COVID-19 &RESEARCH

Research and COVID-19: Important announcements and guidance

Updated June 1, 2020

New University Guidance

Since early March, members of the Iowa State research community have adapted and persevered to advance our institution’s research mission, despite the considerable challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has continued in a limited fashion on campus, and more broadly across the university through telework arrangements. We also took the necessary proactive steps as an institution to prepare to reduce our footprint to only essential research activities, if presented with that scenario. Now, following President Wintersteen’s direction in her memos to faculty and staff on May 8 and May 15, it is time to carefully plan and methodically implement a phased return to normal research operations – starting this summer – with the goal of expanding fully in the fall.

FAQs Related to Research and COVID-19

The following FAQ was updated June 1, 2020, to reflect the most current information and guidance on research during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because the university as a whole is planning and preparing for a return to normal on-campus activities this fall, researchers can begin outlining plans to increase their research activities, as well.

Please keep in mind the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, as does our knowledge and understanding of the virus and its effects. We will update plans, policies, and procedures as appropriate for the situation at hand.

A Phased Approach to Resuming Normal On-Campus Research Activities

As a researcher, how do I begin the process of resuming normal research activities on campus? (Updated 5.21.20)

Beginning June 1, 2020, the Iowa State research community will follow a measured and phased approach to resuming normal on-campus research activities. To begin this process, research leads/PIs are expected to carefully review and adhere to the Guide to Returning to the Workplace handbook. The handbook has been written and organized by overarching topics to provide easy-to-read and digest information on an array of topics that are relevant to resuming all work on campus.

When can research leads/PIs return to normal on-campus research activities? (Updated 5.21.20)

Following the direction of the Guide for Returning to the Workplace and Supervisor Expectations, research leads should use the Supervisor Workspace Plan to guide discussions with their team members and draft their plans regarding how they intend to organize and manage teams and workspaces occupied by faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate research assistants, or post docs under their supervision. These plans must be completed by research leads for all laboratory and research workspaces, whether they were temporarily closed or remained open as the university reduced its campus footprint during the spring semester. Completed plans must be reviewed and approved by the department chair or center director and this process may be completed at any time. In addition, the research lead must share the approved plan with the department DOGE if graduate students are involved.

What does a plan to return to normal on-campus research activities need to encompass? (Updated 5.21.20)

The health of all researchers is of paramount importance. In research projects where faculty, undergraduate students, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows are working in a team environment, it is imperative to minimize disruptions to the academic progress of the students. It is also particularly important to safeguard the professional interests, and health and safety of all researchers through a proper assessment of risks and benefits.

In developing research workplace plans, research leads/PIs will need to perform environmental and staffing/personnel assessments with the intent of maximizing safety by ensuring:

  • Adequate supplies of necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE);
  • Adequate supplies of cleaning and disinfectant products to maintain optimum hygiene of all shared spaces and surfaces in a lab or other research space;
  • Workers within the lab or other research space can maintain a minimum physical distance of 6 feet from others as much as possible. Please download and use the scheduling tool posted in the RESOURCES section of this web page to help effectively manage the staffing density of your lab or other research work space; and
  • If six feet of distancing is not possible for some tasks, complete the task with as much distance as is feasible. Work as quickly as possible, while maintaining safety standards and following standard operating procedures.

Are there any tools research leads/PIs can use in helping develop their plans for resuming normal on-campus research activities? (Updated 5.21.20)

In addition to the Guide for Returning to the Workplace handbook, Supervisor Expectations outline and Supervisor Workspace Plan document, researchers can download the scheduling tool from the RESOURCES section of this webpage to help more effectively manage staffing density to optimize physical distancing in labs and other research workplaces.

Other valuable resources include the:

What is the current guidance for research-related travel?(Updated 5.21.20)

Please continue to adhere to the most current guidance on university-related travel, which can be found on the regularly monitored and updated Travel FAQ page.

