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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates for Research at Vanderbilt University

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I understand that this is a difficult time for everyone, and as we continue to adjust to developing situations, safety remains our primary focus. Our offices remain fully functional, and we will continue to provide uninterrupted services.  Resources for research and technology transfer and commercialization are outlined below. We will be updating these pages regularly to ensure that the latest university and sponsor guidelines are available for you. If you have questions, please contact me at ovpr@vanderbilt.edu.

— Padma Raghavan, Vice Provost for Research

On-campus Research Laboratories Ramping Down

Please review the guidance from Vice Provost for Research Padma Raghavan dated Sunday, March 15:

“Dear colleagues,

The rapid evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic requires Vanderbilt University to accelerate its response to this unprecedented challenge. In order to protect the health and safety of our community, all on-campus research laboratories will be restricted to only essential activities by close of business on Monday, March 16, where possible, and by Wednesday, March 18, at the latest.

Similar to our peers, including Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Johns Hopkins, we are ramping down all on-campus research laboratory activities. Minimal access to laboratories will be maintained so that critical activities, such as maintaining unique reagents and essential equipment and materials, can continue.

Based on the directive of the provost, your deans have already been in communication with you about ramping down research. Each faculty member should work with their laboratory personnel (students, postdocs and staff) to ramp down operations as soon as practical. We know that many of you have already started to ramp down your laboratories, and the ramp down must be complete by Monday, March 16, or at the latest by Wednesday, March 18. If you need more time, please inform your department chair and the dean, provide a concise justification, and receive written approval. Please consult with your department chair or the dean with questions about specific issues. You should plan for a remote-work research operation that could last for an indefinite period and could possibly be longer than the initial two weeks outlined in Interim Chancellor and Provost Wente’s campus email on Friday.

We understand that this will be disruptive to the research and scholarly activities of you, your students and your research team, and we will work to support your efforts. We encourage you to take this time to focus on the activities that can be completed remotely, such as writing papers and grant proposals and completing data analysis. The university’s COVID-19 website includes resources for telecommuting and remote work.

We expect you will not make any immediate changes to the support of your staff, students and postdocs. Faculty are responsible for assigning and overseeing the work performed remotely by their students, postdocs and staff. The chain of essential functions throughout the university will be in place throughout this time to enable faculty to submit grants, reports, etc.”

To continue reading this email, please click here.

We have created a Research Continuity Plan that PIs may choose to use as a resource for their individual lab’s continuity planning.

VUIT provides Telecommuting and Remote Work guidance, including information about meeting software such as Zoom and VPN access.

ACCRE (Advanced Computing Center for Research and Education) provides three bi-weekly courses in high performance computing and resources on running virtual environments on the cluster. They also offer the ACCRE Visualization Portal and Big Data Tools

As a reminder, if you are carrying out a long-term experiment and if it is feasible to freeze, preserve, or otherwise capture samples or data at specific steps, you might consider doing this more often.

VU research lab operations:

For the March 16-27 time period, on-campus VU research lab operations have ramped down to essential personnel and projects, while remote VU research lab operations continue as usual.  For detailed guidance on on-campus VU research lab operations during the March 16-27 time period, read the full text of the March 15 email from Vice Provost for Research Padma Raghavan.

 

For questions or concerns about VU research lab operations, please contact the VU Office of the Vice Provost for Research at ovpr@vanderbilt.edu.

 

VUMC research lab operations:

See the VUMC coronavirus website for guidance about VUMC research lab operations.  For questions or concerns about VUMC research lab operations, please contact the VUMC Office of Research.  Contact information for specific VUMC Office of Research team members is available here.

 

Connections between VU and VUMC research operations:

Many VU-employed PIs collaborate closely with VUMC-employed PIs and there are several VU and VUMC labs that are located close to each other.  To clarify:

  • VU-employed faculty in VUMC leased space will continue to have access to their space and will ramp-down research according to the VU plans for March 16-27.
  • VUMC-employed faculty in VU leased space will likewise continue to have access to their space and will manage research operations according to VUMC’s evolving guidance.
  • The VU research lab operations approach described above applies to VU-employed faculty, VU-employed staff, and graduate students. 
  • While VUMC research labs continue to operate according to VUMC policies, the VU approach extends to graduate trainees who are in VUMC research labs.  Graduate students should check with their faculty advisor to find out exactly what the advisor would like the student to do in the March 16-27 initial remote work period.

 

VU and VUMC are in frequent communication and meeting regularly, and will continue to provide updated guidance to our shared communities to address this rapidly evolving situation.

