Update 3/19/2020: Research Preparedness
To the UNC Research Community:
As you know, the Chancellor announced yesterday steps UNC-Chapel Hill will take in response to direction from the UNC System Office to reduce campus activity significantly due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This memo contains new guidance on steps to manage research and reduce research activity on campus.
General Guidance and Direction
While these steps will impact research that occurs in our labs, cores and clinical trials, please keep in mind that, to the extent your research can be continued remotely or outside of the laboratory, you may continue it subject to the general University guidance and restrictions. Your research remains important, and activity such as virtual meetings, the writing of reports or papers, data management and analysis, computation, proposal development, submissions to sponsors, etc., should all continue. We expect UNC’s research computing resources to be available and sustained during this period of reduced campus activity.
TIME-SENSITIVE Direction for Laboratory-Based Research and Cores
For PIs and researchers with laboratory-based research, we are moving to permit only critical research activities in our labs and cores between now and March 31st. PIs and researchers should be prepared for the possibility that this restriction will continue beyond March 31.
For purposes of lab-based research, critical research activities are defined as either
(1.) Activities that are directly related to COVID-19 or,
(2.) Activities that: (a.) would be impossible to restart; (b.) could not be restarted without a significant investment of time; (c.) would require significant financial resources to be restarted, or (d.) represent extremely time-sensitive and critical graduate student experiments required to ensure graduation during this calendar year.
Any lab-based research or core activity that does not meet the definition provided above should be ramped down, curtailed, suspended, or delayed as expeditiously as possible.
If you feel your laboratory, core or research work meets the above definition of “critical activity,” please complete this Critical Activity Exception Request Form to explain the nature of your activity. Please also identify the faculty, staff, postdocs and/or graduate students who are mandatory personnel under the latest HR guidelines and who must be present on campus to continue the proposed critical activity. These requests must be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Thursday, March 19th at 5 pm and will be reviewed promptly to determine if the activity can be approved to continue. Keep in mind that only the minimum number of individuals required to maintain the critical activity must be listed and designated as “mandatory” and that all facilities must adhere to CDC guidance prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people at any point. For the latest guidance on designating mandatory employees, consult UNC’s HR website.
Many labs and cores that are not engaged in “critical research activities” will still require critical services to be maintained (e.g., periodic gas cylinder replacement). Such facilities must designate at least one individual as a mandatory employee to be periodically onsite if needed for such purposes. Further, we have confirmed that air cylinder vendors (e.g., AirGas and ARC3) will continue to service our labs. Please note that basic building systems and services for laboratory buildings will also remain operational.
If the activity in your lab or core does not meet the definition of “critical research activity” listed above, please review this UNC Laboratory Ramp Down Checklist to consider what you need to do to discontinue safely the activity in your facility. We recognize that labs and cores ramping down research may still require a limited number of individuals to come to campus to assist with ramp-down activities. Employees involved in ramp-down do not need to be designated as mandatory; however, ramp-down activities must be completed by Wednesday, March 25.
Faculty or units that use research animals should consult the Division of Comparative Medicine (DCM) for current animal care recommendations, including the coordination of all PI-managed daily care.
- All breeding should be halted for all commercially available species/strains/stocks.
- For Rodent Populations Only: All researchers must indicate which of their rodent cages are priority and must be maintained. This should be done by writing ‘PRIORITY’ in red ink on the cage card. Care of our animal populations is very important during this time, and DCM will continue providing basic animal care services. If, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, DCM becomes unable to maintain sufficient staffing levels to continue providing basic care to all animals, it may become necessary to reduce the rodent population. DCM will provide further guidance and updates as the situation evolves.
Direction for Clinical Research Involving Patients
We previously provided temporary guidance for researchers involved with clinical trials and clinical research involving human subjects. Today we are modifying that guidance to conform to the UNC System Office’s directive. Clinical research that provides an immediate benefit for the health and well-being of a participant should continue; however, going forward, this work will be subject to guidance and direction from UNC Health. The UNC Health coronavirus website should be consulted for direction regarding such research.
We had previously advised that clinical research visits could continue for any human subject who was scheduled for a routine visit to UNC Health. That guidance has now been modified and applies only to clinical visits that provide an immediate benefit for the health and well-being of a participant.
Our guidance today should not be construed as a directive to cease work on sponsored projects. The Chancellor’s guidance on Tuesday to University employees encourages non-mandatory employees – including temporary employees and student workers – “to work remotely to the fullest extent possible” and asks supervisors to manage their offices virtually. Our research support units (e.g., Office of Sponsored Research, Office of Human Research Ethics, Office of Animal Care & Use, Division of Comparative Medicine, Office of Clinical Trials, Conflict of Interest and others) remain operational and their employees stand ready to assist UNC researchers.
I recognize these changes will be quite disruptive to our research enterprise and regret that we are having to take these steps. Given the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in with the COVID-19 outbreak, it is necessary for us to all do our part to help control the spread of the virus.
We realize there may be questions that will need to be addressed as part of this process. Please consult the UNC Research COVID-19 website for the latest updates from our offices and our federal and other sponsors. Questions should be directed to email@example.com. We will provide further guidance and direction as more information becomes available.