What is the current guidance for face-to-face human-subjects research? (Updated 5.21.20)

Face-to-face human-subjects research is not permitted at this time. Please refer to the document titled Face-to-Face Human Subjects Research Activities Restricted for the most current guidance. We are working with researchers from across the university to develop parameters for when resumption of these activities will take place.

What are next steps for on-campus research? (Updated 5.21.20)

The Research Continuity Working Group (RCWG) of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will continue its work to guide the level of research activity on campus – increasing or decreasing – in response to institutional decisions about the campus footprint. Because campus is already prepared to reduce research activities through the essential research application process, the primary focus for the summer is planning and implementing an approach to increase research activities. This work will be conducted in collaboration with the university’s Fall Planning Committee. This summer, the RCWG anticipates developing an approach and associated guidance for further increasing research, followed by testing, evaluating and refining the approach as conditions warrant.

Social/Physical Distancing and Reducing Risk of Transmission While Conducting Your Research

How can I ensure physical distancing in my research work? (Updated 5.21.20)

Physical distancing is of paramount importance in reducing the spread of the Coronavirus. Please refer to these documents for the most current guidance:

What else should researchers, research groups, and labs do now to reduce the risk of spreading illness? (Updated 3.18.20)

Visit the University Human Resources (UHR) COVID-19 Employee FAQ, which has the most current information and employee-focused guidance. Refer to General Guidelines (GG) 1-6 for details on COVID-19 and its control.

In addition, please practice self-care:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with tissues when you cough or sneeze;
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing, and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to avoid spreading germs;
  • Improve your immune system by getting enough rest, exercising and eating a healthy diet;
  • Stay home if you are sick, and avoid close contact with those who are sick; and
  • Instead of a handshake, use a wave or elbow bump to avoid spreading germs.

How do I promote physical distancing when conducting field studies? (Updated 5.21.20)

For field research, ensure that employees practice social distancing for all activities, including travel to and from the research field site. Stress employee safety so that a single employee is not put in a high-risk situation by working alone around equipment or animals. Institute the buddy system to ensure safety and social distancing.

How do I handle packages and deliveries safely during this time period? (Updated 3.20.20)

Effective March 23, 2020 – due to Iowa State campus closures and restrictions – all inbound campus packages (UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc.) will be directed to ISU Central Receiving. Postal and Parcel Services will not be involved with incoming deliveries from these companies.

Please visit the Procurement Services’ Response to COVID-19 FAQ for the most current information on incoming and outgoing shipments and mailings.

What are the university’s policies for working remotely?

If an employee feels their work can be conducted remotely, the employee must contact their direct supervisor to discuss available remote work options. For more guidance, check Supervisor Guidelines 3-5 (SUP3-SUP5) in the UHR COVID-19 Employee FAQ. University Human Resources will update with any and all new information, so referring to it on an ongoing basis will ensure you have the most current guidance and direction.

Essential Research Activities

What is an essential research activity? (Updated 4.14.20)

The VPR-College COVID-19 Planning Group, comprised of VPR leadership, associate deans for research from all academic colleges, and the graduate college associate dean, have established criteria to define Essential Research Activities at Iowa State University during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers must apply to have an activity deemed essential in order to continue in the case of a shutdown of all non-essential on-campus, farm, or field research activities. The current Essential Research Activities criteria are posted here.

What will happen if Iowa State has to temporarily shut down research activities? (Updated 4.14.20)

Applications that received preliminary acceptance will be further evaluated if a temporary shutdown of campus research activities is enacted. Some staged field studies that were granted preliminary acceptance will undergo a second phase of evaluation in the coming weeks to determine whether the study can continue.

If your activity did not receive preliminary acceptance, it must be suspended through the duration of the temporary shutdown.

What do I do if the research activities for which I applied received preliminary acceptance? (Updated 4.14.20)

For the time being, you may continue with the activities outlined in your application. Further evaluation will take place if a temporary shutdown of campus research activities is enacted. Some staged field studies that were granted preliminary acceptance will undergo a second phase of evaluation in the coming weeks to determine whether the study can continue.

