Reducing Research Activities in Penn State Labs by March 24

To the Penn State Research Community:

With the rapidly evolving circumstances regarding COVID-19 and our 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 the Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Medicine, has issued these revised standards related to laboratory research. Specifically, Principal Investigators should immediately begin preparing for all on-campus research to be reduced to essential research-related activities by March 24.

The underlying principle is to help ensure that our healthcare systems do not become overwhelmed. Together, we need to do everything we can to curtail campus activities to the barest minimum levels.

Limited access to laboratories will be maintained so that essential research-related activities can continue.

Essential Research-Related Activities Include:

  • Activity that if discontinued would generate significant data and sample loss.
  • Activity that if discontinued would pose a safety hazard.
  • Activity that maintains critical equipment in facilities and laboratories.
  • Activity that maintains critical samples, reagents, and materials.
  • Activity that maintains animal populations
  • Activity that maintains critically needed plant populations, tissue cultures, bacteria, archaea, and other living organisms
  • COVID-19 related activity that has a timeline for deployment that could address the crisis.
  • Activity in support of essential human subjects research.
  • Clinical trial activity that if discontinued would negatively impact the patient’s care.

If you are unsure whether aspects of your research constitute essential activities, please consult with your academic dean, or if you are in the College of Medicine, your department chair.  As a reminder, faculty members cannot and should not require graduate students to come to campus. Graduate students need to have approval from their graduate program chair. 

Scope:

This guidance applies to researchers at University Park, the Commonwealth Campuses, the College of Medicine, and Penn State Health.

For members of our research community who work at the Applied Research Laboratory (ARL), please continue to follow ARL-specific guidelines, which ensure critical national security needs are maintained while also maximizing social distancing and adopting remote working protocols.  

Next Steps for Investigators:

  • Beginning now: Determine what activities in your laboratory are essential. 

  • Beginning March 24, access to labs will be available only for personnel who conduct essential research-related activities.  
  • Essential work in labs should be staggered so that minimal laboratory personnel are present at any one time.
  •  Guidance regarding management of grants and contracts can be found here.
  • Animal research should follow updated guidance on conducting research involving animals.
  • Undergraduates, external visitors and visiting scholars whose research is deemed essential must receive prior approval from the relevant academic dean and the senior vice president for research for them to continue research in the lab.
  • Maintain contact information for your students, postdocs, and staff, and review contingency plans and emergency procedures within your group.
  • Disinfect common laboratory areas and touch points (e.g. doorknobs, sink handles, freezer doors, telephones). See protocols below.
  • New proposals: When writing new proposals, consider including research that can be conducted remotely. This will allow additional opportunities to continue research on new awards.
  • Researchers working with human subjects should review updated FAQs from the IRB.

Important Request: Submit PPE Inventory by March 23

Our frontline health care providers have requested additional personal protective equipment (PPE). Please conduct an inventory of all other PPE and submit the list at https://www.research.psu.edu/ppe_inventory by March 23, 2020.

 OSVPR will work with your units to track the items and ensure grants or contracts are properly reimbursed.

Laboratory Access and Protocols:

Beginning March 24, access to all on-campus labs will be limited to personnel who perform essential research activities as described above. Access should be coordinated so that these functions are maintained using the fewest number of essential personnel. Frequent hand-washing and the most stringent social distancing should be observed. Cleaning protocols for labs and equipment should follow guidance provided by Environmental Health and Safety at University Park and the Commonwealth Campuses and Biosafety at the College of Medicine.

OSVPR Support

We understand that this will be disruptive to the scholarly activities of you, your students, and your research teams, and we will work to support your efforts. We are not saying that research must stop, but rather that research activities in Penn State facilities must be reduced. We encourage you to take this time to redirect personnel toward research activities that can be completed remotely, such as analyzing data, writing research papers, developing grant proposals, and training your graduate students and postdocs to do so as well. Research group meetings should continue remotely.

Funding and institutional support for staff, students, and postdocs should continue in accordance with the FAQ for Grants and Contracts Impacted by COVID-19. Additional guidance will be posted to the OSVPR page as it becomes available.  

Our research administration offices are prepared for remote support. We have been working with research sponsors as part of our business continuity activities to ensure that we continue to operate in a compliant and appropriate manner.

Further information is updated frequently regarding the ongoing performance of animal subjects research, clinical and human subjects research, and research at Penn State Health and the College of Medicine.

Take Immediate Action if Feeling Ill:

If you are ill with symptoms concerning for COVID-19, please contact your physician for advice. If anyone who is carrying out essential research activities displays minor symptoms of illness, including but not limited to cough or fever, that person must stay home, and they should notify their research supervisor as soon as possible so that plans for alternative coverage of those critical activities can be determined. If someone has any doubt about whether they could be ill, they should NOT come to work.

Latest Penn State COVID-19 Updates

The latest guidance and information for the Penn State research community related to COVID-19 will continue to be posted at https://www.research.psu.edu/covid. For University-wide news and updates, visit https://sites.psu.edu/virusinfo/.

Thank you in advance for your efforts to keep our community safe.