COVID-19 Research FAQ

This page contains answers to your questions about research and research policy in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak. It also contains links to the special-purpose pages that will be maintained by other units within the VPR portfolio. If your question is not answered here, please email us at vp-research-sr@austin.utexas.edu with the Subject line “FAQ”. We will have the relevant expert answer you directly and post your question and answer on our pages. Please check with this page frequently as answers and policies may evolve rapidly. We are always there to help with individual issues. Please contact Dan Jaffe, Michelle Stickler (RSC), or Renee Gonzales (OSP) if you need help.

Key Communications from Vice President for Research Dan Jaffe

March 23, 2020
Pause in Laboratory Research Activities
(email sent to all principal investigators)
March 17, 2020Update: COVID-19 and Research
(email sent to all principal investigators)
March 15, 2020Lab and Core Operations and Human Subject Research
(email sent to all principal investigators)
March 12, 2020COVID-19 and Research
(email sent to all principal investigators)

UT Laboratory Sign-In Sheet (.docx)
Per the Mandatory Policies section outlined in Dr. Jaffe's email dated March 15, 2020, "All laboratories must have a sign-in, sign-out sheet on the door. Everyone entering or leaving must put a legible name, contact phone number, and a time and date of entry and exit onto this sheet. The sign-in sheet will be critical in the event of the need for contact tracing if a member of the lab tests positive for COVID-19. The sheets must therefore be archived for at least 4 weeks." Print this downloadable template and display it on your laboratory doors.

UT Laboratory Ramp-Down Checklist (.docx)
Per Dr. Jaffe's email dated March 15, 2020, PIs need to prepare themselves for a suspension of activity on relatively short notice. This downloadable checklist is meant to help you plan for a possible suspension of activity.

Q: Am I required to shut down my lab?
A: (3/23/2020) Yes. Per VPR Dan Jaffe’s memo on March 23, all on-campus laboratory activity must be paused effective 5:00 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2020, with the exception of essential research activity that has been approved by the VPR. Submit an exemption request for essential research activity.

Q: What research activity is considered “essential” during this period of global laboratory shutdown?
A: (3/23/2020) To be designated as essential, the research activities must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • COVID-19 related activity that has a timeline for deployment that could address the current crisis.
  • 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 and animal populations.
  • Activity that has US government-mandated security and access requirements, cannot be performed remotely, and whose activity is deemed critical by the US government.
  • Activities specifically requested by a US Government sponsor to continue during this time (documentation must be provided)
  • Clinical trial activity that if discontinued would negatively impact the patients’ care.

Q: My grant is expiring in June and I need to spend down the funds. Can I get an exemption to continue operating laboratory for this reason?
A: (3/23/2020) No, not unless you have specific documentation from the sponsor stating that the research MUST continue during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have this, upload it with your exemption request.

Q: How can I request an exemption to continue essential research activity?
A: (3/23/2020) Submit your exemption request online using UT’s secure research portal, InfoReady. Your request will be reviewed first by your Associate Dean for Research and then by the VPR office. The VPR office will notify you of the status (approved/denied), typically within one business day.

Q: Can I get a blanket exemption to continue my lab’s research operations at near-usual capacity? We have several important, ongoing projects.
A: (3/23/2020) No. Exemption requests, if approved, are valid only for essential research activity, defined above. Retaining personnel in your lab at a reduced level to simply continue your research is highly unlikely to be approved. That action would not satisfy the goal of maximizing the safety of UT community. A request based simply on the view that your research is “important” will not be sufficient to justify endangering the health of essential personnel, even if in your estimation that risk is low.

Q: I’m working on research directly related to COVID-19. Can I get an exemption to continue this work?
A: (3/23/2020) Submit your exemption request online using UT’s secure research portal, InfoReady. Your request will be reviewed first by your Associate Dean for Research and then by the VPR office. The VPR office will notify you of the status (approved/denied), typically within one business day.

Q: My work doesn’t related directly to COVID-19 but is still essential. Can I get an exemption to continue this work?
A: (3/23/2020) Submit your exemption request online using UT’s secure research portal, InfoReady. Your request will be reviewed first by your Associate Dean for Research and then by the VPR office. The VPR office will notify you of the status (approved/denied), typically within one business day.

Q: I run a shared-use or core facility. There are essential maintenance and other operations we must conduct in order to keep the facility from falling into disrepair. Are we allowed to do this?
A: (3/23/2020) You must submit an exemption request for these essential operations, using the same process PIs use to request exemptions to conduct essential research activity. Your request will be reviewed first by your Dean/Director and then by the VPR office. The VPR office will notify you of the status (approved/denied), typically within one business day.

Q: Do I need to know who entered into my lab?
A: (3/15/2020) Yes. All laboratories must have a sign-in, sign-out sheet on the door. Everyone entering or leaving must put a legible name, contact phone number, and a time and date of entry and exit onto this sheet. The sign-in sheet will be critical in the event of the need for contact tracing if a member of the lab tests positive for COVID-19. The sheets must therefore be archived for at least 4 weeks. Print the UT Laboratory Sign-In Sheet template and display it on your laboratory doors.

