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Research Continuity Guidance

University officials continue to attentively monitor worldwide coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and COVID-19 disease related developments. Important information, preventative measures, and updates for the entire W&M community are provided through the W&M COVID-19 website. Links to funding agency guidance regarding COVID-19 are available in the left column of this page. 

The intent of this communication is to provide you guidance on preparing for significant disruptions to normal research operations because of possible widespread COVID-19 communal transmission. At this time, it is difficult to predict the scale and extent of the disruptions.  However, we have an opportunity to plan now.  Therefore, it is important that we use this time and plan effectively. We have reviewed the status of central services and have provided an assessment of how these services may be impacted to help you develop your strategic plan for the continuity of operations of your laboratory and research facilities through a set of recommended actions.

Impact on Central Services:
Animal Care:
  • The  ISC Vertebrate Animal Care Center (VACU) and the Population Lab have a comprehensive and well-exercised preparedness plan to ensure the essential animal husbandry services will be managed effectively.
    • The VACU animal care personnel will care for teaching/ research animals (subjects used in grants).
    • If existing staff cannot meet the animal care demands then PIs will be recruited to assist.
Environmental Health & Safety:

Environmental Health & Safety staff may also be reduced. The Environmental Health & Safety Office will maintain mission-critical support functions such as essential access to the sealed radioactive source inventory, hazardous waste management services, biohazardous waste management, emergency spill response support, and continued monitoring the pH neutralization system. Plan to minimize the production of regulated waste, sharps, and lab by-products. Plan to provide for larger safe storage of additional materials until the steady-state situation stabilizes for onsite pickup by contractors. 

Research Compliance:

