UW Research

March 31, 2020

Mitigating Impacts to Research Activities Due to COVID-19

On March 23, 2020 Governor Inslee issued a “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” proclamation strengthening mandates already in place to encourage social distancing, a crucial measure for slowing the spread of COVID-19. The Stay Home, Stay Healthy directive took effect 5:00 p.m. on March 25, and will be in effect for two weeks, until 5:00 pm. on April 8. This directive allows for all research carried out remotely to continue, and in addition, for critical in-person research to continue, with additional restrictions and important requirements noted on this webpage. In accordance with these directives, we ask that the number of people working at their usual place of work be kept to a minimum. While the Stay Home, Stay Healthy directive will add some additional and enhanced restrictions, for the most part, strict adherence to advice already in place will be sufficient to maintain critical research operations. Be sure to consult the UW’s Novel coronavirus & COVID-19: facts and resources webpage as it contains important information for everyone in the UW community.

Guidance for the Research Community

Please see this version for broader guidance: FAQs for research under the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy Directive.

FAQs for Research During the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Time Period

Should every researcher at the University of Washington stay home?

  • Every researcher who can work remotely, must stay home for the next two weeks. At the same time, the Governor has noted that research is critically important to curb the pandemic and to assist in recovery afterwards. In many cases, that work can only continue with in-person effort. Those research personnel involved in this work need to be deemed “critical personnel,” and should already be identified in your Continuity and Recovery Plans. Note that only critical personnel are allowed to come to their usual place of work. Each unit has their own process for identifying critical personnel, but since situations change, please be sure to update the lists as changes occur. In addition, some critical in-person research functions must continue, such as maintaining animals, taking care of sensitive equipment, and monitoring for safety. This work must also be carried out by designated critical personnel.
  • Provide maximum flexibility to support at home work for research personnel. At home they can conduct literature reviews, data analysis, and write papers and other documents; they can participate in lab meetings and meetings with research personnel via Zoom, conference call or other remote methods, and they can complete online training requirements for research. There must be no expectation that personnel come to campus or to their usual workplace to conduct any research activities that can be adapted to telework.
  • Remember, anyone who is sick must stay home. In addition, anyone experiencing symptoms that may be related to COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, respiratory symptoms) should contact their healthcare provider and then notify the Environmental Health and Safety Department’s (EH&S) Employee Health Center at emphlth@uw.edu. Anyone who has been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case must stay home for 14 days since their last contact with that person. If someone showing symptoms or self-isolating is designated as critical personnel, an alternate must be identified.

What areas of in-person research are still allowed and what restrictions are in place?

The goal of the Stay Home, Stay Healthy directive is to minimize the amount of close contact between people for the next two weeks. Some in-person research is still allowed, but only if it is possible to maintain appropriate safety standards:

  • Social distancing of at least 6 feet
  • Frequent laboratory decontamination procedures
  • Personal safety with appropriate personal protective equipment and frequent hand-washing

If unable to maintain these standards, you may not continue to operate in-person research projects and must either ramp down your research efforts to a level meeting safety standards or shut down your research entirely.

Types of in-person research that are allowed, if they can meet the safety standards noted above (and, for in-person interactions with human subjects, if they can meet the human subjects criteria for continuing):

  • research that will help deal with the pandemic
  • public health research
  • research that will help the nation recover after the pandemic eases
  • research that is critical to meet thesis requirements for a final defense in Spring Quarter, or requirements of a new position that has already been accepted
  • long-term experiments, or maintaining vital equipment, cell lines, animals, and other time-sensitive research items, for which a pause would cause undue harm and/or cost
  • facilities that support the work noted in the above bullets

See this Office of Research document, “Areas of research applicable to COVID-19 and Decision Tree,” to assist researchers in determining whether their in-person research is allowed.

The in-person research noted above is allowed, but no research personnel may be required or pressured to come to campus or to their usual work location or go into the field, unless they are designated critical personnel and they are also required to maintain critical operations (see above). However, if critical employees are in a high-risk category or are concerned about safety, supervisors are asked to do their best to accommodate their employees without impacting critical operations. If accommodations are not possible, please contact central Human Resources for problem-solving and support. All other research personnel must be given the option to work remotely for the next two weeks (see point 3 below).

