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COVID-19 Research FAQ's


Research COVID-19 FAQ's
Is research still going on at William & Mary?

The short answer is yes. Our current status is "Locked (to the Public), but not Closed (for Business)," which allows continuing operations in research wherever we can. And we have taken steps to ensure that all activities are being conducted in accordance with the Governor’s directive of March 30.  All decisions are based on the idea that human safety and security is paramount. We have halted all in-person human-subject research. We are encouraging all researchers to work at home if at all possible. A great deal of research, including most modeling and simulation, data analysis and interpretation, and computational work, can be done off site.

My research does not require any on-campus or in-person activity. Do I have to ramp it down?

No. To the contrary, all researchers should continue to work on research projects remotely to the full extent possible.

Is entry into research buildings or laboratory areas currently restricted? What if a researcher needs to be in the lab?

If work requires human presence in the lab, the PI should petition for access. They should contact their department chair, then if there are no objections from the dean’s liaison, the Vice Provost for Research will approve restricted access to the building on behalf of the Provost.

The recent “Stay at home” order issued by the Governor of Virginia has not changed our “Locked (to the public), but not Closed (to continuing business)” status.  In that status anyone who can work at home, must work at home.  However employees, including designated students, who have access to W&M buildings may come in for limited periods of time as necessary to complete their tasks.

All employees who enter building are asked to restrict their “footprint” in those buildings, to be very careful about cleaning all surface they contact (door handles, etc.), to use only one restroom, in the building,  and to follow the same paths from place to place when they enter,  so that it will be possible to trace contact areas later. For certain areas in the science precinct, there are much stricter protocols and procedures that must be followed.

Any questions you may have about access should be directed to Eric Bradley (Safety Liaison for Arts and Sciences), or Dennis Manos, (Vice provost for Research),

How much lab work has been allowed? How many people are in the labs?

 Very little lab work has been allowed. Permission has been granted in cases of research that might help with the COVID-19 situation, work related to national security, or that is otherwise in state or national interest. Another category is research that would be very difficult or impossible to restart if work were stopped, or work that, if stopped for prolonged periods, would do physical or economic damage. There also are cases in which facilities need in-person checking, maintenance, or servicing, the most extreme examples of which are cryogenically cooled superconducting facilities. In such situations, we permit one person, or at most two, subject to the distancing rules — the principal investigator and/or a technical support staff member — to visit the lab. 

As few people as possible should be working on site. We must ensure that those few are following careful protocols for safe entry, occupancy, and exiting, sometimes to include wearing proper PPE, such as gloves, masks and gowns. We also require people to maintain safe distance from each other. We specify a nine-foot separation wherever possible, rather than the standard six feet. But in no event are two people without PPE ever allowed to be closer than 6 feet apart for extended periods. On a recent pass through Small Hall and the research floors of the Integrated Science Center, our senior technician found only three people in three separate lab rooms, all properly protected.

I am a student who is trying to finish some critical laboratory work. I need to obtain data from the lab. What should I do?

William & Mary facilities are locked and accessible by electronic or manual key to faculty, staff and students who require entry. When some limited W&M building access is required, the following guidelines apply:

  • Research requires the use of W&M facilities &/or equipment and cannot be deferred to a later time without significant loss.
  • The supervising faculty member/PI is responsible for approving limited access for the required tasks that cannot be delayed.
  • An example of an approved tasks may include animal care, culture maintenance, etc.
  • Approved students should have pre-existing card access to these locations for these tasks.
  • The certification of students for access must be initiated by a faculty or staff member who will take responsibility for assuring that the tasks being undertaken are within these guidelines. These supervisors will provide the names and 930 numbers to their respective department/program chairs who will, in turn, forward the department-certified list to Facilities Management (cc: to be entered in the building Access system.
  • Undergraduate students engaged in critical, time-sensitive research requiring limited building access, as determined by their supervising faculty member, will follow the same access protocol.
Would all COVID-19-related research be approved for facilities access?
No. In fact a request to do work that measured against its potential benefit, represents too great a risk to the researcher, or to others who may have to be in the building will always be denied. Work presenting relatively low-risk that our facilities may not be well-designed to perform, or medium-risk work that we know is being done by larger, better-equipped organizations, may also be denied.
I am a graduate student whose advisor has asked to continue to work,  but I am not comfortable coming in right now. Do I have to continue to come in to the labs?

