COVID-19 &RESEARCH

Research and COVID-19: Important announcements and guidance

Updated March 26, 2020

New University Guidance

Iowa State’s primary focus continues to be the safety and wellbeing of all members of the ISU community. President Wintersteen’s guidance of March 17, 2020, encouraged the university to embrace flexible work arrangements to maximize social distancing – which directly aligns with the key directive in the State of Iowa Public Health Disaster Emergency declaration that all gatherings of more than 10 people be canceled or moved online.

The Office of the Vice President for Research has worked with colleges to update our COVID-19 and Research guidance in response to the President’s memo. We especially encourage researchers to look at new and revised sections on Social Distancing and Research Contingency Planning. In addition, we added more information related to graduate students, human subjects research and sponsored funding. The date of revisions is noted for each updated question.

Crucial Themes for Research

Iowa State University research is continuing, but most research and creative activities are being conducted differently to maximize social distancing.

  • Research activities that can be performed remotely – analyses and manuscript writing, for instance – can and should continue to move forward in remote settings.
  • Activities that require campus facilities and laboratories should ensure that social distancing is practiced, e.g., by creating shifts of two to three researchers to ensure the CDC-outlined distance of six feet between people is maintained.
  • It is no longer possible to conduct such research that – in the case of in-person human subject studies – creates significant risk of disease exposure to participants and researchers.

Researchers should continue working with their department chairs, research center directors and associate deans for research to make appropriate decisions on which activities should continue, be modified or halted.

At this time all researchers also should engage in contingency planning to prepare for current or future disruptions to their research and creative activities. Researchers should consult with department chairs, research center directors and associate deans for research as they develop these plans.

FAQs Related to Research and COVID-19

The following FAQ was updated March 26, 2020 to provide the most current information and guidance on research during the COVID-19 pandemic and national emergency. This is a rapidly evolving situation, so the Office of the Vice President for Research will update this resource as new information and guidance become available. Please send questions or suggestions for content to vpr@iastate.edu.

Social Distancing and Reducing Risk of Transmission While Conducting Your Research

How can I ensure social distancing in my research work? (Updated 3.18.20)

Social distancing is of paramount importance. Faculty, researchers, staff and students should take immediate actions to implement social distancing strategies:

  • Researchers should work from home as much as possible; PIs should ensure good communication channels with their researchers;
  • Prioritize campus work to focus only on the most critical experiments, especially those that are required for a graduate student to make progress on their degree –see the Research Contingency Planning Section for guidance on prioritizing research activities;
  • On campus research schedules should be staggered with flexible work schedules to enable minimal staffing at any given time and adhering to social distancing standards; for safety reasons, ensure two people are present in the lab or other research space;
  • For on-campus studies, create flexible work schedules and staggered schedules with shifts to reduce numbers of researchers in labs or offices at any given time and to ensure social distancing and safe operations;
  • No travel is allowed except in exceptional circumstances – see guidance on international, domestic, and in-state travel.

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 social distancing when conducting field studies? (Updated 3.18.20)

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. Researchers conducting field research should consult with their chairs to decide which studies are essential and which can be postponed, and to develop plans that recognize and incorporate current safety guidelines.

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.

Research Contingency Planning

What should PIs and Research Managers do right now to plan for research continuity? (Updated 3.18.20)

All researchers should also immediately begin contingency planning to prepare for curtailing all but the most essential on-campus research and creative activities. Some actions to consider are listed below. We have developed a Research Operations Continuity Plan to assist in creating a research contingency plan.

Actions you can take right now:

