is filtered in two steps to also reduce aerosols. In all labs, we have high performance cross-flow heat exchangers. For the offices, high performance rotary heat exchangers are in use.

Nevertheless regularly open the windows of your office is a good habit. Please do not forget to close them again before you are leaving.

Travel

Please check the information of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs on travel restrictions https://www.bmeia.gv.at/en/travel-stay/travel-warnings/ carefully before booking and actually going on a business trip.

Important: The status of the country or of a specific region within the country can change at short notice.

Can I travel privately?

When going on private trips please make sure you have informed yourself about all travel and re-entry restrictions to Austria due to the Covid-19 situation and plan your vacation accordingly. In case you are in doubt please talk to your supervisor and/or HR. For private travel, we highly recommend to check in advance the insurance coverage with your travel insurance company.

What about travel restrictions in other countries when I travel from Austria?

Numerous European countries are updating their travel alert status. Therefore, please double-check the currently valid regulations before you travel any place. While entry from Austria into another country most likely is not prohibited, it does entail the proof of recent tests and/or quarantine periods.

Events

Are there events taking place on campus?

Events on campus are all shifted online. This includes various lectures, school visits and other major public events. For further details, please contact the Events team at eventoffice@ist.ac.at.

What kinds of events can I hold?

Almost all events are shifted to online events. For more information and potential support, please get in contact with the Events team at eventoffice@ist.ac.at.

Studying

The Graduate School Website has its own Covid-19 Information page, which collects status updates for students, a FAQ-page and a guideline-PDF that offers recommendations on teaching and courses, research, exams, remote work, as well as general recommendations in times of Covid-19.

Exposure to Covid-19

What does the Covid-19 traffic light system (Corona Ampel) mean?

The “Corona Ampel” is Austria’s regional assessment of the epidemic situation regarding Covid-19. It is a traffic light system that was rolled out by the government indicating infection risks in all Austrian districts (except for Vienna, which is treated as one single district) and the measures arising from the risk level. Typically, the authorities do a new risk evaluation on Thursdays and announce it on Fridays.

You can find map of Austria with the traffic light status of each district in German at https://corona-ampel.gv.at. The Vienna-based publication “Metropole” offers a daily update on Covid-related news, developments, rules and regulations in English at https://metropole.at/coronavirus-in-austria/.

When is an infected person contagious?

Contagiousness usually exists from 48 hours before the onset of the disease (i.e. the onset of symptoms) to 10 days after the onset of the disease or, in asymptomatic cases, from 48 hours before to 10 days after specimen collection which resulted in a positive test result.

What is a “contact person” (German: Kontaktperson)?

A contact person (German: Kontaktperson), i.e. a suspected infected person, is someone with contact to someone who is confirmed COVID-19 positive during the period of contagiousness.

What is a K1 contact?

K1 or Category 1-contact persons (German: “Kategorie I-Kontaktpersonen”) are contact persons with a very high-risk exposure.

  • Persons living in a shared household -persons with conversational contacts under 2 meters and longer than 15 minutes
  • People who have been in a closed room together with a positively tested person at a distance of less than 2 meters and 15 minutes or longer
  • People who were exposed to a relevant concentration of aerosols with a high probability regardless of distance (e.g. celebrating, singing together or doing sports indoors)
  • People with direct contact to secretions (e.g. coughing)
  • People with direct body contact (shaking hands)
  • Direct seat neighbors in the airplane or other long-distance means of transportation, like coach or train
  • Persons who cumulatively had face-to-face contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case for 15 minutes or more in a distance ≤2 meters (especially household contacts)
  • Persons who have been in the same room (e.g. classroom, meeting room, rooms of a health facility) with a confirmed case at a distance ≤ 2 meters for 15 minutes or longer.
  • Persons with the following types of contact in an aircraft or other long-distance means of transport such as coach or train:
  • Passengers who were direct neighbors of the confirmed case, regardless of the travel time.
  • Crew members or other passengers, provided one of the other criteria applies upon indication of the confirmed case (e.g. longer conversation; or similar).
  • Persons who, regardless of distance, were likely to be exposed to a relevant concentration of aerosols (e.g. celebrating, singing together or playing sports indoors) or had unprotected, direct contact with infectious secretions of a confirmed case.
  • Persons who had direct physical contact (e.g. shaking hands) with a confirmed case.
What do I have to consider as a K1?

