Coronavirus Advice for Researchers

Published March 18, 2020

Guidance for research in a virtual university  

Amid increasing concern over COVID-19, Mines is stepping up our efforts to protect students, faculty, and staff and to protect our wider community. As President Johnson said in his 3/17/2020 email, we are shifting to virtual university mode: going virtual for those functions that we can possibly accomplish remotely, while minimizing (and planning carefully for) those we cannot.

Research & Technology Transfer is currently working with our deans, departments, and centers to identify those essential research activities which can only occur on campus over the next few weeks. Recognizing that winding down some on-campus research activities may not be achievable by our goal of March 19, we are working  to suspend all non-essential on-campus research activities by no later than Friday March 20, following a safe and orderly process.

Considerations

  • Critical laboratory activities and staff: Initial determinations about critical operations and staff are being made by the department heads and center directors, vetted by the Deans and Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), and approved by the Vice President for Research and Tech Transfer (VPRTT).  (Thank you for your quick responses on this!) Non-essential on-campus research activities will be safely suspended by NO LATER THAN the end of the day Friday March 20, earlier if possible. If your needs change over time, please submit your requests for on-campus research access to your Department Head or RTT-sponsored Center Director to review and send to the Deans and VPRTT. A few use cases to consider:
  • If your research is primarily theoretical, you are likely to be able to do all of your work (including team meetings) virtually.
  • If your research involves instruments or systems that require regular care and feeding in order to exist, then you should plan for that minimal care and feeding with an appropriate health and safety plan.
  • If you anticipate a point where you need just a little laboratory work in order to enable continued work from home, you should request access for the specific people and time involved in doing that work.

We recognize that most cases will not be so clear-cut, but please try to focus on what is truly essential for continuity of research, with the default being at-home activities.

  • Safety and health: Safety and health are our guiding principles. This is the right moment to re-familiarize yourself with your lab’s safety protocols and ensure your spaces and tools are properly cleaned and sanitized. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Also, while it is important to practice the social distancing rules for virus protection it is also important to have a buddy around when you need to perform higher risk research activities. Refer to the EHS lab safety procedure for examples of when you shouldn’t be working alone.
  • Lab Hibernation Checklist: For non-essential research activities, use the checklist below to verify your lab is in a safe “hibernation” state prior to leaving campus.
  • Guidance on federal funding: Federal guidance is likely to lag behind your need to make decisions. We believe that you will be given flexibility regarding deadlines and that no-cost extensions to your projects will be fairly easy to obtain. We do NOT believe extra funds will be made available to account for delays, except on rare occasions. Please plan accordingly to do as much at-home work that you can (this is the time to catch up on all the reading, writing, and analysis that has been hanging over your head all year!) while we remain in virtual university mode. If you want more details on what your specific funding agencies are saying, the Council on Government Relations (COGR) offers Agency Guidance Specific to Federal Award Impact.
  • Student research at the graduate and undergraduate levels: Faculty mentors are the best resource for student researchers with questions. Faculty should be doing everything possible to enable at-home research and to accommodate student needs.
  • Human subjects research: Novel coronavirus may drive you to change research studies as necessary to protect participants. Federal regulatory and Mines policy requirements must still be met. Significant modifications to the ways you interact with human subjects must be reviewed and approved by the human subjects review (HSR) team before being implemented. Please direct any such questions to humansubjects@mines.edu.

The COVID-19 situation and guidance from Mines, community, state, and federal governments continue to evolve rapidly. Please keep an eye on campus guidance and resources, frequently updated at https://www.mines.edu/coronavirus/.

Thanks to the Research & Innovation Office at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Parts of this message are adapted from communications to their research community, used by permission.

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Click Here: Safety Checklist for Temporary Shutdown of Laboratory Activities

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If you’re leaving campus, consider these safety items before you go

  • ❑ Verify emergency contact information on door signs is accurate and two contacts and phone numbers are provided
  • ❑ Post signs on experiments that will operate unattended, “experiment in progress” sign. The sign must include contact information and emergency shutdown procedures – written to allow for emergency responders to shut down your experiment
  • ❑ Shut down non-essential and non-critical experiments, particularly those experiments that cannot be left unattended for more than a day.
  • ❑ Verify appropriate labeling of:
    • Chemical containers
    • Radioactive materials
  • ❑ Safely manage pyrophoric materials – verify you have sufficient inert atmosphere supply and system is robust
  • ❑ Place water-reactive materials in sealed containers and place in a location that is unlikely to become wet
  • ❑ For hazardous waste containers, verify:
    • Proper labeling
    • Lids are closed
    • Vented caps are used where necessary
    • They are in secondary containment
    • Proper segregation
    • Submit materials for hazardous waste pickup
  • ❑ Verify chemicals are properly stored:
    • Flammables in flammable cabinet
    • Incompatibles are properly segregated
  • ❑ Shut off equipment water supplies where possible or verify connection fittings are properly secured and robust
  • ❑ Verify gas cylinder valves are shut off at the bottle. Close tanks and where possible remove regulators and place caps back on tanks
  • ❑ Cancel or postpone routine gas deliveries
  • ❑ Turn off and unplug electrical devices particularly heat generating equipment such as hot plates, stir plates and ovens
  • ❑ Elevate equipment, materials, supplies and chemicals off the floor to protect against flooding
  • ❑ Verify refrigerators and freezers are tightly closed
  • ❑ Remove extra materials from laboratory hoods
  • ❑ Lower laboratory hood sashes
  • ❑ Back up data
  • ❑ Close all doors and lock cabinets containing valuables
  • ❑ Decontaminate work surfaces in biosafety cabinets and close the sash
  • ❑ Secure the lids on red biowaste containers
  • ❑ Verify cryogenic liquids are being properly vented

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Published March 13, 2020
Please note: more recent guidelines published above may preempt some of the details below.