Three conditions must be met for you to continue in-person research:

  1. Your research falls under the allowable categories, including (when applicable) the human subjects criteria
  2. You are able to follow the required safety standards
  3. Personnel are available and willing to carry out the work

If your research meets these conditions for in-person work, here are guidelines:

  • Minimize the number of researchers in the laboratory or other facility at any one time. The concept of a “skeleton crew” should be in place, but it could be a rotating crew. In that case, scheduling is critical.
  • Maintain whatever work is critical to ensure that when restrictions are lifted, a rapid return to normal will be possible. For instance, if completely shutting down a piece of equipment will require extensive efforts to start it up again, minimal effort in maintaining such equipment is allowed.

You should only start new experiments if the above conditions are met. While we can offer no guarantees, we will be working with funding agencies on these issues in the weeks and months to come. We are optimistic that most funding agencies will be flexible given these unprecedented circumstances. It is widely understood that the research enterprise is critical to our region’s and our country’s well-being now and over the long term.

How will research personnel of any type (students, postdocs, staff, faculty) be paid if their work cannot be done remotely from home for the next two weeks?

We expect those instances will be rare, given the nature of inquiry and the authority you have to exercise flexibility within the research enterprise. Our goal remains to keep as many employees working, paid and connected to UW benefits as we possibly can during this disruption. In cases in which absolutely no remote work is possible, contact central Human Resources for assistance.

What are the areas of in-person research allowable under the new Stay Home, Stay Healthy directive

Below are examples of areas of research applicable to COVID-19 response.

All areas listed are potentially valuable to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and/or potentially useful to recovery efforts. Many such areas may not be obvious now but should be considered for continued operations.  You may wish to consider the Population Health areas as a useful framework for assessing areas that might be appropriate.

Research Area Examples

  • Areas of biological and biomedical research working with SARS-CoV2 nucleic acid, proteins, virus or samples or involving COVID-19, including aspects of the virus, disease, transmission, vaccines, health care, therapies, and recovery from the infection or pandemic, as examples
  • Areas of biological and biomedical research, including those that may involve engineering, chemistry or physics, that can be reasonably justified as having a possible impact on COVID-19 including impacts that might have a sparing effect on resources needed to fight the pandemic.  Examples might be research on underlying health conditions or other infectious diseases.
  • All areas of public health research that have relevance to COVID-19, that is, community health research, including the compilation, modeling, analysis and communication of public health information
  • All areas involving environmental factors that might play into transmission, reservoirs, survival of the SARS-CoV2 virus
  • All areas of humanities, social sciences, information sciences, and business that impact our understanding of misinformation, public perception, social isolation, stress, communication, economic impacts, and business concerns that may relate to COVID-19
  • All areas of mathematics, statistics, and computer science addressing the ability to track or model or analyze data of importance to COVID-19
  • All areas of importance to logistics of COVID-19 response, including supply chain, modeling, health care logistics, GPS-based analysis
  • All areas of materials science that might impact novel therapeutics
  • Others as appropriate

Facilities

  • All facilities that store, analyze, or otherwise process samples that are either biological or materials that might be applicable to therapies
  • All animal facilities
  • All computational facilities
  • All facilities for which shutting down would result in significant effort and/or cost both for the shut-down and the subsequent start-up.

Others

  • Research involving long-term experiments, or maintaining vital equipment, cell lines, animals, and other time-sensitive research items, for which a pause would cause undue harm and/or cost
  • Research that is critical to meet thesis requirements for a final defense in Spring Quarter, or requirements of a new position that has already been accepted

I have reviewed this guidance, including the decision tree below, and I am still not sure my research qualifies, who can I ask?

Send your question to research@uw.edu with the subject line COVID-19 and we will reply as soon as possible.

At this point the decision to keep a laboratory open should be based on the decision tree found in the document, “Areas of research applicable to COVID-19 and Decision Tree,” and in close consultation with your department chair or director, and College or School. For information about how the Decision Tree interacts with the specific criteria for continuing human subjects research, see this link.

With regards to the exclusion for graduate students with a thesis defense in Spring Quarter, does the defense need to be already scheduled with the Graduate School, to qualify?

No. The student’s committee needs to have agreed that the student is ready to defend by the end of Spring Quarter, but it is not necessary to have already scheduled the date with the Graduate School.

I carry out research that meets the criterion for "critical", but for safety reasons, requires a minimum of two or more people to be in the laboratory. How can I carry out this research?

You must be able to carry out the critical research work with 6 feet distance between personnel.  If that is feasible, and if two people are willing to come to the laboratory to carry out this critical research work, then it is allowed. If 6 feet distance is not possible due to the safety requirement, you cannot carry out these experiments. Note guidance in the Labs Working Alone section of the Lab Safety Manual (p.29).