You should be quarantined until the 10th day after the last contact with the person tested positive.

  • If you have symptoms like a cough, fever or breathing difficulties or you notice any of the mentioned symptoms, call 1450 and inform EHS at ehs@lists.ist.ac.at, +43 2243 9000 1087 or +43 2243 9000 2244. In this case you are considered a suspected case and should be tested for Covid-19.
  • If your test result is positive (confirmed case), quarantine begins anew from the onset of symptoms or the date your sample collection that led to the positive test result was taken.
  • If the test result is negative, the quarantine is still maintained until 10 days after the last contact with the person who tested positive. You could still fall ill during this time.
What is a K2 contact?

K2 or Category 2-contact persons (in German “Kategorie II-Kontaktpersonen”) are contact persons with a low-risk exposure.

  • Persons who have had cumulative face-to-face contact with a confirmed case for less than 15 minutes at a distance of ≤2 meters
  • Persons who have been in the same room (e.g. classroom, meeting room, health care facility rooms) with a confirmed case at a distance >2 meters for 15 minutes or longer or at a distance of ≤ 2 meters for less than 15 minutes
  • Persons who have been on the same aircraft or other long distance means of transport such as coach or train as a confirmed case.
What do I have to consider as a K2?
  • Observe your state of health up to the 10th day after the last contact with the positive tested person, check your body temperature once a day (potentially write it down in a “diary”)
  • Reduce personal contacts to third parties and note the direct contacts/conversations you knowingly made
  • Keep your distance in personal contact and pay special attention to hygiene measures
  • If you experience coughing, fever or breathing difficulties or notice any of the mentioned symptoms, call 1450 and inform EHS at ehs@lists.ist.ac.at, +43 2243 9000 1087 or +43 2243 9000 2244. A test will be arranged. In this case you are a suspected case and must stay at home.
  • If the test result is negative, the usual procedure in case of illness applies: stay at home until the symptoms subside.
  • If the test result is positive (confirmed case), the health authorities will order a 10-day home quarantine.
What is a suspected case (German: Verdachtsfall)?

A suspectes case (German: Verdachtsfall) is any person, who meets the clinical criteria of an infection with Covid-19.

What is a confirmed case (German: bestätigter Fall)?

A confirmed case (German: bestätigter Fall) is any person with direct laboratory diagnostic evidence of SARS-CoV-2, regardless of symptoms.

What if I show Covid-19 symptoms on campus?

In case you or a colleague feel sick with respiratory symptoms or fever on campus, please avoid contact with anyone else and immediately call EHS at ehs@lists.ist.ac.at, +43 2243 9000 1087 or +43 2243 9000 2244. We will support you during the further steps.

What if I show Covid-19 symptoms at home?

In case you or a colleague feel sick with respiratory symptoms or fever at home, please do the following:

  1. Stay at home.
  2. Call the Covid-19 24h hotline of the national health service at 1450 (without any area code). Ask for an English speaking operator if necessary. They will give you further instructions.
  3. Inform EHS at ehs@lists.ist.ac.at, +43 2243 9000 1087 or +43 2243 9000 2244.
How should I proceed if I may have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus?

If you think you or somebody you live with might have been exposed to Covid-19, you may be considered a K1 or K2 contact. Please do the following:

  1. Stay at home.
  2. Call the Covid-19 24h hotline of the national health service at 1450 (without any area code). Ask for an English speaking operator if necessary. They will give you further instructions.
  3. Inform EHS at ehs@lists.ist.ac.at, +43 2243 9000 1087 or +43 2243 9000 2244.
When do I need to self-isolate?

