A Phased Approach for Restarting UO Research Activity

Overarching Goal: To ensure the safety of our students, faculty, and staff while increasing research activity in a phased approach as public health guidance and safety conditions permit. The purpose of this document is to lay out a framework for phased re-engagement of on-campus research activities. Further planning for later phase re-opening is still to come. Recovery will be a long-term transition with a restart process that is scaled gradually and aligned with public health conditions.  Our framework is informed by the following principles and observations:   

Core Principles: 

  • We must support and protect the safety, physical, and emotional health of the research workforce. 
    • Practical and safety considerations will dictate which activities are allowed in any given phase and space. 
    • Plans must be informed by and adapt to evolving recommendations from national and local health authorities regarding best practices to prevent transmission of COVID-19. 
    • Maximizing opportunities and engagement via remote work is critical and is expected to remain critical throughout 2020. 
  • Planning and execution of fair, transparent, and accountable processes for access should engage the research community to identify needs and to find solutions that support our research mission. 
    • Research groups and PIs will need to prioritize their on-campus activities, focusing especially on those that enable further remote work. 
    • We must strive to protect the careers of vulnerable populations, such as early stage faculty and researchers about to enter the job market. 
  • We must continue to comply with all executive orders and health authority guidance from national, state, local, and university authorities. 
    • Plans to re-engage research activities must anticipate changes in guidance and have provisions to adapt to new guidance, including the possibility that we may have to retreat to more conservative access to campus. 
    • Plans will also need to describe procedures to ensure compliance with external orders/guidance and provide a mechanism for monitoring compliance internally. 

Process for Reengagement in On-Campus Research Activities 

We understand that the disruptions to different types of on-campus research varies significantly across research areas. This phased plan focuses on on-campus activities, with special focus on wet and dry lab access, as most of these must utilize on-campus research infrastructure. We anticipate that subsequent plans will be developed for other areas of research as the recovery continues. All plans are required to enable strict adherence to governmental physical distancing orders. 

PIs impacted by this plan will be asked to develop and submit a recovery plan for their research group that complies with the principles and rules below. These plans will be reviewed through the Research Recovery IMT and EHS, in coordination with faculty subject area experts, who will determine whether plans are suitable or whether revision is needed. 

Phases and Permitted Research Activities 

Movement between phases is tied to public health directives and the current state of the health care response to COVID-19. Details of distancing requirements, appropriate work attire, and PPE usage will adapt to public health directives as they evolve. Before allowing greater researcher access to on-campus activities, plans and enforcement of physical distancing directives are necessary. We anticipate that there will be limitations on the number of people on campus per research group, limitations on the number of people in shared spaces, etc. in each phase. 

PHASE 0: LIMITED ESSENTIAL MAINTENANCE ACTIVITIES (March 23, 2020- Present) 

Executive orders from the Governor to stay at home. All non-essential businesses are closed. All faculty and staff who can work from home are required to do so.  Non-critical on campus university activities are suspended.  

Lab-based activities: 

Essential maintenance/research activities include: 

  • Activities required to maintain lab safety, gas supply and equipment that cannot be safely powered off for extended periods of time 
  • Care for animals, plants, and other living organisms  
  • Research related to COVID-19 
  • Research activities where delaying or cancelling such activities would result in unrecoverable loss of a faculty member’s long-term research trajectory 
  • Prior to each visit to campus to perform these activities, researchers must complete the On-Campus Research Form 

Field-based activities: 

  • UO travel is banned, and travel to field sites is suspended. Exceptions for essential activities such as remote equipment maintenance or COVID-19 related sample collection require approval from the IMT travel group

Human subjects research: 

  • Human subjects research that can be done remotely can continue 
  • Face-to-face human subjects research is suspended. Exceptions require approval from the IRB. Use this form to submit an exception request.    
  • Groups performing human subject research may come to campus to collect mail, incoming samples, etc. as part of their work from home process. Prior to each visit to campus to perform these activities, researchers must complete the On-Campus Research Form

PHASE 0.5:  ESSENTIAL LIMITED RESEARCH ACTIVITIES (After submission and approval of recovery plan, expected early May) 

Executive orders from the Governor to stay at home. All non-essential businesses are closed. All faculty and staff who can work from home are required to do so. Non-critical, on-campus university activities are suspended.  

  • Phase 0 activities are permitted 

Lab-based activities:  

  • Prioritize experiments that: 
  • Utilize research animals that would otherwise need to be euthanized 
  • Create work able to be done at home to limit time on campus 
  • Can be done with minimal occupancy of research spaces, not to exceed 2 people per research group per day 
  • Use research core facilities to conduct activities, especially when these activities create additional remote work 
  • Require significant prep/lead time to prepare for subsequent phase activations 
  • Protect research investments that would be lost without campus activity 

Field-based activities:  

  • Prioritize experiments that include seasonal data collection and local fieldwork that does not require travel 
  • No non-essential travel. Travel, including local travel, continues to require approval from the IMT travel group

Human subjects research:  

  • Same as Phase 0 

RULES FOR PHASE 0 and 0.5 

Applies in all cases: 

