COVID-19 Guidance for the Research Community
This page was updated on May 20, 2020, and provides guidance for eligible researchers to safely return to on-site work. Resources and links from earlier versions of this page (March-May 18, 2020) have been moved to the Research Resources & Communications: COVID-19 Pandemic page.
Current Status of Research Activities
(May 2020) The University of Minnesota has moved to a Sunrise Plan for operations with an overarching goal of protecting the health and well-being of students, staff, and faculty who return to on-site work.
Our current sunrise stage allows some approved on-site research activities but is limited to work that can only be performed on-site and only with safety measures that reduce viral transmission risk to a minimum.
See the Health Alert: Coronavirus (COVID-19) for the status of all University of Minnesota operations.
What you Need to Know at this Stage of the Sunrise Plan
Resuming Research Activities
- Only research groups that cannot conduct their research from home may return to on-site work; if researchers are able to conduct research from home, they must continue to do so. This guidance reflects Minnesota’s current Stay Safe order.
- All persons who are considered particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 (e.g. people with diabetes, are immunocompromised, or have similar underlying conditions) are strongly encouraged to continue to work from home.
- Employees who were previously designated “Essential On-Campus” employees or those who have been approved to conduct essential research and have been working on-site already, may continue to do so without seeking additional approval through the Sunrise process.
Researchers should be aware that, depending on the situation, such as a reimposition of the State of Minnesota’s stay-at-home order or changes in University rules due to a resurgence of COVID-19 infections or new information on transmission, research may have to be quickly ramped down again. This would likely involve the same process as during the hibernation of research under the initial stay-at-home order.
No member of the University community may return to work on-site until they have received the appropriate approval(s) and they have acknowledged their personal responsibility to comply with the Sunrise Plan. The University expects that all faculty and staff who can work from home will work from home.
Researchers seeking to return to on-site work must take the following steps:
- Consult the University’s Sunrise Plan to understand eligibility, permission needed, and safety measures required to work on-site. (University employees who have previously received permission to work on-site do not need to reapply.)
- Review all the information in this section and these sections below: Safe Conduct On-Site, and Research in Shared Spaces.
- Review any section related to specific research issues, such as working with human participants, working with animals, and managing sponsored projects.
- If all the requirements can be met, you may contact your unit and college leadership to access their specific sunrise plan for research.
- Finally, you must submit a Request for Return to On-Site Work (instructions below) and be approved by your unit and college authorizers before resuming research activities.
Obtaining College/Unit Approval
University colleges and campuses have created their own plans for their researchers’ return to campus. Please contact your unit and college leadership to access their specific sunrise plan for research and to obtain their approval for on-site work. (To find your college approver, contact your CRAD representative--if it is not them, they can direct you appropriately.)
These college plans have been informed by the Staged Resumption of Selected Research Operations, a report created by a working group of research associate deans appointed by OVPR, although its recommendations are advisory in nature, and not necessarily exactly aligned with the current Sunrise stage.
The primary researcher is required to ensure consent from employees and students returning to work in university research space prior to submitting the Return to On-Site Work Authorization Form. Students, faculty and staff who have concerns about their own or other’s safety and well-being regarding the implementation of our reopening plan should report observations and concerns to their supervisor or unit HR Lead.
Request for Return to On-Site Work Authorization Form
The final step to obtain approval to work on-site is to submit a Request for Return to On-Site Work Authorization Form. The form’s routing process will manage approvals by your unit head and Dean/Associate Vice Chancellor for Research/Associate Dean for Research or similarly designated officials. Once the approval process is complete, you will receive an email confirmation.
Regardless of the type of research/scholarship performed, the following guidelines must be followed at all times.
OHR’s Workplace Guidance for COVID-19 website provides information on leave policies, support for faculty and staff with underlying medical conditions or who have household members with underlying health conditions,handwashing, and respiratory etiquette.