If you show any symptoms and/or got the information to be a K1 contact, you should go into self-quarantine.

Can I come back to work if I get a negative Covid-19 test result?

No, in case you are a K1. Even with a negative test you should stick to the 10 days quarantine after your last contact to the infected.

Yes, in case you have shown symptoms and already recovered.

How does the contact tracing work on campus?

If there is a positive case on campus, we will inform K1 contacts and ask them to go into self-isolation until we receive the case’s test results. The authorities then will prescribe further measures such as quarantine depending on the test results.

Additionally, we strongly recommend that everyone who met with these K1 contacts also self-isolates. At least they should minimizes any close contact and monitor their health status.

How do you handle personal data?

EHS needs to report positive cases to the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research via the central registration system.

We will keep employees of IST Austria updated as quickly as possible about anything, which may affect their studies, research, or work. In order to protect the privacy of those involved, we are not publicizing the specific persons who are affected.

The authorities will inform you if you are part of a household with a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 or EHS will contact you if you need to self-isolate for other reasons. If you are not directly told to self-isolate, you are not considered to be at immediate risk.

However, it is important that you follow the Institute’s guidelines for physical distancing, as well as any other safety measures and instruction provided by EHS.

Testing for the Covid-19 Virus

Apart from social distancing, hygiene, masks and a strict stay home when sick policy, a population-wide diagnostic regime is an essential pillar in the fight against Covid. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we are in constant discussions internally, with the Ministry of Health and with other institutions if/when a Covid monitoring program makes sense for IST. Below is some background information and some arguments we deem relevant.

Frequently asked questions about testing

1) By testing every IST employee (at least) twice a week we can identify pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic spreaders

This is a very strong argument for random testing and only conclusive data on this issue will determine if this pro outweighs other cons. We have to constantly weigh this argument against others. Current state: although asymptomatics can have high viral load, there is no indication that asymptomatics are strong drivers of the pandemic.

2) We have biology labs, could we PCR test ourselves?

True in principle: it is feasible to copy paste the workflow of other places or establish our own. However, note that we currently have neither the lab-equipment nor the personnel nor the allowance (accreditation). Also consider that the actual lab work is the easier (and cheaper) part of the whole workflow, while the main challenge is sampling, logistics, quality control, reporting etc.. IST would have to invest in instrumentation and personnel.

3) Testing is expensive, but if we do it ourselves it is cheap

This is not correct. We are a highly powered and top-equipped publicly funded research institution. If we perform routine tests with highly repetitive workflows, a full cost calculation (how much does the taxpayer have to pay for each test) will tell us that our costs per test are very high.

4) Rapid antigen tests are quick and easy; could we offer these?

Yes. However, it is too early to say if such tests are an adequate tool for testing asymptomatic persons. And asymptomatic persons are the only ones we would want to have on campus as a strict “stay-home when sick” policy is a very strong tool (and we can afford to implement it at IST – see also last point 12).

5) If we would offer testing, everybody would /should participate

We know that participation at Vienna Biocenter is relatively high – but far from complete. One might speculate that IST will be lower because in general awareness seems highest in the life sciences. If participation is incomplete (as mask wearing is incomplete at IST), there will be a strong sampling bias in the test results: the more aware and more careful people are more likely to test regularly – we might repeatedly test the people who are epidemiologically not relevant and miss the relevant ones.

6) Testing vs. home office

Regular testing collides with home office. E.g. if we would test theorists or administration employees that can also do their work from home, we would invest institute funds in order to limit the damage caused by non-compliance of our employees (something difficult to justify). Moreover, testing on campus would dis-incentivize home office.

7) We should test at IST because the interactive nature of scientific work makes us a risk group

IST employees are low risk because: on average, we are very young; the nature of the work does not require physical interaction (as opposed to schools, health care or professions with customer contact etc. Known super-spreading events happened in settings that are not required for the work we do); much of our work is highly suitable for home office; our work is not system relevant in an acute sense; our buildings have high air change rate; as we are a scientific institution, awareness and overall compliance is above average.

