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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. 

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.
  • All personnel will need to adhere to University COVID-19 testing requirements before returning to the campus for Fall 2020 activity.  As of July 17, 2020, Villanova University is requiring all students, faculty, and staff who will be physically on campus this Fall to be tested for COVID-19 as a baseline test before returning to campus. More details are available here
  • 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 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 “Fall 20” in the search box. You will see the result: envSafety_Fall20_labsafety. 
    • Put your cursor over the “envSafety_Fall20_labsafety” and click the down arrow that appears to the right. Click “Enroll” then “Submit” then “OK”. 
  • All students are required to complete Student COVID-19 Training, which will be pre-loaded in Blackboard (on the My Courses page).
  • 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 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.
  •  

Fall 2020 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. Should Pennsylvania return to more restricted levels of operation (i.e. “red” or “yellow” phase), campus research will need to return to more restrictive practices as were in place in Spring or Summer 2020. These will be updated here and communicated to the Villanova research community.

Considerations:

  • Those who can engage in their research remotely should continue to do so and should only be on campus when absolutely necessary.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Those who completed a Summer 2020 Return to Research plan will NOT need to complete an additional plan for Fall 2020, 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.
  • 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 be actively involved in research while maintaining appropriate physical distancing.
  • EH&S will provide sanitizing materials to each laboratory once the individual Return to Research plan is approved. Research personnel within a given lab must appropriately sanitize their areas, 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. As campus reopens, Mail Services will resume campus deliveries. Departments are asked to contact Mail Services to arrange resumption of delivery. 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).  


Phased Return Operational Expectations:

  • 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.  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.
    • 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.
    • An appropriate mask always needs to be worn, unless isolated in an office alone. 
    • Personnel must wear masks while on campus, except when eating or drinking. 
  • 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 research activity 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 undergraduate students who need to complete senior thesis projects as part of their graduation requirements, or who are enrolled in BS/MS programs with a required research component.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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