The VPR-College COVID-19 Planning Group anticipates developing a future procedure for submitting and evaluating new applications in the coming weeks, and will notify campus when this option becomes available.

In the meantime, as you continue your research, please continue to prioritize:

  • Your employees, graduate students, and other personnel by regularly checking their comfort level and addressing their concerns;
  • Remote work from home whenever possible; and
  • Employee safety by using shifts, social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and sanitizing practices when on campus or other ISU facilities.

What do I do if the research activities for which I applied did not receive preliminary acceptance? (Updated 4.14.20)

For the time being, you may continue with the activities outlined in your application. However, if a temporary shutdown of campus research activities is enacted, you will need to suspend these activities.

The VPR-College COVID-19 Planning Group anticipates developing a future procedure for submitting and evaluating new applications in the coming weeks, and will notify campus when this option becomes available.

In the meantime, as you continue your research, please continue to prioritize:

  • Your employees, graduate students, and other personnel by regularly checking their comfort level and addressing their concerns;
  • Remote work from home whenever possible; and
  • Employee safety by using shifts, social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and sanitizing practices when on campus or other ISU facilities.

Sponsored Funding, Grants, and Grant-Related Travel and Compensation

How do I determine how a sponsor is addressing various questions related to the COVID-19 situation? (Updated 6.1.20)

A collection of sponsor specific information can be found here. In addition, the National Council of Governmental Relations has created a resource page that contains a collection of helpful information based on sponsor. That information can be found here.

My project ends shortly but I will need additional time to complete my project. Who should I contact? (Updated 6.1.20)

For industry contracts, contact industry-contracts@iastate.edu. For other research agreements, contact ospa_awards@iastate.edu. A collection of sponsor specific information regarding extensions can be found here.

We will continue to monitor updates provided by other agencies and will revise this FAQ page as those updates occur.

The sponsor on my award is undergoing financial difficulties due to COVID-19 and may have difficulty paying for my research. Who should I advise of this information? (Updated 6.1.20)

Please email spa@iastate.edu with the information. We will ensure that all parties at ISU who need to be involved in these discussions are included.

What are the university’s travel policies during COVID-19? (Updated 6.1.20)

See this comprehensive guide from the Division of Operations and Finance for updated university travel policy, reimbursement guidance for cancelled travel plans, and for information from Transportation Services.

Can COVID-19 related travel cancellation expenses be charged to sponsored awards? (Updated 6.1.20)

It depends upon the sponsor. Start with the OMB guidance and then proceed to how each agency is handling guidance. OMB guidance for charging costs to grants can be found here.

The Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) has provided additional guidance at the “4-21-20 COGR’s Federal Agency Guidance Matrix,” found here.

Check this link to see if guidance for a specific agency has been provided.

If a sponsored agency has not addressed cancellation expenses, it is recommended that these fees be charged to awards, consistent with how the university is handling these cancellation expenses. If agencies issue alternative guidance, these expenses may need to be removed.

Documentation relating to the cancellation costs charged to a grant must be attached to the transaction within Workday and held in accordance with record retention requirements.

What are the processes related to cancelled travel related to COVID-19 where the costs were related to a sponsored project? (Updated 6.1.20)

In all cancelled travel situations, the traveler or department must make a concerted effort to get expenses paid by the sponsored project refunded and the credit returned to the project, similar to other university guidance. Further guidance is available on the Division of Operations and Finance website.

  • COGR issued guidance that can be found here.
  • The National Institutes of Health has issued Notice Number NOT-OD-20-086, found here, allowing nonrefundable costs associated with grant-related travel that has been cancelled due to COVID-19 to be charged to NIH awards if the costs would have otherwise been allowable.
  • Guidance for other federal agencies has not yet been released; however, at this time, we recommend that travelers follow the same guidance provided by NIH and COGR.
  • If supported by the funding agency, in order to be allowable on the grant, documentation that the traveler has requested and been denied a refund must be retained with the transaction. Institutional policy established for COVID-19 allowing travel cancellation costs to be charged to institutional funds should also be applied to sponsored projects to ensure consistent charging practices.
  • Documentation of refund denials should be attached to the original transaction in Workday. Non-refundable expenses will be covered by the original funding source for the trip, if allowed.
  • For costs that were charged to a grant, if there are airfare or other travel expense refunds, it should be credited back to the grant.
  • Please complete an expense report/event in Workday for all remaining costs, after all credits and refunds have been requested directly, as if the trip occurred. Note in the expense report that the trip was canceled due to COVID-19.

