Date:        April 24, 2020
Subject:    Update for On-campus Research Activities
To:           UMass Amherst Faculty, Postdocs and Graduate Students,
Deans, Directors and Department Chairs, Business Managers
Cc:           Chancellor K. R. Subbaswamy, Provost John J. McCarthy,
                Campus Leadership Council, Faculty Senate Rules Committee,
                Research Council, Chairs of IRB, IACUC, Chemical, Biosafety, and
                Radiation Safety Committees, Research & Engagement Staff

I want to thank many of you who have submitted Laboratory Research Continuity Plans since the announcement of the limitation of on-campus work to critical activities on 3/23/2020. I know that all research is “critical” to someone, but the community has been very understanding that the health and safety of the community is even more urgent during this COVID-19 emergency. I write today with some updates and clarifications for those who have approved Continuity Plans and with information on those who do not but wish to resume activities when possible as the emergency evolves.
Please note these clarifications and reminders.
  • All research labs that anticipate the need for on-site personnel for any length of time must submit a Research Continuity Plan (Word) which will be reviewed by the department, dean and Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement. Other reviews, e.g., EH&S, will be sought as necessary.

  • The Research Continuity Plan must enumerate and detail all critical activities that will be conducted on-site and all personnel that will be involved. It must include locations and time frames for activities. Emergency contact information (i.e., cell phone number and name) should be listed for all personnel. Emergency contact information should also be updated as necessary and posted on the door to each lab.

  • Research Continuity Plan approvals are a separate activity from other approvals such as IRB, IACUC, Biosafety, etc. New or modified protocols should be reviewed by the relevant committee(s) and approved prior to seeking approval or amendments to a Research Continuity Plan.

  • The guidance for critical activities as of 3/23/2020 were those that:
    1. Constitute a safety hazard if discontinued,
    2. Result in the loss of significant existing or in-process data if discontinued,
    3. Maintain critical samples, reagents, materials, animal populations, plant cells, tissue cultures, bacteria or other living organisms, instrumentation, and other infrastructure,
    4. Could potentially harm a human subject if discontinued.

    Since this guidance was originally issued, another category has been added:
    5. Activities focused on sponsored research to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis.

    We are acutely aware that concerns about research and degree progress, career advancement, funding, and other time-sensitive issues are important and numerous. Unfortunately, conducting all of those as we normally would is not possible during this phase of the emergency. See below for more information on this point.

  • Examples of additional critical activities, focused on maintenance rather than research, include:
    • Maintaining cell lines or animals
    • Filling dewars containing samples or cooled equipment with a cryogen
    • Changing gas cylinders for critical pieces of equipment (e.g., glove boxes, GC-MS, etc.)
    • Coordinating delivery of gases, cryogens, or other critical needs
    • Monitoring temperature or gas levels on critical equipment (e.g., refrigerators, freezers)
    To minimize the density of personnel on campus and the need for coordination of schedules, it is strongly preferred if critical maintenance activities can be shared across laboratories.

  • Should the scope of any approved activity change that would require an increase in lab staffing or materials, or an extension of the time period originally approved, an amendment to the Research Continuity Plan should be submitted detailing these changes.

  • Written notification should be provided when the approved activities are completed.

  • Only hazardous materials and supplies necessary to support approved research activities should be ordered to ensure minimum occupancy on campus.

  • Activities that would take place at field stations or that use core facilities must be coordinated with the Continuity Plans for those locations and services to ensure availability, social distancing, etc.

  • Activities that pose only a minimal risk may be conducted by a single person with the implementation of a “remote buddy” system.

  • All Continuity Plans should include enhanced cleaning along with any more specialized steps required for the research activities (e.g., cleaning of equipment).
I am also pleased to say that we have begun planning for restarting research on campus. The timing for increased activity on campus is not yet known, because it depends on improvements in the public health situation, which are expected to occur gradually. Restarting research will be done in a phased approach as the changing circumstances allow. More details and the membership of a working group to develop the principles, processes, and requirements for increasing activities will be provided as soon as available.
With many thanks and best wishes that you and yours are well and staying safe,
Michael F. Malone                                                 
Vice Chancellor for Research & Engagement
Professor of Chemical Engineering
University of Massachusetts Amherst
(413) 545-5270
Assistant: Christine Burnett,
UMass Amherst Coronavirus information:

University of Massachusetts Amherst
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