Dear PI Colleagues:
We know that this is a trying time for all of you and regret extremely that circumstances require an additional painful restriction of research activity. Effective Tuesday March 24 at 5 PM, you must pause all laboratory research until further notice. You should put your shutdown plan into effect for an anticipated pause of at least six to eight weeks. Only essential personnel may enter UT laboratories, and only essential research activities approved specifically for your laboratory by both your associate dean for research (ADR) and the VPR office are permitted to continue. All core facilities must also pause any operations except for specific tools needed to support essential research activity that has been granted an exemption.
Please note that, even when we go into “pause mode”, research support groups – OSP (proposal submission and administration) and RSC (IRB, IACUC, IBC, COI) will continue to provide full service via telework.
Please report to your ADR when you have migrated your lab to “pause mode”. Include in this report the lab location, name and phone numbers of the contact person for emergencies, your designated “lab well-check” person (defined below under Important Policies), and (in the event we grant you an essential activities exemption) a list of essential personnel. Provide contact information for each. Notify EHS at EHS-Directors@austin.utexas.edu of any ongoing sanctioned activity in your lab, the presence of possible lab hazards if emergency entry is needed, any needs for chemical or biohazardous waste pickup, and of any perishable items still present in your lab or core. Those of you conducting animal research will receive guidance in a memo from ARC director Glen Otto.
- Only the PI or a single designated person may enter labs that do not have exemptions, and then only for a momentary “well-check” to ensure that samples or reagents are secure, that refrigerators/freezers are operating properly, etc.
- Under no circumstances are researchers to take laboratory research materials — other than laptops, paper records, and data storage devices — off site, including to their homes.
- Undergraduates are not permitted to work in PI labs until further notice. Undergraduates may not be designated as essential personnel.
- Any graduate student or postdoc may decline to work on campus, and PIs cannot overrule that decision. Graduate students or postdocs may be designated as essential personnel only if they agree to this designation, and they may change their mind at a later date without fear of retribution. PIs should not ask graduate research assistants or postdocs to come to campus, unless they have been designated as essential personnel by the ADR.
- No visitors, external collaborators or non-essential personnel may occupy the PI’s research space or shared or leased lab spaces.
- No non-UT personnel may be present in research core facilities, except to make necessary repairs and deliveries.
- Colleges, departments, and ORUs may issue their own guidelines. Those guidelines take precedence if they are more restrictive than VPR guidance.
Essential activities eligible for exemption
The research pause should be as complete as possible. We expect most projects to pause and very few to be eligible for exemption. Retaining personnel in your lab at a reduced level to simply continue your research is highly unlikely to be approved. That action would not satisfy the goal of maximizing the safety of UT community. A request based simply on the view that your research is “important” will not be sufficient to justify endangering the health of essential personnel, even if in your estimation that risk is low. Exemptions are only needed for work in campus research facilities or in UT-owned remote facilities. Work at home does not need an exemption. The exemption site is already live. We encourage those few PIs who will be eligible to go ahead and submit their requests now to prevent interruptions in their activities.
You can apply for an exemption with this link. Potentially eligible activities include:
· Activity that if discontinued would cause significant data and sample loss.
· Activity that if discontinued would pose a safety hazard.
· Activity that maintains critical equipment in facilities and laboratories that must remain operational during this shut down.
· Activity that maintains critical samples and animal populations.
· COVID-19 related research that has a timeline for deployment that could address the current crisis.
· Activity that has US government-mandated security and access requirements, cannot be performed remotely, and is deemed critical by the US government.
· Activities specifically requested by a US Government sponsor to continue during this time (documentation must be provided)
· Clinical trial activity that if discontinued would negatively impact the patient's care.
When the VPR and your ADR grant an exemption, we expect lab leaders to proceed with extreme caution. Lab members should work from home whenever possible. Hold group meetings using electronic communications. When in the lab, maintain a density of personnel to permit a safe space between researchers. Require essential personnel to stay home If they become or have contact with a COVID19 positive individual. Establish a system by which lab members can check each other’s status.
To the extent possible, we will permit shared-use and core facility equipment to remain in operation if investigators need them for essential research activities.
This shutdown and the activity restrictions in the wider society are affecting all of UT lab-based research in significant ways. We are especially concerned for those of you and the members of your groups at transition points-graduate students trying to finish degrees, faculty approaching a tenure or promotion decision, and staff nearing a change in rank. We know that the outbreak particularly impedes research for members of our community who have COVID19 risk factors. With all of the uncertainty, it is hard to offer concrete words of reassurance, but I want you to know that I am thinking and worrying about these issues and that we will find ways for the university to help you move forward, now and as the crisis eases.