March 24, 2020
We continue to watch the rapidly changing public health recommendations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and are taking action to protect our university community and healthcare workers. As the pandemic has continued to expand across the globe, so too has the U.S. response at both national and local levels. Federal agencies who support our research are implementing their own response plans. For example, NASA has moved to Stage 3 at all their field centers and HQ, meaning that every employee is mandated to telework. The only exceptions are for two large missions (James Webb Space Telescope and Mars2020) and then only with skeleton crews. No other missions are deemed essential. The NIH is similarly restrictive of internal research and have deemed essential only that which is directly aimed at COVID-19. We expect similar guidance from other agencies as the situation continues to evolve.
To protect UNH employees, students and colleagues, our goal is to minimize the number of people coming to campus, and as such, we will constrain access to UNH research spaces effective 5 p.m., Thursday, March 26, 2020 (if necessary, an extension will be granted for those who were affected by the Rudman Hall closure). The term “research space” encompasses research laboratories (including those used for multiple purposes, e.g. research plus teaching and/or outreach), service facilities and centers, core equipment facilities, field labs and farms, research vessels, offices and other UNH resources that support research. Henceforth, access to research spaces to perform what is deemed to be “essential research activities” may be requested with a justification for the need and a plan for personnel safety. All other research should continue remotely. Examples of essential research activities can include:
- Activity that if discontinued would result in a significant loss of data continuity and/or samples.
- Activity that if discontinued would pose a safety hazard.
- Activity that maintains critical samples, reagents and materials.
- Activity that provides for the husbandry, welfare and care of animals currently on campus.
- 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 that maintains critical equipment in facilities and laboratories for essential research as noted above. Otherwise, all research and service equipment should be shut down to prevent maintenance needs.
We previously requested that you work with your unit leader to develop continuity plans for essential research activities. Now, it is imperative that we more closely monitor these activities and put into place plans to ensure the health and safety of those designated to perform them. Therefore, effective immediately, faculty and staff requesting access to UNH research spaces for activities that meet the criteria above must first seek approval from their dean or director; the approval process begins by completing this form to request the continuation of ongoing critical experiments or COVID-19 related research by 5 p.m. Thursday, March 26, 2020. Information requested will include justification of the need for activities, and information on frequency and duration of access. Once access is approved by the appropriate dean or director, UNH Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) will contact the applicant to review plans for personnel safety and to assess whether access is appropriate. Safety plans must be in place prior to resuming activity in the lab. If such requests are not approved, this does NOT mean that all your research activities must stop, but rather that you should be conducting your research remotely.
Since we started the process of laboratory ramp-down and remote work last week, most of you have already removed those items from your office that will help you advance your research from home. Thank you to the vast majority who heeded this advice and need not return to your offices and laboratories. Those continuing to engage in research activities that are not essential should remove what is needed for their research by 5:00 p.m., Friday, March 27. Please contact Louise Griffin (Louise.Griffin@unh.edu ) if you plan to remove any equipment. Finally, every person responsible for active labs, facilities or other research spaces should follow university shutdown procedures, including plans for securing radiation sources, chemicals and biohazardous materials, and reporting facility closure to your unit heads. Researchers that have questions about working remotely with restricted or sensitive data should contact Melissa.McGee@unh.edu.
Suggestions for research activities that can be done during this period include: analyze existing data; learn and apply new analysis techniques; conduct numerical and/or analytical simulations; write papers that are in various stages of completion; continue to support and mentor graduate students and their research activities; catch up on reading the primary literature relevant to your research area, etc. For those who are funded on external grants and contracts, so long as progress is being made on funded research projects (even if not to your high standards), then that is sufficient to charge these efforts to your grant.
The decision to significantly reduce active research spaces was not made lightly. I realize that this will be extremely disruptive, and that the impact on some research programs, and researchers, especially graduate students, may be substantial. The safety of our campus community is of utmost importance. We will do everything we can to mitigate any potential impacts during this shutdown. There is reason to hope that our collective efforts now will have the desired effect on the rate of infection, and that we are able to begin resuming research activities soon.
Please send any questions that you have about administration of sponsored research programs to SPA.Covidemail@example.com. Thank you for your support and patience as we navigate these uncharted waters.
Wishing you and yours the very best,