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. 

In order to protect the health and safety of the Villanova community, research leaders must immediately begin preparing to suspend all non-critical on-campus research activities. All non-critical on-campus research activities must be suspended by March 25. If additional time is needed to safely wrap up non-critical on-campus research activities, please contact Amanda Grannas, PhD, Associate Vice Provost for Research and Chief Research Officer, no later than March 24.   

While Governor Wolf’s action to halt all non-life sustaining business includes an exception for scientific research, Villanova’s directives will allow the University to focus the increasingly limited available resources on those on-campus research activities that are critical. It also will allow us to better adapt to any additional future limitations.  

We anticipate this limitation of activity will extend until at least May 15, but we will revisit as circumstances warrant. 

IMPORTANT REMINDER FOR THOSE ON-CAMPUS FOR CRITICAL RESEARCH:

Minimize your visits to campus, in accordance with Governor Wolf's guidance. Every time you leave assume you will not be able to come back for at least two weeks. Any personnel who are on campus for critical research activities should engage only in those activities while on campus.
 

Critical and Non-Critical Research

In light of current situations, 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:

  • Undergraduate students may not be in laboratories during this time.
  • Essential personnel needed to maintain critical activities 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.
  • Plans should be established to minimize personnel overlap and stagger their presence in facilities and laboratories.
  • If essential personnel must work with hazardous materials while in labs, please call Public Safety (610-519-6979) to inform them of this work so that they can include these labs in additional patrols and be cognizant of work happening in the case of an emergency.

Directives by Topic

  • Undergraduate students may still participate in research projects if the work can be completed remotely, while observing social distancing and any local “shelter in place” or quarantine orders.
  • Undergraduate researchers conducting research for credit should work with their faculty adviser to ensure an appropriate plan as it relates to academic credit.
  • Guidance on summer undergraduate research programs will be forthcoming.
  • Graduate students may work in research labs only if they are supporting critical research activities as outlined above. Students may not work alone and should not work in areas that would require the presence of non-essential personnel to ensure safety (e.g. machine shops). All good hygiene and social distancing practices should be observed.
  • Graduate tuition remission will remain active throughout spring semester, regardless of status of assistantship work.
  • Graduate assistant stipends will be paid through May, regardless of status of assistantship work.
  • We understand that current limitations will be disruptive to faculty and students engaged in research. Where possible, we want to encourage that students remain engaged in scholarly activities and we encourage faculty and supervisors to work with graduate assistants to devise alternate assignments that can be conducted remotely. This could include activities such as literature review, computational work, data analysis or writing, among others. 
  • Guidance on summer graduate research programs will be forthcoming.
  • Guidance on summer research programs for students will be forthcoming. 
  • For faculty funded through Office of the Provost Summer Grant Programs (USG, VERITAS, UNITAS):
    • Faculty who anticipate they will be impacted significantly by restrictions to campus or research site access, travel, or other project limitations should contact Amanda Grannas, PhD, Associate Vice Provost for Research and Chief Research Officer, to discuss contingency plans.
    • The Office of the Provost intends to honor all awards made to faculty through these funding programs. Should research be curtailed, it is our intention to allow deferral of the award to a later date.
  • 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.
  • The IRB requires that all human subject research activities must be conducted remotely effective immediately. Further direction on making these 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 care staff will be maintaining the health and welfare of current animal populations. Please contact your department chair as soon as possible to develop emergency and contingency plans for critical animal populations that will remain on campus. Further direction on IACUC's directives can be found here.
  • Consideration should be made as to what populations must be maintained, to enable limited staff to provide the highest level of care for remaining populations. For assistance with animal populations that your team determines do not need to be maintained on campus at this time, contact the Office of Research Protections .
  • No new animals should be procured. Breeding should be limited to only non-commercially available animals and only when absolutely necessary to maintain research.
  • 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.
  • It is imperative that lab owners properly shut down equipment, store chemicals with consideration of compatibility and place waste in secondary containment.
  • Public Safety will continue periodic walk-throughs of hallways and public spaces as staffing levels permit. Individual labs will not be monitored. 
  • The Environmental Health and Safety team will continue to complete the required weekly inspection of the hazardous waste room in the Mendel basement. 
  • If you are conducting any potentially hazardous operations, be sure to check in with Public Safety (610-519-6979) upon arrival and when leaving your lab. 
  • Researchers should anticipate potential supplier interruptions for materials necessary to maintain current equipment and instrumentation. When possible, equipment and instrumentation should be appropriately shut down to minimize/eliminate use of consumable materials (e.g. gases, liquid nitrogen, etc.).
  • Ensure remote control monitoring devices for critical equipment are working properly (i.e. sending out alarms).
  • Maintenance staff will be monitoring building systems (HVAC, etc.), but Environmental Health and Safety will not have the on-campus staff required to provide regular check-ins of labs.