COVID-19 Information for Penn State Researchers

Last updated April 6 to include flexibilities available for recipients of  grants and agreements with the USDA; also updated flexibilities available to recipients of grants with the NSF. Also updated on April 1, 2020 at 3:00pm to include FAQs and flexibilities available for recipients of grants and cooperative agreements with the different federal agencies. 


Official Communications | Managing Labs and Staff | Travel | College of Medicine and Penn State Health
Human Research Subjects | Animal Research Subjects| Grants | COVID-19 Research

 

Medical workers in laboratory.

The health of our Penn State community is critically important to us. As such, the Office of the Senior Vice President would like to share with you some important updates about the novel coronavirus situation, and we will continue providing updates as the situation unfolds.

There is currently no restriction on access to Penn State research labs or other University spaces, however, OSVPR recommends that all researchers create a contingency plan to prepare for the event of a full campus closure. The materials on this page are designed to help researchers think about necessary contingency plans, as well as to provide COVID-19-specific research information.

Remain flexible: Please be flexible and work with students or staff who may be facing health challenges to ensure their success. Students should be encouraged to stay home if they feel ill (as should you). Penn Staters may need support to finish a course or a work project if they are required to self-quarantine. As a reminder, students cannot be expected to share private health information with faculty.


Official University Communications and Updates

Official University communications, recommendations, and informational updates are being posted to the PSU Coronavirus Community Update Page.

Penn State has established key action groups, one of which is Research Support and Operations, to discuss and plan for a variety of considerations that could impact University operations. Please refer to this page regularly for updates relevant to the research community, and communicate the relevant portions to your colleagues, principal investigators, and other research team members.


Managing Research Groups, Labs and Staff

Principal Investigators should immediately begin preparing for all on-campus research to be reduced to essential research-related activities by March 24.

Please review the complete guidance for reducting research activities in Penn State labs here:

https://www.research.psu.edu/covid_labs

For Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) related questions, contact EHS at:

 

Questions regarding staff time off or HR issues related to COVID-19 can be found at https://sites.psu.edu/virusinfo/faqs/.


Travel

All Other Penn State Research Personnel

The PSU Coronavirus Community Update Page provides information for those of you who are traveling to, from, or through countries rated CDC Level 2 and 3. Please be aware that anyone traveling through Level 3 countries will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Similarly, all visitors to campus (e.g., visiting scholars, faculty candidates) will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days if they have traveled to, from, or through CDC Level 3 countries, and thus you may need to consider canceling these visits or alternative forms of engagement with these individuals. University travel restrictions apply to everyone traveling on Penn State funds, including grants and contracts.

The most up-to-date travel information is available at: https://sites.psu.edu/virusinfo/traveler-info/.


Mitigating Impacts for Human Research Subjects

 This information applies to all Penn State researchers and personnel, including the College of Medicine and Penn State Health.

Effective March 15, 2020: Revised standards for Human Subjects-Related Research Visits during COVID-19

In the context of rapidly evolving circumstances regarding COVID-19, and the University’s focus on social distancing and the health and well-being of the community, the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research, in consultation with Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Medicine, has issued these revised standards related to human subjects-related research visits.  In summary, research visits should be performed remotely (e.g., by phone, Zoom, or other means) whenever possible.  Studies involving face-to-face interaction with participants with no direct drug or device therapeutic benefit are to be postponed until further notice, effective March 15, 2020.  Please review the revised standards carefully. The health and safety of human research subjects is paramount.

Clarified March 27, 2020: For research at Penn State Health, any observational study (whether inpatient or outpatient) that requires any additional face-to-face contact with patients will NOT be allowed. In addition, to demonstrate stewardship of personal protective equipment that is necessary for the safety of our providers, any sample collection that requires any use of PPE (masks, gowns, face shields, etc.) is not allowed, except as part of an interventional study with the potential for direct patient benefit.  

Due to biosafety concerns, and in conjunction with the CDC recommendations for specimen handling from COVID-19 patients, any study that aims to enroll COVID-19 subjects will require a modification to the protocol for IRB approval, which will include a biosafety review. COVID-19 patients cannot be enrolled on existing protocols without this modification approved. 

Please visit the Institutional Review Board (IRB) COVID-19 informational page.

Screening Patients or Research Subjects:

Information regarding the screening of subjects for COVID-19 is available on the College of Medicine Infonet and at  https://www.research.psu.edu/covid_orp_screening 


Mitigating Impacts to Animal Research Subjects

For COVID-19 information related to animal facilities and IACUC operations, please visit: https://www.research.psu.edu/covid_iacuc


Impacts to Proposals, Grants and Contracts

The Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) and college research offices are expected to continue operations in the event of a University closure or remote-work scenario.

Frequently Asked Questions regarding grant administration, travel, effort, and other topics: https://www.research.psu.edu/node/3922

Several sponsors have provided guidance, subject to update and revision:

Federal Agencies

State Agencies

Guidance for charging salaries and stipends to grants and contracts:

  • If the individual is working remotely and contributing to the project, then salary can be charged to the project.

  • If an individual cannot contribute to their current project but can contribute to another sponsored project or school activity, the salary must be moved to that funding source.

  • If an individual cannot perform job functions on a sponsored project due to illness, their salary can be charged to the project for up to three months in proportion to their previously established allocation of effort.

  • If an individual is temporarily unable to perform on a sponsored project because of campus research closures (for a period not greater than one or two months), their salary can still be charged in accordance with their previously established allocation of effort; however, the sponsor’s prior approval may be required if the temporary work stoppage will result in missed deliverables, a change in the scope of work, a change in key personnel, or the fluctuation lasts beyond a short-term period. Sponsor approval may also be required if the Principal Investigator or other personnel must disengage from the project for more than three months and/or reduce their total effort by 25 percent or more.

 

Project Management: COVID-19 may impact performance of sponsored projects, e.g., cancelled travel, temporary loss of personnel, delays in acquiring equipment and supplies, and interruption of other essential services. It is important to remain in communication with your sponsor regarding any delays or other challenges you experience:

Federal grants and cooperative agreements: Penn State is required to request prior approval from Federal award agencies whenever there is a change in the scope of work or key personnel. Penn State also must request prior approval whenever the PI will be disengaged from the project for more than three months and/or experience a 25 percent reduction in time devoted to the project (2 CFR 200.308(c)). Some grants may be subject to more stringent prior approval requirements.

Federal contracts and other sponsored agreements: Please consult your specific terms and conditions to determine when prior approvals are required. Many Federal and industry-sponsored contracts are subject to strict deliverable due dates. Even if your sponsor is sympathetic with the delay, it is generally necessary to modify the contract to reflect the revised deliverable schedule.

Subawards and subcontracts: Please monitor all subrecipients to ensure they making adequate progress. If a subrecipient is unable to perform and/or meet deadlines, it may impact your performance as well. Please communicate with your sponsor regarding any such challenges.

Short-term vs. long-term absences: Researchers may continue to charge effort to sponsored programs when they are ill, in proportion to their previously established allocation of effort. However, if an individual is going to be disengaged from a project for more than three months, his or her salary should be removed from the project to avoid an undue burden on the sponsored fund. (See RA64, OTHER LEAVE/EXTENDED LEAVE.)

Reimbursement for cancelled travel: The Controller's office has issued a supplement to policy to indicate when cancelled travel can be charged to sponsored programs. See here for details regarding reimbursement for cancelled travel.

Additional guidance regarding the above can be found here.

Please contact osp@psu.edu if you have any specific questions or concerns.


Research Involving COVID-19

Penn State is committed to research that has a positive impact on global health.

Sharing research findings: Please note that Penn State is a signatory on the Wellcome Trust statement supporting open access to research publications and preliminary research results related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Learn more.

Sharing information within Penn State: The College of Medicine Special Pathogens and Penn State Health support staffs will be working to develop tools that allow sharing of selected information with relevant parties in the University. These developments, as well as Penn State Health's COVID-19 guide and a directory of canceled events will be updated here: https://med.psu.edu/coronavirus.

Seed funding: The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences has made seed funding available for researchers proposing projects focused on improving prevention, diagnostics, treatment, infection control practices and public health policies.

 


Acknowledgement: Certain materials above, including the checklist, were adapted from the University of Washington's COVID-19 page.