Q: Someone in my lab has strongly suspicious symptoms or they tested positive for COVID-19, what steps must be taken?
A: (3/15/2020) Follow these three steps immediately:

  • Put a quarantine notice on the door of the lab and notify your team not to enter.
  • Call EHS (512-471-3511) and let them know about the quarantine. They will discuss the urgency of re-entry with you. Based on that, they will provide direct assistance and any necessary equipment/supplies to help you de-contaminate the lab.
  • Look at your sign-in sheet and notify their contacts that they should self-isolate for 14 days.

Q: Can my lab continue our weekly lab meetings?
A: (3/15/2020) UT’s meeting and event guidelines in response to COVID-19 are in effect for gatherings as small as 2 people. Per these guidelines, your group or lab meetings, and even one-on-ones with your personnel, should be held remotely until further notice.

Q: May I require undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs or research staff in my group or lab to work on-site?
A: (3/17/2020) No. Undergraduate researchers will no longer participate in research in person. ALL graduate students, postdocs, and staff have the right to decide to decline to work in the laboratory environment, regardless of how their positions are funded, and without fear of retaliation or retribution. Take care in your messaging not to implicitly diminish this right. You should work with those who decide to avoid the laboratory to continue to make progress toward their research and educational objectives. PIs may set work-at-home hours and conditions policies for their groups.

Q: If my students or staff want to work on-site, are they allowed to enter laboratories or analytical facilities?
A: (3/23/2020) Graduate students, postdocs and staff may enter laboratories only if their PI has an approved exemption request on file with the VPR office, and then only if those students/postdocs/staff are named as essential personnel in the exemption request. You may not name your entire laboratory group as essential personnel. Undergraduates may not participate in laboratory research under any circumstances until further notice.

Q: May visiting researchers with UT appointments work in my research space during the laboratory shutdown?
A: (3/23/2020) The only visiting researchers who are allowed to enter UT research space during this extended shutdown period are those who:

  • are faculty or staff (excluding students and postdocs) who have a pre-existing, formal visiting scholar appointment at UT
  • are working directly on COVID-19 related research
  • have been designated as essential personnel in an approved exemption request on file with the VPR office. The UT PI filing the exemption request should call attention to these visitors in the notes of their request.

Visiting graduate students and postdocs are barred from labs until further notice.

Undergraduate Students

Q: I have an undergraduate student working in my lab as a paid employee. Can they continue working on-site?
A: (3/18/2020) No. Undergraduates may not work in campus laboratories, effective March 17, 2020. If they are able to contribute to research remotely, they may do so. You should transition their laboratory-based workload to senior lab members. Please do not terminate appointments or compensation for undergraduates, and instead work with your undergraduates to find relevant research-related activities for them that can be completed remotely. Guidance will be issued later, when agency guidance is available, about how to account for their effort.

Q: How can my undergraduate complete their course credit for their Undergraduate Research Experience?
A: (3/17/2020) Although they may no longer participate in research on campus, please work with undergraduates who are working in your laboratory for course credit to find research-related activities for them that will permit them to obtain course credit for the full semester.

Q: Should I continue paying my undergraduate research assistants who were hourly workers, now that they're no longer working on campus?
A: (3/18/2020) Yes, we ask that you provide continuity for support of undergraduate researchers. Hourly students with lab duties should be compensated at a rate comparable to the number of hours per week they were working prior to the onset of distancing measures. (You do not have to give them hours for spring break if they were not working during spring break.) If you have work that these students can do while not present on campus, you may require that they perform it for the number of hours for which they are appointed. For those undergraduates who were performing research in your lab for course credit, please work with the student to find scholarly activities that will enable you to give them credit for the entire Spring semester.

Q: Should my Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) students continue their work?
A: (3/17/2020) In-lab work by FRI students (freshmen and any upperclassmen) is suspended until further notice. For more information, please visit this College of Natural Sciences FAQ page.

Q: I am the PI of an REU program. Should I still be planning for REU students to visit and work on our campus this summer?
A: (3/31/2020) NSF has issued guidelines about how to handle REU sites for summer 2020. UT has not yet issued a final decision on whether REU sites will be permitted on campus for summer 2020. In the meantime, REU PIs should work with their associate deans for research to examine possibilities for different circumstances.

Q: I have another question about undergraduates involved in my research. Where should I direct my question?
A: (3/13/2020) You should talk to your Dean's office, specifically to the person responsible for undergraduate affairs, e.g., your Assistant/Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs. Undergraduates are stewarded in a different way than graduate students and postdocs.

Animal research FAQs are available at this address:
Note: This page requires EID login. Because of faults in the system, if may take you to the UT homepage. If this happens, please click the link again. It usually works the second time.
https://research.utexas.edu/ors/animal-research/coronavirus-communications-and-updates/

Q: Can I contact IACUC with questions?
A: (3/15/2020) Staff are working remotely, but all emails to the Office of Research Support and Compliance are being monitored. If the University closes, the Office of Research Support and Compliance (RSC) staff will still be available remotely to process IACUC protocols or answer questions. However, the availability of committee members to perform review may be affected, and protocol reviews may take longer than normal. Protocol amendments involving new staff or those whose training has expired may be delayed if in-person training (AN55) or Occupational health assessments are needed to process such amendments, as those will not be considered essential functions by the University during a closure.

