Coronavirus (COVID-19) Impact on UTA Research

This webpage will serve as a centralized location for updates and messages specific to research activities on campus. To directly receive updates, subscribe to the Research Listserv.

Tarrant County and Dallas County, as well as many others, have put into place "stay home/shelter in place" declarations. These declarations identify institutions of higher education as an essential business, and research is an essential business function of UTA.

The campus remains open, though there are restricted hours of access to most campus buildings. Personnel with swipe card access should be able to enter buildings during the hours that they are locked. Contact your department's administrative assistant if you experience trouble with your swipe card.

All research activities should be performed remotely by telecommunication where possible and may only be conducted on campus within the limitations and safety precautions set by the CDC's social distancing guidelines; federal, state and local orders or requirements; any university requirements; and the limitations and requirements listed below.

We ask you to develop plans for how work can be conducted remotely or paused to practice social distancing and protect your health and safety, and that of members of your lab. For sponsored projects, if these precautions significantly impact research progress or if there is a pause in your research, please contact the Office of Grants and Contracts Services (ogcs@uta.edu) to coordinate with the sponsors and program managers.

 

Research Activity Limitations

Principal Investigators (PIs) have the most knowledge to understand and determine the operational settings for their research within all safety precautions.  Continuation of research within these guidelines are determined on a case-by-case basis and must prioritize the health and welfare of individuals over the conduct of research.  Some research, for example, may have components that can be conducted remotely or in isolation. This may include individually conducted experiments in a lab. PIs will need to carefully consider activities that can continue in a safe environment versus those that need to be suspended in the interest of safety.

PIs have the discretion to pause all or part of operations in their labs or on their projects, if they feel that this is in the best interests of their laboratory/research team to avoid any health risks that may be posed by COVID-19.  All research activity should be conducted remotely as much as possible. 

Determining if Research Activities Can Continue

  • All research activities on or off campus must at least meet the current standards for social distancing and other guidelines set forth by the CDC and other government agencies as well as any stricter guidance from their college, school, center, or facility or determined by a regulatory body (e.g. IRB/IACUC). For example, a facility may have access limitation requirements imposed that may limit the number of personnel in the facility.  These limitations will need to be accommodated for research planning.
  • Group or lab meetings, and even one-on-ones with personnel, should be held remotely. If a meeting must be in person, social distance practices are required and personal interactions should remain at six feet away. 
  • PIs should ensure personnel are comfortable with the environment and conditions under which they will perform research to the extent possible.
  • PIs must review and consider all of the operational restrictions within this guidance to help determine which aspects of their research can or should continue. For example, a limitation to face-to-face interactions in human subject engagement may prevent the collection of necessary research data if there are not viable electronic alternative solutions.
  • Any researcher (regardless of their position or rank) must not come to campus if they are sick.  This includes essential personnel, which is why redundancy in all aspects of preparedness planning (and especially in communication plans) is vitally important. 

Research Activity Planning

  • Communications. If a communications plan for your research group is not already in place, designate points of contact so everyone receives timely information.  All PIs should be prepared for a complete shutdown of activity on relatively short notice. Have a plan in place for your lab.  How would you handle closures lasting hours, days, weeks? Think this through and take necessary steps to prepare.
  • Plan for researcher time. PIs and research group leads should discuss approaches now, in the event that some personnel are unable to come to work. Such advanced planning will make future decisions straightforward and minimize disruption to research activities.
  • Remote access. All students, post-docs, staff, and faculty involved in research projects should be prepared to ensure that they have access to information they need to carry out work remotely.  This might include, for example, access to literature, access to existing datasets and research-related files, and access to meeting software (such as Teams).  PIs should prepare to carry out meetings remotely should university, government, or community restrictions be put in place without much lead time.  If you are unsure about whether you have access to such tools, it is wise to test them now.  Examples of the types of research work that can be done remotely are: data analysis, literature reviews, writing proposals, reviews, or research papers, writing the background sections of theses, computational work, meetings, discussions, etc.
  • Prioritization. Depending upon the nature of your research, you might consider prioritizing work that can only be carried out in your research facility, and put off work amenable to remote support, such as data analysis. Stockpiling results and data now that could be analyzed remotely in the future is a potential option that might create future flexibility in the event of future restrictions and limitations to facility access.
  • Save samples along the way.If you are carrying out a long-term experiment and if it is feasible to freeze samples at specific steps, you might consider doing this more often.

Lab Safety Requirements

  • Sanitize. All lab personnel using facilities should clean all contact surfaces when first entering a laboratory and before exiting the laboratory using the environmental cleaning and disinfection recommendations posted by CDC (link). Colleges, schools, centers, and facilities may provide additional guidance. University personnel from EH&S will be available to assist in securing cleaning solutions. Researchers are instructed post this flyer in their laboratories.
  • Safety and Access Protocols. For individual laboratories, Core Facilities or other research space supervised by a Laboratory Director (LD), the supervising PI or LD has full authority to establish safety and access protocols for that facility, up to and including closing the lab or facility.  The name and current contact information for the supervising PI or LD should be posted outside the door to such facilities, as well as a list of current access protocols.
  • Prioritize. Consider suspending/postponing lower priority projects to allow for distancing and depopulation of the research space. Give priority to students needing to finish a degree, hard-to-interrupt experiments and to your most important research projects.
  • Limit room occupancy. Establish modified or extended operational hours and “split shifts” among those hours, so that fewer people are in the lab at any given time.
  • Individual Safety. Remember to maintain a safe environment while practicing social distancing. Working alone in a potentially hazardous lab space is never encouraged.
  • Require PPEs as appropriate, but anticipate shortages of key PPE in the future, namely N95 masks and gowns, gloves and face shields. Begin limiting the number of personnel entering lab spaces that require donning of this PPE.

Ramping Down or Suspending Research

  • Ramp Down of Lab. You may wish to use the Laboratory Ramp-Down Checklist (courtesy UC Irvine), adapted from peer institutions, to evaluate necessary steps in reducing research personnel density.  Please note that this is not an all-encompassing list, or a list for which all items will apply to a specific type of research or research in a specific discipline.  Rather, it is intended as a general tool to help inform researchers and focus their thoughts in preparing their plans and strategies. 
    • If you shutdown your lab, please be sure to inform EH&S and Amy Osborn (osborn@uta.edu) of the Office of the Vice President for Research.
  • Suspending Research: For research conducted as part of a sponsored project, if a suspension of research activity is expected to result in: 
    • The disengagement of the PI of 3 months or more to the research;
    • A Reduction of 25% or more in the time devoted to the project;
    • A change in scope of work;
    • A significant delay to complete the project on time; or
    • A significant increase in costs to complete the project,

The PI should contact the postaward office (postaward@uta.edu) to help coordinate and communicate these impacts with program officers, managers, or sponsor personnel as required.  

Research Personnel Work Activity and Assignments

All PIs and employee supervisors should assign work that can be performed remotely as much as possible.   In some situations, this may require alternative work assignments from those normally assigned such as professional development or self-guided learning activities for new techniques or software familiarity. In either case, the activities must remain beneficial to the university or project with greater than typical latitude given.  The intent is to lessen COVID-19’s sudden impact and the economic hardship felt by university employees.  For research personnel whose work cannot be performed at home, PIs / supervisors should consider reassigned duties that can be performed remotely or help relieve work assignments from other employees. For research that is being delayed or suspended, this may also be a good opportunity for PIs to closely review their Data management Plans or practices, including data integrity in the collection, documentation, and other laboratory data practices of their research personnel. See the Open Science Framework for additional information. See also UTA’s COVID-19 Telecommuting FAQs.

Below are some professional development and training opportunities that are free or low cost for researchers, graduate students and postdocs whose normal activities have been disrupted.

Research Data Management and Sharing Resources/Training Opportunities

  • Data Management Short Course for Scientists - ESIP (Earth Science Information Partners) in cooperation with NOAA and the Data Conservancy have compiled the resources for this course.
  • Data Management Training Clearinghouse – a registry for online learning resources focusing on research data management.
  • DataONE Education Modules - DataONE provides several lessons in PowerPoint format available for download that can be incorporated into teaching materials.
  • Coursera: Research Data management and Sharing [COURSE Started April 1] A five-week course designed to provide an introduction to research data management and sharing.
  • NISO Research Data Management - the National Information Standards Organization has a primer to cover the basics of research data management.
  • ICPSR Data Management & Curation - ICPSR is an international consortium of more than 750 academic institutions and research organizations and provides training in data access, curation, and methods of analysis for the social science research community.
  • Educopia ETD+ Toolkit -  Designed for training Graduate Students how to manage research for Thesis/Dissertations, but the curriculum can be used by anyone involved in research.
  •  MANTRA: Research Data Management Training - MANTRA is a free online course for those who manage digital data as part of their research project. Modules include data protection, rights, and access; sharing and licensing; and metadata and curation.
  •  Disciplinary RDM Training - This site lists Research Data Management materials specific to five areas (performing arts, archeology and social anthropology, health studies, psychology, and geosciences, social sciences & clinical psychology).

 

Proposal Preparation and Submission

  • NSF 3/9/2020 Statement on COVID-19 – describes NSF’s move to limit travel to and from NSF and utilization of virtual meetings for merit review panels and program manager meetings.  NSF still expects to meet agency deadlines.
  • NSF 3/4/2020 FAQs for Proposers and Awardees – describes considerations for various scenarios that involve travel or conference planning and the impact to awardees. 
Proposal deadlines.  Grant and Contract Services (GCS) is prepared to submit proposals, even if personnel are working remotely.  Our experience is that federal agencies are very flexible about deadlines under difficult circumstances beyond our control.  However, if agencies are officially closed, proposals will most likely remain in a queue, pending resumption of agency operations – as has been the case during federal budget-related shutdowns.  Please contact the GCS preaward team at preaward@uta.edu for any questions or concerns.

Tracking Costs Associated with COVID-19

The University expects there to be potential funding to help relieve the financial costs incurred due to COVID-19 by the federal government in the future.  This is particularly the case for federal grants and contracts.  In some instances, PIs may be able to request administrative supplements for specific sponsored projects.   We ask that you please track any costs that were unanticipated or are directly related to the ramifications and impact of COVID-19.  Costs should include those attributable to the university or to a specific sponsored project.   Please work with department admins to help identify and track these costs by transaction and source within UT Share.   Additional guidance from Business Affairs will be forthcoming for tracking these costs, in the interim, please track costs using your own identification process.  Post Award will provide methods for supplemental funding as they become available or when the opportunity arises.

Human Subject Research Limitations (as of March 19, 2020)

  • Remote Data Collection Only. Research interactions with human research participants must be performed remotely (e.g., by phone or other university-supported online tools such as Webex, Teams, Qualtrics, etc.), unless the research procedure(s) is essential to ensure participant health, safety, or wellbeing (see the Exception for Essential Research Visits described below).  The need for face-to-face research visits is extremely unlikely given UTA’s research portfolio.
    • Exception for Essential Research Visits: Research visit(s) that are essential to ensure participant health, safety, or well-being may continue using face-to-face interactions if no remote options are available. The decision about whether a research visit is essential to the health, safety, or well-being of a participant is determined by the PI (including supervising investigators when applicable), the participant, and/or the participant’s care provider. Decisions must be informed by current public health guidance regarding the COVID-19 outbreak. Decisions about visits should be especially conservative for participants at heightened risk. Investigators seeking approval for this exception must contact the IRB via The Office of Regulatory Services, regulatoryservices@uta.edu.  Please include:
      1. Name of PI,
      2. Protocol number,
      3. Summary of current research procedures involving face-to-face interactions, and
      4. An explanation of the essential nature of the activity.
    • Protecting Privacy & Confidentiality. Privacy and confidentiality of research subjects must be protected while implementing procedures involving phone, videoconferencing, or online data collection. Investigators should develop protocols and train study personnel on methods of protecting privacy and confidentiality during remote work. Advance preparation, such as removing identifiers from data (anonymize) or creating subsets of de-identified data and establishing secured, shared folders to permit remote access is also advised.
    • Visit cancellations. If a study visit needs to be cancelled, participants should be informed of the reason and that they will be contacted again when the visit can be rescheduled. These messages to subjects do not require prior IRB approval.
    • Immediate Hazards to Subjects. Federal regulations require prior approval for changes to research, unless the change is “necessary to eliminate apparent immediate hazards to the human subjects.” UTA IRB SOP IX.B.  Eliminating immediate hazards may include actions to reduce potential exposure to COVID-19, or to continue to provide medically necessary study care (mental health assessments or continuance of study drug). If your situation meets the criteria for apparent and immediate hazard to subjects, you can implement a change immediately, without prior notice to or approval from the IRB.  You will need to ensure that you are not introducing new/additional risks to subjects, and the change must be reported to the IRB within 5 business days (submit reports via email to regulatoryservices@uta.edu). 
    • IRB Operations: Federal regulations require prior approval for changes to research, unless the change is “necessary to eliminate apparent immediate hazards to the human subjects.” UTA IRB SOP IX.B. Eliminating immediate hazards may include actions to reduce potential exposure to COVID-19, or to continue to provide medically necessary study care (mental health assessments or continuance of study drug).
      • Changes that do not represent apparent, immediate hazards should be submitted to the IRB per normal procedures, via a Modification request.  IRB staff will prioritize review of modification applications for changes due to COVID-19. To facilitate review, please limit proposed changes to those necessary because of COVID-19, and email regulatoryservices@uta.edu to notify staff of an incoming COVID-19-related modification.
      • IRB Committee Review. IRB review of pending, submitted applications will continue as usual. Studies that involve face-to-face interaction may be approved with the condition that enrollment cannot begin until after the restrictions are lifted.
    • Studies Approved by Non-UTA IRB. Consult the Reviewing IRB for guidance on: 1) whether COVID-19 screening requires prior IRB approval, 2) whether/how to report the restrictions on face-to-face study procedures, 3) whether/how to modify an approved study to allow remote procedures.

Multi-Site Research.  UTA investigators should communicate with external research team personnel in multi-site research regarding the potential impact the above restrictions may have on existing research.  If protocol procedures are modified to address or eliminate face-to-face interactions or make other necessary changes, collaborators should be immediately notified and trained in the new procedures.  If external sites have their own IRB oversight/approval of any portion of the project, the lead investigator should facilitate contact with the site’s IRB office to determine necessary actions.  If external sites are fully relying on the UTA IRB, investigators at the sites should consult with their local IRB office to see if any actions are necessary.

Animal Subject Limitations (as of March 19, 2020)

  • Experiments. Experiments in progress should be completed as soon as possible.  Do not start any new experiments. 
  • Animal Orders. The ACF will not be accepting any new animal orders. This is a temporary limitation and we will communicate with you once we believe it is appropriate to initiate normal animal ordering again.
  • Reduce your colony size by eliminating animals that will not be used in experiments. 
  • Breeding is limited to only unique lines/strains. Reduce the number of breeding cages in your colony if you will not be using these animals.
  • Lab Work. Coordinate work schedules to minimize the number of people in the lab at any one time.  Designate a point person for whole labs.
  • Anticipate Further Restrictions. Multiple peer institutions have closed (i.e., locked down) their campuses and research laboratories with plans to remain shuttered for up to two months.  UTA may do the same or be told to do so by the government, thus plans should be made for how to put the laboratory in hibernation, possibly with very short notice. 

Animal Care Facility.  ACF employees are considered to be essential employees. At this time, the ACF has a sufficient number of staff members to ensure that basic animal care continues.

PI Responsibility for Animal Care.

  • Investigator labs must keep the ACF informed if their personnel are not able to care for their animals on study. 
  • For animal housing sites not managed by the ACF, Principal Investigators are responsible for continued care, unless prior arrangements are made and agreed upon by the ACF.
  • In all circumstances, researchers must use their best judgment to take action when animal welfare is in jeopardy. In these cases, report the incident as soon as possible following the IACUC’s reporting guidelines.
  • Communicate any change of status in your study experiments to the ACF Manager, Christine Safieddine, safieddine@uta.edu, 510-717-8223 or ACF@uta.edu.

IACUC Review and Procedures.