8) With monitoring we can prevent that a floor or building or the institute is shut down

This is only true under the assumption that we have very high on-campus transmission. Cases coming in from outside we cannot prevent. These will always co-fluctuate with Vienna / Lower Austria. If there is a major outbreak we will have to follow authorities anyways and testing will not help to prevent shutdown.

9) If we test, who would carry the costs

IST is completely tax payer funded. The institute receives federal funds to fulfill its mission to do cutting edge research etc. It is within the discretion of the institute’s leadership that a (limited) part of this money can be dedicated to the health and well-being of employees (childcare, gym, pub etc.). Hence, costs would be carried by the taxpayer and would have to be deduced from our research budget. Alternatively, employees would have to pay.

10) Potential effects of Covid-19 monitoring on employees well-being

A negative test creates a feeling of safety and thus might have a calming effect on otherwise nervous institute members. On the flip side: every feeling of safety is false as false-negative rates are high and tests are only snapshots. This false feeling of safety might undermine the only known and proven strategies (distance, hygiene, masks, stay home when sick) that prevent actual virus transmission.

11) Potential effects of monitoring on compliance regarding masks, hygiene, distance, stay home policy

Note that we could only do screening of asymptomatics but never diagnostics. When we offer free testing on campus there is a danger that these procedures are confused. Simply speaking: there would be an incentive for somebody with symptoms (or somebody who had contact with a positive person) to come to IST and get a free, quick and uncomplicated test. Here, the remote location of IST (public transport) might be an exacerbating factor.

12) As a scientific institution we should be role models for fighting Covid-19 and set up a structure that provides maximum safety

This is true – especially when it comes to adequate behavior. When it comes to testing this has a down side: Free testing for everybody does not scale. Testing everybody twice a week would be logistically, resource-wise and financially completely impossible for a whole country. If we make testing free at IST we would put us in a very privileged position – and we would do so with taxpayer money.

One could argue that we use resources that others might need more urgently. This is a serious argument especially as a) our employees are on average low risk (point 7) and b) IST can be very generous with home office as the possible decrease of productivity has proven to be acceptable so far (as opposed to a school, hospital, manufacturing company and even a university). In other words, whenever there is a high risk, employees can work from home. As others do not have this possibility, one could argue: if IST invests in testing, it should rather test critical infrastructures like schools, hospitals etc. but not its own employees.

Testing Methods

Broadly speaking there are three categories of tests:

Detecting virus RNA: the widely used test is PCR based. It is the most sensitive test because it amplifies virus RNA (via DNA). Many alternative RNA detection tests are in earlier stages of development/application (many are Cas9-based). The PCR method as such is very sensitive. The main source of false negatives results (somebody has the virus but tests negative – see below) is not failure to detect the RNA in a sample but the sample itself. The gold standard to take the sample is to take a deep nasal swab (uncomfortable, has to be done by trained personnel). Alternatively pharyngeal swabs, gurgling or spitting is used. Sensitivity is probably lower with gurgling, pharyngeal swabs and spitting but there are no conclusive data yet. For screening purposes, pooled tests are sometimes used (sensitivity even lower). In general, PCR tests are resource intensive, relatively slow and expensive. Many alternative RNA detection tests are isothermal, hence cheaper and faster – but less sensitive.

Detecting virus antigens: “Rapid antigen tests” They detect virus-derived non-DNA antigens. These tests are relatively new and numerous products enter the market. Such tests are quick and cheap (“like a pregnancy test”). Like in RNA testing, the sample has to be taken by trained medical personnel. As this test does not amplify the antigen, sensitivity is currently lower.

Detecting virus antibodies: a blood test that detects the humoral (antibody based) immune response a person developed against the virus. This can only be positive with a time-delay, usually when the person is not infectious anymore. In other words, it tells you if you have had the virus. Antibody tests have to be interpreted with much care.