IMPORTANT:  VU on-campus lab-operations have been ramped down for the March 16-27 time period.  Please review the March 15 email from Vice Provost for Research Padma Raghavan and further details in the ON-CAMPUS LAB OPERATIONS:  VU & VUMC GUIDANCE subsection on this webpage before proceeding.

As per the aforementioned guidance:

  • Limit on-campus lab personnel.  Only personnel who perform critical procedures, processes or equipment management that requires regular personnel attention to maintain laboratory viability (e.g. liquid nitrogen tank filling, maintaining shared computational equipment) should be engaging in VU lab operations on-campus. If you have not done so already, notify your departmental administrator as soon as possible about who these individuals are.
  • Lab personnel who are sick should not be in on-campus labs. If anyone carrying out critical research activities demonstrates minor symptoms of illness, including but not limited to cough or fever, that person has to stay home. If someone has doubt about whether they could be ill, they should NOT come to work. Refer to the university’s COVID-19 website for guidance on what to do if you are sick.

All labs should continue to follow lab hygiene standards previously established such as no eating and drinking in the lab and leaving lab coats at work after use. Beyond those standards, the following measures are recommended to further reduce the potential for community transmission of the virus association with COVID-19. 

  1. Prior to entering the laboratory - Thoroughly wash your hands at the nearest restroom.
  2. On entering the laboratory facility:
    • Even essential work in labs should be staggered so that minimal laboratory personnel are present at any one time.
    • Consider restricting entry to the lab through one main entrance or limited entrances and station a log book at that location.
    • Do not bring non-lab members, visitors, volunteers, undergraduate students or minors into the lab.
    • Use hand sanitizer when entering the lab, if available.
    • Sign-in using the provided log book recording name, time and date of entry. Use your own writing implement for sign-in and any writing in the lab.
    • Use gloves if normally used for a lab procedure but remember to remove those and wash your hands before leaving the lab.
    • Use disposable lab coats, if available.
    • If you must use a reusable lab coat, do not store it near personal items or take it home.
    • Do not share safety glasses. Clean these after use with soap and water an store in a location protected from others.
    • Suspend use of communal food and drink storage and preparation tables/areas.
    • Do not shake hands and limit close contact with others in the lab. 6 feet is the rule of thumb.
  3. Before exiting the laboratory facility:
    • Disinfect common laboratory areas, including the bench top and shared keyboards/mice, and touch points (e.g. doorknobs, sink handles, freezer doors, telephones) with 70% ethanol or a virucidal disinfectant at least twice daily.
    • Wash your hands with soap and water before exiting the lab.
    • Sign-out using the provided log book at the main or limited entrances.
    • Thoroughly wash your hands again at the nearest restroom.

Any researcher who is planning to receive any biological specimens from COVID-19 patients (or any other materials associated with SARS-CoV-2) must file a biological materials registration or amendment with the VU Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC).  The IBC must review and approve the risk assessment and biocontainment plan for the proposed activities before shipment/transfer of these materials is initiated.

(Note: This is not a new requirement but a reminder of the existing requirements for using any potentially infectious materials that have not been previously documented with and approved by the IBC.)

Read step-by-step guidance from Vanderbilt Environmental Health and Safety about how to handle COVID-19 research materials in accordance with the Institutional Biosafety Committee policy.

Sponsored Programs Administration (SPA) continues to provide all of its usual pre-award support including proposal submission to external sponsors, contract negotiation, non-financial award set-up, and end-user support for the VU Coeus and PEER electronic research administration (ERA) systems, among others.

 

As a reminder, post-award financial administration is managed through the Office of Contract and Grant Accounting (OCGA), which is not part of SPA or the Office of the Vice Provost for Research.  For information about post-award financial administration, contact OCGA through the OCGA staff directory.

Sponsor agencies are posting and updating specific guidance related to proposal submission and award management. 

Sponsor Guidance provides a daily-updated list of detailed guidance direct from each agency.

Some sponsor guidance concerns award finances.  As a reminder, post-award financial administration is managed through the Office of Contract and Grant Accounting (OCGA), which is not part of Sponsored Programs Administration (SPA) or the Office of the Vice Provost for Research.  For information about post-award financial administration, contact OCGA through the OCGA staff directory.

Some sponsored research projects have a tight schedule, and interruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic may prevent the schedule from proceeding on time. If this happens to you, please be sure to document instances of your sponsored research project schedule being interrupted for COVID-19 pandemic-related reasons. Documenting the actual impact of the pandemic on the progress of research in real time will help support future requests for No Cost Extensions, invoking force majeure clauses in contracts, etc., if needed. 

View additional guidance from individual sponsors about delays or disruptions related to COVID-19 through our daily-updated Sponsor Guidance.

