Research: Preparing for minimal on-campus activity by March 18

March 14, 2020

Dear Colleagues:

The rapid evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic requires the university to accelerate its response to this unprecedented challenge. In order to protect the health and safety of our community, PIs should immediately begin preparing for all on-campus research to be restricted to essential activities only by March 18.

Similar to our peers, including Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, we are ramping down all on-campus research activities, including laboratory and certain human subjects research, with the exception of research related to COVID-19. Minimal access to laboratories will be maintained so that critical activities, such as maintaining animals, unique reagents, and essential equipment and materials, can continue.

Forthcoming guidance will delineate a tiered approach to reducing clinical research activities. Only critical research of substantive benefit to study participants will continue. PIs should immediately begin the process to ramp down experiments and reduce direct contact study visits with participants to ensure minimal activity by March 18.

We understand that this will be disruptive to the scholarly activities of you, your students, and your research team, and we will work to support your efforts. We encourage you to take this time to focus on the activities that can be completed remotely, such as writing papers and grant proposals, and completing data analysis. We will ensure remote access wherever possible, and we suggest backing up your data to OneDrive.

We expect you will not make any immediate changes to the support of your staff, students, and postdocs. Please continue charging to grants as normal. You will find more about federal guidance on the Hub information page. Our research administration offices are prepared for fully remote support. We have also been working with research sponsors as part of our business continuity activities to ensure that we continue to operate in a compliant and appropriate manner.

We are fully aware of the difficulties this minimal on-campus activity will pose, and we will work closely with the appropriate evaluator bodies within your schools to minimize the impact on your professional advancement and the advancement of your students and staff.

Further information related to the ongoing performance of clinical and human subjects research will be provided separately. We also have strict guidelines online for research involving human subjects, laboratory research, and animals. We have been diligently preparing phased plans to maintain continuity of services for these research activities during this difficult time.

You need to complete contingency plans for your research immediately.

Please read these details carefully:

  • Laboratory work specifically related to COVID-19 is expanding and should continue.
  • Beginning March 18, access to labs will only be available for essential personnel who perform critical procedures, processes or equipment management that require regular personnel attention to maintain laboratory viability (e.g. liquid nitrogen tank filling, animal support, maintaining shared computational equipment). Notify your departmental administrator as soon as possible about who these individuals are.
  • PIs should immediately identify essential research experiments that are at a critical phase, meaning that abandoning them would cause a major or irreversible loss in project momentum. This high-priority work should be a limited set of the current laboratory bench-based experimentation.
    Even essential work in labs should be staggered so that minimal laboratory personnel are present at any one time.
  • Please continue charging to grants as normal; there is more federal guidance on the Hub information page.
  • We are now in Phase 1 of the Research Animal Resources (RAR) animal contingency plan. We will move to Phase 2 on March 16, and then transition to Phase 3 on March 18.
  • No undergraduates or external visitors are allowed in labs.
  • Make sure you have access to contact information for your students, postdocs, and staff, and review contingency plans and emergency procedures within your group.

If anyone carrying out critical research activities demonstrates minor symptoms of illness, including but not limited to cough or fever, that person has to stay home. If someone has doubt about whether they could be ill they should NOT come to work. For additional information, there is guidance on the HR website. In addition, individuals should disinfect common laboratory areas and touch points (e.g. doorknobs, sink handles, freezer doors, telephones) with 70% ethanol at least twice daily.

Consistent with the urgency of the current public health situation, the university is taking substantial steps to limit the spread of the virus while supporting the important work of our colleagues. Divisional messages and universitywide resources are collected and frequently updated on the COVID-19 Research Preparedness Resources website.

Finally, it is our foremost desire that you stay safe. Wash your hands frequently and practice physical distancing.

Thank you in advance for your efforts to keep our community safe. If you have any questions, please contact your vice dean for research.

Sunil Kumar
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Denis Wirtz
Vice Provost for Research