Protection of Human Subjects: PHSC, EDIRC, PsychIRB, StudentIRB

  • Research compliance committee reviews may take longer because of delayed committee access.
  • In-person data collection procedures may only be used when another alternative is not available.
  • All protocols will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, subject to appropriate health and safety measures and campus conditions.
  • All research protocols involving in-person collection procedures, even those which had been previously approved prior to the COVID outbreak, must be reviewed with the addition of a now mandatory Health & Safety section of the Protocol and Compliance Management PHSC form.
  • Any change to procedures in a protocol requires a new protocol submission. It is expected that ALL in person protocols will be submitted as "new". The PI may clone the prior, approved protocol and make the changes that are necessary.
  • Only the PHSC may approve subcommittee protocol submissions that include in-person data collection(s). In person protocols MAY NOT be approved by subcommittees (EDIRC, PsychIRB, and StudentIRB).
  • Protocol changes must be approved in writing (email) by the PHSC before resuming work.
Research Computing:
  • Research computing facilities (SciClone/Chesapeake) will continue to be available unless significant disruptions in campus infrastructure occur, such as loss of power, cooling or network failures.
Libraries:
  • Library services support resources during the COVID-19 outbreak can be found here: https://guides.libraries.wm.edu/remote
  • Library hours will be posted on this page, as well as the library home page.
Facilities, Materials and Supplies:
  • Support from Facilities Management and contract service providers may be delayed.  
  • Ordering and receipt of critical supplies may be delayed.
Office of Sponsored Programs:
  • OSP continuity strategy consists of working remotely (telecommuting) to maintain operations and depends largely on uninterrupted access to power, internet, and the campus network. 
  • All OSP staff are equipped to telecommute indefinitely (and do so regularly) and are cross-trained to provide back-up and support across departments and functional areas.
  • OSP expects to be able to continue to meet agency proposals, deliverables, and reporting deadlines promptly. Agencies may be flexible about deadlines under difficult circumstances beyond our control. However, if agencies are officially closed, proposals will likely remain in the queue, pending resumption of agency operations.
  • In the event of an emergency, please utilize our office listserv, [[wosp]], to communicate with us.  This will help us manage staffing redundancy, and allow for coordination of services in case your assigned OSP administrator is unavailable for any reason.
  • Announcements may be made through the principal investigator listserv (researchpi@wm.edu), the W&M Digest, and/or the OSP website, as necessary.
  • OSP office phones will be set to forward for remote access, and voicemails will be retrieved remotely.
  • W&M Compliance Committees (PHSC, IACUC, IBC) each have their continuity of operations plans and will continue to be supported by OSP.
  • Funding agencies are generally lenient and reasonable in cases of force majeure, and will usually grant extensions for proposal deadlines, and performance periods for affected researchers and institutions.  Please remember that OSP is the official point of contact for the coordination of extension requests.  Please contact OSP first, and allow us to communicate with the funding agency.
  • In times of uncertainty, please allow as much time as possible for the preparation of grant proposals, and communicate with OSP early about your intent to submit.
  • Please alert us immediately if an adverse situation impedes your ability to carry out sponsored project objectives, to submit your proposal in a timely fashion, or to conform to compliance protocol requirements.
  • As we hear from federal funding agencies on any special considerations and allowable deviations on current grants and contracts, we will be sure to disseminate the information to the W&M community.
Visas:
  • Processing of visas by the federal government may be delayed, resulting in delayed appointments.
Recommended Actions for mitigating the impact on your research:
  • Principal Investigators and research leads should develop a plan in case a significant percentage of your workforce is out sick or unable to come to work. For example, consider altering work schedules to meet the demands of the laboratory while limiting close contact with others.
  • Students, post-docs, staff, and faculty involved in research projects should consider how to gain remote access to information such as literature, existing databases, and research-related files and work remotely. 
  • Consider how travel limitations may impact field research and plan accordingly.
  • Consider using remote work technologies such as VPN (for work at home) and video and teleconferencing as an alternative for in-person meetings (prepare multiple options for communication).  
  • Depending upon the nature of your research, you might consider prioritizing work that can only be carried out in your research facility, and collect all data and analyze remotely later. 
  • Consider rescheduling experiments or activities that cannot be interrupted due to staff absences, limitations of supplies, external support services, and other factors outside of your direct control.
  • If you are carrying out a long-term experiment and it is feasible to freeze or otherwise capture samples at specific steps, you might consider doing this more often and analyze them later.
  • Identify procedures and processes that require ongoing personnel attention (e.g., cell culture, animal studies) and develop plans to protect against possible disruption.
  • If your research plans require modifications to an IRB, IACUC, or IBC approved protocol, please contact the appropriate committee office to get the review process started for the required modifications.
  • If a communication plan for your research group is not already in place, ensure that you have accurate and updated contact information for all members so everyone receives timely information. 
  • Research groups should develop and discuss internal plans for project or program continuity.  Review your equipment/experiment SOPs and check to see that names and contact information are correct should systems go into alarm.
  • Consider cross-training research staff or colleagues who conduct similar activities to fill-in for those who may be out sick or unable to come to work.
    • Ensure that fill-in personnel have the appropriate training and tools needed to safely execute assigned duties.
    • Consider documenting critical step-by-step instructions for fill-in personnel.
  • Maintain an inventory of critical supplies that may be subject to global shipping delays.
Safety considerations:
  • Identify personnel able to safely perform essential activities and ensure that individuals performing critical tasks have been adequately trained, understand emergency procedures and that all personnel know whom to contact with technical or safety questions.
  • Avoid performing high-risk procedures alone.
    • When working alone, notify colleagues, and exercise maximum caution.
    • When working alone in isolated areas for an extended period, consider arranging periodic call-in or call-out to check your status.
  • Ensure that hazardous or divertible materials (radioactive, biohazards, chemicals) are well-secured.
Preventive measures:
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at minimum 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer may be temporarily unavailable due to supply chain demands.
  • Remind team members to stay home if they are experiencing symptoms including fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. Decontamination of your workspace may be appropriate if an active member of your team is diagnosed with COVID-19. If you are experiencing symptoms, follow guidance for contacting a medical professional. 
  • Routine environmental cleaning of your areas is recommended at this time. Leave all areas you enter cleaner than you found them. Laboratories and other groups may also pursue disinfection of commonly touched areas (e.g., doorknobs, sink handles, freezer doors, fume hood sashes, telephones) with effective disinfectants.  Wipe down and dry all contact areas before and after exposing yourself or your colleagues to them.
Contacts for questions or concerns:

 

*adapted with permission from the University of Virginia