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Next Steps for On-Campus Research during COVID-19

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Updated April 19, 2021

The University of Kansas is continuing to expand on-campus research and scholarly activity while keeping the health and safety of the campus community as its highest priority. 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.

Key takeaways

  1. Anyone approved to return to on-campus research must submit and maintain a COVID safety plan. Forms must be completed by principal investigators or faculty supervisors for research, approved by chairs, center directors or deans, and forwarded to the Office of Research. All lab personnel must complete appropriate training, such as COVID-19 Return to Work Safety 101. Please audit your lab and/or fieldwork safety plans and resubmit for approval if personnel are joining or leaving your research team.
  2. 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.
  3. Beginning Friday, May 7:
    • Investigators may propose modifications to existing safety plans, 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.
    • 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. 
    • 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.
  4. All building occupants must follow the health and safety protocols detailed below, including conducting self-health assessments each time they enter a building, wearing face coverings and following all posted traffic flow guidance.
  5. Temporary reassignment of vacant research space is encouraged, when possible, to facilitate social distancing while sustaining laboratory operations. Deans, directors and department chairs should work with PIs to make determinations following the temporary reassignment of research space guidelines below.  
  6. The university continues to take a phased approach to reactivating in-person human subjects research – prioritizing safety for participants, study team personnel and community members. If it is possible to meet research objectives without face-to-face interactions, you should continue using remote procedures for the foreseeable future. If you are unable to conduct activities remotely and you believe your study may meet Phase 1 expansion dimensions, you may submit a request to KU’s Human Research Protection Program (HRPP) to have your project assessed for possible reactivation.

Field work + other travel

The university 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. Until otherwise announced, modifications to safety plans associated with fieldwork still must be reviewed and approved by chairs, center directors or deans. Approved plans should be sent to the Office of Research.

Health + safety protocols

In messages to the campus community on May 13 and May 18, Provost Bichelmeyer, Vice Chancellor Simon Atkinson and Vice Provost of Operations Mike Rounds outlined detailed health and safety protocols for faculty, staff and researchers to follow when they are approved to work on campus. The summary below outlines key protocols, though all members of the KU community are encouraged to read the detailed protocols in the May 13 and May 18 messages.

Protocols will be updated as the situation changes. Follow the up-to-date instructions provided in each building and posted here.

Summary of Health and Safety Protocols

It is everyone’s responsibility as members of the KU research community to adhere to the directives as outlined below. Ultimately, we jeopardize our own health, the health of our colleagues, our research, and the ability of the University to restore on-campus research activity if we do not follow designated protocols. By following physical distancing and other protocols we all help ensure our planned expansion of on-campus research progresses without setbacks, and our research can continue uninterrupted.

  • Only designated employees are approved to be working on campus.
  • Everyone on campus must follow health and safety protocols.
  • All occupants must wear a face covering at all times when in common areas of the building, or if there are others present in the same laboratory or office area.
  • Any and all administrative and other work that can be done remotely must not be conducted in the building.
  • No visitors are allowed in buildings unless approved by the Vice Chancellor for Research.

Entering Buildings

  • Occupants must use designated entrances, which will be limited to one (or two, as appropriate) locations. Those entrances will be marked and electronically monitored when possible to ensure only appropriate people are in the building.
  • Everyone entering a building is responsible for stopping and reviewing the posted self-health assessment protocols each time before entering.
  • At the current time, we will not take the temperature of people entering buildings. We strongly encourage everyone to monitor and log their temperature at home on a daily basis.
  • KU is also working with the CVKey Project to pilot test a health verification app for researchers accessing select buildings.
  • Individuals working in buildings that are not part of the app pilot are on their honor and it is their duty to stop and review the posted self-health assessment protocols each time before entering the building.
  • Only building occupants who are free of symptoms that would indicate a health risk to others based on these protocols, may enter the building.
If the health assessment indicates COVID-related symptoms:

If the health self-assessment using the CVKey app, the written or online form, or a review of the posted symptoms indicates a possible health risk, the individual should:

  • Return home and consult their personal physician and their KU supervisor. They must stay at home for seven days or until they get clearance from their physician.
  • If they do not consult a physician, they must stay home for at least seven days. While at home they should confirm whether they have a fever. They must be fever-free for 72 hours before they can come back to their lab, even if they are at home longer than seven days.

