This guidance is being provided to help address questions regarding planning and preparation for potential impacts to research amid the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. UConn is actively monitoring and responding to the changing circumstances surrounding this situation, and information is posted and updated frequently on the following site: UConn Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates.
Life safety and the good health of our research workforce, students, faculty, staff, and animals remain our highest priority. Research should continue only to the extent that it can be conducted competently and safely. We encourage open communication to ensure agreement about procedures for students and staff working in labs and research facilities. Faculty should be especially mindful of the competing needs of students who may have concerns about their research progress and degree completion, as well as their personal health and well being. We ask that faculty work to find creative and flexible ways to accommodate the needs and concerns of students and staff working in their labs.
With the ongoing concern about the spread of this disease, laboratories and research facilities should begin to plan for the possibility of a significant disruption to routine operations. Each laboratory or research facility is best positioned to create a continuity plan that will meet their unique needs. While not intended to be all-inclusive, this guidance is provided to aid in the development of your plan. The following describes the current situation, but any of the below information may be modified as the situation develops and based on resources and personnel constraints in Storrs, at UConn Health, and within the OVPR.
Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) Specific Information
- UConn and UConn Health will maintain essential infrastructure, however, this may need to be modified depending on resources and personnel availability.
- Given that many staff may be working remotely, the primary mode of communication should be email rather than phone.
- Assume that research administration units such as Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance will continue to provide services.
- Assume that Animal Care Services and Environmental Health and Safety will maintain their critical functions.
- Additional guidance will be forthcoming regarding travel bans and cancellation of activities on grant-funded projects.
- Researchers should continue to follow sponsor requirements for grant-funded activities and use existing mechanisms to make adjustments or modifications as needed.
- Sponsors continue to release guidance. Below are examples from the NIH and NSF. You should monitor your funding agency for additional information.
Research Continuity Guidance for Laboratories and Research Facilities
Considerations in developing your plan:
- A significant percentage of your workforce may be out sick or unable to come to work.
- Access to campus buildings, offices, laboratories and other facilities access may be limited or prohibited.
- Essential research infrastructure, such as power and telecommunications, will be maintained. However, this may need to be modified as the situation develops based on resources and personnel constraints.
- Orders for critical supplies may be delayed.
- Core facilities and other fee-for-service resources may not be available.
- Essential research support functions will be maintained. However, this may need to be modified as the situation develops based on resources and personnel constraints. At some point, research support functions may need to be curtailed, delayed, or suspended.
- Research activities should only be continued to the extent there are qualified and trained staff available to safely and competently conduct those activities.
Steps you can take now to ensure continuity of critical functions:
- Ensure that you have access to emergency contact information for your critical staff, including cell phone numbers.
- Review contingency plans and emergency procedures with your staff.
- Identify procedures and processes that require regular personnel attention (e.g., cell culture maintenance, animal studies).
- Assess and prioritize critical activities.
- Identify any research experiments that can be ramped down, curtailed, or delayed.
- Identify personnel needed to safely perform essential activities.
- Ensure cross-trained staff have the appropriate training and competency to perform research activities correctly and safely.
- Ensure you are documenting critical step-by-step instructions in your Standard Operating Procedures.
- Coordinate with colleagues who have similar research activities to identify ways to ensure coverage of critical activities.
- Avoid performing high-risk procedures alone. When working alone is necessary, exercise maximum caution. Have a notification and safety plan when working alone.
- Ensure that high-risk materials (radioactive, biohazards, chemicals) are secured at all times.
- Maintain a sufficient inventory of critical supplies that may be impacted by global shipping delays.
- Prioritize. Depending upon the nature of your research, consider prioritizing work that can only be carried out in your research facility, and put off tasks amenable to remote work, such as data analysis. Obtaining results and data now that could be analyzed remotely in the future is a potential option that might create future flexibility.
- Ensure that those involved in research projects have access to information they need to carry out work remotely (e.g., access to literature, existing datasets and research-related files, and meeting software, such as Zoom).
- Ensure data and information are backed-up and available remotely.
- Test and update remote work technologies such as VPN and Zoom conferencing.
- Review the UConn policies on alternate work arrangements, like telecommuting.
