Ragon Institute seeks to test return to offices, decision being made without input from city
Most employees of a research center in Kendall Square have been working from home for weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now the organization, the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wants to start bringing them back to the office as part of what it calls a research project, apparently without consulting with city officials.
The plan concerned at least one city councillor. “Reopening any business, even for a research project such as this, impacts more than just the business,” councillor Marc McGovern wrote in an email Thursday. “I would hope and assume that conversations would happen with the city administration, but I am not aware that any have taken place.”
Cambridge spokesman Jeremy Warnick said Wednesday he knew of no contact between Ragon and the city. There was no response to emails and a telephone call to Ragon staff members, including the assistant to the director.
News reports say the Ragon research project aims to test a way to bring employees safely back to work at 400 Technology Square. The institute would schedule them to work in shifts to keep the number in the office low. Employees would be tested once a week and have their temperature taken twice a day. If someone tests positive, contacts at work would also be tested; Ragon would scan the genetic fingerprint of positive test results to see if the virus is being spread at work.
Ragon reportedly has 175 to 200 employees. Some are considered essential under the city and state shutdown orders because they work on Covid-19 research. Participation in the return-to-work project would be voluntary.
The institute was to submit the research proposal to the Partners Human Research Committee before it could proceed. The committee oversees research at Partners’ hospitals, which includes Massachusetts General. It assesses projects to ensure they comply with protections for people who participate in research.
Jessica Ripton, director of operations for the committee, said Thursday that the panel had not yet made a decision on the proposal.