Dear UCI Colleagues:
As the recent message from Chancellor Gillman noted, extensive planning and decision making is underway at UCI to deal with the arrival and spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the U.S. which causes the COVID-19 disease. I write to you to with information and planning for the continuity of our research activities and operations. As we think about our research activities, we must place the highest priority on the health, wellbeing and safety of the entire community.
The Office of Research has plans in place to help ensure the continuity of its services, including those provided by Sponsored Projects Administration, Human Research Protections (IRB), IACUC Administration, and Electronic Research Administration. In addition, ULAR has a robust and comprehensive continuity plan for animal care. Please direct any questions regarding OR’s continuity plans to Bruce Morgan, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Administration at firstname.lastname@example.org or 949-824-5677. Questions regarding ULAR’s continuity plan should be directed to Claire Lindsell at email@example.com or 949-824-0569.
While the campus remains open with regular access to research labs and spaces, it’s important for Principal Investigators, Lead Researchers, research leaders, department chairs, deans, center directors, and administrators to take time now to prepare for potential disruptions to normal operations that may arise from COVID-19 impacts. It is anticipated that research space at UCI will remain open, available and accessible to the extent practicable. However, circumstances are evolving rapidly, and hence the importance of creating and/or refining research continuity plans.
With regard to research labs, programs and projects, Principal Investigators (PI) and Lead Researchers (LR) are in the best position to create or review and refine continuity plans that are best suited to meet their particular and often unique needs. Now is the time to either create a continuity plan or make adjustments to existing continuity plans to address evolving circumstances. In doing so, please be sure to consult with department, school, and/or research unit leaders. To assist in the creation or refinement of plans, we recommend that the following issues be considered.
Scenarios for Planning
- A significant number of research lab/program/project personnel may not be able to report to work at UCI due to illness or quarantine. Unavailable personnel may include student employees or student researchers.
- Research facilities and infrastructure will remain open, available and functioning, but support for maintaining the research infrastructure may be diminished in the event of large-scale quarantine or illness.
- Core facilities and UCI research service providers (i.e., services provided on a recharge basis) may be operating at diminished levels or not at all.
- Non-essential international travel for UCI business is restricted, and essential international travel for UCI business will require exceptional approval. In addition, the university recommends against all non-essential UCI business domestic travel.
- Support services provided by the Research Administration in the Office of Research (Sponsored Projects Administration, Human Subject Protections, IACUC Administration, and Electronic Research Administration) will continue. Although Research Administration’s continuity plan will enable staff to provide services even when working remotely, a wide-spread illness and/or quarantine will likely cause service delays.
- ULAR personnel are well-trained, prepared to follow through on ULAR’s continuity plan, and will maintain critical and emergency functions.
- Ordering and receipt of research supplies will likely be delayed due to workforce and product shortages.
- Current and planned renovations/alterations of research space may be delayed for a significant period of time, as will all non-emergency repairs.
- On-boarding of new personnel may be delayed, especially for those requiring visa services or arriving from Level 2 – 3 countries or regions.
Health, Wellness and Reductions in Available Personnel
- Identify positions and jobs that are essential/critical to research and cross-train personnel to the extent possible. Ensure that research personnel will receive or have received all appropriate emergency procedure training
- Develop a communication plan where more than one individual is responsible for disseminating important information to the research team. Redundancy in communication plans is important. Make sure that those responsible for communication have access to emergency contact information (cell phone and e-mail) for key research staff. Do not forget to include communications with research collaborators when reviewing or developing a plan.
- Consider how the research will be impacted if the PI/LR and/or one or more research personnel are in quarantine for two or more weeks, or if UCI curtails non-essential activities and services.
- Consider what aspects of the research (including current and upcoming experiments) would be adversely affected, and how to mitigate those impacts. Ensure that all personnel have been trained on all precautionary and safety measures, especially when social distancing is being practiced and individuals may be working alone or with minimal contact with others on the research team.
- Develop a plan/procedure for research personnel who are ill, become ill, believe that they are becoming ill, or believe that their health status may put others at risk.
- Consider the steps that research personnel should take if they develop any cold/flu/COVID-19 symptoms, including the procedure for reporting their current status/absence to their supervisor and anyone else who needs to know. The UCI Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response Center can offer individual support. They can be reached at 949-824-9918 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ensure that research personnel know when and how to work from home, as well as ensure that they have the appropriate resources in place to do so.
- Remind employees that they should promptly contact their supervisor if they need a disability-related accommodation because of reduced operations, or if reduced operations has impacted or will impact their existing accommodation.
