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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. Villanova has a wide variety of research activity that happens both on and off campus, with some types of research more amenable to remote work. 

Our goal is to enable all forms of research, while maintaining a safe environment and adhering to any local, state, national or institutional requirements. The information found below provides overarching guidance for researchers, with particular emphasis on additional requirements for those with lab-based programs. 

IMPORTANT REMINDER FOR THOSE ON-CAMPUS FOR RESEARCH:

Be prepared for a quick ramp-down of activities should the need arise. Research activities that can be done remotely should still be done remotely; limit activities in labs/facilities to those things that require lab/facility presence. 

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). Previous approvals (Summer 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021) are still in effect.
  • All approved research students are required to review lab-specific training with their faculty adviser.
  • Returning laboratory research students must be up to date on lab safety training, available in Blackboard. Students who have not previously completed the on-line training must complete the three modules in the Required Training Modules folder: 1. University Laboratory Safety – Analyzing Hazards; 2. University Laboratory Safety – Developing and Using Controls; 3. University Laboratory Safety – Working Safely. Students who previously completed the three required training modules may choose the Laboratory Safety Refresher in lieu of repeating the three initial modules.  
  • To access the required student training: Log in to Blackboard 
    • In the Organization Catalog module, click the link for “Available for Self-Enrollment.” 
    • Under the “Search Catalog” heading, click the “Search Entire Catalog” radio button. Enter “Summer 21” in the search box. You will see the result: envSafety_Summer21_labsafety. 
    • Put your cursor over the “envSafety_Summer21_labsafety” and click the down arrow that appears to the right. Click “Enroll” then “Submit” then “OK”. 
  • Approved personnel may participate in research activities 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 indoors on campus, except when eating or drinking, or when alone in an office.      


2020-2021 Research Contingency Plans

As the pandemic is a continually evolving situation, Villanova developed contingency plans for research should cases rise and access to campus facilities is limited in some manner. 

These plans, covering various scenarios, was prepared by Amanda Grannas, PhD, Associate Vice Provost for Research, with input and guidance from Faculty Congress Executive Committee, Faculty Congress Research Policy Committee, EH&S, Research Deans, Deans, Office of General Counsel, and the Office of the Provost.


Summer 2021 Research Planning


Goal: 

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

These plans are subject to change based on additional developments and restrictions imposed at the federal, state, local or institutional level. These will be updated here and communicated to the Villanova research community.

Considerations:

  • 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. Contactless pickup is also available.
    • The Library is offering Contactless Pickup for Falvey library items placed on hold, which will allow patrons to obtain Falvey items while maintaining safe social distancing practices. Items available for contactless pickup include books and DVDs from the main collection. Course Reserves and Special Collections materials are unavailable for pickup. Physical materials from E-ZBorrow and Inter-library Loan are not available at this time.
    • Visit the Library’s subject guides, how-to guides, e-book collections, streaming academic video collections and temporary expanded access pages for more details about available materials. Requests for other items can be placed through the Interlibrary Loan form and staff will work to locate a digital copy.
    • Expert subject librarians are available virtually to help students and faculty with research. Email a question or schedule a consultation during business hours, Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT.
  • No personnel may return to research labs without the explicit approval of their department, college and EHS (Environmental Health and Safety).
  • 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.
  • 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. Once approved, EHS will provide signage for each lab to indicate they are approved to return to on-campus work.
  • Those who completed a Summer or Fall 2020 Return to Research plan will NOT need to complete an additional plan for Summer 2021, unless the plan needs to be updated or changed, or if the lab population will be significantly larger.  Those who did not complete a Summer 2020 Return to Research plan will need to do so per the above guidelines.
  • Personnel in labs must continue to follow CDC and PA Department of Health guidelines for physical distancing.
  • 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. 


Phased Return Operational Expectations:

  • Personnel should not come to campus if they are feeling unwell. If an employee feels unwell, they should refer to the Villanova University COVID-19 Plan.
  • 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.  Undergraduates working in research labs should not work alone outside of typical business hours.
  • 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.
    • Personnel must wear masks while indoors on campus, except when eating or drinking. 
  • 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.
  • 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 EH&S.
    • 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 EH&S.
  • 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 continues to complete the required weekly inspection of the hazardous waste room in the Mendel basement. 
  • Facility Maintenance
    • Maintenance staff are on campus as usual.


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.
  • Should the IRB allow in-person research activity, human subjects’ researchers will need to complete a health and safety plan for their projects, as outlined above.  These plans will be required for both on and off-campus work.  Plans should be submitted to Environmental Health and Safety for review and approval.  EHS will inform the IRB when plans are approved.  EHS is ready to work with researchers to help devise appropriate plans to ensure the health and safety of participants and researchers.
  • Visitors on campus participating in research will need to comply with any existing University visitor policy in place.
  • 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.

Instructional Labs

Instructors in laboratory-based courses can find additional guidance here