Inside Buildings

  • Move quickly and efficiently through the building and observe all distancing guidelines while passing in hallways.
  • Observe social distancing and mask mandate in common social areas (e.g., break rooms, lobbies).
  • Observe social distancing and mask mandate in shared kitchen areas. Food can be stored in refrigerators during the day, but all items must be removed at the end of the day. Shared dishes, dishwashers, and small appliances (e.g., microwaves, toasters, etc.) should not be used. We suggest employees eat in private work areas or outside. If possible, bring food in a personal cooler or thermal lunch bag rather than using refrigerators in shared break rooms or kitchens.
  • Follow marked traffic flow when using stairwells, which will be designated as either up or down.
  • Only one person is allowed on an elevator at a time. Observe distancing guidelines while waiting for elevators.

Accountability

  • Everyone must follow building health and safety protocols.
  • Any employee who is identified by the building manager or a fellow employee for not following safety rules will receive a written notice from the appropriate University leader of their responsibility to abide by safety rules.
  • Upon a second notification to the same employee, access to the building will be revoked until cleared to return by the Provost.
  • A third violation by the same employee will be subject to progressive discipline per KU policy.

Temporary reassignment of research space

Rationale

One of the most effective risk mitigation strategies for COVID-19 is to maintain a physical distance of at least six feet whenever possible. However, this limits activity in some laboratories, slowing research and potentially hampering training opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students. At any one time, KU may have empty lab space because of faculty turnover and fluctuating research funding. To promote safety and increase the efficiency of research operations, deans, directors and department chairs are encouraged to consider temporarily reassigning vacant space to mitigate challenges for laboratory operations caused by adherence to physical distancing requirements.

Guidelines

  1. Deans/department chairs/directors should identify research space in their departments that is not currently assigned to faculty with active, ongoing research, and also identify PIs who could benefit from temporary expansion to relieve capacity issues caused by safety requirements.
  2. Deans may decide to allow temporary reassignments between departments within the school/College if appropriate, and should indicate to chairs whether this is possible.
  3. If the dean/department chair(s)/director and the PI agree that temporary expansion is desirable and feasible, they should agree in writing:
    • The specific space to be temporarily occupied.
    • The time period for the temporary reassignment.
    • That the PI will vacate the space at the end of the reassignment period and return it to the previous condition (including dealing appropriately with any hazardous materials/waste).
  4. Reassignments should initially be for no longer than the remainder of the 2021 academic year. Reassignments will end if public health conditions no longer require physical distancing measures. If physical distancing measures are still required in the 2022 academic year, permission to extend the reassignment must be requested from the Vice Chancellor for Research.
  5. If space is likely to be needed for new hires in August 2021, and will need renovation, it should not be reassigned.
  6. Space must have been checked by EHS since it was vacated by the previous occupant before reassignment.
  7. No renovation or relocation costs should be incurred (e.g., moving and setting up equipment that requires a vendor technician to visit).
  8. New laboratory safety plans should be filed with the Office of Research by the dean/department chair/director to reflect the reassignment.

Human subjects research

Any resumption of in-person human subjects research will require prior approval from the Human Research Protection Program in the Office of Research. During the first week of June, a framework was provided for reactivating research involving in-person human subjects inquiry, including action steps and guidance for investigators. On July 1, KU moved beyond the original parameters for Phase 1 approval to a Phase 1 expansion period, where it remains today.