University Health & Safety’s (UHS) COVID-19 Workplace Safety Training and Resources provides information for units that are preparing to return to work.
If you believe you may have or been exposed to COVID-19
Contact your primary health care provider immediately for guidance. As with any illness, stay home and report your absence using the standard process for your unit.
The University will work with Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to inform workers if they have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 in the workplace. MDH will require exposed persons to self-quarantine for the recommended amount of time.
- Take your temperature before you leave for work and when you return home from work. Log those results and report any fever (100.4 F for many people) to your supervisor.
- Report any known or probable exposure to COVID-19 positive or probable individuals to your supervisor. This includes family members and others inside your in-person social network.
- Report any and all of the following symptoms to your supervisor: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, loss of taste or smell.
- If the employee indicates any of these conditions, the supervisor must require that the employee stay home, and the employee should seek guidance from their healthcare provider. Given similarities of symptoms to seasonal allergies and some other conditions, affirmed healthcare provider diagnoses or rule-out may override the stay-at-home requirement.
Conduct In the Workplace
- Staff members must be at least six feet away from each other.
- Per CDC guidelines, employees will wear cloth masks in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
- In-person meetings are discouraged. If a meeting must be in-person to accomplish the purpose of the meeting, it must be in a large room with attendees at least six feet away from each other and wearing cloth masks at all times.
- Break rooms, lunchrooms, and gathering areas are closed for gathering. They may still be utilized for food preparation (one at a time, or multiple people if minimum 6-foot social distancing can be maintained). This does not include large residence hall dining areas where social distancing is practiced.
- Visitors who are not directly related to the individual’s or unit’s work are not allowed in the work areas.
- Sick or symptomatic employees must stay home.
Continue Good Health Habits
- Vigorously wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer when soap washing is not possible.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow sleeve or other cloth. Wash hands immediately.
- Routinely clean all high-touch areas in your home and workplace.
- Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Routinely sanitize phones, iPads, common printers, computers and all other such high-touch devices.
- Routinely sanitize desktops and all other high-touch surfaces.
Employee Privacy (for Managers/Supervisors)
Consistent with our longstanding compliance with HIPAA and patient privacy in the health sciences, the University protects the privacy of faculty and staff health status and health information. Managers and supervisors are reminded that they have an obligation to protect the privacy of employee health information.
Travel restrictions and self-quarantine rules continue to apply and are posted on the on the U Travel website: Employee Travel Costs and COVID-19.
Managing Workspaces and Facilities
- Managers should consider implementing a staggered work schedule that minimizes the number of people who are in the lab or other shared research areas at the same time.
- Work shifts, including work during non-regular business hours, should be considered. The work schedule must be posted inside the shared research space in an easily accessible place.
- Allow for at least 15-minute buffers between shifts to avoid contact of individuals during transition. Minimize rotating individuals among shifts to reduce the number of unique contacts.
- Departmentally-owned spaces, such as labs, will continue to be primarily serviced by the lab occupants, as they had been doing prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. MDH guidelines should inform cleaning frequencies.
- For shared departmental equipment, individual users will be responsible to clean these surfaces prior to individual use.
- Units can order the necessary cleaning supplies or PPE from U Market Services or they may call their campus facilities contact for assistance.
Safe Lab Practices Signage
Post the following signage prior to employees return to work:
- Lab Door Signage (DEHS)
- Notice of Operation Signage (download)
- Guidance for All On-Site Employees (download)
More posters and required lab signage can be found at University Health & Safety’s COVID-19 Workplace Safety Training and Resources.
How Research Teams Practice Safety in the Workplace
Social distancing is a required practice across University campuses and facilities. These guidelines apply to research work spaces:
- Avoid gathering in groups and in confined areas, including elevators.
- Avoid using anyone else’s personal protective equipment, phones, computer equipment, desks, cubicles, workstations, offices, or other personal work tools and equipment. In situations where work tools must be shared, employees should take precautions to sanitize them between each use.