  • Any Phase 0.5 activities must be able to be shut down quickly if return to Phase 0 is required 
  • Encourage symptom checklist monitoring for all researchers coming to campus or working in the field. Researchers should not come to campus or interact with other employees if sick. 
  • Limit time on campus/in field to only critical activities  
    • Do not conduct work on campus that could be done at home 
    • Planning and prep work must be done remotely when feasible 
    • Ensure physical distancing at all times and in all spaces according to most recent guidance (currently at least 6ft. per person) 
  • All people engaging in on campus or fieldwork research activities are required to wear face coverings.  Researchers are also strongly encouraged to also wear them in public settings (on campus or in field), as per CDC guidance. 
  • Each PI seeking to conduct on-campus lab-based research or fieldwork will be required to submit a research recovery plan and receive approval before initiating proposed Phase 0.5 tasks 
    • Note: Following approval of a Phase 0.5 recovery plan, you are no longer required to log planned visits to campus using the OVPRI on-campus research form
  • To maximize the safety of operations in Phase 0.5, essential research activities should be carried out only by well-trained researchers.
    • During this phase, researchers should not perform activities that they have not been trained to do previously.
    • We stress that undergraduates are students first and researchers second. In some cases, especially for early career faculty, well-trained undergraduates may routinely already carry out important research activities. In such instances, they are only permitted to conduct essential research functions for which they are already trained and that can be completed safely.  Progress toward undergraduate or Honors College theses alone is not an approved Phase 0.5 activity.
    • Training of new users will be difficult in early stages of this phase given the limitations to number of people per faculty PI lab permitted on campus.  We encourage research groups to think creatively about future plans for training that could be conducted with adequate physical distancing.

Specifics for on campus and lab-based activities: 

  • Please be aware that campus-support services are much more limited than normal, including on-campus staffing of incident response specialists.  Please implement additional non-routine lab-based precautions whenever conducting work with physical or health hazards. 
  • Increased physical distancing: 
    • Research groups are permitted to have up to 2 persons working on-campus per day. It is preferable for work to be performed during normal work hours. If members of your team need to conduct work outside of regular hours, please include how you will ensure lab and personal safety during off-hours work.  
    • Shift working that exceeds 2 people per day is not permitted. 
    • No in-person research group meetings and no use of on-campus space for activities that can be performed at home 
    • Implement coordinated workflow that includes logs of all entries & usage of shared research spaces 
  • Increased cleanliness: 
    • Breakrooms remain closed except for food storage or eating. Individuals should not eat in a group. All eating areas must be disinfected before and after use. 
    • All people in labs must wear appropriate lab attire and appropriate PPE (typically lab coat and gloves, depending on activity). 
    • All lab benches, instruments, and equipment should be disinfected before and after use  
    • Thorough hand washing must occur upon entry and prior to exit of lab spaces 
    • Research groups and owners of shared spaces must develop and post specific decontamination protocols 
    • Spot checks of on-campus compliance will occur. These checks will focus on compliance assistance and will be staffed by departments, institutes, and UO EHS. Governmental authorities are also engaging Oregon businesses with compliance enforcement. 

Additional specifics for field-based activities: 

  • All field-based activities that involve travel must be approved through the IMT travel group 
  • Break rooms and offices remain closed   
  • Thorough hand washing must occur upon entry and exit of work spaces 
  • Disinfection of all handled equipment or tools before and after use by each researcher 

The names of Principal Investigators with approved Phase 0.5 Recovery Plans can be viewed here. You will need to log-in to view this page. 

PHASE 1: EXPANDED HIGH-PRIORITY ACTIVITIES (No sooner than June 13, may be later.) 

Exact requirements, guidance, and transition plan to Phase 1 will depend significantly on future federal, state, local, and university restrictions and allowances. For transition to Phase 1, we anticipate that the executive order from the Governor to stay at home will have been lifted, but other executive orders and physical distancing requirements may remain in place. Expected changes in non-critical business activities are anticipated. Possible changes to UO travel ban.   

  • Phase 0 and 0.5 activities are permitted 
  • Continue to prioritize experiments that enable data collection to support further remote work/data analysis 

Lab-based activities:  

  • Same prioritization as Phase 0.5, with expanded access to on-campus research through shift-work and potential increase in the number of lab personnel permitted daily (within capacity to maintain safe person density in on campus locations) 

Field-based activities:  

  • Expanded field research on case by case basis 
  • Dependent on local, domestic, and international conditions/restrictions at field sites 
  • Dependent on travel restrictions, ability to travel safely, and physical distance at field sites 

Human subjects research: 

  • Possible expansion of face-to-face HSR depending on restrictions. Exceptions will continue to require approval from the IRB. Use this form to submit an exception request.    

RULES FOR PHASE 1 

All rules from previous phases apply, with the following modifications: 

Applies in all cases: 

  • Any Phase 1 activities must be able to be shut down quickly if return an earlier phase is required 
  • Each PI seeking to conduct on-campus research or fieldwork will be required to submit a new research recovery plan if they do not have an approved Phase 0.5 plan, or an addendum to an approved Phase 0.5 plan. These plans must be approved before initiating proposed Phase 1.0 tasks. 

Additional specifics for on campus and lab-based activities: 

  • Shift work permitted. Additional guidelines to follow. 
  • Research groups are permitted to have up to 50% of fully-trained research personnel to work on campus per day (in shifts). Approval will depend on building and floor analysis of person density in research spaces. 

Future Phases 

We envision at least two more subsequent phases prior to return to normal research operations. Expansion of research activities, including those involving travel or face-to-face human subject research, will be highly dependent on relaxation of federal, state, local, and university policies related to physical distancing and allowed activities. While we do not yet have sufficient information to provide a substantive framework for these future phases, we anticipate that they will depend on the status of COVID-19 testing, serotesting, and contact tracing. Our goal is that this phased recovery plan will ensure continuity between phases as a necessary precaution given the expectation that transition back to earlier phases may be required on short notice.