  • Update your research group or lab member contact list (e.g., name, title; ISU location, office phone, email and cell phone number). Share the list with each lab member and with your supervisor and/or department chair as well as the building manager (if applicable). Keep both hard copies as well as electronic versions of the list.
  • If your research requires functions that must be supported on campus during a disruption, please identify key lab members, personal protective equipment, and equipment needed to perform these functions. As a PI, you should provide this information to your supervisor and/or department chair as well as the building manager (if applicable). Supervisors and department chairs should notify the College Associate Dean for Research.
  • If required on-campus functions depend on vendor supplies for ensuring research facility or lab safety (e.g. liquid nitrogen), please plan ahead appropriately to meet this need.
  • Ensure that standard operating procedures and Materials Safety Data Sheets are available in a visible location and all safety procedures are being followed. Dispose of hazardous waste in a timely fashion, especially if working with time-sensitive materials (e.g., peroxide formers).
  • Ensure you and your research team have remote access to files, data and software systems, while maintaining data control assurances.
  • Develop plans for backing up data on university servers if you are working remotely or plan to work remotely.
  • Continue to follow compliance guidelines for each project protocol. Be sure to submit modifications to the appropriate protocol review committee prior to making changes in protocols.
  • Test and practice remote working arrangements as practical.

What research should I do now to maximize continuity in the face of disruption? (Updated 3.18.20)

Be strategic about how you plan and conduct your research at this time. Depending upon the nature of your research, you might consider:

  • Prioritizing work that is essential;
  • Advancing work in progress to the point that it could be paused if necessary;
  • Identifying the work that has the highest future potential; and
  • Factoring in the relationship of projects to graduate student theses and post doc training objectives.

You may wish to focus on work amenable to remote support, such as data analysis, planning, and writing. If you are carrying out a long-term experiment and if it is feasible to freeze or store samples at specific steps, consider doing this more often.

How can I ensure that my graduate students stay on track? (Updated 3.23.20)

The safety of Iowa State University’s trainees is fundamental to our research and educational mission. PIs and major professors should prioritize work to essential activities (e.g. animal care, equipment maintenance) and research experiments that must be conducted to prevent a serious or permanent loss of data. Social distancing is of paramount importance, and more information is available in the question – How can I ensure social distancing in my research work? – within this FAQ.

Our students and postdoctoral researchers are partners in our research activities and may voluntarily agree to participate in essential research activities. However, it is unacceptable for them to be pressured into this role or assigned an active role that requires in-person participation in a laboratory or research site without their consent.

Any trainee uncomfortable with performing an essential role as assigned by their major professor or PI should immediately contact their Director of Graduate Education (DOGE), center director, or the Graduate College (Associate Dean Carolyn Cutrona, ccutrona@iastate.edu). Postdocs may contact the Graduate College (Postdoc Coordinator, Misty Treanor, mcarder@iastate.edu) or their department’s Postdoc Contact Person (LAS only).

How do I manage undergraduate student employees? (Updated 3.18.20)

The best and most current guidance is available in the UHR COVID-19 Employee FAQ. Please refer specifically to Employee FAQ questions EE29-EE31 and Supervisory FAQ question SUP19.

What can I plan to take out of my lab or office? (Updated 3.18.20)

Researchers should carefully evaluate whether on-campus research functions can be conducted off-campus. Many restrictions apply that are enforced by federal, state and ISU regulations, policies and guidelines. Please contact the OVPR (vpr@iastate.edu, 515-294-6344) for any questions you have regarding what can be taken from your research space. Your Associate Dean for Research is a valuable resource in determining appropriate approaches to remote research operations.

All research must continue within the confines of the appropriate research space. In evaluating your options for remote work, please note the following:

  • Researchers are not allowed to set up an off-campus laboratory site.
  • Researchers are not allowed to take materials, equipment or other laboratory supplies – other than laptops, data storage devices, or computers – offsite (e.g. to their homes) from their labs or workspaces.
  • Researchers may arrange with their PI or lab manager to take notebooks, data storage devices, or computers for remote work.
  • Under no circumstances are researchers allowed to transfer or transport Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) or other data that require a controlled environment. Ensure that such information is properly stored and secured.
  • Under no circumstances is it appropriate to remove animals, plants or other materials from ISU-approved housing or research spaces.

How can we prepare for a possible shortage of crucial supplies or vendor disruption? (Updated 3.18.20)

  • Assess which supplies or services are truly critical.
  • Contact vendors now regarding the potential for disruption. Identify alternative sources.
  • For supplies or services that would be needed even in the event research would be interrupted, work with your research group, department and/or building manager to plan appropriately ahead of time to meet this need.