If your award is a contract requiring deliverables between Sunday, March 15 and Saturday, April 11 that will be affected by the pandemic, please contact the SPA contract officer assigned to the specific agreement in the PEER UNIV file, and please reference the UNIV number in the subject line of your email.  The SPA contracts officers are:

If external sponsors reach out directly to you asking for information on the impacts of the pandemic on your sponsored research project, please make sure to contact the Sponsored Programs Administration contract officer assigned to the specific agreement in the PEER UNIV file before responding.  Again, please reference the UNIV number of the contract in question in the subject line of your email.

Congress passed a $2 trillion Phase 3/COVID-19 relief and stimulus package. View specific funding opportunities through Funding for COVID-19 Research, as well as additional guidance and funding information related to COVID-19 in our daily-updated Sponsor Guidance.

You may need to voluntarily halt participant enrollment in a study or make minor protocol deviations. Temporary enrollment holds do not need to be reported to the IRB, however you may need to notify your sponsor via the program officer. Minor protocol deviations could include conducting a study visit virtually (by remote means) or outside of window, omitting a specific research procedure or collecting questionnaire/assessment data over the phone instead of in person.  Minor protocol deviations are reported to the IRB at time of Continuing Review through submission of a Deviation Log. These changes do NOT require prior IRB approval. Learn more on the IRB COVID-19 webpage.

The Animal Care and Use Program is fully operational. They have developed a contingency plan to ensure appropriate animal care should a scenario emerge that results in a significant reduction in workforce and/or limited access to facilities. Please also review Contingency Planning for VUMC Research Labs and Cores.

Research Development and Support (RDS) continues to act as the liaison between VU researchers and IRB (human subjects research) and IACUC (animal subjects research) services provided to VU by VUMC. Contact RDS at rds@vanderbilt.edu.

 

Research Development and Support (RDS) continues to provide guidance for research activities including export compliance and science and security. If you have export control questions about online instruction or other matters, please contact vec@vanderbilt.edu. For questions about science and security, please contact rds@vanderbilt.edu.

 

Research Development and Support (RDS) continues to provide services for limited submission opportunities (LSOs) and leveraged proposal organization and development (L-POD) among others.  Contact RDS at rds@vanderbilt.edu.

The Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization (CTTC) continues to provide all of its regular commercialization services including licensing of Vanderbilt inventions, intellectual property development, and material transfer agreement processing among others.

Research IT continues to enhance research IT services for schools and colleges reporting to the Provost including providing programmer-for-hire, consultation services, training, and resource guidance, among other services.

Changes are being made to biowaste disposal services for the College of Arts and Science, the School of Engineering, and the School of Medicine – Basic Sciences.  Representatives from each dean’s office have communicated directly with PIs about these changes.  If you have questions about biowaste at your school or college, please contact:

Chemical and radioactive waste disposal continues with the normal request process and frequency through Vanderbilt Environmental Health and Safety (VEHS).  Please contact VEHS directly with questions about chemical and radioactive waste.

EHS services including hazardous waste collection are provided to the VU community by VEHS at VUMC.  Andrea George is the director of Environmental Health and Safety for the university, and acts as VU’s liaison with VEHS.  Contact Andrea George at andrea.george@vanderbilt.edu.

 

Labs should also make contingency plans for supply shortages of gloves, masks, disposable attire, hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

Some lab personnel may wear surgical masks or N95 respirators as appropriate for the experiments and materials they are handling.  Labs should make preparations for shortages. Wearing a mask or respirator as a preventative with respect to COVID-19 is not being recommended at this time. 

Learn more from Purchasing Services.

VU Global Support Services and VUMC Global Support, two offices outside the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, facilitate employment-related visas for faculty and staff.

 

Guidance from the Graduate School for International Post-Doctoral Fellows:

International post-doctoral fellows whose visas require work that heavily involves on-campus lab operations should contact the appropriate immigration office for the most accurate information regarding the impact of COVID-19 on their visa status.

If you are a VU-employed post-doctoral fellow with an employment-based visa (e.g., H1-B, TN, O-1, E-3) who Is either currently employed or in the process of a postdoc appointment offer and have questions related to immigration and your visa should contact the Office of Employee Immigration Services at ois@vanderbilt.edu.

VU post-doctoral fellows with a J-1 visa should contact International Student and Scholar Services at isss@vanderbilt.edu

All VUMC post-doctoral fellows should contact immigration@vumc.org with questions pertaining to immigration or your visa.  If you are currently working on a J-1 visa and your work authorization expires before June 1, contact your department administrator on how to extend your program.  At this time, nothing has changed with H-1B visas.

For more information about Graduate School guidance for post-doctoral fellows, contact the Graduate School using the Graduate School directory.

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