Safety is our paramount concern.  We will make every attempt to provide personal equipment, working circumstances, and other accommodations to try to keep you safe and we will go out of our way to make it possible for you to work in the labs if you want to do that. As a university we are following CDC and Virginia Department of Health Protocols regarding cleaning, hygiene, and social distancing.  With few people on campus, practicing healthy spacing, cleaning more than usual, and following health guidelines, we would expect that staff and students are not being put in difficult circumstances--if you are aware of situations to the contrary, please let Environmental Health and Safety and the Vice Provost for Research know so that we can address them.    

If you feel unwarranted pressure is being applied to you to continue to come in, please call Dennis Manos, VP for Research at 757-871-9581.

I am a technical support staff member who is being asked to work in research labs. I do not feel comfortable coming in to work in the lab, what should I do ?

Safety is our paramount concern. We will make every attempt to provide personal equipment, working circumstances, and other accommodations to try to keep you safe and we will go out of our way to make it possible for you to work safely in the lab. As a university we are following CDC and Virginia Department of Health Protocols regarding cleaning, hygiene, and social distancing.  With few people on campus, practicing healthy spacing, cleaning more than usual, and following health guidelines, we would expect that staff are not being put in difficult circumstances--if you are aware of situations to the contrary, please let Human Resources and the Vice Provost for Research know so that we can address them.  Our environmental health and safety department is also monitoring things and providing assistance.  Employees who have an underlying health condition that puts them at unreasonable risk can seek medical certification and a doctor's endorsement for being out of work.  

Individuals who feel unsafe working in research labs should contact their supervisor, HR, the VP for Research, or the environmental health and safety department for assistance. Please Call Dennis Manos, VP for Research, 757-871-9581 to discuss your concerns and the options available to you. 

Can we continue to charge research faculty and staff to sponsored projects during the COVID-19 crisis?

Yes. Most agencies and sponsors defer to institutional policy regarding compensating personnel during extraordinary and extenuating events. 

When initiating summer salary pay actions, PI's should be prepared to confirm that their research program will be active, and that work will continue remotely (or with special permission on campus). 

William & Mary has decreed that all employees who can telework should do so. Human Resources and IT have information on their websites about transitioning to telework.  There is concern that employees who can telework may run out of work to do in an off-campus setting. Supervisors are encouraged to provide considerable flexibility in teleworking by allowing your employees to engage in training, learning and other appropriate off-site activities whenever possible.  This would be an excellent time to take advantage of online CITI training for Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR),  Research Ethics, Animal Subjects and Human Subjects Training Programs.

For those unable to work due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Human Resources has information regarding the various types of paid leave available.  Please see their website for more information. 

Will graduate research assistantships continue?

During the current COVID-19 response, graduate students serving as Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) are advised to work directly with their Principal Investigator (PI) to continue their research in a remote manner as much as possible.  GRAs will be paid as usual for the period of your existing commitment as a GRA (through Spring semester 2020).  GRA’s for summer semester will be paid if they are able to continue research work during summer (and subsequent semesters).  PI's may be required to verify that their research program will be active, and that GRA's will continue research work, in order to initiate GRA salary actions for subsequent semesters.

Will summer research and programs for students continue as planned?

Both academic summer sessions are planned for remote delivery, but there is currently no plan for in-person programming to take place before June 10th. The Provost sent guidance about summer programs in her message to the campus community April 7, "Student research and internship experiences will be modified to continue online and/or remotely, where feasible. Where this is not possible, contingency plans will be developed and communicated."  Requests for payments for student participants and summer student employees should include confirmation that their participation/work will take place despite the COVID-19 outbreak and can be accomplished remotely and/or within social distancing guidelines. 

Will OSP continue to submit proposals, invoices, and financial reports?

OSP staff are working remotely (telecommuting) to maintain operations.  OSP expects to be able to continue to meet agency proposal, deliverable, invoicing, and reporting deadlines in a timely manner.  Please communicate with us via phone or email.  

How are funding agencies responding to this crisis?

Both federal and private sponsors have been emphasizing flexibility and the need for institutions to prioritize personnel safety and safety of research subjects.  Some agencies have issued detailed guidance (see information about sponsor COVID-19 guidance in the left-hand navigation); stay tuned for more information.

Our lab is sitting empty.  Will W&M consider donating unused PPE in research laboratories to healthcare workers? 

