Provost, CRO and Asso. Research Officer issue Suspension Guidance

Apr 2, 2020, 15:21 PM by Melodi Moore
provost Message Header

April 2, 2020

Dear Deans of the GSBS, SON, SHP; Chairs in the SOM; and Research Faculty: 
 
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, UTMB leadership, in coordination with the Deans and Chairs, is moving forward with a suspension of non-COVID research activities.  We have been encouraging the "ramp down" of research activities for the past two weeks.  Labs should have been freezing cell lines and freezing sperm and embryos for unique animal strains.  If this work has not yet been completed, please plan to do so no later than 6 p.m. this Friday, April 3.    

For Non-COVID work

Non-COVID research must end no later than this Friday, April 3 by 6 p.m. and must be concluded following strict distancing and density minimizing conditions (i.e. social distancing).  Non-COVID research experiments cannot be conducted after April 3 unless granted an exception as follows:

  • In order to preserve critical research specimens or resources (i.e. specialized rodent colonies), the PI must request, in writing, an exception by submitting the request to the PI’s department chair who will review and forward their recommendation to the Chief Research Officer and the Provost for approval. 
  • For very long-term experiments, that if terminated early would represent loss of months of work, the PI can request a special exception which must be submitted, in writing, to the PI’s department chair, Chief Research Officer and Provost.
  • Questions about potential exceptions should be addressed to your department chair.

Communication plans for all departmental research personnel must be developed and deployed to support a work-from-home status and shared with all faculty and research personnel ASAP (but no later than Friday, April 3 at noon).

• It is understood that key research resources (unique animal lines, special equipment, etc.) will need to be maintained. 

  • A skeleton staff in each department will be assembled by departmental leadership to support and provide for the monitoring of liquid nitrogen dewars, C02 incubators, inert atmosphere glove boxes, vacuum lines, among other laboratory needs.

Laboratory personnel may not come to the lab after 6 p.m. on Friday, April 3 unless they are part of pre-approved preservation/maintenance activities.

  • All laboratory personnel will continue research activities that can be performed at home (e.g., data analysis, manuscript preparation, and proposal assembly). 

All PIs must strictly follow the mandate from UTMB that NO NEW NON-COVID EXPERIMENTS WILL BE STARTED without explicit, written permission in advance from their department chair and approval from the Chief Research Officer and the Provost.

Department chairs and/or department administration will discuss with each lab research team how laboratories will be ramped down to ensure rapid compliance.

  • In order to ramp down by 6 p.m. on Friday, April 3:
    • All research units in the institution, individual PI laboratories, shared facilities or similar units will divide themselves into two teams (A and B).
    • This plan must be on file with department administration and Office of the Chief Research Officer.
    • These teams will come to work at different times and there will never be physical contact between members of team A and members of team B, either at work or outside of work.
    • This will reduce density by approximately two-fold in laboratory areas.
    • Members of a team must work at a safe distance from each other (minimum 6 feet) and must exercise best laboratory practices during their shifts and approved decontamination protocols before and after their shifts.
    • PIs must communicate regularly (via Skype or other remote communication choice) with their groups and lab members as we work to prioritize and preserve our sense of scientific community while we physically isolate ourselves.
    • Lab personnel are not allowed to congregate in common areas such as break rooms, hallways or common equipment rooms.


For COVID-19 approved work

COVID-19 work must be approved by the Dean or Chair and must have a confirmed and approved funding source to support the work that is not already dedicated to another project.

• In order to continue research in the safest manner:

  • All lab members must wear PPE at all times when working in the laboratory, including lab coats, gloves, eye protection. There are no exceptions to these rules.
  • All lab members must follow appropriate donning and doffing procedures for PPE and appropriate hand hygiene measures each time before entering and leaving the laboratory.
  • Shared laboratory equipment such as microscopes must be wiped down before and after each use.
  • All research units in the institution, individual PI laboratories, shared facilities or similar units will divide themselves into two teams (A and B).
  • These teams will come to work at different times and there will never be physical contact between members of team A and members of team B, either at work or outside of work. 
  • This will also decrease the chance that a whole unit is quarantined for an extended period thus completely stopping research.
  • If a team member tests positive for COVID-19,all members of that same team will be immediately released from laboratory duties and quarantined, and follow applicable UTMB policies and guidelines related to COVID-19 exposure.
  • If a team member tests positive for COVID-19, the other lab team will use appropriate PPE to perform a full wet decon of the lab using an appropriate disinfectant and contact time. 
    • Wet decon lab will include:
      • Floors;
      • Lab benches;
      • Primary containment devices and engineering controls; and
      • Supplies.
    • EHS will be contacted to develop a plan to decon areas where the individual may have moved in the building including common areas on the floors, such as breakroom, bathrooms and elevators.
  • Members of a team must work at a safe distance from each other (ideally one person/lab module or equivalent) and must exercise best laboratory practices during their shifts and approved decontamination protocols before and after their shifts.
  • Where possible, all lab members should use a dedicated computer/keyboard, if possible. 
  • Lab personnel are not allowed to congregate in common areas such as break rooms, hallways or common equipment rooms.
  • All laboratory personnel are encouraged to work from home/remotely as much as possible.
  • PIs must communicate regularly (via Skype or other remote communication choice) with their groups and lab members as we work to prioritize and preserve our sense of scientific community while we physically isolate ourselves.
  • The plan will not apply to BSL3 and BSL4 laboratory conditions where PPE is utilized with the understanding that BSL3 and BSL4 individuals must exercise the same precautions and protocols when not in PPE.

We appreciate your cooperation on this important matter.