What if I have purchased an airline ticket for travel that will occur during the travel restrictions with grant funds? (Updated 6.1.20)

Please see the information located here.

Will airfare change fees be allowed on grants? (Updated 6.1.20)

Yes, ISU will allow change fees on university funds.

  • COGR issued guidance that can be found here.
  • The National Institutes of Health has issued Notice Number NOT-OD-20-086, found here, allowing nonrefundable costs associated with grant-related travel that has been cancelled due to COVID-19 to be charged to NIH awards if the costs would have otherwise been allowable.
  • Guidance for other federal agencies has not yet been released; however, at this time, we recommend that travelers follow the same guidance provided by NIH and COGR.
  • If supported by the funding agency, in order to be allowable on the grant, documentation that the traveler has requested and been denied a refund must be retained with the transaction. Institutional policy established for COVID-19 allowing travel cancellation costs to be charged to institutional funds should also be applied to sponsored projects to ensure consistent charging practices.
  • Documentation of refund denials and the additional change fee expense should be attached to the original transaction in Workday. Non-refundable expenses will be covered by the original funding source for the trip, if allowed.
  • For costs that were charged to a grant, if there are airfare or other travel expense refunds, it should be credited back to the grant.
  • Please complete an expense report/event in Workday for all remaining costs, after all credits and refunds have been requested directly, as if the trip occurred. Note in the expense report that the trip was canceled due to COVID-19.

A PI was planning to host a sponsor-funded conference for 100 people at a nearby hotel. Co-presenters and participants are not able to attend due to travel restrictions regarding the COVID-19. If we cancel the conference, can we charge cancellation fees to the grant? (Updated 6.1.20)

The first recommended step is to contact the hotel or event venue you have contracted with and see what flexibility they will provide and what penalties there are for canceling or postponing. If you need assistance in working with the hotel, reach out to Procurement Services.

If you want to charge the cancellation fees to the grant, the PI and departmental staff will need to keep any relevant written documentation of the guidance received. In addition, if the cancellation of this conference represents a change in the scope of work, please reach out to the Office of Sponsored Programs Administration.

A postdoc in my lab left to visit family in a CDC Level 3 country and has been unable to return. The postdoc has been absent for 2 weeks now and will remain in that country for an undetermined period of time. The postdoc was working on a grant in my lab. Can I continue to charge their salary to my grant while they are out of the country? (Updated 6.1.20)

Please refer to and follow the University’s Emergency Pay Practice Policy that provides flexibility for duties. There may be visa implications or options through the benefits office. The PI/lab should document and retain information on the staff and related compensation that is charged to each award.

Further information on the Emergency Pay Practice Policy is available here.

For staff working remotely, can the effort still be charged to a sponsored project? (Updated 6.1.20)

Please refer and follow the university’s Emergency Pay Practice Policy that provides flexibility for duties. This information can be found here.

Is the Office of Sponsored Programs Administration (OSPA) operating as usual? (Updated 3.20.20)

The Office of Sponsored Program Administration (OSPA) is currently working remotely and expects to provide normal service levels both pre-award and post-award, and grants@iastate.edu will be monitored. If OSPA becomes aware of changes in proposal deadlines, information will be posted on the OSPA website and distributed via that Grant Coordinator listserv.

If you need to talk to someone about a proposal submission, please click here to see our pre-award team contact information. If you have a question about a grant award, click here to find the contact information for the OSPA awards team.

Human-subjects research

Is the IRB office operating as usual?

