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Microbiology during covid19

Submitted by sat on 22 May 2020

Microbiology during COVID-19

A site specific biological risk assessment should be conducted for all microbiological work as recommended in the Science ASSIST GUIDELINES for best practice for microbiology in Australian schools.

Viruses and their cultivation in the laboratory

There is no risk of the coronavirus growing on agar plates as it will not grow on bacteria and will not be propagated on the agar.

Viruses are unable to be grown on agar plates or in microbiological broths as viruses require a living host cell such as plant or animal cells in order to replicate. Specific cell culture systems or the use of embryonated eggs would normally be required. The exception is Bacteriophages that infect bacteria. These can be grown with bacteria on special agar plates; however these are not used in schools.1, 2, 3, 4

Wearing masks

Masks are not required if you are well and working with standard microbiological procedures, see

General note: Staff and students should not be at school if they are unwell, so there is no need to wear masks. If disposable masks are used, they must not be reused and must be removed and disposed of properly to avoid increasing risks of infection.

Wearing safety glasses

Safety glasses should be used when conducting microbiological activities including preparing microscope slides to protect from biological splashes and aerosols. They are not required for viewing prepared slides under a microscope, as they may also introduce new risks such as additional face touching.

Shared safety glasses should be cleaned/disinfected between users, see the Science ASSIST Q&As on this topic: Should shared safety glasses be decontaminated after each use? And safety glasses and assessing risks

Wearing gloves

Gloves are not a substitute for frequent handwashing and can pose a higher risk of spreading disease if not used correctly. See

They are not required for standard microbiological procedures unless a person has cuts or other skin problems such as dermatitis.

In the current COVID-19 situation we recommend that gloves are worn if your school chooses to conduct environmental sampling to further minimize risks of infection, see below the section on Environmental sampling.4

Note: gloves are not appropriate if using Bunsen burners.

Using microscopes during COVID-19

Microscopes should be cleaned and disinfected in between use. See our question dedicated to this topic at Disinfecting Microscopes

Isolating microbes from food, water samples and environmental surfaces

Standard microbiological precautions apply, such as those contained in the Science ASSIST GUIDELINES for best practice for microbiology in Australian schools, i.e.

Note that these agar plates should never be opened or subcultured as they will contain unknown wild microorganisms some of which may be pathogenic.

Environmental sampling

Environmental sampling poses an additional risk during this pandemic, due to the possible presence of the coronavirus on surfaces that are being sampled. I.e. touching something that someone has touched who has the virus.

Therefore, we recommend that gloves be worn by staff/students who are sampling from different environmental surfaces4 and the observation of strict safe procedures:

Note: Schools have increased their cleaning regime and there may not be many microbes present, however wearing gloves has the additional benefits of

For more information on this activity, see the ‘SOP: Microbes are everywhere’ contained in Attachment 1 in the GUIDELINES for best practice for microbiology in Australian schools.

Standard precautions apply as below.

The growth and subculture of pure cultures of microorganisms

Standard microbiological practice should be followed:

Aseptic techniques should be used to avoid generating microbial aerosols which can contaminate agar plates, students or staff, work surfaces and the environment These include:

Note: There must be no opening and no subculturing from plates or broths inoculated by students.

Other school requirements:

For more detailed information of microbiology practices, see GUIDELINES for best practice for microbiology in Australian schools.

Good hygiene during COVID-19

Good hygiene should be strictly observed such as is stated in the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) statements, see

As the information is being frequently updated it is good to check the latest advice. As of (24th April 2020) the latest advice for schools can be found at

In particular, see the sections on hygiene, routine care and environmental cleaning. The general hygiene advice is:

Safe Work Australia also has a wealth of good information related to the education and training sector, see


1 ‘Isolation, Culture, and Identification of Viruses’, Lumen Learning website, (Accessed 22 May 2020)

2 ‘Personal Study: Virus Culture’, Simulab Lab Tech Training Website, (Accessed 22 May 2020)

3 ‘Viral Cultivation and Physiology’, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website, (Accessed 22 May 2020)

4 Lloyd, Megan. 2020. Personal communication. Chair of the Education Special Interest Group of the Australian Society for Microbiology.

‘Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC)’ Australian Government Department of Health website, (Accessed 22 May 2020)

‘Disinfecting Microscopes’, Science ASSIST Q&A, Science ASSIST website, (21 May 2020)

‘Does wearing a mask help reduce my risk of COVID-19?’ Health Direct website, (Accessed 22 May 2020)

‘Education and training > General information’’, Safe Work Australia website, (29 April 2020) (Note: this page has several links to related information and state-based information and advice.)

‘Good hygiene for coronavirus (COVID-19)’, Australian Government Department of Health website, (Accessed 22 May 2020)

‘How to protect yourself and others from coronavirus (COVID-19)’, Australian Government Department of Health website, (Accessed 22 May 2020)

‘Retail Gloves’, Safe Work Australia website, (29 Apr 2020)

‘Safety glasses and assessing risks’, Science ASSIST Q&A, Science ASSIST website, (7 December 2015)

Science ASSIST. 2016. GUIDELINES for best practice for microbiology in Australian schools. Science ASSIST website,

‘Should shared safety glasses be decontaminated after each use?’ Science ASSIST Q&A, Science ASSIST website, (12 March 2020)

Microbiology during COVID-19

Submitted by agregory on 26 May 2020

Great responses!  Thank you.