March 13 Message to Faculty/Staff: Guidance Regarding Research Continuity

Dear CWRU Researchers and Colleagues:

As the recent message from President Snyder and Provost Vinson mentioned, the university is evaluating the options for asking staff to work from home as a way to mitigate the arrival and spread of the Novel Coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. As leadership is working through continuity planning for all of the university operations, I’m writing to you with information about planning for the continuity of our research activities and operations.

As we consider the evolving situation, it is imperative to consider the health and well-being of our community first and foremost. The Office of Research and Technology Management has plans in place to help ensure the continuity of its services, including pre- and post-award sponsored projects administration, human research protections, institutional biosafety protections, among others. Please direct any questions regarding ORTM’s continuity plans to Stephanie Endy, associate vice president for research, at or 216.368.3398.

While campus operates with regular access to research labs, resources, and spaces, it is critically important for principal investigators, project directors, research deans, department chairs, deans, center and institute directors, core directors, and research administrators at all levels to take the time to prepare for potential disruptions to normal operations that may arise from the arrival of COVID-19.  While we are taking steps to ensure that research space will remain open and available to the extent practicable, we urge you to take this time to create and/or refine your research continuity plans in light of your research activities and of the plans being made by your department chairs, deans, schools, and colleges. 

The considerations you have for continuity of your research should include the safety, health and wellbeing of the researchers who work with and for you. This includes applying the university and Centers for Disease Control travel policies and guidance from the last week to the researchers who may be in the field, traveling domestically or internationally, or otherwise asked to interact with groups of people or with many people sequentially.

Please note that as your plan for the continuity of your research, your plans should not depend on how or who pays for your research unless you are adding in specific sponsor requirements for prior approval, consultation for changes in the scope of work, or consideration for additional expenses that you would like to request that the sponsor fund.

To assist you in the creation or refinement of your plans, we recommend you consider the following issues:

Current Scenario

  • Research facilities and infrastructure currently remain open, but support for maintaining these infrastructures may be diminished as the virus spreads.
  • Core facilities and recharge services are currently available, but support for their maintenance may diminish over time due to unavailable personnel.
  • Currently (as of March 13) the university’s instructions are to take no sponsored international travel and no domestic travel for individuals who engage directly in the delivery of health care; other sponsored domestic travel is strongly discouraged.  
  • Ordering and receipt of research supplies is currently not significantly impacted, but may be delayed due to workforce and product shortages.
  • Onboarding of new personnel, especially for those requiring visa services or arriving from Level 2-3 countries or regions, may be delayed.

Continuity planning

  • Identify positions and jobs that are essential/critical to your research and cross-train personnel to the extent possible. Ensure that research personnel will receive or have received all appropriate emergency procedure and hazardous materials training.
  • Develop a communication plan for your research team, with a designated individual responsible for disseminating information. Redundancy in these plans is a good thing. Make sure those responsible for communication have access to emergency contact information (cell phone and email) for key research staff. Include communications with key research collaborators when reviewing and developing your plan.
  • Consider how your research may be impacted if CWRU enacts remote work or social-distancing protocols, or if CWRU restricts non-essential work and services.
  • Consider what aspects of your research (including current and upcoming experiments or protocols) would be adversely affected, and how you might mitigate those impacts.
  • Ensure that all personnel have been trained on all precautionary and safety measures.
  • Develop plans or procedures for when research personnel become ill, believe they are becoming ill, believe their health status may put others at risk, or believe the health status of others puts their own health status at risk.
  • Consider the steps that research personnel should take if they develop any cold/flu/COVID-19 symptoms, including the procedure for reporting their current status/absence to their supervisor and anyone else who needs to know. Current CWRU advice is that students should call University Health Services at 216.368.2450, and faculty and staff should contact their primary medical providers.
  • Ensure that research personnel know when and how to work from home, as well as ensure that they have the appropriate resources in place to do so.
  • Remind employees that they should promptly contact HR if they need a disability-related accommodation because of reduced operations, or if reduced operations have impacted or will impact their existing accommodation.

Research Activities, Experiments, Data and Results

  • Remember that personnel should not remove or move research materials or equipment to alternate locations. Research must be conducted in an environment that is safe and legally compliant with federal laws and regulations.
  • Consider what data collection/storage activities must continue or what can be continued in light of the scenarios above, and how this might be accomplished or if and when you should contemplate a hiatus. 
  • Ensure redundancy for specialized computer functions and data storage as appropriate.
  • Make arrangements to compile data and results in a way that may be securely and remotely accessed by those who need to use it.
  • Ensure all personnel are familiar with how to use VPN, remote desktop, virtual desktop, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and other remote-access tools. If your staff members are unfamiliar with these tools, take them for a “test drive” before they become essential. See UTech’s resources online.
  • Remember to follow all of CWRU’s policies, guidance, and procedures related to data security at all times.
  • Prioritize your research activities. Consider scheduling and conducting activities that require access to specialized facilities and resources now and making arrangements to perform work that is not facility-dependent later.
  • Long-term experiments may pose challenges, and you should consider what to initiate now, what can wait, and what time points can serve as a natural “hiatus” should it be needed.

Operational Considerations

  • Review your research space to ensure that it is safe and can be maintained even with less-than-normal personnel levels.  
  • Consider what equipment must remain operational, what supplies are needed for these operations, and what can be powered down or off. Consider what equipment might need an alarm for remote monitoring (such as freezers). Make plans for the continued maintenance and/or monitoring at appropriate frequencies.
  • Consider standing purchase orders or regular purchases needed for research continuity.
  • Be sure to review emergency and continuity plans with your entire research team.
  • If your research involves the participation of human subjects, review your protocol to see what might need amendments for continued operations, what might be delayed, and what steps you might need to take in consultation with the sponsor. (See also the section on Considerations for Human Subjects Research online.)

Research Administration and Management

  • Consider how to meet upcoming proposal deadlines as campus operations continue to change. Have a plan in place to leave extra time for submission and internal approvals in case of decreased staffing.
  • Double check on the current status of all of your regulatory approvals and their expiration dates. Have a plan in place to initiate modifications, new approvals, and renewals during a time when staffing levels may be affected.
  • Consider award reporting obligations, and know the deadlines for all upcoming reports. Have a plan in place to submit necessary reports early if needed.
  • Consider the potential impacts to your sponsored projects that may require sponsor notification, sponsor prior approval, or trigger a request for a no-cost extension.
  • Monitor announcements from funding agencies and sponsors for changes in policies, practices, procedures, deadlines, operating hours, communication methods, etc.  See also the Federal Guidance section of our website.

Next Steps

Once you have a continuity plan for your research lab, it is important to keep your plans up to date as the situation evolves. Please be sure to pay attention to announcements from President Snyder and Provost Vinson as we navigate the coming weeks. 

Thank you for ensuring the health, wellbeing, and safety of our community while continuing your research. Please do not hesitate to reach out should you have any questions.

Suzanne Rivera
Vice President for Research and Technology Management