The IRB office and ISU IRB are operating as usual. We expect this to continue even if ISU temporarily closes. IRB staff can work remotely and IRB@iastate.edu will be monitored. IRB meetings are continuing as scheduled. If changes occur, the IRB website will be updated accordingly.

Can I still interact with research subjects? (Updated 3.23.20)

To protect research participants, researchers, and the larger ISU community from risk of COVID-19, ISU has implemented restrictions on face-to-face interactions with research subjects. Research interactions with human research subjects must be performed remotely. Research procedures involving face-to-face interaction with research subjects must be postponed, unless the interaction is essential to ensure the health, safety, or well-being of the subject. Researchers must work with their department chairs, research center directors, and associate deans for research to make appropriate decisions on whether a research visit(s) is essential. See Face-to-Face Human Subjects Research Activities Restricted for important details.

Consider these alternatives to in-person interactions:

  • Hold study visits remotely using ISU-supported teleconferencing software (e.g. Webex).
  • Questionnaires, interviews, and similar procedures may be conducted online or via phone.
  • In many cases, informed consent may be obtained remotely.
  • Instead of group interviews, plan for remote individual interviews.

In most cases, you must obtain IRB approval prior to implementing any changes to approved research. For details, see “Is IRB approval needed to modify study procedures for remote implementation?”

IRB staff will prioritize review of modification applications for changes due to COVID-19. To facilitate review, please limit proposed changes to those necessary because of COVID-19, and email IRB@iastate.edu to notify staff of an incoming COVID-19-related modification.

What is the effect of the restriction on pending IRB applications? (Updated 3.19.20)

IRB review of submitted applications will continue as usual. Studies that involve face-to-face interaction may be approved with the condition that face-to-face interactions cannot begin until after the restrictions are lifted.

What is the protocol for notifying participants of visit cancellations? (Updated 3.18.20)

If a study visit needs to be canceled, participants should be informed of the reason and that they will be contacted again when the visit can be rescheduled. These messages to subjects do not require prior ISU IRB approval.

Do I need to notify the ISU IRB of visit cancellations? (Updated 3.18.20)

Visit cancellations related to COVID-19 do not need to be reported to the IRB.

Is IRB approval needed to modify study procedures for remote implementation?

Federal regulations require prior approval for changes to non-exempt research, unless the change is necessary to eliminate apparent immediate hazards to participants. We offer the following guidance regarding changing from in-person to remote procedures:

You must obtain IRB approval before implementing changes if:

  • The study is not exempt and changing to remote procedures alters the IRB-approved protocol or consent form(s); AND/OR
  • Remote procedures increase risk or adversely affect privacy/confidentiality protections.

IRB staff will prioritize review of modification applications for changes due to COVID-19. To facilitate review, please limit proposed changes to those necessary because of COVID-19, and email IRB@iastate.edu to notify staff of an incoming COVID-19-related modification.

Prior IRB approval is NOT required in the following instances:

  • The study is exempt and administering procedures remotely does not adversely affect confidentiality protections or otherwise increase risk;
  • The study is not exempt, but remote implementation does not change the content of the approved IRB application or consent form (e.g., the approved IRB application or consent form does not describe whether visits are in-person or remote).

Can study personnel work remotely on human-subject research projects?

Yes, but privacy and confidentiality of research subjects must be protected. Investigators should develop protocols and train study personnel on methods of protecting privacy and confidentiality during remote work. Advance preparation, such as removing identifiers from data sets and establishing CyBox folders to permit remote access is also advised. Click here for additional guidance and information on privacy and confidentiality considerations for working remotely with human subjects research.

What are the procedures that I should follow if the research was approved by a non-ISU IRB?

Consult the Reviewing IRB for guidance on:

  • Whether COVID-19 screening requires prior IRB approval
  • Whether/how to report the restrictions on face-to-face study procedures
  • Whether/how to modify an approved study to allow remote procedures

Continuity of Care for Research and Teaching Animals

Is the IACUC office operating as usual?