Antibodies
  • If a person has antibodies, it is likely that the person has had an infection (although there are some cross-reactivities with other Corona viruses).
  • If a person has no antibodies, it does not necessarily mean that that this person did not have the virus because humoral immune responses a) can be minimal or absent when the infection was weak or asymptomatic and b) taper off with time.
  • A person who had the virus and has no antibodies can still be immune because there is cellular immunity (T cells) that can protect.
  • If a person has antibodies it does not mean that the person is 100% immune, as not all antibody responses neutralize the virus.
Diagnostic testing vs. monitoring

As a flawed testing regime naturally does more harm than no testing, testing underlies strict quality control.

Diagnostics is strictly in the hands of the medical system. Diagnostics requires a workflow that is fully accredited. This includes sample taking, sample transport, the actual labwork, documentation, reporting to patient, doctor and health authorities etc. IST could not be accredited for diagnostic testing.

What Vienna Biocenter etc. are doing is not diagnostics but a procedure termed “monitoring”. In case of a positive result in this screen, the person is alerted (anonymous to the testing institution) and can (but does not have to) then turn to the healthcare system and get a diagnostic test. Monitoring also needs accreditation (but at a lower level).

Antigen testing

Antigen tests have low sensitivity (false negatives) and using them to screen asymptomatic volunteers would therefore only add a small safety-gain for our institute. At the same time these tests are incompatible with our currently very extensive and strict policy to handle (self)quarantines because they have low specificity: the false positive rate of antigen tests is around 2%, which would lead to a significant number of people (and consequently also their contacts) to be quarantined. As long as we do not relax this quarantine-regime (which we know from last year’s experience is effective), we cannot recommend antigen tests for broadly testing asymptomatic volunteers on campus. The situation is certainly different when it comes to targeted testing and we are prepared to react immediately should we have an infection cluster at IST.

If you did an antigen test and tested positive, please report to EHS and self quarantine immediately. You should then get an “official” PCR test to confirm positivity. If the follow-up PCR test is negative EHS will discuss with you individually how to proceed.

RNA-based testing

While RNA testing is the gold standard in diagnostics, it is by no means sufficient to tell you that you do not have the virus. The false negative rate is substantial. Epidemiologically, false negatives are a big problem (while false positives – which do happen – are unpleasant for the individual but not so much for the population). False negative numbers are still controversially discussed but this is probably the biggest meta-study on the topic – published in “Annals of Internal Medicine”:

https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-1495

“…the probability of a false-negative result in an infected person decreases from 100% (95% CI, 100% to 100%) on day 1 (the day you are infected) to 67% (CI, 27% to 94%) on day 4. On the day of symptomonset, the median false-negative rate was 38% (CI, 18% to 65%). This decreased to 20% (CI, 12% to 30%) on day 8 (3 days after symptom onset) then began to increase again, from 21% (CI, 13% to 31%) on day 9 to 66% (CI, 54% to 77%) on day 21…”

There are some studies that are more “optimistic” about false negative rates in PCR tests, but the bottom line is: RNA (and antigen) testing is a snapshot with high failure rate and to capture an event, testing has to repeated with high frequency. The (often-used) strategy to release a symptomatic person with typical symptoms from quarantine because one test was negative is epidemiologically very risky – as for almost all diseases, diagnostics should not be based on one parameter.

Quantitative considerations:There are no conclusive data yet about the quantitative correlation between 1) being PCR positive 2) being positive in an antigen test 3) being symptomatic and 4) being contagious. There is no conclusive study suggesting that asymptomatic spreaders are major drivers of the pandemic. There is some hope (but no good data yet) that the “rapid antigen test” pulls out the problematic cases because it might have a detection threshold that is similar to the threshold required for virus transmission. Similarly, quantitative PCR tests that measure the RNA load might make predictions on how infectious a person is.

