Preparation for possible COVID-19 impacts on campus research/creative activities

March 9, 2020

From: Scott Whittenburg, UM Vice President for Research and Creative Scholarship

As part of the University’s contingency plans for dealing with COVID-19, I ask all members of the UM research/creative community to consider the following information and measures:

Emergency personnel. At this time, there are no plans to restrict access to UM research/creative spaces, but it is wise for every research/creative group to plan ahead in the event that full access is not possible for some time period. This includes the need for UM essential personnel to carry out specified duties. If your research/creative activity is going to require access to a closed campus and you are unsure of who in your research/creative project is designated as essential personnel, work with your department administrator or an equivalent administrator to identify such personnel.

Plan for potential downtime. Faculty and research/creative group leads should discuss critical lab and group duties now, in the event that some personnel are unable to come to work. Such advanced planning will make future decisions straightforward and minimize disruption to research/creative activities.

Remote access. All students, post-docs, staff and faculty involved in research/creative projects should ensure that they have access to information they need to carry out work remotely. This might include access to literature, access to existing datasets and research-related files and access to meeting software (such as Zoom). Faculty should prepare to carry out meetings remotely. If you are unsure about whether you have access to such tools, it is wise to test them now. Examples of the types of research work that can be done remotely are: data analysis, literature reviews, writing proposals, reviews or research papers, writing the background sections of theses, computational work, meetings, discussions, etc.
Prioritization. Depending upon the nature of your research/creative activities, you might consider prioritizing work that can only be carried out in your space, and put off work amenable to remote support, such as data analysis. Stockpiling results and data now that could be analyzed remotely in the future is a potential option that might create future flexibility.

Save materials along the way. If you are carrying out a long-term experiment or creative activity and if it is feasible to maintain materials, such as freezing samples at specific steps, you might consider doing this more often. Consider delaying longitudinal studies or projects that haven’t started yet.

Personal Protective Equipment. Take immediate steps to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and masks. Lab stores of PPE should be consolidated and secured. Consider taking steps to re-use or extend the utility of PPE. Even if COVID-19 doesn’t impact campus operations, supply chain disruptions may prevent availability of PPE for a considerable period of time. Be judicious in current use of PPE.
Perishable materials. Consider delaying or canceling orders for reagents, experimental materials or other materials you use in your research or creative activities that are perishable or require timely use.

Hazardous materials. Faculty should take steps now to consolidate and secure any hazardous, infectious or radioactive materials to prevent unauthorized access in the case of a campus closure.

Animal research. UM is taking steps to ensure the well-being of all animal populations housed in LAR facilities in the event of a campus closure. More information will be forthcoming shortly. In the meantime, all UM researchers with active animal studies should consider finalizing experimental endpoints and reducing population numbers in accordance with approved animal use protocols (AUP). Furthermore, researchers should delay starting longitudinal studies until further notice.

Proposal deadlines. In general, we expect that OSP will be able to submit proposals, even if personnel are working remotely. Our experience is that federal agencies are very flexible about deadlines under difficult circumstances beyond our control. However, if agencies are officially closed, proposals will most likely remain in a queue, pending resumption of agency operations – as has been the case during federal budget-related shutdowns. Information will be posted on the UM OSP website, if necessary.

Advance planning will allow everyone in your research/creative group to focus on their own efforts and work together as a team, rather than wondering how they and their team members are to proceed. Even if such plans are not needed for the current situation, they are still a good learning experience for the future.

As always, for the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, please visit the following sites:
UM Curry Health Center
U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
World Health Organization
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS)
U.S. State Department Travel Advisories

You may also contact the Missoula City-County Health Department information line at 406-258-INFO. The line is staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.