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Guidance for Campus Research in response to COVID-19

The following guidance is specific to research activities on campus. This page will be updated as new information is released. Please send questions by email to: VCRI@uml.edu.

Please see Corona Virus Alerts for the most up-to-date university communications and resources related to COVID-19.

Last updated: Aug. 28, 2020

OVERVIEW

What is the current status of research-related activities on campus?

In accordance with Chancellor Moloney’s announcement that UMass Lowell will scale back and minimize its on-campus presence for Fall 2020, the university will shift immediately to a modified Stage 3 research re-entry plan, referred to as Stage 3B.

What are the modifications under the Stage 3B plan that I need to consider?

Though the university cannot move to Stage 4 research as originally planned, Stage 3B modifies the Stage 3 plan in order to support continuation of regular research activities while maintaining low floor and building densities. For Stage 3B, campus access continues to be restricted, but limited access will be permitted with advance approval and in compliance with requirements issued by the research re-entry committee and university for safety and other matters. Scheduling of lab or studio access days and times for each individual will, however, be done locally rather than by the committee.

Please note Stage 3B is an updated version of the Stage 3 plan with the following modifications and/or reminders:

  • Those who have received approval and are currently working on-campus will receive an automatic extension of access until at least Oct. 31, 2020.
  • Applications for new access will be evaluated with less emphasis on demonstration of urgency of activities and a higher focus on appropriate scheduling plans, to ensure minimal person-to-person contact and low densities.
  • PIs may request additional research team members return to campus, but they are still responsible for abiding by the maximum number of approved personnel within their labs or spaces (1 person per 200 square feet). To ensure awareness and coordination, PIs should discuss with their department chairs before submitting a proposed schedule that adheres to the lab-specific capacities. The committee will continue to monitor floor and building capacities. 
  • All individuals must still complete the required training prior to returning to campus.
  • PIs are responsible for the management and continued supervision of personnel to ensure individuals are familiar with and complying with all policies and procedures. This includes practicing physical distancing, wearing masks on campus, not congregating in common areas, hand hygiene, and regular cleaning and disinfecting of workspaces. EHS will continue to conduct inspections to assess compliance with guidelines.
  • Exceptions to the plan will be considered by the committee. We encourage all PIs to submit special requests for consideration if their needs fall out of the guidelines as stated in the re-entry plan, such as an extension of hours. The committee is open to working with all researchers and offering reasonable solutions to accommodate individual plans that better support their needs and productivity.
What is the current status of research support operations on campus?

Business units supporting research – Office of Research Administration, Office of Research Integrity, Research Support Services, Office of Technology Commercialization, Office of Industry Partnerships and Economic Development, New Venture Development and the Core Research Facilities – are available. Researchers may contact their usual contacts in these offices as needed or email: VCRI@uml.edu.

How do I request on-campus access for Stage 3B?

In order to request on-campus access for Stage 3B, please follow the steps below:

  1. Please carefully review the complete Campus Research and Scholarship Re-entry Plan.
  2. Complete the one-hour interactive training provided by The New England Consortium (TNEC).
  3. Faculty should discuss with their department chairs before submitting a proposed schedule that adheres to lab-specific capacities. Faculty are strongly encouraged to coordinate the use of shared spaces.
  4. Visit the InfoReady portal to submit your application. Please download the form-fillable “Application Form” on the website on the right-hand side. Complete the form and submit through InfoReady.

If you have any questions, please email: ResScholSupport@uml.edu.

How do I know if I’m using the correct form to submit my re-entry application?

Please review the descriptions for each form:

  • Campus Research Entry Request (For Faculty/Lab Lead Use) - Stage 3B
    This form is for faculty and/or lab leads only. This form is for prolonged (more than 5 days) lab and scholarship space access for the fall. RA’s should be included in research re-entry requests submitted by their PI/faculty advisor/lab lead. These applications get evaluated by a committee which is looking for assurances that the plan minimizes the number of people in the requested space and adheres to the maximum number of people within the space (200 square feet per person at any given time). The committee is also looking to ensure the RA’s and others included in the schedule/plan have been COVID-safety trained.
  • Campus Re-Entry Request for Depts/Units (for Office Directors/Chairs use ONLY) 
    This form is for department directors, executive directors, academic chairs, and associate deans only. Faculty and other staff should not be completing this form. This form is used to request strategic office re-population for the unit or department. TA’s should be included in the plan with the expectation that they will only be in the building for instances such as instructing or filming to support virtual instruction, since we are still at minimum occupancy with several buildings/floors remaining closed for the fall. Requests for TA’s should be submitted by the department chairs. Please discuss with appropriate office directors and chairs to include such requests in their applications.
  • Short-Term Building Access (College-specific) (For Faculty/Chairs use)
    This form is used to request one-time, short-term (30-minutes), extended (one-day or recurring <5 days) or emergency (ASAP) access to your office, lab, or other space to address urgent needs (e.g., resetting server, moving material out of a warming freezer, etc.), retrieve items from your office (or other scholarship space), or perform urgent teaching-related activities. The form must be completed by a faculty member. Students and Postdocs requiring access should ask their advisors and/or department chair to submit a request on their behalf. Please be sure to submit using the appropriate college-specific form as these applications will be sent directly to the dean.

