Research Updates and Directives: COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis and rapidly changing circumstances associated with efforts to slow the spread of the virus has brought unprecedented challenges to Villanova’s faculty, staff and students. This evolving situation is also impacting our research community. 

IMPORTANT REMINDER FOR THOSE ON-CAMPUS FOR RESEARCH:

Minimize your visits to campus, in accordance with Governor Wolf's guidance. Be prepared for a quick ramp-down of activities should the need arise. Any personnel who are on campus for research activities should engage only in those activities while on campus.
 

Critical and Non-Critical Research

Villanova is currently allowing both critical and non-critical research activity to take place on campus. Should the situation change, the University may return to “critical” research only, and this change would be clearly communicated to the research community.

The University is defining on-campus “critical” research activities as those that if discontinued would:

  • pose a safety hazard
  • cause the loss of irreplaceable data, irreplaceable samples or irreplaceable animal populations
  • cause significant damage to critical equipment in facilities and laboratories
  • prevent insight and response to the COVID-19 pandemic  

All other on-campus research activities are considered non-critical.  
 

Research Personnel

The health and safety of Villanova research personnel and our surrounding community is our top priority. As such, the University has enacted the following directives:

  • No personnel may return to research labs without the explicit approval of their department, college and EHS (Environmental Health and Safety).
  • Prior to returning to campus, all approved faculty and staff are required to complete mandatory training.
  • Prior to returning to campus, all approved research students are required to review lab-specific training with their faculty adviser.
  • Approved personnel may report to campus but should practice social distancing and good hygiene consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and PA Department of Health guidance.
  • Masks are required to be worn on campus, except when eating or drinking, or when alone in an office.
  • Plans should be established to minimize personnel overlap and stagger their presence in facilities and laboratories.
     

 

Returning to Campus: Research Plan

Goal: 

To facilitate research activities to the greatest degree possible during Summer 2020 and beyond, while adhering to any federal, state, local or institutional restrictions in place.

The plans outlined below are specific to the “yellow” phase of Governor Wolf’s Plan to Reopen Pennsylvania. These plans are subject to change based on additional developments and restrictions imposed at the federal, state, local or institutional level.
 

Considerations:

  • Those who can engage in their research remotely should continue to do so and should only be on campus when absolutely necessary.
  • Research in many disciplines has effectively been halted for several months. It will take some time to ramp activity back up.
  • For scholars who require library access, the virtual Falvey Memorial Library is open and continues to provide unmediated 24-hour access to e-books, e-journals and research databases. Library staff have worked closely with academic publishers to provide free, temporary access to additional electronic resources.
  • No personnel may return to research labs without the explicit approval of their department, college and EHS (Environmental Health and Safety).
  • Prior to returning to campus, all personnel are required to complete mandatory training.
  • Research progress may still be negatively impacted due to lack of commercially available supplies, including the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) normally used in the course of laboratory work. Under no circumstances should safety be sacrificed due to lack of adequate supplies, type, and quality of PPE.
  • Guidelines on PPE usage can be found on the Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) website. The Return to Lab checklist can be found here.
  • Departments best understand their research needs, personnel and support staff requirements. A departmental return-to-work plan should be developed collaboratively with researchers and support staff—including Facilities and Environmental Health and Safety(EH&S)—and approved by EH&S and college leadership (dean or dean’s designee).
  • Each Lab/Principal Investigator should develop a lab-specific return to work plan, informed by department-level staffing and scheduling considerations and guided by the Return to Lab Checklist. This plan should be sent with the signed Approval Authorization Form to the department chair for subsequent approvals. Once approved, EHS will provide signage for each lab to indicate they are approved to return to on-campus work.