- In areas where hoteling workspace is in use, disinfectants will be made available by the individual unit. Employees are expected to wipe down workspace prior to using it and dispose of the wipe in the trash.
- Where workstations do not permit at least six feet between employees, employees will wear cloth masks at all times.
- In partnership with FM designated facility managers, research team leaders will ensure that common spaces such as break rooms and conference rooms have furniture rearranged or restacked to promote social distancing.
- Break rooms and lunchrooms will be limited to food preparation only. When possible, employees are encouraged to bring meals that do not require refrigeration or heating.
- Minimize use of door handles and buttons as possible. If safe, keep doors open.
- Use elbows or objects unlikely to touch your face to press common-space buttons and the like.
Facilities Management Enhanced Housekeeping
For the health and safety of University members returning to campus, Facilities Management (FM) will provide enhanced cleaning of spaces. This is in addition to the standard services outlined in the FM Maroon Standard. FM staff will also follow CDC, Minnesota Department of Health, and University Health and Safety guidelines for practicing physical distancing and other personal protective behaviors.
Enhanced housekeeping measures:
- All custodial staff and their supervisors have been provided refresher training on proper cleaning techniques, as well as background information on COVID-19.
- All cleaning products meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements.
- If there is a confirmed positive case reported to the University, the Department of Environmental Health and Safety will coordinate cleaning and disinfecting of that work space.
- Facilities management teams will clean public spaces such as building lobbies, restrooms, door handles, handrails, and elevator buttons at least once daily, and more frequently if deemed necessary.
University of Minnesota is strictly limiting in-person research with human participants to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Researchers are strongly encouraged to conduct human participant research online as much as possible.
For the most up-to-date information, please see Human Research: Latest IRB Guidance and FAQ (COVID-19) (updated May 18, 2020). A summary of this guidance follows below.
Five Tier System
The Institutional Research Board (IRB) has implemented a five tier system for all research involving human participants conducted by University employees or students, regardless of whether the research was reviewed by the University of Minnesota IRB, or by an external IRB, or deemed exempt or “not human subjects research.”
- Tier 1 – COVID-19 Protocols
- Tier 2 – High Direct Benefit to Research Participants
- Tier 3 – Moderate Direct Benefit to Research Participants
- Tier 4 – Low Direct Benefit to Research Participants
- Tier 5 – Research Determined by the IRB to be Exempt or Activities that May Have Been Deemed Not Human Subjects Research
As part of meeting the IRB tier requirements, all biomedical COVID-19 applications to the IRB require MHealth/Medical School permission before IRB review. IRB applications with a direct intervention COVID-19 protocol or a COVID-19 protocol that involves MHealth Fairview or Medical School resources must also include a letter of support from MHealth Fairview/Medical School.
See the Clinical Trials Research document, including implementation requirements associated with this policy which may be updated frequently.
If you are a researcher who works with animals, please read this information regarding modified Research Animal Resources (RAR) and IACUC practices. For more information about this guidance, see RAR’s COVID-19 Animal Ordering & Care web page and the IACUC section of the Research Resources & Communications: COVID-19 Pandemic page.
RAR Reduced Staff Levels
Since the beginning of Minnesota’s Stay at Home orders, RAR has maintained reduced staff levels (status yellow level) as part of its Epidemic/Pandemic Plan to care for and maintain research animals and to keep its essential personnel safe.
Safety in the Vivariums & Animal Research Spaces
- RAR has posted signs on each animal holding and procedure room that lists the maximum number of people who can work within and still maintain social distancing safety practices.
- Online calendars are used to reserve up to two hours of time in animal research spaces per day. These calendars, along with additional policies, are shared with returning researchers by the RAR area supervisor of the building where their animals are housed after the researcher has provided documentation to the area supervisor indicating that they are approved by their college to resume research on campus.
- Masks are required in the vivarium.
- RAR will attempt to supply some non-clinical grade PPE to researchers housing animals in RAR facilities. However, RAR cannot guarantee any supplies of PPE until their supply chain is restored. RAR will communicate when certain PPE can once again be supplied to researchers.
- RAR is only accepting animal orders with a new modified order form.
- Submit the modified order form by email and include an official letter or system approval email for research recommencement. No web portal or phone orders will be accepted.
- Orders are filled on a first-come first-served basis.
- Animal orders that were in the animal ordering system at the time the University shut down may be canceled with no order charge assessed. If these animals are still needed, the order should be resubmitted using the new modified animal ordering process.
- RAR animal ordering personnel will contact those investigators with exception orders directly.
- Animal transfers for housing locations, protocol changes, etc. will be processed in the normal course of business and rely on a completed animal transfer request form.
- This process may be delayed at any stage due to reduced RAR staff levels.
Transgenic Breeding Service
To help researchers prevent the loss of unique, non-commercially available transgenic mouse and rat strains, RAR will soon offer limited, temporary breeding colony management services for these lines, including pairing, weaning, identification, and genotyping (through Transnetyx). More information about this will be posted on RAR’s COVID-19 Animal Ordering & Care page.
- IACUC approval is still required to begin any animal research. The committee continues to review protocols and hold meetings.
- For studies that are directly related to COVID-19, the IACUC is providing expedited reviews.
- IACUC approval does not supersede requirements of the University or federal or local agencies and those requirements must be followed before initiating any research.
- Under a federal waiver, the IACUC is currently not conducting any inspections, with the understanding that these inspections will be carried out as soon as it is safe to do so.
SPA Staffing Impacts
All SPA functions continue to be conducted via remote work at this time. Contact your SPA Grant Administrator for questions about your research funding.
Proposal Due Dates
Many sponsors are offering opportunities for delayed proposal due dates; consult your funding agency’s guidance on this topic.
If the purpose of a proposal or supplement submission is for COVID-19-related work or the reason the proposal is being submitted is because of COVID-19, Investigators should start their proposal titles “COVID-19: [rest of title].”
Doing this allows the University to track its COVID-19-related work and the pandemic’s impact on the University’s operations.
See SPA Summer Salary Appointment guidance on this topic.
Charging PPE to Sponsored Projects
See Charging PPE to Sponsored Projects guidance.
SPA continues to accept incoming awards. If a delayed start date would be helpful because work cannot start on the project at this time, or if project deliverable timelines cannot be met as originally forecast, please contact your SPA Grant Administrator. A request to the agency for an adjustment may be needed.
For new awards, salaries for “idle time” should not be charged; defer hiring or placing project staff on the award until work can be performed (remotely or on-campus).
COVID-19 Related Project Extensions, Supplements, and Scope of Work Changes
Investigators (particularly those returning to campus) may now be in a position to assess with a reasonable degree of accuracy the impact of COVID-19 on their sponsored project(s). In these instances, investigators should confer with their program officer if they believe that additional time or funding is needed to complete their original statement of work, or if they believe that a reduction in scope or change in scope will be needed. After exploring available options with their program officer, the investigator should complete the following required paperwork:
- No change or impact cannot yet be assessed: no action needed at this time; stay vigilant.
- No cost time extension, and/or supplement, and/or reduction or change in scope is needed: for time, use your agency’s standard process; an initial time extension up to one year with no change in scope can be approved by SPA for many standard federal research projects; all other requests need agency approval with SPA countersignature on the request.
- For awards with progress reports due during the pandemic: include a statement that describes the impact (if any) of the pandemic on the grant progress.
Investigators and departments must ensure that institutional records are consistent with any requests for supplements. For example, if an investigator is requesting additional funding because some project staff needed to be paid for “idle time” because they were unable to work on the project, institutional records must show that salary recorded using the institutional codes for COVID-19 related idle time.
Contact your SPA Grant Administrator for questions.