The framework for safely reactivating in-person human subjects research was thoughtfully developed by KU's Human Subjects Research Reactivation Subcommittee and reviewed and approved by KU's Research Design Team, led by Vice Chancellor for Research Simon Atkinson. The process for requesting reactivation takes into account the best current understanding of the risks of disease transmission and identifies the procedures necessary to facilitate the safety of human subjects, research team personnel and community members. All reactivation requests will require review by the Human Research Protection Program (HRPP) and, due to increased risks, may now require review by KU's full Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Protocol modifications for ongoing research that doesn't require interpersonal interactions must also be reviewed and approved by HRPP. If you need to make any changes to your study, submit a modification through eCompliance in accordance with HRPP instructions. HRPP staff are available to support researchers and ensure the safety of all research participants.

Contact HRPP at 785-864-7385 or irb@ku.edu with any questions.

Animal research

Non-essential animal research activities were authorized to resume in the Animal Care Unit, effective May 24, 2020. As research activities continue to ramp up, please be mindful that the ACU must work in accordance with all KU and state requirements, which affects its staffing presence on campus. Key points:

  1. Laboratories are expected to follow established KU and state requirements as described in required, approved reactivation plans.
  2. All requests for supplies, animal orders, etc. will be dependent on ACU staff availability.
  3. Laboratories should consider a phased approach to resuming research activities in order to allow for accommodation of requests.
  4. The fee for cage separation that was previously waived during building closure will be reinstituted with building reopening. Any rodent cage found to require immediate separation as defined by IACUC policy will be afforded a two-hour window. If ACU staff is required to perform separations, the associated fee for this service will be charged, per policy.

Please contact IACUC@ku.edu with any questions or requests to modify existing animal protocols. Contact the Animal Care Unit at acu@ku.edu.

Undergraduate student researchers

We strongly encourage undergraduate participation in research projects, especially if students can participate remotely. Participation in on-campus research activities requires special consideration and approval of chairs or center directors. Please refer to these principles for undergraduate research involvement during COVID-19, which address the factors that need to be evaluated. Approvals should be sent to the Office of Research.

Managing sponsored projects

Staffing impacts

The Office of Research continues to work remotely and expects to provide normal service levels.  

PIs should continue to request assistance for proposal preparation and review as early as possible; Pre-Award support is expected to continue as normal. Given the increased reliance on remote working and electronic communications, increased time should be provided for proposal review and submission to avoid delays related to slow systems or outages. Contact Pre-Award or your research center to initiate proposal preparation or to ask sponsor-specific questions.  

For project-specific communications and questions for sponsors, please contact Post-Award.

Sponsor communications

If you receive any communication from your sponsor regarding the impact of COVID-19 and the Office of Research is not already copied, please forward those notices to Alicia Reed and work with Post-Award on any sponsor response. Office of Research will assist you in communicating the impact to the sponsor.

Proposal deadlines

Most federal agencies, including NIH and NSF, do not grant prior approval for late submissions; however, there are existing policies that address extenuating circumstances. If you find yourself unable to submit your grant on time due to COVID-19, please contact Pre-Award or your research center to discuss your situation. 

For additional COVID-19-related guidance on proposals and awards from specific sponsors, please refer to this summary of agency guidance and your sponsors’ websites. 

Find additional sponsored projects guidance in the COVID-19 Research FAQs.

COVID-19 research funding opportunities

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, federal agencies are directing emergency and supplemental funding toward priorities that align with their missions and meet a range of needs related to COVID-19 infection and impact in the United States.

KU Research Pre-Award Services sends a weekly email highlighting new funding opportunities to investigators who have opted in to receive such notices. You can explore an archive of those notices — both current and expired — on the COVID-19 Funding Opportunities webpage.

Please contact your preferred research center or kucrpremgmt@lists.ku.edu for assistance if you are planning a submission to these funding opportunities. Proposals from KU-Lawrence applicants must be reviewed and approved by authorized pre-award staff before submission.

Questions about developing a submission? Contact the KU Research Development team: Carol Burdsal, director, carol.burdsal@ku.edu, or Doug Bornemann, assistant director, dbornemann@ku.edu.