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Research & Coronavirus

Last Updated: Oct. 19, 2020

Research continues at the state’s land-grant research university. Each PI is responsible for establishing social distancing and other safety protocols in relation to research.

As part of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Office of Management and Budget issued three memoranda meant to provide short-term administrative, financial and audit requirements under the 2 CFR 200:

  • Uniform Administrative Requirements
  • Cost Principles
  • Audit Requirements for Federal Awards, without compromising Federal financial assistance accountability requirements.

For the most part, these flexibilities expired in June/July 2020.

Due to the uncertainty of the re-opening phase and the speed of the ramp-up effort, a new memorandum was issued to provide an extension of flexibility for one item:

  • Extension of Single Audit submission (expires Dec. 31 , 2020), to allow a responsible transition back to normal operations. This is the only remaining flexibility for the COVID-19 crisis. It is unknown at this time if this item will be further extended.

For additional information, please contact your Sponsored Programs Administrator.

Research

Research operations can resume on-site during the U of I’s four-step reopening plan outlined in the president’s May 1 memo. In Stage 4 and beyond, on-campus research can continue, but necessary COVID safety precautions should be in place. If there is a return to an earlier stage, research may be approved with necessary safety, sanitation and social-distancing protocols in place by dean or vice president approval. PIs, supervisors, and managers are empowered to adjust activities at any time to ensure health and safety.

Throughout the reopening plan (and including the possible event of a return to a stay-at-home order) essential research activities that require a presence on campus or at university facilities or that require travel may continue with the approval of your dean. Examples of essential research activities includes:

  • Animal care (for teaching and research animals).
  • Maintaining the integrity of research facilities, specimens and data.
  • Actions necessary to maintain ongoing research but only to the extent that the action can’t be delayed and failure to take the action will result in material loss of research already performed or undue harm to human subjects.
  • Research related to COVID-19.

Buildings are open and ORED is continuing to provide all services. To improve distancing many staff are working irregular schedules and at alternate locations — please plan to make contacts through phone, Zoom, email or other distant avenues whenever possible.

Federal agency guidance on research administration topics continues to evolve. The agencies are working on providing common guidance in this difficult situation, but some of the “thornier” issues are still a work in progress. We will update the community regularly to keep you informed of additions and changes.

The Council on Governmental Relations is maintaining a FAQ website regarding COVID-19 that contains good, up-to-date information.

The Sponsored Program Office in ORED remains operational and can help with specific questions related to COVID-19 as well as with requests and pre-approvals from funding agencies. Please contact Sponsored Programs at osp-cost@uidaho.edu.

The IACUC Office requests you review your Facility Emergency Response Plan, specifically the University Closures due to Severe Weather or for other reasons, Personnel Unavailability, & Feed and/or Bedding Shortages sections.

Please contact the IACUC office if you have any concerns about insufficient staffing or have unexpected insufficient staffing so we can help you find a solution.

Also, please review the sufficiency of your on-hand food supply, in case of shipping delays.
Campus Veterinarian Contact

IACUC – Animal care procedures should continue, with duties divided as much as possible to allow for social distancing. Animal care staff should stay home if they experience symptoms of illness. Facility managers should contact the IACUC if they expect to have insufficient staffing or have unexpected insufficient staffing so we can help you find a solution.

IACUC protocols – Should procedures need to be changed due to unavailability of research personnel, please submit an amendment in VERAS prior to changing the procedures. Contact the Attending Veterinarian at campusvet@uidaho.edu or 208-885-8958 or the IACUC Coordinator at IACUC@uidaho.edu or 208-885-7258 for assistance with submission and help determining alternative solutions.

Our IRB office is still staffed and working. To update IRB protocols including changes to procedures due to social distancing, such as recruitment methods, survey methods, delayed testing procedures, etc., please submit amendments in VERAS and wait for approval prior to changing your procedures. Should you need assistance or have questions, please contact irb@uidaho.edu or 208-885-6340.

An IRB Amendment is not required if the Primary Investigator is creating safety practices associated with the pandemic, and that are outside of the research protocol. These include using the CDC guidelines and university best practices for safety, such as use of masks, social distancing when possible, sanitation procedures, illness reporting and personnel training associated with these new safety practices.

Example — A Primary Investigator has an approved IRB Protocol for human research subjects which involves in-person contact between the research personnel and the research subject. The PI creates a new COVID-19 safety protocol that doesn’t change the research procedures. The PI receives approval, as needed, from their dean to resume their research activities, including those with human subjects.

An IRB Amendment is required if the Primary Investigator is changing the research procedures performed on the subject, method of data collection, the consent process or materials, the recruitment method or materials, or other procedures associated with the research process.

Example — A Primary Investigator has an approved IRB protocol for human research subjects but would like to change from conducting the survey and interview portions of the research from in-person to phone or online, removing the face-to-face contact between the research participant and the research personnel.

The Primary Investigator should submit a New Protocol to the IRB if they want to perform research on the pandemic or pandemic response that collects data or specimens from human subjects.

Example — A Primary Investigator wants to begin research into the psychological and behavioral aspects associated with mask wearing, social distancing, sanitation procedures and illness reporting.

Shared facilities may remain operational but work that can’t be completed with adequate social distancing should be deferred whenever possible. Some facilities may require operational or access changes in response to COVID-19 and should communicate these changes to impacted users. Users should directly contact facilities of interest for up-to-date status.

During this period of fluidity, please keep in mind the following concepts:

  1. Consistency: For a cost to be allowable, it will require consistent treatment across all funding sources. That is, a cost will not be deemed allowable if it would not be treated the same using any other type of funding.
  2. Prudence: The federal government follows the “prudent person” test when evaluating whether costs charged to federal awards are reasonable. If a cost item, in its nature and amount, does not exceed that which would be incurred by a prudent person under the circumstances at the time the decision was made to incur the cost, the cost is reasonable. In other words, if a cost strains the bounds of reasonability, it probably will not be allowable.
  3. Documentation: It is very likely that guidance from the federal government and university on award administration may shift over time. Maintain documentation on why a certain decision was made, what options were reviewed, all receipts, relevant emails, etc. A cost might be deemed allowable if you can show that it was logical (i.e. “reasonable”) at the time given the available guidance.
  4. Responsibility: Faculty and staff working on grants have the responsibility to do everything possible to ameliorate problems when reasonable. Keep a close eye on cancellation deadlines and apply for refunds and vouchers, as appropriate.

Research activities that can be conducted away from campus are encouraged. Other than computers, storage devices, lab notebooks and papers, no materials should be removed from laboratories without prior approval from your chair, dean and Vice President for Research and Economic Development. This includes specimens, chemicals, animals or sensitive equipment.

Each PI, facility manager and supervisor is empowered and expected to make decisions about research and laboratory operations that are essential and should continue and who needs access to facilities to continue these operations. These managers and supervisors should seek approval from their dean or the VPRED to continue these essential operations and must take steps to ensure adequate social distancing and prevent COVID-19 transmission.

These decisions may require changing access to facilities, operating conditions and other changes that could impact student research. PIs and supervisors are encouraged to find solutions to enable student success (remote work, alternative schedules or plans) even if access needs to be restricted.

Students and other trainees who do not want to be physically present in shared research spaces due to COVID-19 concerns should not be required to be.

NSF is making adjustments in response to COVID-19, including some changes to submission deadlines. All PIs are encouraged to review agency guidance and double-check information on agency websites as changes are made frequently.

Information is also available on the NSF website.

Travel for research is subject to the same restrictions as any other university travel. During the four-stage reopening plan, travel for research or fieldwork should be approved by your dean (or vice president for research and economic development for institutes). In the first two stages of the reopening plan (originally planned for May), research travel should be deferred where possible, with only critical travel proceeding. All travel for research should be planned and executed to maintain safety, social distancing, PPE and necessary sanitation, and the ability to travel safely should be considered when approving travel. Even high priority research may not justify travel if strategies to mitigate coronavirus risk can’t be implemented.

As long as travel restrictions are in place, all travel needs authorization and must be justified as essential. Travelers should not rely on blanket travel authorizations approved before travel restrictions went into effect.

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