W&M researchers have already pooled supplies of PPE and shared them with local hospitals – resources we hope will extend the safety of our courageous local healthcare providers on the front line.  If you have unused PPE that could be put to use in local hospitals and healthcare, please contact Bernie Kulas in the Vice Provost for Research's (VPR's) office.  We understand that these supplies may have been purchased with sponsored funds.  The VPR will arrange for replacement of donations once the crisis is over and will work with you to do so. To receive replacement stock, you must coordinated with the VPR's office and notify them of the quantity and type of PPE to be donated.  Sponsor agencies have varying policies regarding donation of PPE purchased with award funds.  Please notify your OSP administrator if you will (have) donate(d) PPE purchased with sponsored funds.

What if I am home sick and can’t work on my project?  Can my salary still be charged to the grant?

Yes. Pursuant to OMB Uniform Guidance 2 CFR Chapter I § 200.431 (Compensation - Fringe Benefits), the federal government will allow sick leave and other paid absences that are permitted under University policy to be charged to grants, provided the costs are equitably allocated to all related activities, including Federal awards.

Can travel cancellation expenses and fees caused by the COVID-19 pandemic be charged to sponsored awards?

Yes. Under the OMB notices for Managing Flexibility due to COVID-19, agencies have relaxed restrictions for charging cancellation expenses and fees to awards provided the practice is in alignment with University policy and reasonableness.  W&M travel guidance regarding the COVID-19 outbreak can be found here.

Some sponsored agencies have not specifically addressed cancellation expenses. At the current time, we recommend that all reasonable fees be charged to awards and documented. If agencies issue alternative guidance, these expenses will need to be removed.

Units must retain documentation relating to the cancellation costs charged to a grant in accordance with record retention requirements.

COVID-19 lab or travel restrictions are affecting my sponsored research, what actions should I take?

In general, any impact to your research due to restrictions must be documented. Please contact your OSP administrator for relevant funding agency guidance and recommended course of action.  

I have a progress report due in the near term and my study is impacted by a pause.  Should I include information relating to the pause in my progress report?

Yes. If your study is impacted, your OSP Administrator will provide you with guidance on how and where this should be included in your progress report  about what information should be included.

How will a pause in my research impact my grant expenditures?

All study-related activities that are not affected by a pause can continue to be charged as normal.  Additionally, there should not be a significant disengagement of the PI or other senior key personnel from affected projects.   Contact your OSP Administrator for questions.

 My project may be impacted by a pause, which could lead to delays in completing my study by the end of the project period.  What should I do?

OMB has authorized federal funding agencies (to the extent permitted by law), to extend awards which were active as of March 31, 2020 and scheduled to expire prior or up to December 31, 2020, automatically at no cost for a period of up to twelve (12) months. Please discuss your specific project with your OSP Administrator, who will provide guidance on the options available to you. 

 I am self-isolated, quarantined, and/or at home caring for a sick family member and am unable to submit my grant proposal by the stated deadline.  May I request an extension?

Agencies may provide flexibility with regard to the submission of competing applications in response to specific announcements, as well as unsolicited applications.   We strongly encourage you to discuss your specific situation with both your agency Program Official and your OSP Administrator as soon as you realize that an extension may be necessary.

Are there any tools to assist me in developing a strategy to manage my research during the COVID-19 outbreak?

 The Research Continuity Planner is a useful tool.  It can be used to help build an organized list of the activities that take place in your lab.  After carefully thinking through the daily operations of your lab, use the tool to assign a “Criticality” ranking (High-Medium-Low) to each.  From there, identify and assign key personnel (primary and back-up) who can be assigned to manage the highly critical tasks either via an orderly shutdown process, or a maintenance plan.  Addition columns provide space for recording important information on the supplies, vendors, and other associated details related to the task.

Once complete, fill in the “Lab Phone List” tab in the workbook and use the information to share the plan with your personnel.

May human subject research continue?
Human subject research may continue at this time. Special consideration for work with vulnerable subjects will need more careful review. Vulnerable populations include those defined 45 CFR 46 Subparts B (Pregnant Women), Subpart C (Prisoners), and Subpart D (Children), and those mentioned in 45 CFR 46.111(b): mentally disabled persons, or economically or educationally disadvantaged persons.
May I modify my human subject research protocol to adjust to current COVID-19 restrictions and delays?

Yes. Any shifts in the procedure for research protocols must be submitted for PHSC approval before implementation.

There a number of research projects tied to courses. The best option is to pivot those projects to online work to keep research active.  There are other possibilities such as sel-studies or diary studies that would also work.

If COVID-19 has delayed your research significantly, follow PHSC procedure to clone and resubmit your protocol for a successive year approval.

Research compliance committee reviews may be delayed.

What are your suggestions to the William & Mary research community?