This message has been distributed to all UT employees with Principal Investigator (PI) status, as well as all UT graduate students and postdocs.
*Employee accommodations information and link have been corrected from original email sent on April 14, 2021.*
Dear PI Colleagues, Graduate Students, and Postdocs,
As the university prepares to return to in-person classes and work this fall, I’m pleased to let you know that we are also initiating a gradual step-down process that will get us back to full-capacity research operations in July. On Monday, April 19th, we will move to Research Level 2 (70% workforce density limit with no more than 1 person per 125 sq. ft.), followed by incremental shifts to Level 1 and Level 0 during the next three months. I’m excited that we can all finally plan to work collaboratively on every type of project — something that, for many of us, was difficult or nearly impossible to do remotely.
The research levels we instituted as part of our formal Research Restart Plan last summer gave us a framework for managing workspace density and a rubric for deciding which kinds of research presented the least amount of risk to those involved. The good news is that the levels worked well to prevent disease transmission in our research environments, as intended. To date, through contact tracing, we know that all COVID-positive cases among on-campus research personnel were acquired outside of the university research setting, and all of these cases were rapidly isolated and addressed to prevent further spread within the research community. Moreover, there have been no documented cases of COVID-19 transmission between researchers and participants in human subject studies.
The limitations associated with Research Restart levels were never meant to be in effect indefinitely, however, and now that all adults in Texas who wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can do so, we’re in a good position to move to less restrictive research levels.
Gradually Returning to Full Operations
After consulting with the Fall 2021 Planning Executive Committee and the Health and Wellness Working Group led by Dr. Amy Young, I am instituting a controlled research level step-down between April 19th and July 5th. I hope this gives your teams sufficient time to adjust on-campus work schedules or begin recruiting for studies that had previously been paused.
I want to be clear, however, that while our goal is to return to Research Level 0 (no on-campus occupancy limits) in July, we will continue to monitor local COVID-19 rates closely and will be prepared to reinstate workforce density limits if needed.
Today: We are at Research Level 3A (50% workforce density limit), and human subjects research in Tiers A, B, and C is permitted with associate dean for research (ADR) and Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. PIs who are hosting students in Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs also may decide whether to host their summer 2021 programs in person and begin planning accordingly.
Monday, April 19 – May 16, 2021: Step down to Research Level 2 (70% workforce density limit). Researchers must continue to adhere to a density of 1 person per 125 sq. ft. of research space.
Monday, May 17 – July 4, 2021: Step down to Research Level 1 (85% workforce density limit), and all human subjects research is reactivated, including Tier D studies with ADR and IRB approval. Researchers must continue to adhere to a density of 1 person per 125 sq. ft. of research space. REU students begin arriving on campus.
Monday, July 5, 2021: Final step down to Research Level 0 (full capacity permitted with no social distancing requirements). Any research previously paused is now permitted as well.
Please also note:
- Researchers must follow university masking guidance, regardless of the research level or workforce density, including at Research Level 0.
- PIs will continue to set team schedules, including on-site and/or remote work.
- Regular proactive community testing (PCT) is still strongly recommended, especially if you are not vaccinated or if you are 90 days past your last vaccination.
- If you have not already done so, consider filling out the vaccination request form through UT Health Austin.
- Arrangements for continued remote work must be coordinated with your PI and/or the Office for Inclusion and Equity. PIs may approve continued remote work for their personnel if it is feasible for the type of research being conducted. Researchers with documented high-risk health conditions may formally request accommodations for continued remote work.
- Please refer to the university’s Meetings and Events Guidelines for direction about lab or research group meetings and, when possible, consider meeting virtually.
- Research travel will continue to follow the university’s Travel Guidelines. Researchers may request travel exceptions through their deans or ADRs.
- The research level step-down process could be paused or reversed if local conditions warrant re-examining on-campus policies.
As the Executive Committee plans for Fall 2021, details about returning to campus will continue to be finalized and shared with you as quickly as possible. In the meantime, if you have any questions about research operations, please contact your ADR or supervising PI. And the Research Restart Plan and Levels document, toolkit, and FAQs are being updated to reflect the step-down schedule, so please refer to them as needed.
By sharing this timeline now for resuming on-campus operations at normal capacities, I hope you can begin to plan for new schedules and routines, and I also hope you’re as ready as I am to be back in our campus labs and research spaces with our teammates. I’ll be working with my own lab in the coming weeks to resume our full-scale research operations with human participants this summer, and I look forward to seeing many of you on campus soon.
Alison R. Preston, Ph.D.
Interim Vice President for Research