Steps to Mitigate the Impact of Novel Coronavirus on Research Activities

Colorado School of Mines is closely monitoring the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak and associated COVID-19 disease, and extensive emergency procedures are in place. Governor Polis declared a state of emergency for Colorado. Be sure to consult the Coronavirus Updates page, as it contains important updated information for everyone in the Mines community.

Precautions

Remember all personnel should stay home if they experience any symptoms including fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. It is also advisable to limit physical contact with others, such as hand-shaking (substitute elbow bumps or bows) and sharing of food. Finally, the most effective prevention measure is frequent, thorough hand-washing.

What special planning should researchers carry out? 

For convenience, we have included a checklist at the bottom of this message.

Essential employees

At this time, there are no plans to restrict access to University research spaces, but it is wise for every research group to plan ahead in the event that full access is not possible for some time period.

Communications

If a communications plan for your research group is not already in place, designate points of contact so everyone receives timely information. Communicate with research collaborators at other institutions. As public health measures to counter coronavirus, they may face restrictions as well, which could affect your research.

Plan for lab safety and researcher time

Principal investigators and research group leads should discuss approaches now in the event that some personnel are unable to come to work. For example, are team members familiar with each other’s responsibilities? Based on online course delivery, will undergraduate researchers be available on campus? Are there high-risk activities in your lab? Would the unavailability of members of your lab result in people working alone? Should that be avoided? Hint: Researchers should not be performing higher risk activities while alone in the lab or machine shop (see lab safety procedures). Make a plan to clean surfaces with diluted bleach. Such advance planning will minimize disruption to research activities.

Remote access

All students, post-docs, staff, and faculty involved in research projects should ensure that they have access to information they need to carry out work remotely.  This might include, for example, access to literature, access to existing datasets and research-related files, and access to software, including meeting software (such as Zoom). Principal investigators should prepare to carry out meetings remotely, using similar approaches as for remote learning and remote work. If you are unsure about whether you have access to such tools, it would be prudent to test them now. Work with ITS to determine whether remote access to instruments and systems will be available. Examples of the types of research work that can be done remotely are data analysis, literature reviews, writing proposals, reviews, or research papers, writing the background sections of theses, computational work, meetings, discussions, etc.

Prioritization

Depending upon the nature of your research, you might consider prioritizing work that can only be carried out in your research facility, and put off work amenable to remote support, such as data analysis. Stockpiling results and data now that could be analyzed remotely in the future is a potential option that might create future flexibility.

Critical supplies

As a result of COVID-19, are there supplies you need that are in short supply? Please let VPRTT know, and we will help you any way we can.

Save samples along the way

If you are carrying out a long-term experiment and if it is feasible to capture samples at specific steps, you might consider doing this more often.

Proposal deadlines

In general, we expect that the Office of Research Administration will be able to submit proposals, even if personnel are working remotely. Our experience is that federal agencies are flexible about deadlines under difficult circumstances beyond our control. However, if agencies are officially closed, proposals will most likely remain in a queue, pending resumption of agency operations – as has been the case during federal budget-related shutdowns. Information will be posted on the ORA website, as necessary.

Travel (updated 3/13/20)

Should you cancel planned research-related travel such as to a conference, site visit, or other laboratory? Yes, the university has suspended domestic and international university-affiliated travel. Be sure to access the current university travel guidance regularly – which applies to everyone who travels on Mines funds, including research grants or contracts. Before embarking on personal travel, consider the possibility of being stranded in a location or quarantined, should travel restrictions back to the U.S. or to Golden be imposed. As always, use your own judgment based on the circumstances. There are health notices for countries with CDC travel restrictions for COVID-19 (e.g., Mainland China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and many European countries). Personnel returning from Level 3 countries must stay home and monitor their health for 14 days.

Advance planning will allow everyone in your research group to focus their efforts and work together as a team, rather than wondering how they and their team members are to proceed. Even if such plans are not needed for the current situation, they are still a good learning experience for the future.

Checklist:

  1. Establish a communications plan or remind your lab team of an existing plan
  2. Plan for lab safety and identify priorities in case of restricted access
  3. Ensure remote access to files, data, software, servers, etc.
  4. Prioritize experiments and research activity
  5. Plan for remote proposal submission
  6. Check travel restrictions before making travel plans.

We express our sincere gratitude to the University of Washington Office of Research. This message is based on their communications to their research community, used by permission.

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Federal Guidance for Research / COVID-19

Update posted March 19, 2020, at 4:45 pm. Check back often for updates.

 

Laboratory Hibernation Checklist

 

Mines COVID-19 Community Resources Page 

This is the central page for Mines’ coronavirus-related information and resources.