Measures you can take to prevent the spread of illness among your group:
Research continuity summary:
Advance planning will allow everyone in your research group to focus on their own efforts and work together as a team, rather than wondering how they and their team members are to proceed.
- Identify critical operations.
- Identify critical personnel and ensure they know what to do in the event of suspended operations. Establish a contingency plan for your laboratory to maintain critical functions should someone in your laboratory become ill or students are not available to perform work.
- Remind personnel of your communication plan or create one if not in place.
- Ensure remote access to files, data, servers, etc.
- Prioritize experiments.
- Follow UConn’s requirements related to non-essential travel, and check travel restrictions before making travel plans.
Sponsored Program Services (SPS)
We expect that SPS will continue to be able to submit proposals, but PIs should be mindful of deadlines and submit proposals well in advance. Typically, federal agencies are very flexible about deadlines under difficult circumstances beyond our control. However, if agencies are officially closed, proposals will most likely remain in a queue, pending resumption of agency operations – as has been the case during federal budget-related shutdowns. Additional information will be posted on the OVPR website as it becomes available.
Human Research Protection Program (HRPP/IRB)
The Human Research Protection Program (HRPP/IRB) has established processes to work and convene remotely. New submissions, amendments, continuing review, and other reportable information should be submitted as required. Human subjects research protocols do not need to be modified unless COVID- 19 exposure/symptoms are being added as a study specific exclusion criteria, or information related to COVID-19 exposure/symptoms will be collected as part of the study, or study related procedures or processes such as data collection by phone, video call, or online are being implemented. Consideration should be given to delaying interactions with study participants where possible. This could involve canceling or postponing study visits or conducting study visits remotely where possible. If interactions with study participants need to continue, follow CDC Guidelines on Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities in making determinations about research participation. Additional information will be posted on the OVPR website as it becomes available.
IACUC and Animal Care Services
The IACUC has established processes to work and convene remotely. New submissions, amendments, annual and three-year renewals, and other reportable information should be submitted as required. Additional information will be posted on the OVPR website as it become available.
Animal Care Services has established a plan to maintain animal husbandry activities. This plan includes cross training research staff to assist with husbandry activities in the event animal care staff are not available due to illness. Additional information will be posted on the OVPR website as it becomes available.
Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC)
The IBC has established processes to work and convene remotely. New submissions, amendments, renewals, and other reportable information should be submitted as required. Additional information will be posted on the OVPR website as it becomes available.
Environmental Health and Safety (EHS)
- EHS has established procedures to maintain essential research support. However, essential research support functions may need to be modified as the situation develops based on resources and personnel constraints. At some point, research support functions may need to be curtailed, delayed or suspended. Research activities should be continued only to the extent there are qualified and trained staff available to safely and competently conduct those activities. Facility security and security of high-risk materials (radioactive, biohazards, chemicals) should be maintained. Additional information will be posted on the EHS website as it becomes available.
Center for Open Research Resources and Equipment (COR²E)
Our intention is to keep core research facilities managed by COR²E operational. That said, many of our facilities have very limited staffing (some of which include student employees) and as such, may necessitate a reduction in services or even closure. Additionally, many of our core facilities rely on equipment and services from external vendors who may also experience delays that could transfer to our internal services. Facilities may also choose to limit/stagger usage of equipment to reduce contact between facility users. Users of the facilities are encouraged to plan their experiments accordingly and visit their respective core facility homepages and/or contact facility directors for the most current information (though changes to services and schedules will also be communicated to existing facility users via email). Finally, as shared communal facilities, we will be working to keep shared equipment spaces as disinfected as possible, but we also ask for users’ help in doing so (washing hands before using shared equipment, staying home at any sign of illness, etc.) If additional updates are needed, they will be posted both here and on the COR²E website homepage.
Technology Incubation Program (TIP)
- TIP companies should anticipate being able to continue operations in the TIP space as long as UConn and UConn Health can assure this can be done safely based on the available infrastructure support, and only to the extent TIP companies have appropriately trained staff to continue operations competently and safely.
- TIP companies should have their own disaster/emergency and business continuity plans.
- TIP companies should monitor the UConn COVID-19 website for current information.
Vice President for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
University of Connecticut