The IACUC office and ISU IACUC are operating as usual. The IACUC staff can work remotely and iacuc@iastate.edu will be monitored. The IACUC meetings are continuing as scheduled. If changes occur, the IACUC website will be updated accordingly.

How will animal care proceed?

Lab Animal Resources (LAR) has continuity plans in place to provide routine care (food, water, sanitation, health checks) and routine veterinary care. LAR is stocked with essential items for animal care. Animal caretakers and Veterinarians are considered essential personnel and will continue to report to work unless they become infected with the COVID-19.

For CALS Outlying Research Farms, please consult Mark Honeyman (honeyman@iastate.edu), and for Animal Science Teaching and Research Farms, contact Ben Drescher (bdresche@iastate.edu).

What if I manage my own animals or conduct my work at an outlying facility?

Each group should have contingency plans in place for who will provide daily animal checks and what to do if this person is unable to perform them. If help is needed providing care due to illness of all caretakers and PIs, the Attending Veterinarian should be contacted to arrange for emergency backup animal care.

All farms and outlying farms have contingency plans in place for providing care for those animals. If you are conducting research at those locations, please contact the appropriate individuals at those locales to inform them of your plans.

How will I be notified if there is a change regarding plans of care for animals?

If a serious disruption of normal research activity takes place, the Executive Director of Animal Care and Attending Veterinarian will organize Webex phone calls with researchers, veterinarians and animal care personnel as needed to ensure all animals are being cared for adequately.

Will the IACUC still review my protocol? (Updated 3.18.20)

ORR and the IACUC office will be working remotely, and the IACUC will be convening virtually. Protocol reviews will continue.

Will my current animal study be discontinued? (Updated 3.18.20)

Any studies that currently have animals in census in LAR facilities will continue on as planned, at the discretion of the Principal Investigator. LAR will continue to provide husbandry and veterinary care for animals in census.

I have a study using animals in the near future, will it be allowed to continue? (Updated 3.18.20)

All researchers should consider which projects and work are essential given the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, and its effect on university operations. That said, LAR will continue to provide care for research animals housed in their facilities. If a study is planned, LAR will confirm that the study will continue prior to acquisition of animals. Once animals are received, LAR support will continue as normal. LAR’s mission is to support research, and there are no plans to deviate from that mission.

What if I have animal studies at farms and outlying farms? (Updated 3.18.20)

The preceding guidance is reflective of LAR operations. Researchers should follow guidance from their colleges, and CALS users should contact Ben Drescher (bdresche@iastate.edu) for Animal Science farms, and Mark Honeyman (honeyman@iastate.edu) for outlying farms.

I maintain my own animal colonies, is there anything I should do? (Updated 3.18.20)

Each group should have contingency plans in place for who will provide daily animal checks and what to do if this person is unable to perform them. If help is needed, providing care due to illness of all caretakers and PIs, the Attending Veterinarian should be contacted to arrange for emergency backup animal care.

Plant Research

How will plant care proceed? (Updated 3.18.20)

VPR greenhouses in the Molecular Biology Building and Carver CoLab are operating as usual. If you have questions, please contact Pete Lelonek at plelonek@iastate.edu.

For locally controlled greenhouses and plant growth facilities/equipment, please contact local facility managers. Employ social distancing and minimize use of the facilities as much as possible.

Biohazards research

Is the IBC office operating as usual?

The IBC office and ISU IBC are operating as usual. The IBC staff can work remotely and bphc@iastate.edu will be monitored. The IBC meetings are continuing as scheduled. If changes occur, the IBC website will be updated accordingly.

How should I handle biohazards or agents requiring high levels of containment?

Biohazards and other agents should be handled as dictated by your approved protocols. If these materials need manipulation during any disruptions in operations, handle and/or dispose of them as protocols and SOPs dictate. If you have questions, contact Environmental Health and Safety by calling (515) 294-5359 or emailing ehsinfo@iastate.edu. Admin staff monitors the ehsinfo inbox and can pass questions on to the appropriate person.