Testing strategies

Independent of the type of test there are two general categories:

  • Targeted testing: Testing people with symptoms and testing people who were in direct contact with a positive person.
  • Random testing: Randomly testing asymptomatic people.

It is important to note that any test can only be done on a voluntary basis. With current legislation, IST could not “force” employees to get a Covid-19 test.

What we could and could not do at IST

What IST could do: Monitoring asymptomatic persons (volunteers) as done e.g. at Vienna Biocenter in their monitoring program (see above). This could mean: a) offer tests to everybody and b) offer tests to select subgroups. This could be a lottery or a group under special acute or chronic risk (like an extended contact group, a team, a floor, a building, an age-group etc.).

What IST could not do: Targeted testing (symptomatics and direct contacts) is prohibited at IST because a) symptomatic persons and anyone who was in contact with a positive person should not come to campus (strict “stay home when sick” policy) and b) targeted testing needs to be diagnostic testing.

What the epidemiologists say

The general recommendation of epidemiologists is against random testing, see e.g. the German Robert Koch Institute:

https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/InfAZ/N/Neuartiges_Coronavirus/Vorl_Testung_nCoV.html

The relevant citation: “Von einer ungezielten Testung von asymptomatischen Personen wird aufgrund der unklaren Aussagekraft eines negativen Ergebnisses (lediglich Momentaufnahme) in der Regel abgeraten.” “We advise against broad random testing of asymptomatic persons because of the low indicative value of a negative result as it constitutes only a snapshot.”

Random testing does not scale as it is indefinitely resource intensive – every human would need to be tested at least twice a week (better every day). Hence, the strategy recommended by the majority of epidemiologists is to only do targeted testing and restrict random testing of asymptomatic persons to specific high-risk groups like infection clusters, health workers etc. It is not common practice at hospitals to randomly test all employees.

General remarks on the spending of tax payer money

What we can do: Fund research and innovation. Whenever there is an idea with scientific content and motivation, we can provide the funds and the internal support to bring this idea to fruition. It is almost by definition that this idea (and the project lead) has to come from a scientist, not an administrator. It is the same as for almost any grant that is submitted to an outside funding agency: it has to come from a scientist. When it comes to Covid testing this means: if we want to monitor the institute we could do so (and internally fund it) if this is a pilot-project to implement a scientifically novel approach (a novel test, a parallelization of known workflows, a screening for virus mutants… this is what they do at Biocenter and CeMM). Whenever we internally fund projects like this, it is good practice that every such project (be it a Covid testing project or a technical solution for our shuttle bus usage) goes through rigorous internal evaluation. Hence, the AVID program we set up at IST.

What needs rigorous scrutiny:Use institute funds to finance employee benefits. If a testing program does not fit the slot of “research and innovation” because we outsource it (e.g. to a company or also a peer institution like Biocenter) we are no different from any other taxpayer funded entity. This means, we would have to justify why it is specifically important that we receive (or allow us) such special treatment but not others (employees of a sewage plant, nursing home, hospital or school).

Vaccination

With immediate effect it is possible to register for free vaccinations.

As a resident of Vienna go to this Vienna registration website (in English). For more information on vaccinations in Vienna in German see here.

For Lower Austria to this Lower Austria registration website (in German).

The sequence of the vaccinations is organized according to health risk factors. Both provinces state the second quarter of 2021 as vaccination phase for members of the public without specific health risks. Once you have been assigned for vaccination you will be informed automatically via your chosen contact mode about time and location. 

Independent of this registration, we will inform you if and when the government decides to enable vaccinations directly at organizations like IST Austria.

What are the phases of the national vaccination strategy?

The roll-out of vaccination will take place in three phases:

Phase 1 from January 2021 (little vaccine available, complex supply and storage conditions): narrowly prioritized target group, centralized vaccination in old people’s and nursing homes by caring staff and possibly mobile vaccination teams, and in hospitals/health care facilities for own staff and (defined) high-risk groups.