My work involves core facilities or shared usage space. What should I do? (Updated 3.18.20)

  • Some core facilities and service centers are operational and are currently expected to remain open.
  • The Office of Biotechnology is operating as usual, but with social distancing. Researchers will drop off their samples and the Office of Biotechnology staff will run the required experiments, to minimize interactions. If you have questions about a specific facility, please see Office of Biotechnology facility contact information.
  • For other ISU research facilities, contact the manager of the facility to coordinate regarding ongoing operations and availability.
  • Given Iowa State University’s strong focus on social distancing, off-campus users should contact the appropriate facility for guidance on how to obtain services before coming on campus.

Research-Related Travel

May I travel for my research or to attend a conference? (Updated 3.20.20)

All university-related non-essential domestic travel is prohibited until further notice. Faculty, staff, and students are not to travel out of state for non-essential university business. Submit travel exception requests to univeventauth@iastate.edu. Requests must demonstrate that travel is essential to university operations, that no alternative method of convening is possible, and the health and safety of Iowa State employees will be appropriately managed. At this time, we are not recalling faculty, staff, and students who are currently on university-related domestic travel.

Travel within the state of Iowa can continue. That said, the university strongly recommends decisions are made to reduce in-state travel, consistent with our goal of taking reasonable actions to reduce transmission risk. Some factors to consider when evaluating in-state travel include: whether the activity is necessary to enable a student to remain on-track for degree completion; whether the activity could be postponed, moved online, or done by phone; the number of attendees and whether the attendees can practice social distancing (e.g. sitting at least six feet apart); and whether the activity supports a critical issue or need in an Iowa community.

Monitor the latest ISU information and guidelines at the COVID-19 ISU safety updates page.

Sponsored Funding And Changes In Agency Policy

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.

How are federal agencies addressing research grants during the COVID-19 pandemic? (Updated 3.26.2020)

The situation with agency policies is changing very rapidly right now. On March 19, 2020, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released new guidance to federal agencies to provide administrative relief to federal grant recipients impacted by the loss of operational capacity and increased costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Administrative relief efforts include:

  • Flexibility with proposal deadlines;
  • No-cost extensions on expiring awards;
  • Allowability of costs not normally chargeable to awards; and
  • Other provisions.

Exceptions in the memo are time-limited and will be reassessed by OMB within 90 days.

Each federal agency is required to issue its own individual guidance to grantees. Visit this OSPA page for the latest updates and guidance from the various federal agencies.

COVID-19 issues are negatively affecting the progress on my grant. What should I do? (Updated 3.20.20)

For programmatic issues affecting your study, contact your agency Program Officer or sponsor contact. If any issues should persist, they may need to be reported in future progress reports, or you may need a No Cost Extension (NCE) to complete your study. NCE requests can be initiated here.

Can I be reimbursed for research-related travel costs due to a cancellation? (Updated 3.20.2020)

For reimbursements for cancelled travel plans, please see information on COVID-19-related travel reimbursements posted by Procurement Services.

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 should I prepare for research disruption due to COVID- 19?

Every PI working with research animals at ISU should create a plan to manage animal experiments and ongoing care in case of decreased lab staffing or shortage of supplies. Every PI should create an emergency contact list and share that with the Attending Veterinarian and LAR Director: msauer@iastate.edu; rshipley@iastate.edu.

Other considerations:

  • Research labs should prioritize ongoing essential research
  • Consider delaying new projects and delaying acquisition of new animal subjects
  • Reduce rodent breeding to only numbers required to maintain lines

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.

What animal research functions will be disrupted? (Updated 3.18.20)

Nonessential internal animal transfers between studies or facilities will cease for the time being. Researchers should also consider what other activities might be stopped to lessen the movement of people.

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.

PPE Donation

How can I donate personal protective equipment (PPE) to support our community’s health care providers?

As the Iowa State community continues to respond to COVID-19, there have been numerous offers of personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies from research and departmental laboratories. The most critical needs include: N95 respirators, surgical masks, face shields, disposable gowns, latex/nitrile gloves, hand sanitizer, biological disposable (red) bags, standard laboratory coats, safety glasses, and non-contact thermometers. Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) is creating a “smart sheet” that campus may use to report the PPE they have available for use.