Ramp-down decisions

Even if your research area is allowable, if you feel that the best course of action for the safety of your research group is to ramp down your research activities or shut them down entirely, you should do so. You are not required to keep your research activities open. If you do ramp down or shut down, please see the Research Shutdown Checklist for helpful guidance. If the effort and/or cost of completely shutting down is significant, you may consider ramping down to a minimal level. The goal of the Stay Home, Stay Healthy directive is to minimize the amount of close contact between people for the next two weeks, so you should keep that goal in mind as you make such decisions. In addition, you must be able to follow the safety conditions:

  • Social distancing of at least 6 feet
  • Frequent laboratory decontamination procedures
  • Personal safety with appropriate personal protective equipment and frequent hand-washing

Locked buildings

UW buildings have moved to a locked mode, similar to on weekends or holidays, so if you have critical personnel identified, they will still have access if you meet the guidelines described above. Your building coordinator should have developed plans for deliveries and emergency access. You will need to call ahead for access to recharge facilities that are in a different building. Note that some of these facilities are curtailing hours and/or services, so it is wise to check in advance.

Critical Personnel

Critical employees who can be designated to come to work physically if work cannot be performed via telework and work can be done safely include:

  • Hospital and clinical employees, including the critical support services (procurement, supply chain, security, food service, custodial service, etc.) necessary to ensure effective operations.
  • First responders and emergency management personnel
  • Employees, including faculty, academic personnel, and staff, critical to supporting remote learning. This includes faculty who require access to campus to facilitate remote instruction (example: access to specific technology).
  • Childcare workers providing care to critical university employees and vulnerable children
  • Employees conducting COVID and public health research, and research employees critical to maintaining research and operational continuity.
  • Critical state workers designated as necessary to maintain university (including clinical) operational continuity, including, facilities, utilities, transportation, human resources, information technology, financial services, employee health and safety, communications, housing and food services.

The essential personnel designation is invoked when the University is in suspended operations, which is not currently the case. While our current “essential” designations may be informative, they may also be insufficient to respond to COVID-19 specifically. Essential personnel are required to work at their usual location, but others are allowed to do so. In our current operations, as noted above, critical personnel are employees who are critical to the operation of their unit – including laboratories – and must perform at least some of their duties in-person. Only critical personnel are allowed to come to their usual work location, and not stay at home. For research, critical personnel are those who are involved in carrying out critical research, and in addition, those who carry out specific critical functions, such as maintaining critical equipment, caring for animals, monitoring safety issues, etc. that require them to come to their usual work location. Note that critical personnel designations and continuity plans need to be in place by end of day, March 25 under the Governor’s proclamation, as already mentioned in the recent message on “Stay Home, Stay Safe” impacts to research. However, since situations change, it is expected there may be updates.

In each unit, Critical Personnel should be already designated. If you are unsure of who in your research project is designated Critical Personnel, work with your department administrator or an equivalent administrator to identify such personnel.

Communications

If a communications plan for your research group is not already in place, designate points of contact so everyone receives timely information.

Plan for researcher time

Principal investigators and research group leads carrying out critical research should discuss approaches now in the event that some designated as critical personnel are unable to come to work. Such advanced planning will make future decisions straightforward and minimize disruption to research activities.

Working remotely

  • Everyone in your research group should be working at home, if feasible, carrying out work such as data analysis, literature review, manuscript writing, or proposal and progress report writing. All meetings, including journal clubs, must now be taking place remotely. All students, post-docs, staff, and faculty involved in research projects should ensure that they have access to information they need to carry out work remotely, such as access to literature, access to existing datasets and research-related files, and access to meeting software (such as Zoom).
  • Discuss plans with each member of your research team; it may be useful to have a regular remote check-in on weekly plans and progress for those working remotely. ASEs are allowed to have their work reassigned, to allow them to work at home (see HR policy and advice).
  • Remember to be as accommodating as possible for the members of your research team; each person will have unique circumstances. Regular and frequent communication is key for your research group.

Proposal deadlines

In accordance with the Washington State “Stay-at-Home” mandate, OSP and HSD have moved to an entirely remote work platform. Walk-in assistance at our offices in the UW Tower has been temporarily suspended. Rest assured, during this time both OSP and HSD continue to operate during normal business hours (Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.).  Our experience is that federal agencies are 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. Information will be shared via the Monthly Research Administration Meeting (MRAM) listserv and posted on the OSP website, as necessary. See more under the COVID-19 Resources and Guidance section on the right navigation of this page.