Phase 2 (more vaccine available, resource bottleneck vaccination sites): narrowly prioritized target group for expanded vaccination sites, e.g., work places of persons at systemic risk through e.g., occupational medicine, mobile vaccination teams, school physicians, and in private practice, vaccination institutes and health insurance clinics for persons of older age, persons in 24-hour care and their caregivers, persons in care and caregivers of mobile services.

Phase 3 from the second quarter of 2021 onwards (vaccine widely available): vaccination for everyone who wants to be vaccinated, in addition to the vaccination opportunities of phases 1 and 2, also in public vaccination centers in municipalities, in health insurance clinics, at physicians in private practice, in larger institutions and companies with their own occupational physicians and school physicians and mobile vaccination teams for selective support

For an overview of the national vaccination strategy (so far only in German) see this website.

Support

I am self-isolating or sick; whom can I ask for support?

We are aware that such a situation can become very difficult to handle, particularly if you are new to this country! The campus community is here to help! Together with the Works Council, the IST will provide practical support to all members of our community who need to stay at home and have no further support.

In case you live on campus, the housing community could be your first contact for support.

The city of Vienna offers a variety of support measures on their German website.

The NGO Team Österreich offers neighborhood support and you can join them too in order to help on their website.

I feel lonely during lockdown or self-isolation; what can I do?
  • Crank up the communication. Reach out to others for your and their sake. Sharing your experiences and worries with others can help and make you and them feel better. Take advantage of all the digital communication tools available and find the one that works best for you (audio calls, video calls, chat groups, …). Why not invite people for a digital tea or coffee break? Or play some virtual board or card games at the regular games nights with other IST members?
  • Find buddies. Besides professional online meetings, you might have, find one or a few people for regular check-ins. Such regular connections can alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Set yourself goals, professional as well as personal. This way, you get back a certain level of control. You can even communicate your goals to your buddies and ask them to follow-up.
  • Structure your day. Even under such exceptional circumstances, try to maintain a daily routine.
  • Go outside. Fresh air and a change of environment (while adhering to the government recommendations) can do wonders.
  • Do physical exercise. This will help you to reduce stress. Find the indoor activity that works for you. Ask friends for suggestions, browse the internet for workout movies, etc.
  • Look for distraction. Make sure that the Coronavirus is not the only topic you read and talk about. Find other activities to distract your mind in your free time, such as reading a good book,
    playing an instrument, cooking a nice meal, or watching a good movie.
  • Accept your feelings. Confusing and fast-changing emotions are typical in a crisis. Feelings you may experience can range from hope, eagerness to help, enjoyment of deceleration to feelings of stress,
    being overwhelmed, helplessness, anxiety, and feelings of meaninglessness and emptiness. They might appear and perhaps change quickly.
    Avoid making any important decisions when you experience this high-paced change of emotions.
  • Remember your strengths. In a crisis, our focus is automatically set on our anxieties and all the things that don’t work. In order to create a healthy psychological balance,
    actively think about all the things that do work, the good news is also out there, and all the resources that are at our disposal to deal with the situation.
  • Additional resources. You can find additional resources on mental health in academia during Covid-19 at https://desireedickerson.com/covid19-resources.
Can I contact our occupational psychologist?

Samira Baig, our occupational psychologist, is usually on campus for your consultation every second Friday from 9am until 12am. Just send her an email at samira@baig.at to make an appointment. She treats any information strictly confidential.

Since March 2020, she is also available for online consultations. If you work in home office, you also can visit her directly in her office in Vienna.

You will find her in the hideaway room, which is in the Central Building, I01.01.016, at the end of the Mondi hallway.

I need emergency psychological support; whom can I contact?

If you need to talk to someone during nights or on weekends, please call 142. They are open 24/7.

For immediate psychiatric support, please contact the 24/7 hotline 01 31 330.

Further questions and contact

Please contact your supervisor for specific questions about your work.

In case of further questions, please contact: