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.

The Office of Research asks all research lab owners to take a few minutes to fill out this survey so staff can effectively monitor activities in research facilities as campus begins repopulation.

UTA will provide two washable face coverings for personnel, which may be picked up at the University Center or the Central Library. To request masks for laboratory research groups, use the EH&S Face Mask Request Form.

The guidance and practices set forth at the onset of the campus shutdown in March 2020 and their relevant updates remain available here in the event that campus-based research needs to be halted.

In summer 2020, the Office of Research hosted a virtual town hall to discuss the safe return to laboratories and on-campus research activities. The presentation materials used to discuss the operational and safety requirements for UTA Research are available here and below.

 

University-Sponsored Travel Restrictions and Guidelines

 

Official University information on personal and university-sponsored travel is available on the UTA Coronavirus Travel Information webpage.

NOTE: Domestic travel funded through sponsored research is exempt from this guidance and must comply with the obligations provided by the funding source.

 

Research Operation Plan Guiding Principles

Principle 1: Follow public health policies from governing authorities.

Principle 2: Resume research operations in alignment with the executive campus response to COVID-19.

Principle 3: Protect the emotional and physical health and safety of our clinical and human research subjects, as well as the UTA research workforce.

Principle 4: A principal investigator (PI) may enforce stricter policies in spaces assigned to them as may be necessary for the type of research or operational environment. The requirements here represent the minimum level of compliance.

Principle 5: Comply with ethical and legal requirements, as well as policies imposed by the sponsors of funded research and any flexibilities afforded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Principle 6: Protect the careers of early stage researchers.

Principle 7: Conduct research activities to the extent that public health and logistical conditions permit, while remaining agile in anticipation of a resurgence of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Research Toolkit

The University of Texas at Arlington is committed to reducing the spread of COVID-19 to protect the health and safety of our community. The COVID-19 PI Research Toolkit is a set of policy references and best practices that outline how to conduct or resume research activities safely on campus and is based on our current knowledge of the COVID-19 pandemic as of the date of issue. University executive leadership will continually reassess conditions on campus and in our community, which may result in changes to these policies and practices.  Colleges, schools, facility managers, PI’s of laboratories and unit heads may require stricter safety requirements or protocols; the requirements here represent the minimum level of compliance. 

Research activities must follow all principles and policies established in the UTA Campus Repopulation Plan. Increased research activity aligning with phases of increased staffing outlined in this plan, as well as transition between phases, will be guided by State of Texas and influenced by the City of Arlington/Tarrant County and national/U.S. public health authority directives. If you change the level of activity or staffing in your lab, please notify Amy Osborn (osborn@uta.edu) of the Office of the Vice President for Research. Such changes include opening your lab, shutting down your lab, or increasing staffing by having personnel return to work on campus from off-campus work assignments. 

 

Social Distancing Requirements

  • Six-foot separation between personnel
  • Offices smaller than 300 sq. ft. should be considered single occupancy
  • Masks are required at all times in labs
  • Sign-in/out logs are required for any research space in case contact tracing becomes necessary. This can be paper-based or digital. Each person who works in your research space should keep this record current with days/times they were in the research area, names and contact information if a visitor.  
  • Be aware of facility, building or other space operating hours and plan schedules for lab personnel accordingly. 
  • PIs are encouraged to assign shift work as a way to increase social distancing among their researchers. 
  • Time must be built into work schedules to allow researchers to disinfect high-touch surfaces in the research space before, during and after their work shifts.

Best Practices for Duties and Schedules to Facilitate Social Distancing

  • Continue to work remotely to the extent possible for activities such as literature reviews, data analysis and writing. 
  • Continue to meet remotely (e.g., using Teams) even for meetings with only two (2) people. 
  • Researchers should be present in buildings only as long as necessary to complete the experiment or maintenance tasks required for that day.
  • Create a list of duties to be performed by critical personnel, including locations and how long the work will take. Designate the time of day the work should be performed.  
  • Create a scheduling calendar so everyone will know who is present in the lab at any given time. 
  • Post schedules for each laboratory space and/or piece of shared equipment, including names and contact information for all users. This includes facilities that are shared by multiple research groups. 

 

Lab Space Best Practices

  • Post a map at the lab entryway with the maximum allowable occupancy of each area to maintain physical distancing. 
  • Wash hands before entering and before leaving any lab. 
  • Wash hands before and after putting on or removing any face covering.  
  • Wash hands before and after handling any shared devices. 
  • Always wear a cloth face covering unless your research procedures require the use of heightened personal protective equipment (PPE).  
  • Use tape to mark out 6-foot spaces in high traffic areas and bottlenecks in the lab, such as near sinks or entry/exit doors. 
  • Consider developing one-way traffic patterns in labs to minimize interactions. 
  • Maintain social distancing and density policies in all shared offices. 

Equipment Best Practices

  • If possible, rearrange equipment to create a 6-foot distance (minimum) between users, or schedule equipment use time in advance to maintain social distancing. 
  • Frequently wash hands while working on campus. If the use of gloves is required for laboratory procedures, remove gloves, wash hands, and put new gloves on before and after using any shared equipment.  
  • Wipe down equipment before and after each use. 
  • Do not share items such as pens, notebooks, reagent bottles or pipets, if possible. For such frequently used items, each researcher should have their own set of lab tools. 

PPE, Sanitization Supplies and Requesting Masks

  • PIs are responsible for ensuring adequate and appropriate PPE for their research. Contact EH&S for assistance in identifying product suppliers for any special PPE required.
  • PIs are responsible for sanitization supplies.
  •  UTA will provide two washable face coverings for personnel, which may be picked up at the University Center or the Central Library. To request masks for laboratory research groups, use the EH&S Face Mask Request Form.
  • Contact Amy Osborn (osborn@uta.edu) for the reopening/ramp-up of lab activity to ensure coordination with EH&S and central supply planning.

Research Personnel Health

  • Monitoring of symptoms is required for all UTA personnel coming to work on campus. Check and affirm your health each day before coming to campusassessing the symptoms listed in the next bullet 
  • If you feel ill, if you are experiencing new or worsening symptoms from the list below, or if you suspect you may have been exposed to COVID-19, stay home. Inform your doctor or healthcare provider, your principal investigator (PI) or supervisor, and complete UTA’s close contact or personal diagnosis form 
  • If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, or if you have someone at home with confirmed COVID-19, stay home and complete UTA’s close contact or personal diagnosis form. Notify your PI or supervisor. If you are the supervising PI, notify your department chair.  
  • If you begin showing any possible symptoms of illness while on campus, leave the lab or research space and inform your PI or supervisor. 
  • Assume everyone you see is infected – including yourself – and use appropriate precautions including facial covering and social distancing. Remember that transmission from asymptomatic people is possible. 

Lab Impact of COVID-19 Diagnosis

If you are informed that someone in your lab group has been experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or has been tested for COVID-19, assume that they are infected unless it is reported otherwise.   

  • PIs should call Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) at (817) 272-2185. EHS will create a re-entry plan with you and provide any necessary supplies and assistance to help you decontaminate the space. 
  • If this person is a UTA employee, direct them to stay home and complete UTA’s close contact or personal diagnosis form. 
  • To the extent that you are able, please respect the confidentiality of (potentially) infected individual(s). 

Contact Tracing

Contact tracing is important to help control new outbreaks and slow the spread of the disease.

  • Maintain a sign-in/sign-out log for your research space. This log can be paper-based or digital. Each person who works in your research space should keep this record current with days/times they were in the research space. These records need to be stored for at least 30 days from the date of contact. 
  • Researchers should also keep personal records of others that they interact with face-to-face for 5 minutes or longer. The easiest way to minimize this burden of personal record-keeping is to minimize your face-to-face contact with others as much as possible.
  • If health authorities inform you that someone you have had contact with tested positive, the CDC recommends self-isolation for 14 days.

Suspending Research

All PIs should have a plan to suspend or shut down their laboratory in the event they and their lab personnel need to self-quarantine or suddenly halt laboratory research. All guidance for ramping down research remains available here.

For research conducted as part of a sponsored project, suspension of research activity is expected to result in:

  • The disengagement of the PI of three 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.

Contact postaward@uta.edu to help coordinate with program officers.

Supplemental Funding

  • If there is a significant financial impact directly related to COVID-19 expenditures or the cost efficiency of research progress, you may want to contact the program officer.
  • Consider supplemental funding to existing projects directly related to COVID-19 research or stopping the spread of the virus.
  • Tracking COVID-19 expenditures

Human Subject Research Expands to Phase 2 Under COVID-19 Limitations (Updated October 8, 2020)

UTA has expanded the scope of allowable activities for human subject research, referred to as "Phase 2."  Phase 2 includes in-person activities involving close interaction or direct physical contact with participants, if the activities can be performed while wearing face coverings, eye protection, and gloves.

These types of activities can have varying levels of risk depending on the nature of the contact and the procedures being performed.  Therefore, instead of setting additional limitations under Phase 2, these activities will be reviewed case-by-case to determine if they meet the criteria and can be conducted with appropriate safeguards in place to meet UTA requirements and protect subject safety.

A COVID-19 HSR Task Force will evaluate these activities.  The Task Force consists of staff from Research Administration, IRB members, research faculty, and EH&S.  To request authorization, investigators must describe their planned activities in the Request to Conduct Phase 2 HSR Request Form and attach it to their IRB protocol application submission (for new projects) or as a modification request (for an existing approved protocol).