Canceled Travel 

If you have to cancel any Travel, please see the following resources for information on the allowability of unrefundable travel costs:

Conferences

Due to Governor Inslee’s directive, you must consider alternate remote technology to hold your conference, or postponing. If funded off a sponsored program, notify your sponsor if your plans are to postpone; most sponsors are implementing maximum flexibility at this time. For more information, see the right navigation of this page.

Charging Salaries When Unable to Work on Research

Various funding sources are used to support those carrying out research. Each sponsor will have specific policies on continuing to charge salary when unable to work. Sponsor permission to do so will usually be required. As noted above, access the OSP website for updated information. All opportunities for telework for non-critical staff should be explored and implemented. If you cannot telework, your unit should contact central Human Resources immediately to evaluate if you may be appropriate or eligible for reassignment to critical areas of work. If non-critical staff cannot telework and cannot be reassigned, units will work with central Human Resources to find a solution.

Undergraduate and Graduate School Research Guidance

Guidance for Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows 

  1. We encourage research group leaders to make the best decisions for all members of the research group. Your health and safety is our first priority.
  2. We encourage regularly (at least weekly) scheduled opportunities for the research group to connect (via Zoom/Microsoft Teams/etc.) where expectations and concerns are shared constructively and compassionately.
  3.  At this time, research at UW is restricted by the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy initiative. Research is only allowed if all research guidance regarding this directive is followed, including the guidance above on allowable research (with the exception of some in-person human subjects research), so it is possible to carry out research, attending to continuing and longitudinal experiments and producing new data during this unprecedented national emergency. However, in this emergency situation, productivity may look different than it did last month and remote work continues to be encouraged if at all feasible. As mentioned in #2, it is acceptable and expected that managing expectations will be necessary as everyone evolves to the ‘new normal’ environment.
  4. If graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research staff are responsible for critical laboratory operations, then they should maintain access to the research space for these activities. However, once these critical activities are accomplished – again, practicing proper social distancing – they are required to return to their remote workspace.
  5. If you are allowed to come to your usual place of work, and are required to travel there but normally rely on public transportation, the UW has opened parking at the E01 or E18 parking lots (UW main campus) and the 850 Republican Street garage (UW SLU campus) and will not ticket parkers there, as we mitigate our response to COVID-19. We encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity.
  6. As noted above, when working remotely, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are encouraged to perform appropriate activities with their original appointment (e.g., analyzing data, writing manuscripts, progress reports and their thesis, preparing for a General Exam or final dissertation defense, etc.) unless you have been reassigned to an alternative appointment by your department or PI. Additional work may be assigned by the PI/research group leader. While the location of the work has changed, these activities should all be in support of your original appointment and/or fellowship, and as such, there is no expectation of additional compensation
  7. We encourage international postdocs to be in contact with both the ISS and their home country for guidance, as the situation evolves.
  8. We encourage programs, faculty, and research directors to make the most appropriate and informed decisions possible to support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows; the Graduate School, Core Programs, and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs are ready to consult as necessary.

Note that some of this content may be also included in the section above, “Working Remotely.” 

Conducting fieldwork outside of the Seattle area

Any fieldwork that violates University of Washington restrictions, such as on travel or gatherings or some in-person human subjects research, or mandates by the Governor of Washington or local health officials, should be cancelled. If it does not violate those mandates and it meets the requirements of critical research, then you should be in close contact with your faculty advisor/sponsor as you determine how and whether to proceed. This conversation, with a clear agreement between the parties, should take place regardless of whether the work is funded by a grant/contract or other UW funding procured by the faculty member or the student/postdoc to conduct the work.

This remains a fluid situation and the Graduate School will continue to review their policies and procedures to ensure they do not become a barrier in your scholarly pursuits. They will also work closely with other university leaders to ensure that graduate students and postdoctoral scholars receive timely updates and access to information that directly impacts them.

Guidance for undergraduate researchers

At this time, undergraduate researchers are under a number of restrictions. All undergraduates should consult with their mentors to determine how to proceed, and how to maintain their safety while pursuing research activities.