Research Activities, Experiments, Data and Results
- Remember that personnel should not remove research materials other than laptops, data storage devices, etc. to alternative locations (e.g., home). Research must be conducted within appropriate UCI space designated for research activities.
- Consider what data collection/storage activities must continue, and how will this be accomplished. Ensure redundancy for specialized computer functions, as well as data storage.
- Make arrangements to compile data and results in a way that they may be accessed and used when working from home.
- Ensure that all personnel are familiar with UCI’s remote access tools (e.g., VPN, remote desktop apps, using tele/video conference apps such as Zoom, etc.) and test these tools in advance – preferably within the next seven calendar days. Pressure test remote access by having a sufficient number of research personnel work from remote locations during the same time period.
- Prioritize research activities. Consider scheduling and conducting activities that require access to UCI research space now, and making arrangements to undertake work that is not facility-dependent for later.
- Long-term experiments may pose a challenge, and it is important to consider how on-going long-term experiments will be maintained, or whether now is the time to initiate such experiments. Is it possible to collect data, freeze samples, etc. at certain time points to mitigate costs/effort associated with restarting an experiment?
- Conduct a thorough evaluation of research space and ensure that it’s safely configured and can be maintained even when personnel are at less-than-normal levels. Consider what needs to be maintained regularly (at least once every 14 days) and what equipment must remain operational. Make plans for continued maintenance, especially for high-risk materials (e.g., biohazardous, radioactive, volatile, etc.). Be sure to review emergency and continuity plans with the entire research team. Also, consider placing alarms and/or remote controls on essential freezers and other and other equipment, and update freezer alarm contact information.
- If a lab is responsible for the housing and care of animals, separate from or in coordination with ULAR, review the current emergency plan and consider how it will be carried out should there be a period of time where the lab is operating with less-than-normal levels of personnel, or in the event that UCI curtails operations.
- For research involving human subjects, create a communication plan to keep them informed about the status of the research, how to contact research staff, the status of appointments, etc. Ensure redundancy of responsibility for the human subject communication plan.
- Monitor the UCI COVID-19 website to keep up-to-date about UCI’s preparedness plans, review the UCI announcements regarding COVID-19, and to learn more about it and SARS-CoV-2 from the CDC. This website is an excellent source of information gathered from trustworthy sources. You may also monitor COVID-19 information directly from the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/summary.html.
Research Administration and Management
- Consider standing purchase orders, or regular purchases that must be placed to ensure research continuity.
- Knowing the current status of all required regulatory approvals (e.g., IRB, IACUC, IBC, etc.) and when they will expire is important. Do not let lapsed approvals impede research progress. Have a plan in place to initiate new approvals and secure renewed approvals during a period of time where less-than-normal levels of personnel are available.
- Have plans in place for reporting the long-term unavailability of key personnel to Sponsored Projects Administration (SPA) so that SPA staff may coordinate reporting to sponsors where required.
- Consider who will be responsible for sponsored award reporting obligations and how such reporting will be accomplished in times where less-than-normal personnel are available.
- Consider how unanticipated problems and other concerns/reportable events will be communicated to the appropriate UCI office (e.g., IRB, IACUC, IBC, etc.).
- Monitor announcements from funding agencies and sponsors for changes in policies, practices, procedures, deadlines, operating hours, communication methods, etc. The Office of Research will assist with this by disseminating information it receives from UCI’s research sponsors; however, these efforts will focus on our primary sponsors such as federal agencies.
- Be sure to follow the most current UCI travel policies as they may change in response to evolving circumstances. Regularly consult the Travel Information section of the UCI COVID-19 website, monitor travel restrictions, and follow UCI’s policy, guidance and procedures for 14-day quarantine after international travel.
- What upcoming travel is essential for carrying out research or reporting results? Can travel be postponed, should it be cancelled, or are there alternatives to travel that will suffice, such as video or teleconferencing? Be sure to follow the exceptional approval process for any essential international travel.
- If travel is essential, will the travel involve visits to or traveling through Level 2 – 3 countries or regions? What precautions are (or should be) in place to address and mitigate high-risk travel? Understand that risk levels for regions can change quickly, which may impact the ability for someone to return to UCI.
Creating and refining continuity plans is important. Equally important is ensuring that plans stay up-to-date, which means monitoring UCI announcements regarding developing situations and evolving circumstances, and making further adjustments to plans as appropriate. Therefore we recommend that PIs and LRs closely monitor the UCI COVID-19 website to ensure they are aware of any changes in UCI’s preparedness plans, as well as the general UC website on How UC is responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
In closing, I would like to thank each and every one of you for ensuring health, wellness and safety of the entire community while pursuing your research. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Pramod Khargonekar, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor for Research
Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science