K-State framework for continuing research activity on campus during the 2020-2021 academic year

K-State is currently in Phase 3 of the reopening plan.

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This document provides a framework for safely continuing research activities across the university. It encompasses all on- and off-campus research activities, including libraries, archives, collections, studios, natural reserves, field sites, clinical research facilities, laboratories, and so on.

Framework guiding a phased approach to continuing research activity

(Created in partnership with VCRs/VPRs from the University of California system and APLU, and borrowing liberally from planning at other institutions, such as the University of Washington)

Goal: To keep everyone safe while increasing research activity in a phased approach as public health and personal safety become easier to maintain.

This document refers to research conducted in K-State's research spaces, including the physical campuses and campus owned/leased spaces, agricultural, field stations and nature reserves, as well as with direct contact with individuals (human subjects) anywhere. We do not intend in this document to cover research that can be done entirely remotely. On-campus research includes physical presence in campus libraries, archives, and museums to access any university material that cannot be accessed remotely, as well as performance work (arts) or other studio access that must be done on campus.
Our framework is informed by the following principles and observations.

Principle #1

Follow the cognizant local, state, and national public health authority directives to stay-at-home and implement social distancing.

  • Health authority directives have thus far included stay at home orders from the Governor and local county health department, identification of essential businesses and closures of others, identification of allowable activities like exercise, social distancing directives, and recommendation of face coverings or masks. We can expect that "loosening" will look similar in reverse.
  • Higher risk groups — like older faculty or those with underlying health conditions — should consider working from home if possible.
  • Resumption of research has been accomplished by gradually phasing in research activities. Additional guidance for the initiation of widespread resumption of research activities will come from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
  • The county health departments will dictate most of the phasing steps, and K-State will follow those phasing timelines and local guidance.
  • White House Plan for Opening up America Again (pdf)

Principle #2

Protect the health and safety of the research workforce, emotional as well as physical. Protect the health and safety of our human research subjects.

  • No personnel will be allowed in shared workspaces if they are exhibiting any symptoms of respiratory illness that the CDC associates with COVID-19 (cough not associated with seasonal allergies and shortness of breath, with any two of the following: fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell.)
  • No researcher should feel they are being compelled to work on campus or in the field during periods of shelter-at-home directives. No researcher should feel unsafe working on campus. Safety within laboratories must be rigorously maintained, with adequate access to PPE and other safety related supplies.
  • University research was "hibernated"through a process that involved an orderly shutdown of operations as well as completion of a checklist for hibernated labs that was posted on the door, shared with the department head, and a copy sent to EH&S. A similar "awakening" processes followed suit, with a checklist to be posted on the door, shared with the department head, and a copy sent to EH&S. Labs will not be authorized for access unless adequate safety supplies are identified as being available. PIs must identify who among their workforce are considered to be essential personnel (and replacements/backups), and a process is being established whereby researchers who feel uncomfortable about their work situation can anonymously report their concerns. These reports will be investigated by the vice president for research, and other leadership as appropriate, including deans and department heads.
  • Limiting of access is likely to persist for some time. Certifying that individuals are COVID-19 free before permitting a return to work would be a best practice. (It has been suggested that tests for antibodies may only identify 3-5% of the population who can return to work.) Other health assessments such as taking temperatures and tracing contacts are other potential tools for safely continuing research in labs.
  • Graduate students may have only limited access to their offices.
  • It may be challenging to continue projects that are distributed over multiple sites or counties, or depend on international collaborations, as different counties will have different plans and timelines.
  • Lifting of travel restrictions, such as international travel and essential travel only, are necessary before some field research can recommence. This includes human subject related field research that must be conducted in person.
  • A number of research projects have successfully and safely transitioned to being fully remote, requiring infrequent or no access to university spaces. While also considered important and essential, they are not considered in the priority tiers discussed below. Furthermore, even if research can be conducted at home, we recognize that this may not be as productive or efficient for some researchers, due to other obligations.

Principle #3

Protect the careers of early stage researchers.

  • Careers of young researchers could be dramatically impacted. While we have gained approval for a one-year extension to the tenure clock for all probationary faculty, the delays caused by the shutdown and slow ramping up may have ramifications to research that extend beyond one year, for example, due to disruptions in supply chains and other issues. K-State is also providing a one-year extension to the time limit on spending start-up funds.

Principle #4

The use of undergraduate researchers will be limited to those who are already trained.

  • Except under the most exceptional of situations, new undergraduate students will not be allowed to participate in on campus research.

Principle #5

Implement a fair and transparent process for granting access.

  • The Deans Council and Faculty Senate leadership will be engaged in the process to develop and endorse the guidelines for continuing research activities.
  • Enforcement: While the vast majority of people on campus will follow the rules, a small number of abuses is inevitable; the Deans and Department Heads will be engaged for helping with enforcement.

Principle #6

Ensure as much research continue as the public health conditions permit.

  • General considerations for continuation of research activity. Consider developing flexible or shift work schedules, plan for supply chain issues, and prepare core and fabrication lines in advance of need.
    • 1. To ensure social distancing requirements and to reduce density of research personnel in university research spaces, consider permitting 7 day/24 hour lab access, work shifts or staggered work days, extended EH&S and Facilities support to enable more round the clock operation of laboratories, research facilities, libraries, archives, collections, and so on.
    • 2. Supply chain issues on restart. Under no circumstances should safety be sacrificed due to lack of adequate supplies, type, and quality of PPE.
    • 3. Ensure core facilities, support services, and shops are engaged and ready to support work.

Principle #7

Participate in finding cures, tests, and prevention strategies for SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.

  • Critical animal and BSL-3 virus research has continued, while non-critical BSL-3 research was suspended, which affected several planned studies in the BRI that had federal or private sector-funding.
  • The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory initiated protocols associated with the National Animal Health Laboratory Network and moved some sample testing capabilities into the BRI to serve as an additional facility for human COVID-19 tests, taking up several laboratory spaces in the BRI.
  • The BRI identified a space to be used specifically for decontamination of used PPE as a precaution for limited access to new PPE for the BRI and Lafene.
  • Given the need to operate according to public health guidelines — social distancing, proper PPE — some occupational and health and safety personnel at the BRI and in the Comparative Medicine Group animal care unit have been working on limited teams and on alternating shifts, which limits their abilities to expand research operations in the current environment.

Phases and Permitted Research Activities

The five-stage phasing description and tabular representation (see below) has been liberally borrowed from the UC Berkeley and University of Washington's research restitution plan and adapted to fit the state and county reopening phasing definitions. The phased description was developed by the UC VCRs and shared widely with the APLU Committee on Research. Lower phases are more restrictive, higher phases less so. The K-State plan in the following table was reviewed by the Associate Deans for Research Council with input from the Reawakening Task Force.
Public health directives and the current state of the health care and COVID-19 public health response systems determine the timing as to when any given institution in its local context is permitted to move up or down between phases. Before allowing greater researcher access to labs, libraries, and research collections, a plan and rigorous enforcement of social distancing directives is necessary. Elements of such a plan may include (this is list intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive): scheduled/work-shift access; required facial coverings; six-foot distancing; depending on size of research space and nature of activity therein, density limits such as no more than two researchers per bench; 1 researcher per 1000 sq. ft/, max 3 per lab unless further density is justified and approved; temperature checks at start and end of work shift; disinfecting work surfaces after use; and so on.
Example: At Berkeley, all investigators using the animal facilities must wear a face covering anytime they are in the facility, for the protection of the Office of Laboratory Animals and Care (OLAC) staff. OLAC will not be providing these face coverings; any cover, disposable or launderable will be acceptable. PIs must maintain a low social density as well as social distancing (6 ft preferable). PIs will create a list of which groups are within each room or suite for ease of inter-group communications and coordinations. PI groups will create a "Users Calendar" to sign up and monitor their own activities within the rooms or suites. These calendars will be PI developed and maintained.

Phased Research Operations

Phase 0

  • COVID-19 cases on the rise, evidence of community spread, testing limited, PPE shortages
  • Safer At Home directive in place
On-campus access allowed to maintain research capability or prevent catastrophic disruption
COVID-19 related research encouraged
Researchers must be designated as Mission Critical to be on site. List provided to EH&S, Provost.
Appropriate SOPs developed and filed with department, EH&S.
Limited animal imports or transports by CMG
On site research activity transitions to an estimated 15-35% of normal
Research access limited to social-distanced personnel conducting mission-critical research activities:
  • Life safety and critical research (as stated above)
  • "Critical Research" where a delay would have significant financial impacts or catastrophically disrupt the project or protocol (including avoiding necessary euthanasia of research animal). Finish up critical projects - no "new" projects initiated on campus.
  • Animal experiments where a delay would result in euthanasia or loss of a colony.
  • Living tissues, plants, fungi, animals, must be maintained or a catastrophic loss of data will occur.
  • COVID-19 related rapid response activities (e.g. testing, ventilators, etc.)
  • Prioritize core facilities as those that support COVID-19 research/analyses (BRI, VDL)
  • Field Research: Prioritize seasonal data collection or experiments close to completion whose pause or deferral would lead to "catastrophic loss" of research results. Limited number of key undergraduates (on case-by-case basis) and graduate students approved to participate.
Preparations for next phase
  • Necessary core facilities are staffed and operational
  • Labs are able to purchase necessary supplies
  • Social distancing, facial coverings, cleaning measures understood and in place (e.g., face coverings for all on-campus personnel required)

Phase 1

  • Local COVID-19 cases flatten, then drop
  • COVID-19 testing capacity increases
  • PPE shortages still exist
  • Public health authorities & Governor relax restrictions on 'essential workers'
  • Child care may be available on a limited basis.
Definition of "critical" relaxed to include time-sensitive research
Explore options for Humanities & Social SciencesAll research that can be done remotely should continue remotely awakening plan approved and filed with department, EH&S and posted on lab door. Careful planning and ordering of research animals by CMG. On site research activity transitions to an estimated 35-50% of normalPlans for sudden return to Phase 0 in place
Deadline-driven research activities:
  • Seasonal data collection such as field and agricultural work, experiments close to completion, or deadline driven, whose pause or deferral would lead to catastrophic delay or loss of research results.
Prioritize access for graduate students and postdocs close to completing their degree/term of appointment.
  • Prioritize research for completion of grants with end dates within 3 months ~July 31, 2020 (where funding agency has not granted leniency).
  • Core facilities: restart facilities based on sufficient 'customer' demand (approved projects) where work cannot be done remotely.
  • HumSocSci: Given that the K-State Libraries are already operating on a remote basis, most of this research can be conducted remotely. For other on-site libraries (APD, Math/Physics, Vet Med, etc.) departments need to develop options for what expanded on-campus library research should require. Prioritize researchers with deadlines (tenure, book contracts, etc.) for access.
  • Laboratory research: expand approvals depending on the SOPs in the awakening plan. Limited numbers of personnel to operate safely. Face masks required.
  • Field research: expand approvals depending on what current restrictions are in the counties where field research is to be conducted.
  • Human Subjects research: Limited in-person studies based on an approved SOP that operates under Public Health guidelines.
Preparations for next phase
  • Core campus functions are staffed and operational to handle increased load
  • More core facilities are staffed and operational
  • Labs are able to purchase necessary supplies
  • Social distancing, face mask, cleaning measures understood and in place
  • CMG returning to regular hours for animal care and consulting on campus.

Phase 2

  • Local COVID-19 cases continue to decrease
  • COVID-19 testing capacity near maximum of needed capacity
  • PPE more widely available
  • Further relaxation of restrictions - standards for return to normal
Gradually expand # of people on campus while maintaining social distancing
On-campus research allowed, but labs/groups only allowed to operate at 50-70% total personnel capacity, with social distancing. All research that can be done remotely should continue to be, including all seminars, group meetings, etc.
On site research activity transitions to an estimated 50-70% of normal
  • Field Research - expand on case by case basis (depending on local conditions/restrictions at field sites, travel restrictions, ability to travel safely and ability to social distance at field sites)
  • Humanities and Social Sciences - allow use of libraries to limited numbers of researchers using hygiene and social distancing protocols. Access to offices can be allowed with social distancing practices in place.
  • Laboratory research: continue to expand approvals depending on the SOPs in the awakening plan. Limited numbers of personnel to operate safely.
  • Human Subjects research: Expanded in-person studies based on an approved SOP that operates under Public Health guidelines.

Phase 3

June 8-present

  • New cases of COVID-19 are low
  • COVID-19 testing is at maximum needed capacity
  • PPE availability normal
  • Further relaxation of restrictions - standards for activity based on ability to social distance
Continued expansion of research on campus while maintaining social distancing
On-campus research allowed, but labs/groups only allowed to operate at 70-90% total personnel capacity, with social distancing
All research that can be done remotely should continue
On site research activity 70-85% of normal
  • Field Research - further expand on case by case basis (depending on local conditions/restrictions at field sites, travel restrictions, ability to travel safely and ability to social distance at field sites).
  • Human Subjects research: Expanded in-person studies based on an approved SOP that operates under Public Health guidelines.
  • Laboratory research: continue to expand approvals depending on the SOPs in the awakening plan.

Phase Out

Not sooner than 14 days after Phase 3.
  • Vaccine available or therapeutic options that can be used for preventive or treatment indications and that have a measurable impact on disease activity and can help rescue very sick patients.
  1. State of Kansas continues to lift "safer at home" orders.
  2. Local indicators of infection spread show stable or decreasing community transmission.
  3. Clusters of cases are promptly identified and contained and do not spread to the community.
  4. