Research Continuity during the COVID-19 Outbreak

University updates, advisories, and guidance

Visit coronavirus.upenn.edu, the University’s dedicated coronavirus COVID-19 website, for the latest updates including links to preventative health and travel advisories.

Visit Human Resources’ Coronavirus Health and Safety resource for the latest information on frequently asked questions, guidance on pay and leave scenarios, and remote work guidelines.

 

Announcements Related to Research Continuity

March 23,Message from Vice Provost for Research: Supporting Essential Support with Safety

Please share this message with any person who has been approved to work on campus.

Thank you for your efforts to expeditiously ramp down our research programs at Penn. As the situation evolves, it is becoming evident that the impact of the epidemic will last longer than a couple of weeks.   It is possible it will last for months and we are planning for this eventuality.

I recognize that this situation has caused real impact on research that is of concern to faculty, staff, students and post docs. Some progress will be slowed, and setbacks will occur.  We are constantly monitoring the situation and digesting the latest advice from the CDC and other authorities.  As soon as it becomes safe to reconvene, we will all work together to find paths to minimize these impacts on your research trajectories.

As the university moved to restrict operations to essential functions only, the schools have developed processes to decide which processes and personnel are essential. As essential functions and personnel are evaluated, I want to emphasize that the overarching principle is that, the threshold for this designation should be set very high as we contemplate a period of reduced operations that could extend into months.  As a result, the number of faculty, staff, and trainees permitted on campus will be small.

Some have expressed safety concerns associated with onsite work during reduced operations.  Such concerns are understandable during this unique situation. Despite this uncertainty, we remind the community that the campus safety infrastructure remains in place, that social distancing is possible on the depopulated campus, and that normal safety protocols in research should continue to be practiced as usual.

The University supports the highest standards of safety for its personnel and for research standards. Any concerns you have related to personal or lab safety should be discussed with your advisor or supervisor, your graduate group chair or department chair. In addition, you should feel free to reach out to Environmental Health and Radiation Safety (EHRS) or Public Safety directly.  

Some offices and practices that support safe research are listed here.

  • Since the campus is depopulated, social distancing is more straightforward here than in many other venues. We should all should obey the 6 ft rule and continue to wash hands frequently while on campus as we do elsewhere.
  • To maximize social distancing, avoid mass transit, if possible. To support us in this regard Penn parking is now open to those without parking stickers at a reduced cost.  (See the table below)
  • In some types of research, a buddy system is a mandated safety protocol under normal conditions. All safety practices relevant to research activities must be meticulously adhered to during reduced operations, while maintaining social distancing.
  • Some groups are adopting extra cleaning protocols for hard surfaces in the labs.  In order to incorporate extra cleaning protocols in the lab, contact your building administrator for supplies.
  • The Division of Public Safety continues to provide the same high-level safety and security services to the Penn Community.  Penn Police are patrolling and responding to calls for services; Allied Universal security officers continue to be deployed in buildings and on street patrol.
  • Campus buildings are now accessible only to those with Penn ID cards.
  • Fire and Emergency services continue to work with FRES, ULAR, EHRS, BSD, etc., on responding to all life safety issues, including lab incidents.
  • EHRS continues to have radiation safety and emergency response teams on campus.
  • Should anyone working on campus have any safety/security concerns they should call Department of Public Safety (DPS) 215-573-3333 to let the staff know their location and concern.  DPS staff will respond immediately.

March 13, 2020 -Questions related to coronavirus and the management of federal grants

ORS is receiving may questions related to the allowability of charges to grants.  While NIH, NSF and other federal sponsors of research have launched websites related to COVID-19, the current information does not include special guidance for grant management at this time. While we await formal guidance beyond what is provided by grants policy, the following are suggested practices for Penn at this time.

Travel:

Airline cancellation fees and non-refundable hotel deposits: Air travel fees for trips cancelled as a result of meeting cancellations or travel restrictions should remain on the source to which they are currently charged. In the event that agency guidance is issued as expected that these charges are allowable grant expenses, they may be moved to the grant if currently on an unrestricted fund. If charges are currently on grant funds, they will need to be moved off the grant if agencies determine them to be unallowable.

Please work with conference organizers to follow up on any possible refunds of hotel deposits. Many larger conferences have insurance policies that may apply, and reasonable efforts should be made to attempt to recoup the costs.

Booking future travel: While we remain optimistic, it is most likely not prudent to book new non- refundable travel for grants related travel until the current travel restrictions are no longer in effect. As a reminder, the Uniform Guidance requirement is that travel costs are not more than the basic least expensive unrestricted accommodations class offered by the airline. While the basic refundable ticket is often much more expensive than the non-refundable lowest cost ticket, it is likely a better fare choice given the current uncertainty.

Salaries:

Salaries should be charged to grants so long as doing so is in compliance with Penn’s HR policies related to coronavirus. Please see https://www.hr.upenn.edu/PennHR/wellness-worklife/communicable- disease-health-and-safety/covid-19-guidance-for-managers for specific guidance and helpful FAQs.

If you have specific questions, please reach out to your ORS contacts. Further updates will be provided as more information becomes available.

Dawn Bonnell, Vice Provost for Research
Missy Peloso, Associate Vice President & Associate Vice Provost Office of Research Services

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March 13, 2020 - Announcement from Perelman School of Medicine: Evolving Strategy for Research Operations

Dear Colleagues,

Amidst the COVID-19 public health crisis, we must do our parts – individually and collectively – to limit the spread of the virus and safeguard the local environment for those focused on our most critical missions.  At this time, every effort must be made to reduce transmission and protect our patients and our community.

With this in mind, we are strongly encouraging the research community to promote work from home wherever possible to depopulate our campus without impacting our primary missions in patient care and urgent research (including a number of labs working on COVID-19 and a new Center for Research on Coronavirus and Other Emerging Pathogens).  As a consequence, we will also be decongesting public transportation and socially-distancing for the good of our community.

Though guidelines may change as the situation evolves, we would like to encourage the research community to:

  • Work from home. It is at the discretion of the department and each lab team to determine what work is expected to be performed at home, but we urge you to implement this approach, as it will be the first step in reducing the rate of spread.
    • Telework can and should be productive and offers an opportunity to innovate in terms of writing, training and education, and for adapting to the use of video technologies for collaboration.
    • Make sure you have the proper equipment and access to files and consider the resources for access technology highlighted in yesterday’s communication.
    • Click here for instructions for PMACS supported clients to access VPN and Remote Desktop. You are urged to confirm these functionalities in advance.
    • All meetings and interactions should transition to remote format wherever possible.
  • Depopulate the labs.
    • Identify only the most critical experiments that need to be carried out on campus at this time.
    • Minimize the density in the lab by having your team members work in shifts.
    • Even those who perform “hands-on” work normally may be able to perform productive grant activities at home for a period of time. Are there papers that can be read, online training that can be completed, new protocols that can be written, data to be analyzed or new approaches to be explored via teleconference?
    • No undergraduate work-study students, temporary student workers from co-op programs, and students from other Universities should come into our labs/facilities.
  • Establish a robust and clear communication and operations continuity plan.
    • As I mentioned in my 3/10 email, groups should develop a communications plan in order to share information quickly and accurately.
    • In the event that we need to close a building or buildings, identify essential personnel designated to enter the facility to perform critical tasks. Since identified essential personnel could become ill, you should ensure you identify adequate redundancy.
    • Please share your updated lab personnel list with your departmental Business Administrator.
  • Review helpful tips from The Division of Human Resources COVID-19 Workplace Health and Safety webpage, which provides links to workplace-related guidance including a sick time and leave chart and health coverage details. In addition, Penn Purchasing has prepared guidance on how to manage financial impact of travel and events cancelled due to COVID-19.
  • Abide by social-distancing recommendations and good hygiene practices.
    • Allow for at least six feet of separation from others. On public transportation, this is nearly impossible, which underscores the importance of working from home.
    • If utilizing public transportation, consider traveling during off-peak hours.
    • Avoid large crowds and gatherings.
    • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

I want to thank the programs and labs that have already implemented many of these recommendations and have shared with me ideas to support and sustain our research efforts during this unprecedented time.

With best regards,

Jon

Jon Epstein, MD
EVD/CSO

 

 

March 12, 2020 - Announcement from the Vice Provost for Research on Research Activities in the Upcoming Weeks

Yesterday the university announced major changes to the final weeks of the semester, including that Spring Break will be extended and most student instruction will move online.   In addition, students on spring break are asked not to return to campus, and students on campus are asked to depart by March 15.

Although instruction will occur remotely and many students will be off campus, this does not represent a suspension of operations on campus. Faculty, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows will have access to laboratories, offices, research group spaces and meeting spaces.  Research facilities will be operating, and the offices supporting research are functioning normally.

As always, our primary concern is the health and well-being of the community.  Good hygiene including hand washing, sufficient rest and hydration, and social distancing should be emphasized in labs as well as in offices.  Any who are ill or who have been exposed to the virus should not come to campus until they are better and/or have completed quarantine.

Some practices that support social distancing while carrying out research include the following:

  • Those writing papers or dissertations or conducting other non-lab research activities can work at home, reducing the number of people commuting and in the lab.
  • Research activities might be coordinated such that essential functions can be managed with fewer researchers in the lab.
  • Meetings should be restricted to small groups.
  • Meet remotely when appropriate; the university and Penn provide a suite of technologies to support virtual collaboration.

Our website will continue to post comprehensive and updated guidance regarding research practices as the coronavirus situation continues to evolve.

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March 11, 2020 - Announcement for the Perelman School of Medicine on Resources for Access Technology

PSOM – Resources for Access Technology

As indicated in Dr. Jon Epstein’s communication regarding research-related COVID-19 considerations sent on Tuesday, offices across the School and University are working hard to ensure research efforts proceed without disruption, operating as they do every day to support our community.  This includes the infrastructure and technology necessary to support remote working, teaching, learning, and conferencing.

This new page highlights some important resources.

March 11, 2020 - Guidance on Human Subjects Protections Considerations Related to COVID-19 

 Guidance on Human Subjects Protections Considerations Related to COVID-19 

Penn Medicine has instituted mandatory COVID19 travel-screening questions for all patients who are seen at Penn Medicine. Because many patients are also research participants, the Penn IRB and OCR are providing clarifications to the Penn Clinical Research Community. See the IRB website for details.

March 11, 2020 - ULAR Coronavirus Continuity Plan Supporting Animal Research

ULAR’s goals in supporting animal research are to (1) protect ULAR’s workers, other Penn employees
and the community and (2) protect Penn’s research animals and research programs. The ULAR
research continuity plan contemplates a set of escalated measures to ensure animal welfare in the
case of progressing workforce reduction. While we hope the contingency plans will not be necessary,
it is best to be prepared.

The Director’s Team will implement the continuity measures if the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-
19 spreads in the Philadelphia area. We will also follow guidelines and expectations for management
of staff communicated by the University. Throughout this process we will consult faculty researchers
via the Animal Programs Advisory Committee and user group meetings. Primary components of the
ULAR continuity plan include the following.

  • Husbandry staff, husbandry supervisors and managers, veterinarians, veterinary residents and
    veterinary technicians are Essential Employees and are required to work on campus if they are well.
  • ULAR will make every effort to provide animal husbandry and veterinary care as usual. If husbandry staff levels fall very low, work may be reduced by measures which have the least impact on animal wellness.
  • Any changes in status of ULAR services will be communicated to the affected researchers immediately via email and on the ULAR website.
  • ULAR staff members who have prior training in husbandry may be re-assigned to provide husbandry care.
  • Should workforce reduction become extreme, ULAR may request that scientific staff assist us by changing their rodent cages. ULAR is developing a communication network to implement this option, if necessary.
  • ULAR veterinarians, residents and veterinary technicians will continue to provide veterinary care. These staff members will cover each other’s duties in the case of significant absences. If necessary, “fee for service” veterinary technician support of large animal surgeries and postoperative care of larger species may be reduced.
  • ULAR Scientist Training support new scientists and scientists starting to use a new species of research animals. To the extent possible, ULAR Scientist Training will continue to be available as usual.
  • ULAR leaders are contacting equipment and supply vendors to review contingency plans and, to the extent possible, extra materials are being stored on campus.
  • ULAR’s services at New Bolton Center (NBC) focus on regulatory assistance and oversight and, to the extent possible, will continue as usual. The NBC employee will follow the NBC emergency policies.
  • If there are severe staff shortages, new orders of research animals and importation or exportation of animals may need to be cancelled or delayed.
  • Business services can maintain normal function by working remotely; there should be no disruption in services.
  • Supplies of hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes will be provided in shared areas.

Additional planning and contact information can be found on the ULAR Website (login required).

March 10, 2020 - Research-Related Considerations at the Perelman School of Medicine

Announcement from the Perelman School of Medicine

At the Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) and Penn Medicine, safety is our highest priority.  The  continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic may affect research at the PSOM, and we must do all we can now to minimize the impact and to reduce the potential for disrupting research programs in the long term. 

While the situation is still evolving, please take the following steps now to ensure research efforts proceed without disruption: (See Announcement from the Perelman School of Medicine)

March 10, 2020 -Announcement from the Vice Provost for Research on Research Continuity

Announcement from the Vice Provost for Research

The continuity of research through potential regional impact of an outbreak requires specific considerations. Download announcement.

Research Continuity Planning

The continuity of research through potential regional impact of an outbreak requires specific considerations. While we hope contingency measures will not be required, preparedness minimizes impact if they become necessary. The Office of Vice Provost for Research and its reporting offices have a strategy for maintaining essential functions in the case of a significant reduction in workforce or institutional closure. Many of our functions can be managed remotely and we have confirmed that our connections and communication networks are functional. Some essential functions, such as those in University Laboratory Animal Resources (ULAR) and Environmental Health and Radiation Safety (EHRS), cannot be moved off campus. Staff in these departments are designated essential personnel and are required to work during institutional closures. Each office has a detailed plan to maintain critical functions through a series of escalated challenges.

For example, in the event of a significant reduction in workforce:

  • EHRS has prioritized emergency response, chemical waste disposal and radiation safety operations and will continue to provide research safety consultations, protocol review, and proposal development remotely. Noncritical functions such as lab inspections and in-person trainings will be provided as resources permit.
  • ULAR will prioritize animal care and wellness and may need to delay or reduce optional functions. ULAR staff who are trained in animal care can be re-deployed to husbandry if necessary and staff will be shifted between vivarial locations to ensure coverage.
  • The Office of Research Services (ORS), the Institutional Review Board (IRB), the Office of Animal Welfare (OAW) and the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) will be continuing normal operations with the ability to function remotely. There should be no disruption in service related to the submission of proposals, protocols, etc. though some processes might be slower than normal due to remote operations.
Research Lab Continuity Planning

If you haven’t discussed research continuity with your team recently, now is a good time to develop or revisit laboratory contingency plans. Research activities vary dramatically across campus, so the most effective plans will be developed by research groups. Consider the following in your discussions:

  • Encourage practices that minimize transmission and support the health of researchers: hand washing, sufficient rest and hydration, social distancing, and encouraging people to stay home when ill.
  • Consider the vulnerability of supply chains:
    • Order critical materials now
    • Ensure that standard reagents and supplies are at a sufficient level to last a couple of months
  • Consider coordinating research activities such that essential functions can be managed with fewer researchers in the lab, if necessary. In some research environments designating 1-2 researchers as essential personnel and emergency contacts might an effective management mechanism.
  • Consider encouraging those writing papers or dissertations or conducting other non lab research activities to work at home, reducing the number of people commuting and in the
  • Consider issues related to information security in the context of working remotely. Many data sets require privacy and security protections that might preclude remote access without special accommodation.
  • Prioritize research activities and identify those that can be paused or delayed, if
  • Develop plans to address potential challenges with critical equipment, such as liquid nitrogen dewars, freezers, and
  • Establish a robust communication network for your group, consider having redundant email accounts for critical
  • Review contact information to university partners (such as those within Public Safety, ULAR, EHRS, or ORS, etc).
  • Test remote computer and device connections to enable effective work off-site in advance of the need to rely on them. These would include remote desk top, VPN, Zoom, Skype and other applications that support collaboration. Testing is especially relevant for those not regularly using remote access