Adjustments to pandemic safety measures for research, scholarship

From: Simon Atkinson, Vice Chancellor for Research
Sent: Tuesday, April 20, 2021, 9:12 a.m.
To: KU Lawrence faculty and staff; graduate students

KU Research Community,
As we near the end of the spring semester, I want to thank you for your adherence to pandemic safety measures over the past year. Your actions — demonstrating care for your colleagues and the entire KU community — have kept KU’s research enterprise free of COVID outbreaks that could have jeopardized our ability to continue research on campus and to resume limited in-person human subjects research.
Given increasing vaccination rates and lower case rates in the KU and Lawrence communities, it’s natural to begin thinking about how we might adjust safety protocols to allow us to take steps toward more normal research operations. The risks posed by SARS-CoV-2 remain real, and any relaxation of safety precautions for our researchers must be guided by current conditions. Nevertheless, there is real harm to our research and scholarship under the current constraints, and so we will make measured changes in the coming weeks.
One thing will not change: Face masks will continue to be required over the summer months, and likely well into the fall semester. There is overwhelming evidence for their effectiveness, and our mask mandate has been a major contributor to avoiding outbreaks on campus.
Once the spring semester is over, we will allow adjustments to other safety measures as conditions and campus operational constraints permit.
Beginning Friday, May 7: 

  • Researchers who need to be on campus for some aspects of their work (laboratory experimentation, for example) may be allowed to remain on campus for work that is currently expected to be done remotely (data analysis, report writing). Please check with building managers that the facility can accommodate an increased density of personnel.
  • Investigators may propose modifications to COVID safety plans for laboratories and fieldwork, such as increasing the number of personnel in their research spaces. Until otherwise announced, these modifications still must be reviewed and approved by chairs, center directors or deans and filed with the Office of Research.
  • Research teams may begin meeting with one another in person, on campus. The number of participants should be limited, meetings should be as brief as possible, and social distancing and masking requirements must be observed.
  • Investigators whose teams have been working entirely remotely, and have experienced significant decreases in productivity as a result, may request permission from their department chair, center director or dean to return to some level of on-campus work. Chairs, center directors and deans should check with facilities managers or KU Operations as to whether and when additional personnel can be accommodated safely in the building.

Right now: 

  • KU has lifted restrictions on business-related travel, along with the requirement to file documentation of approved exceptions with the Office of Research. Nevertheless, travelers should continue to consider the risks and benefits of travel, noting especially that quarantine measures may disrupt travel plans and lead to costs that cannot be charged to sponsored projects.
  • Resumption of in-person human subjects research still requires special review by KU’s Human Research Protection Program. The HRPP will consider COVID-19 risks to research participants and the degree to which such risks have decreased since resumption requests were last reviewed.

Much of our ability to adjust restrictions depends on high rates of vaccination across the KU community and in Lawrence. KU will continue to work to provide access to vaccines for all employees and students. However, at this time KU is not requiring employees or students to be vaccinated, and investigators should neither require vaccination as a condition of participating in research teams nor ask questions that might imply such a requirement.
As we adjust to a new reality, I want to hear from you about other ways that we can help your research and scholarship return to something like normal. I am confident that — exercising the same care for our community that has characterized the past year — we can safely emerge vigorous and ready to show again why KU is one of the nation’s leading research universities.
Simon Atkinson
Vice Chancellor for Research