The COVID-19 crisis and the rapidly-changing circumstances associated with it are presenting unprecedented challenges to our research enterprise. UCI’s research community has risen to these challenges, and I greatly appreciate all that you have done so far in response to this crisis.
Driven by the rapidly escalating situation in the State of California, we now need to ramp down and curtail our on-campus research activities. Specifically, at this time, we need to do two things:
- Effective immediately implement plans to ramp down non-critical research through May 1. This must be accomplished by close of business on Friday, March 20. To the extent feasible, non-critical research should be shifted to remote operations (i.e., home), or postponed to a later date. From March 21 through May 1, only critical research will be conducted at UCI. This period may be adjusted based on circumstances as they evolve.
- Ensure that the human physical distance in our research operations exceeds the social distancing guidelines.
Principal Investigators (PIs), Lead Researchers (LRs) and lab managers should immediately begin this process and share their strategy with their department/school/research unit leadership.
CRITICAL v. NON-CRITICAL RESEARCH
Critical research activities means essential experiments and the essential personnel to carry them out. These activities are in most cases experimental research in university laboratories.
Essential experiments are:
- Those for which cessation would be in conflict with funding agreements (consult with personnel in SPA or Beall Applied Innovation as applicable to assist you with determining if this is the case);
- Where the phasing down and restarting of the research would cause irreparable harm to the research project/program; or
- Related to improving general knowledge about the SARS CoV-2 virus (which causes the COVID-19 illness), and reducing the spread of COVID-19, including the development and testing of vaccine candidates.
Essential experiments by definition include clinical trials, i.e., the controlled, clinical testing in human subjects of investigational new drugs, devices, treatments or diagnostics, or comparisons of approved drugs, devices, treatments or diagnostics, to assess their safety, efficacy, benefits, costs, adverse reactions, and/or outcomes.
Essential personnel are those individuals who are necessary to ensure the ongoing viability of critical research, including:
- Laboratory personnel responsible for animal care, where such care is not provided by ULAR,
- Personnel responsible for equipment maintenance that, if not done, could result in damage or high-cost equipment repairs (e.g., maintaining cryogen on NMR spectrometers),
- Researchers working on experiments that have a small window for completion (e.g., the ability to make a specific measurement only a few times a year), and
- Faculty and/or research staff necessary to maintain research materials that are perishable and not easily replaced. For example, primary cell lines, and long-term experiments for which there would be considerable cost and/or time associated with requiring the experiment to end (e.g., on-going, continual one-month experiment that requires regular measurements or maintenance otherwise all previous data is lost).
Please note that students (including graduate students and post-docs) are not mandated to serve as essential personnel; the decision to report to campus lies with the student worker, not their research advisor.
Preparing to Reduce Research Personnel Density
You may wish to use the Laboratory Ramp-Down Checklist, adapted from peer institutions, to evaluate necessary steps in reducing research personnel density. Please note that this is not an all-encompassing list, or a list for which all items will apply to a specific type of research or research in a specific discipline. Rather, it is intended as a general tool to help inform researchers and focus their thoughts in preparing their plans and strategies. As a reminder, the UC Office of the President has stated that under no circumstances are researchers to take materials other than laptops, data storage devices, etc., offsite (e.g., to their homes).
Human Subjects Research
The general guidance posted on the Research Continuity website under the Human Research Protections section remains current, and should be carefully reviewed and followed by all researchers engaged in human research.
Research Personnel Health and Safety
The health and safety of UCI research personnel is a top priority. PIs and LRs are responsible for encouraging all research personnel, including undergraduate and graduate students, and postdocs to work from home whenever feasible. They are also responsible for encouraging and modeling social distancing and good hygiene.
Any researcher (regardless of their position or rank) must not come to work if they are sick. This includes essential personnel, which is why redundancy in all aspects of preparedness planning (and especially in communication plans) is vitally important. Be sure to establish a system by which research team members can and will check the status of each other. We must look after not only our physical health, but also consider mental health and the impact that a pandemic event can have on our most valuable asset – the immensely creative and dedicated people that make up UCI’s research community.
We are facing an unprecedented challenge with COVID-19, and all of us must all do our part to “flatten the curve” to protect our community and lessen predictable pressures on our public health infrastructure. While this process may be disheartening, know that the steps you take now will support the long-term success of our labs and research groups.
For questions regarding the ramp down and curtailment and how these actions may impact research, please direct them to the following:
- For sponsored awards, please direct them to the officer in Sponsored Projects Administration or Beall Applied Innovation assigned to your unit, or to Nancy Lewis, Executive Director, Sponsored Projects Administration at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For human research, please direct them to the staff in Human Research Protections, or to Beverley Alberola, Director, Human Research Protections at email@example.com.
- For animal protocols, please direct them to IACUC@uci.edu.
- For animal care and veterinary services, please direct them to Claire Lindsell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For the laboratory ramp down checklist, bio safety, radiation safety, occupational safety, etc., please direct them to EH&S staff, or John Sterritt, Executive Director, EH&S at email@example.com.
- Questions regarding local matters may be directed department, school, or research unit leadership.
- Other questions may be directed to Pramod Khargonekar, Vice Chancellor for Research by phone at 949-824-5796 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Bruce Morgan, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Administration by phone at 949-824-5677 or at email@example.com.
Please visit the UCI Coronavirus website for important updates about COVID-19 and the status of UCI operations. While this ramp down and curtailment period will last through May 1, we may need to take further actions if there are orders affecting campus operations or as situation evolves. Please continue to monitor your e-mail and regularly visit the Research Continuity website for updates regarding the status of Office of Research operations, as well as general guidance to the research community.
Pramod Khargonekar, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor for Research
Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science