Investigators conducting Phase 1 or Phase 2 human subject research must comply with the criteria and checklist requirements defined in this document: UTA HSR Ramp Up - Phase 1 & 2

For questions, please contact regulatoryservices@uta.edu.

UTA’s Official Coronavirus Information Page: https://www.uta.edu/announcements/coronavirus


  • 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.

Guidance for Undergraduate Research Experiences

Undergraduate research is an important part of experiential learning at UTA. With the ramping up of research activity on campus, undergraduate research is permitted if it can be conducted in accordance with the guidelines of the COVID-19 Research Toolkit. Undergraduate researchers should be included in reports of lab activity and staffing sent to the Office of Research (Amy Osborn, osborn@uta.edu). Faculty supervising undergraduate research projects should carefully consider the following aspects of these guidelines.

First and foremost, undergraduate research should be a learning experience for the student. It is an opportunity for mentoring and deep engagement with the skills and knowledge of a discipline. Under the current circumstances, undergraduate research is also an opportunity to mentor students in the behaviors and expectations needed for responsible conduct that supports the health and safety of peers and others. Mentors should keep this additional responsibility paramount when planning projects for undergraduate researchers. Resources on mentoring of undergraduate researchers are available from the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Prior to starting their research activities, undergraduate researchers should take the COVID-19 training required of all students, staff, and faculty.  The safest scenario is for research to be conducted virtually when possible.  And along with all other research activities, undergraduate research should be planned so that as many activities as possible take place off campus, Research activities on campus should be limited to those that need resources available only on campus.

For situations that do not lend themselves to a virtual experience, the following guidance is recommended. Newly recruited undergraduate researchers should be provided with general and site-specific safety training as required in the spaces where they will work, based on all hazards present. Both new and returning undergraduate researchers should also receive site-specific training relating to prevention of COVID-19 infections within the research space. The current Site-Specific Training Sign-in Sheet can be used. COVID-19 can be added at the end of the second page under the section “List Other Safety Topics Specific to this Lab.”

Research supervisors should diligently remind all research personnel that wearing masks, maintaining distance from others, and frequent handwashing are proven to reduce the transmission of disease, and these are expected behaviors for all persons on campus. Masks should be worn while in campus buildings (except private offices, alone in labs, in residence hall rooms or apartments, or when eating); and elsewhere on campus where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Reusable, washable fabric face masks for individuals are available at Central Library and the information desk at the University Center. Through UTA’s Environmental Health and Safety Department, disposable, three-ply, pleated, ear-loop face masks are available for research groups, and can be obtained by using the  Face Mask Request Form.

All persons coming to campus are expected to check themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 prior to arrival, and to stay away if they experience symptoms. Individuals who suspect they have been exposed to COVID-19 should not come to campus. Those who begin experiencing symptoms while on campus should leave the lab or research space and inform their research supervisor. All individuals experiencing symptoms, or who have been diagnosed, or who have been in close contact with individuals having COVID-19 should complete the close contact or personal diagnosis form. Individuals who have been in contact with anyone or been personally diagnosed positive for COVID-19 will be expected to self-isolate at an off-campus location for 14 days and receive clearance by a medical professional before returning to campus for any reason.

Activities conducted on campus should observe social distancing guidelines, and schedules should be arranged to minimize room occupancy. Research activities and spaces are complex, and situations arise where maintaining a distance of 6 ft between individuals is impossible. Such situations can include one-on-one training on a piece of equipment, or fabrication activity that requires more than one person. Because such situations can be common in undergraduate research training, follow these best practices:

  • Where possible, postpone the activity or modify it to avoid close proximity.
  • All participants in an activity involving close proximity should screen themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 immediately before starting, and they should only participate if they are symptom-free.
  • Make sure that apart from the interaction in question, the room is otherwise not occupied at high density.
  • Reduce the duration of close proximity to a minimum. Evidence suggests that close interactions lasting less than 15 min are safer than longer interactions.
  • Wear masks at all times, wash hands or use sanitizer before and after the interaction, and sanitize the workspace before and after use. If touching another person is likely, wear gloves during the interaction and discard them when it is done.
  • Maintain a record of the interaction for contact tracing should there be an infection.

All research supervisors should maintain a sign-in/sign-out log for the research space. This log can be paper-based or digital. Undergraduate researchers should be trained on use of this log, and they should be informed that it will be used for contact tracing in the event of an infection.

All PIs should have a plan to suspend or shut down their laboratory in the event they and their personnel need to self-quarantine or suddenly halt laboratory research. For undergraduate researchers, this plan should include provisions for alternative research activity that can be done off-campus (such as literature reviews), for those students who need to complete course credits for research activity.