  • Federal regulations guiding oversight of animal research require the IACUC to review protocol changes before they are implemented.  Changes in aseptic surgery technique, euthanasia, anesthesia, analgesia, and sedation qualify for review under the IACUC’s Veterinarian Verification and Consultation (VVC) procedure (SOP “IACUC Review Procedures” section 3).  All other changes should be submitted to the IACUC per normal procedures, via an Amendment request. 
  • The UTA IACUC has the capability to operate and process research protocols remotely and electronically without significant impact on operations.  Please continue to follow the normal procedures for IACUC review of submissions.

There is no evidence that the animals used for research on UTA’s campus can transmit the virus or are susceptible to the virus. Pets and other domestic animals are not considered at risk for contracting or spreading COVID-19. More information about COVID-19 and animals can be found on the AVMA website: https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19.

Export Controlled Research

All researchers planning to work on a TCP or currently working on an active TCP must exercise caution and  implement all of the requirements stated above with regard to research prioritization and lab access. Additionally, a new or amendment to TCP must be submitted and approved prior to the remote access of controlled information. The TCP or TCP amendment must incorporate all recommendations of the OIT Office. These include, but are not limited to, the following considerations:

  • Research personnel working on a TCP must ensure that appropriate data security and confidentiality measures can be implemented for work to be conducted from off-campus locations. The loss of confidentiality, integrity, or inappropriate access could have severe adverse impact on the University, research area, or project.
  • Emailing research data may not be appropriate or secure depending on the type of data and security requirements involved, and in some cases may be a violation of federal law. In particular, ITAR-controlled data must not be transmitted via normal email.
  • Appropriate IT security and confidentiality measures must be consistent with the respective TCP, sponsor/contract requirements, and UTA Information Security policies https://www.uta.edu/security/policies/cloud_guidance.php. Research personnel must consider and double-check protocols, TCPs, grant or contractual obligations related to data security, storage, and confidentiality measures prior to allowing work from off-campus locations or taking physical/electronic data off campus.

If none of the above can be achieved, it is recommended revisiting the post award process to summarize the impact to a funded project (if this is funded and required for the scope of that funding).

Communication. ITAR controlled discussions are allowed to take place via Zoom because it is encrypted and secure, provided the PI ensures all participants are U.S. Persons and authorized personnel on an approved TCP. Any new methods of communication must be added to an approved TCP. Any digital transmission of ITAR controlled information outside the university must be limited to authorized TCP personnel only and comply with the end-to-end encryption standards in the federal regulations:

(i) Unclassified;

(ii) Secured using end-to-end encryption;

(iii) Secured using cryptographic modules (hardware or software) compliant with the Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 140-2 (FIPS 140-2) or its successors, supplemented by software implementation, cryptographic key management, and other procedures and controls that are in accordance with guidance provided in current U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) publications, or by other cryptographic means that provide security strength that is at least comparable to the minimum 128 bits of security strength achieved by the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-128);

(iv) Not intentionally sent to a person in or stored in a country proscribed in § 126.1 or the Russian Federation; and

(v) Not sent from a country proscribed in § 126.1 of this subchapter or the Russian Federation.

 End-to-end encryption is defined as:

(i) The provision of cryptographic protection of data, such that the data is not in an unencrypted form, between an originator (or the originator's in-country security boundary) and an intended recipient (or the recipient's in-country security boundary); and

(ii) The means of decryption are not provided to any third party.

(2) The originator and the intended recipient may be the same person. The intended recipient must be the originator, a U.S. person in the United States, or a person otherwise authorized to receive the technical data, such as by a license or other approval pursuant to this subchapter.

Award Management and Travel Restriction Impacts on Sponsored Projects

The Council on Government Relations (COGR) has developed FAQs Regarding COVID 19’s Impact on Federal Awards.  These FAQs address the following concerns for award management and allowability of costs: 

  • Travel Charges, Including Cancellations
  • Remote Work Environments
  • Project Progress Obligations (addressing delays due to COVID 19)
  • Salary Charges
  • Allowability of COVID 19 Related Items on Grants

The NIH has announced Flexibilities Available to Applicants and Recipients of Federal Financial Assistance Affected by COVID-19.

The Department of Energy has provided guidance on Accommodating Interruptions Caused by COVID-19.

Grants and Contracts post award staff are available to assist and help address the issues noted above.  Please contact post award for any questions or concerns you may have for award management at postaward@uta.edu.

COVID-19 Resources for Research Faculty and Staff