How are you evaluating applications?

Please refer to the for the evaluation rubric located at the InfoReady portal under “Competition Files” toward the right-hand side.

How do I register for the required training provided by The New England Consortium (TNEC) in order to apply for Stage 3B access?

Please visit the TNEC website in order to register for an upcoming training prior to applying for Stage 3B access.

How do I request modifications to my currently approved plan?

Please submit an application detailing modifications (time changes or extensions, access for new research team members, access to new spaces, etc.) through the InfoReady portal.

Approved Research

How do I get the masks and cleaning supplies once I am approved to return to my lab space?

Disposable masks and cleaning kits will be delivered to the researcher (to the primary location they requested access for) upon access approval. If the need for additional face covering or supplies arises, researchers should email: ResScholSupport@uml.edu.

Supplies may become limited as additional access is granted across the university, and the lab will eventually be responsible for replenishing supplies (once there is a clear centralized procurement process available for these items).

How can I access the cleaning log sheet?

Please download the Laboratory Cleaning and Disinfecting log sheet (pdf) and print it out. Please print out and make available in your research or scholarship space.

How are you evaluating the effectiveness of the plan?

Faculty / Lead Investigators are responsible for assuring that safety guidelines are adhered to in their labs and common areas. Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) will conduct inspections to assess compliance with guidelines. Non-compliance will be tracked and reassessed. Depending on the non-compliance, penalties will range from losing access for the day and re-taking the COVID-19 safety training to suspension of access for several weeks. Repeat non-compliance could result in long-term suspension of access, at the discretion of the Access Approval Committee.

For full details regarding how the Evaluation Committee will collect, analyze, and review the following performance indicators, please refer to the Campus Research and Scholarship Re-entry Plan.

How can I report any noncompliance?

Compliance with all guidelines and maintaining a safe working environment is a shared responsibility. If you witness noncompliance of guidelines, please contact EHS by phone at: 978-934-2618 or email: EHS@uml.edu. Your report will remain anonymous.

HUMAN SUBJECTS RESEARCH

Is the IRB Office open?

Yes. The UMass Lowell IRB (Institutional Review Board) Office is fully functional and operating as normal. As long as there is no disruption to ORI operations, the IRB will continue business as usual (but through virtual communications).

My research study involves face-to-face interactions with human subjects. Can I continue my research, and are research subjects from the community (e.g., children, their parents, other adults) currently allowed on campus?

No human subjects involved in research are permitted on campus. Those human subjects projects that have been approved to continue must immediately convert to remote procedures. These changes must be reviewed and approved by the IRB prior to implementation unless it is to eliminate immediate apparent hazards to the participants or researchers (see question below). Remote procedures include:

  • Limiting study visits to those needed for participant safety or coincident with clinical care.
  • Conducting virtual study visits via Skype, Phone, Zoom, or Qualtrics.
  • Arranging flexibilities for required laboratory tests or imaging needed for safety monitoring to occur at local laboratories or clinics

The Committee and IRB are currently evaluating safety protocols for face-to-face/in-person research and will release approved guidance soon. This guidance will include considerations for verbal pre-screening of subjects for COVID-19 symptoms and contact, use of PPE for subjects, and limiting on-campus access for people at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Until face-to-face/in-person research guidance is released, research and scholarship that involves face-to-face interaction with human participants is not permitted on campus.

What do I need to do if I decide to temporarily suspend study activities such as enrollment, study procedures, etc.?

If the Principal Investigator decides to voluntarily suspend study activities, they should submit this as Reportable New Information to the IRB within 5 business days of the suspension..

Can I modify my study procedures in my project involving human subjects to incorporate remote alternatives?

If possible, you should plan for alternatives to in-person study visits (e.g., online questionnaires, phone surveys, etc.). However, these changes must be approved in advance by the IRB, unless they are necessary to eliminate immediate apparent hazards to participants. For additional guidance, please email: IRB@UML.edu.

What if I need to modify the study procedures immediately in order to protect researchers and/or study participants?

If it is in the best interest of researchers and participants to eliminate immediate apparent hazards, the Principal Investigator may implement changes without prior IRB approval, however, this must be reported to the IRB as Reportable New Information within 5 business days of the modification.

Should I expect delays in review of protocols by the Institutional Review Board?

As long as there is no disruption to ORI operations, we expect the IRB to continue to accept and review protocol submissions, even while faculty and ORI staff are working remotely. If necessary, IRB meetings will be held remotely.

RESEARCH INVOLVING ANIMALS

What plans are in place to ensure that the animals housed on campus will continue to receive care?

The UMass Lowell Animal Care Unit will continue to provide daily care to all animals housed in the animal care facility. This includes continued veterinary medical care; assessment of animal health and well-being; provision of food, water and clean cages; and maintenance of appropriate environmental conditions. For animals housed in satellite facilities, the primary investigators are responsible for providing the necessary care. The National Institutes of Health's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare has developed a Frequently Asked Questions regarding how to prepare during a pandemic.

Should I expect delays in Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee review of protocols?

As long as there is no disruption to ORI operations, we expect the IACUC to continue to accept and review submissions while faculty and ORI staff are working remotely. If necessary, IACUC meetings will be held remotely. For additional guidance, IACUC@uml.edu.