Certain types of human subjects research are not allowed. Be sure to check this link for that information. For undergraduate research involving fieldwork, including community work, please see the statement above regarding fieldwork. Note that some Schools, Colleges, or Departments may make local decisions about undergraduate research that are more restrictive. Be sure to check with your unit head about this. For other research, undergraduates may carry out research either for credit, volunteer, or paid, if it can be done remotely. They can be encouraged to work on activities such as literature review, coding qualitative data or working on other research tasks remotely, writing up research already completed, or watching someone else working at the bench by video as they describe what they are doing. If the research is critical, they may carry out in-person research, but only if they are deemed critical personnel. If they are deemed critical personnel, they must follow the required safety conditions:

  • Social distancing of at least 6 feet
  • Frequent laboratory decontamination procedures
  • Personal safety with appropriate personal protective equipment and frequent hand-washing

Human Subjects Research

Effective March 23, 2020, there is a temporary halt to some human subjects research studies and study procedures involving in-person interactions. See the Human Subjects Division (HSD) COVID-19 webpage for the announcement and specific details. The webpage is being updated frequently. Please pay close attention to evolving changes in recommendations and requirements about in-person interactions with study participants. See this newsletter for information about how the criteria for continuing human subjects research interact with the more general Decision Tree. Send any questions you’d like answered to hsdinfo@uw.edu.

New IRB applications are still being accepted and reviewed, even under the temporary pause. This is because IRB approval is often only one of many steps necessary to set up a study. HSD recognizes that it is important for researchers to continue to work on startup activities during the temporary halt. This will help enable research to rapidly begin or resume when the halt has ended. New applications and modifications will be prioritized as follows

  1. All new applications and modifications that involves COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2, or their impact on ongoing research.
  2. All new applications and modifications for activities that are allowable under the temporary halt.
  3. All other new applications and modifications. These reviews may be somewhat delayed, depending on workload and staffing.

The Institute of Translational Health Sciences (ITHS) at the UW has created a COVID-19 Research Portal because of the unprecedented research need for COVID-19 biospecimens, medical records data and/or clinical research with UW Medicine patients with, or at risk for, COVID-19. All interested parties must submit requests via the form on the ITHS portal page. Projects conducted exclusively in ICUs, that involve comparison of SARS-CoV-2 testing methods within the Department of Laboratory Medicine, and that are ongoing as of 3/17/2020 are excluded from this mechanism.

Animal Research Issues

Even with all building being locked 24/7 your existing animal facility access remains the same. See the OAW website for current information and announcements.

Environmental Health and Safety Issues

The Environmental Health & Safety Department (EH&S) much like the rest of the University, is operating with fewer staff on campus and more staff members working remotely. EH&S is collecting waste, reviewing and responding to research applications, and providing ongoing health and safety support for campus. The Institutional Safety Committees, Institutional Biosafety Committee, and Radiation Safety Committee are operational and meeting remotely.

In response to requests for assistance, EH&S has created a Guide to Business Continuity and Recovery Planning for Laboratories and Research Spaces to supplement your existing business continuity plans. It includes a checklist and is intended to assist faculty, staff, laboratories and research facilities in maintaining research continuity consistent with their own unique needs and circumstances. We encourage all principal investigators and lab managers to develop a research continuity plan that takes into account health and safety as a priority.

University facilities units are implementing enhanced cleaning of high touch surfaces to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, tables, computer keyboards, handrails, exercise rooms).

EH&S asks research laboratories and facilities to also implement enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of high touch surfaces. This includes switches, benchtops, commonly used hand tools, and shared PPE.

  • Disinfect hard, non-porous surfaces with a disinfectant on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Antimicrobial Products for Use Against Novel Coronavirus, an alcohol solution with at least 70% alcohol, or a 10% bleach/water solution.
  • It is also recommended that all departments purchase single-use disinfectant wipes for touchpoints within their workspaces.
  • Please avoid putting disinfectant gels or liquids on electronics and other equipment, including elevator buttons, unless they have been indicated as safe to use on those devices.
  • Additional guidance is available in the enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols.
  • Contact labcheck@uw.edu or 206.685.3993 for consultation on cleaning and disinfecting your workspace.

In addition, EH&S has guidance for practicing social distancing in laboratories and other research environments. If you have any questions about resources for addressing health and safety issues, please contact EH&S Research & Occupational Safety at labcheck@uw.edu or 206.685.3993.

Please note that in-person EH&S safety courses, where possible, are transitioning to Zoom or other methods that support social distancing through spring quarter. Please check the EH&S Training page information about individual courses.

If you have any questions please contact ehsdept@uw.edu or (206) 543-7262.