 

  • To allow for the greatest number of researchers to return to campus, while still adhering to social distancing requirements, a “shift work” approach can be supported.
    • The exact hours should be determined in cooperation with key areas to provide staffing within a given department. As an example, two shifts could operate from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 2:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. 
    • Alternatively, research personnel could consider alternating week on/week off scheduling.  These approaches would maximize the number of personnel who could return to campus while maintaining appropriate physical distancing.
  • If a shift work approach is adopted, custodial staff planning is needed so restrooms and high-touch public surfaces can be cleaned between/after shifts. This approach should be adopted on a floor-by-floor basis within a given building. Facilities has confirmed that this staffing can be supported. A one-hour time period between shifts is necessary to thoroughly clean and sanitize areas.
  • EH&S has confirmed that sanitizing materials can be procured and provided to each laboratory. Research personnel within a given lab must appropriately sanitize their areas using guidance to be provided, as custodial staff will not enter labs for cleaning/sanitizing.
  • Standard lab trash should be collected, sealed and bagged by laboratory research personnel and placed outside lab doors in the main hallway where custodial will pick up and remove daily.  Custodial staff will not enter labs to remove trash. Specialty trash (biologicals, chemicals, etc.) will be handled as usual. 
  • There will be a mail services employee in the mailroom Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. to accept mail and packages. There will not be any intercampus mail or departmental deliveries.
  • To arrange a pickup, email or call extension 9-4492 prior to visiting Kennedy Hall. Departmental ordering can commence, but should be coordinated to minimize the number of individual deliveries to the extent possible (e.g. order supplies from a given vendor once-per-week rather than daily).  

A separate set of guidelines has been developed to provide clarity on hygiene expectations, PPE usage (e.g. masks, gloves), cleaning protocols, etc.
 

Phased Return Operational Expectations:

  • Personnel should only return to campus if they feel comfortable doing so.
  • Personnel should not come to campus if they are feeling unwell. If an employee feels unwell, they should stay at home to monitor their symptoms for 14 days before returning to campus (in accordance with current guidance issued by the state as of the time this document was prepared).
  • Staff who support research operations are expected to return to campus duties unless there is an accommodation request that is approved in advance by the University’s Human Resources department.
    • Individuals can request a workplace accommodation (policy/process outlined here) and should make this request through Annette Lucidi.
    • Human Resources will handle the review of these requests on a case-by-case basis.
  • Room/lab capacity and arrangement should be limited in a way that maintains adherence to social distancing guidelines in place by federal and state authorities (e.g. CDC, Pennsylvania mandate, etc.)
  • Existing safety protocols—including use of personal protective equipment as would normally be used in a lab setting and not working alone—must still be enforced.
  • Group meetings should be done online with whatever personal protective equipment/mask requirements are in place for campus, unless one can ensure appropriate social distancing for an in-person meeting.
    • At the time this document was prepared, there is a requirement that anyone entering a building on campus must wear a face mask. Please see accompanying lab safety guidelines for proper donning and doffing techniques.
    • A mask always needs to be worn, unless isolated in an office alone. 
    • Personnel must wear masks while on campus, except when eating or drinking. 
    • Procurement has a vendor through which surgical masks can be purchased by departments. Homemade masks also may be used.  
  • Departments engaged in on-campus research should devise a fair and equitable plan to prioritize the return of faculty, staff and students to on-campus activity, in cooperation with the respective colleges, considering the following:
    • Departments and programs, through the respective colleges and their offices of research and graduate studies, should devise a plan to prioritize and schedule who could return to campus and for what times. Consideration should be made for the level of staffing required to support on-campus research work.
    • Departments and programs should consider prioritizing graduate student and postdoctoral scholar projects that will contribute to degree/career progress and consider seniority of the student/postdoc, with those closer to degree/postdoc term completion receiving higher priority.
    • Departments and programs should consider prioritizing pre-tenure faculty for earlier return to campus facilities. Those working on funded projects with no available extensions for project deadlines should also receive priority to return to campus facilities.
    • Departments can use a single-shift model, so long as their operating hours are consistent with available staffing in their department/college.
    • Faculty return to work on campus must align with HR and University policies, which may evolve over time as the situation changes. At any given time, the standards set forth by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must be followed. 
  • Departments and colleges should devise a schedule of attendance, with the oversight of the respective colleges, that would allow personnel to maximize social distancing, while adhering to safety procedures and ensuring that adequate support staff are available.
  • Departmental access to printing/scanning/other office resources will be available. 
  • All academic buildings are now card swipe access only, with access provisioned by the Dean’s offices and/or the Wildcard Office.
  • If an individual cannot gain access using their Wildcard, Public Safety is instructed to allow employees into buildings/offices as needed to access resources (e.g. to retrieve items, print, scan, etc.). Employees must practice good hygiene and social distancing and wipe down any equipment used with sanitizing wipes after they have finished.
  • Public Safety officers will continue to patrol the campus. Due to the limited occupancy of the campus, it is always helpful for Public Safety to know who is approved to be on campus.
  • Colleges should share with Public Safety a schedule of attendance that lists the active research projects/area; where they are located on campus (building/rooms/labs); the area’s primary contact main point person (with contact number); persons (faculty, staff, students) working; and a proposed schedule. This information may be shared in a spreadsheet, recognizing that there may be changes, with updates provided accordingly.  
  • Each laboratory must develop a checklist for restarting laboratory-based research and clearly communicate this to their personnel. Plans should be flexible enough to enable the swift suspension of research in response to changing circumstances.
  • To ensure the safety of returning personnel, departments and colleges should consider implementing a check-in/check-out procedure, as well as periodic checks of personnel throughout a given work shift.
  • If two-shift operations are being considered:
    • Departments and colleges should consider working together to share across departments/college the services of those personnel who support critical safety and infrastructure activities. This will allow for maximum coverage while minimizing the burden on any one group of staff/personnel.
    • Shifts should be distributed in a fair and equitable manner. Personnel should be given an opportunity to select shifts that best suit their personal needs.
  • All personnel returning to campus must complete online training in collaboration with the College of Nursing and EH&S on good hygiene, PPE and social distancing.
  • Since in some cases our researchers have remote field sites, while others are closer to campus and require a return to VU lab facilities for processing samples, etc., Villanova requires the following for those engaged in field work:
    • Field work will have the same approval process for a return to work as our traditional campus work. Plans should be approved by the dean/designee and EHS
    • Faculty member(s) and research team must comply with safety rules in place and any additional restrictions that might be in place at the field work site. Considerations around how to safely travel to the site, work at the site, and (if appropriate) return to campus should be part of planning.
    • Student participation should be part of the approval process with dean/designee and EHS.
  • Hazardous Material Monitoring/Maintenance
    • Researchers should be prepared for a quick ramp-down in research activity should the situation change. It is imperative that lab owners properly shut down equipment, store chemicals with consideration of compatibility and place waste in secondary containment.
    • The Environmental Health and Safety team will continue to complete the required weekly inspection of the hazardous waste room in the Mendel basement. 
  • Facility Maintenance
    • Maintenance staff will be monitoring building systems (HVAC, etc.).


Additional Directives by Topic


For details about Graduate Research support, please visit the Graduate Student Support Plan website.


Sponsored Projects/Grants

  • The Office of Grants and Contracts (OG&C) is fully operational and will continue to support the research community remotely.
  • OG&C has information on sponsored award management during this crisis on the department’s COVID-19 update webpage.
  • Most federal sponsors allow for a one-time, no cost extension for 12 months at the end of the project. Many sponsors are considering the impact of COVID-19 on project timelines, and OG&C will update their website with any new guidance as it becomes available. 
  • Proposals are being submitted by OG&C, but be aware that sponsors may amend/delay submission deadlines. Please check with your OG&C contact to discuss your upcoming proposal submissions.
     

Human Subjects Research

  • The IRB currently requires that all human subject research activities must be conducted remotely. Further direction on making protocol modifications and notifying the IRB are available here.
  • The Office of Research Protections is fully operational and will continue to support the research community remotely; visit the department’s website for more details. 
     

Animal Research

  • Animal care staff will be maintaining the health and welfare of current animal populations. Further direction on IACUC's directives can be found here.
  • The Office of Research Protections is fully operational and will continue to support the research community remotely; visit the department’s website for more details. This team can provide feedback to PIs who may need to modify approved IACUC protocols to reflect updated approaches.