The cancellation during February of the Mobile World Congress was one of the first events to sound the alarms in the city.
Since then, everything has gone very fast: we have experienced a state of alarm, with a reduction in non-essential activities to almost zero; we have become accustomed to the whole family living together 24 hours a day; we have become experts in virology and the different types of masks and other PPE; the BOE has become a reference reading; we have become accustomed to queuing to buy; we have become virtual in our personal and professional relationships.
Now, with the future still uncertain, we talk to Marga Sala, general administrator of the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), about how the park has adapted to the circumstances.
The state of alarm in Spain was declared on March 15. The next day you met with the directors and managers of the centers and two days later the PRBB was ‘empty’. How do you empty a building like this in two days?
Well, the PRBB has never closed completely during this crisis, but everything has been reduced to the maximum. And I think it’s been done very efficiently, showing a lot of resilience and the ability to adapt to new circumstances on everyone’s part. After all, we went from almost 2000 to 200 people in two days!
Throughout this process, coordination between the different institutions that make up the park’s ‘big family’ was key. The meetings of the management of the centers together with the PRBB team proved to be the best tool to face this challenge together and to agree on the measures to be taken at each stage of the state of alarm. It has been a great collaborative job.
How have the services that the PRBB offers to the centers been affected?
The animal facility has never stopped working; it was absolutely critical to keep the animals in good condition. However, together with the user committee, certain decisions were taken, such as minimizing crossings, ending the maximum number of experiments in progress, stopping imports and exports of animals, and so on. Cleaning services have also been adapted and increased and access to the animal facility has been restricted to avoid congestion, limiting access to the different spaces through entry requests. But as I say, the animal facility has continued to operate and, in fact, during these months, works have been completed on a new area, the quarantine – assays area, which is already working. Users in general are also satisfied with the work that has been done in these difficult circumstances; a research group even sent some pastries to the animal facility staff to thank them!
On the other hand, some of the maintenance and improvement works on the building had to be stopped temporarily. Luckily, we currently have all underway again, eight works in total. Amongst others:
- Expansion and improvement of the cryogenics room, which has already been completed.
- The four seminar rooms on the ground floor are now completely empty, with a big whole on the floor,… it’s quite a sight! But they are going at a good pace and the works will be completed on time.
- New air conditioners from the Biobanks and the animal facility (2 units).
- Refurbishment of the cold water hydraulic circuit for air conditioning, which will mean significant energy savings for the centers.
As for the Intervals training program, obviously all face-to-face courses had to be canceled overnight. But it has also adapted quickly to the situation, and all that can be done digitally has been converted to an online format.
Long live the internet!
Yes, it seems like a greater use of technology has come to stay! We are now also doing online seminars, such as the PRBB-CRG Conferences series, which will surely in part remain virtual for a while. And even in terms of outreach, the PRBB Award ceremony took place online – and our regular Open Day this year will also have to be virtual!
But not everything can be done virtually…
Of course. That’s why we’ve adapted the Reception area – there’s disinfectant gel, protective screens, differentiating entry and exit “lanes”, etc. We have also literally filled the sign building with messages of preventive measures to be maintained during the new normalcy.
And we must not forget the coordination with the various external companies that work at the park, such as security or cleaning – these companies have also been affected by the containment measures of the Covid19. For example, the cleaning staff has completely changed their habits, from the frequency of cleaning to the products used. We must also thank them for their adaptation efforts, which are so essential!
What has the PRBB done to fight the pandemic?
Some of the centers in the park have been and continue to be very involved in research against Covid19, and we also have some residents who have contributed as volunteers in different tasks, such as creating medical equipment with 3D printers. From the PRBB, we have helped as much as we could at different levels, apart from trying to keep our residents up to date with all the changes that have taken place.
One of the first actions was the coordination of the delivery to hospitals of health and protection equipment (gloves, gowns…) from all the centers and the animal facility.
We have also worked closely together to build the Hospital del Mar field hospital with 70 beds, which the Hospital del Mar itself, in collaboration with the City Council and Médecins Sans Frontières, have set up literally under the PRBB. There was a corridor that crossed the inner square of the park and went down our goods lift. This involved an adaptation of the park spaces; the general services department has had to redo plans, change emergency exits,…
Finally, we helped in the installation and logistics of the ORFEU program in the park. This initiative has seen several research centers doing PCRs on a voluntary basis to monitor Covid-19 cases. One of the two nodes, led by the CRG-CNAG, has been in the PRBB and therefore we have helped with the arrival of samples and the management of volunteers who came from other centers and who were working 24 hours a day in the safest possible conditions.
And now that the building is starting to fill up again, what will the ‘new normal’ look like?
For the time being, all the staff of the PRBB Consortium who can continue to telework, will do so, just like in the centers. From September, we will try to get everyone back at the park, taking into account the requests for flexibility and adaptation of the workday, especially with the uncertainty regarding the new school year.
But what is clear is that we will continue to work hard to ensure the smooth running of the building, whether there are 1300 people working or only 90. I would not want to end without saying a special thank you to the reception staff of the PRBB and the animal facility, which have been at the frontline day after day . Thanks!