Human subject research FAQs are available at this address:
https://research.utexas.edu/ors/human-subjects/covid-19-considerations-for-human-subject-research/

Q: Can I contact IRB with questions?
A: (3/12/2020) The UT IRBs and IRB staff will continue operations regardless of potential disruptions caused by an outbreak of COVID-19 at UT Austin or in the Austin area. Researchers are encouraged to conduct communications with the IRB office via email, online chat, and telephone to maximize social distancing.

Q: My approved IRB protocol includes face-to-face interaction with study participants. May I continue collecting data?
A: (3/18/2020) Face-to-face human subject research that does not provide a direct benefit to the subjects or is related to the study of coronavirus must be paused, effective immediately. If you have questions about whether your study provides direct benefit, contact IRB@austin.utexas.edu. Where possible, transition in-person interactions for all studies, regardless of benefit, to remote interactions to limit potential exposure. See the human subject research FAQ for more guidance. You should consider the impact this directive may have on trainees whose academic credit and progress is dependent upon carrying out research activities and develop alternatives where possible. As the current situation eases, RSC will work with you to make sure that your protocols are ready for re-activation.

Most research proposal and grant administration information will be curated by OSP and available at this address:
https://research.utexas.edu/osp/about-osp/osp-news-and-alerts/covid-19-faq/

Q: Will OSP continue to intake and submit proposals during any possible work-from-home requirement or temporary shutdown?
A: (3/12/2020) Yes. PIs will have access to uninterrupted proposal submission services though OSP.

Q: Are sponsors pushing out near-term proposal submission deadlines to accommodate disruptions due to COVID-19?
A: (3/17/2020) Some are, yes. We advise PIs to check the funding opportunity page/solicitation for their target funding opportunity daily to see whether the sponsor has adjusted the submission deadline.

Q: Will I be able to request a no-cost extension on my current grants?
A: (3/20/2020) The White House Office of Management and Budget has issued guidance specifically stating that federal agencies have the ability to automatically extend awards that were active as of March 31, 2020 and that expire on or before December 31, 2020 by a period of up to 12 months. We will update this entry as individual agencies put forward specific guidance.

Q: Should I continue charging salaries and benefits to my grants for my grant-appointed staff and students during these extraordinary circumstances, even if they're working remotely?
A: (3/19/2020) You may continue to charge their effort to your federal grants for now. The White House Office of Management and Budget has issued guidance specifically stating that federal agencies may allow recipients (UT) to continue charging salaries and benefits to grants during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will update this entry as individual agencies put forward specific guidance. See OSP's FAQ page for more detailed information on this topic.

Q: Will my grant pay for telecommuting, worker compensation, and cancelled travel fees?
A: (3/31/2020) Some agencies are allowing this, yes. We are keeping an eye out for policy changes about work-at-home rules and idle lab worker compensation, as well as on billing cancelled travel and events to grants. NIH has issued guidance on some of these points, and so has NSF. These and other agencies’ grant/proposal policy updates are being tracked on the OSP FAQ page.

Q: Where can I find funding opportunities related to COVID-19?
A: (3/18/2020) We're capturing these as we hear about them, and we are posting them to the VPR Open Calls website. You can sort the table of funding opps shown here by Program Name so that the COVID-19 opportunities filter to the top of the list, or use the search box at the top right of the table. If you see a COVID-19 funding opp that's not listed here, let us know at vp-research-sr@austin.utexas.edu.

Q: I’m having issues receiving shipments of laboratory supplies on campus. Who can help me?
A: (3/20/2020) This is a global concern that the campus CFO’s office is working to resolve. Until further guidance is posted here, reach out to your associate dean for research to let them know what issues you are having. Some colleges have consolidated all deliveries to a single building that is open, and are having college Facilities staff distribute the deliveries from there.

Q: I am essential personnel, and I've been granted an exemption by OVPR to conduct essential research activity on campus. I want to avoid public transport to minimize spread of the virus. Where can I park?
A: (3/23/2020) The CFO's office tells us that the gates are lifted in all campus parking garages as of now. You should be able to park your vehicle in any campus garage for free.

Q: Now that I am shutting down my lab, per VPR policy, I have excess PPE that could be donated to the healthcare sector. Where I can donate my PPE?
A: (3/23/2020) Acute PPE needs have arisen in Austin, and UT has developed a centralized, coordinated response to address these needs. As you get ready to pause research in your laboratories, please collect surplus PPE in boxes labeled “Surplus PPE” and leave them outside your labs. Building managers will collect the materials. Specific PPE needed:

  • Fluid resistant gowns (yellow or blue isolation gowns)
  • Masks – both N95 and procedure/surgical
  • Disposable gloves nitrile and other, but not latex
  • Face shields
  • Goggles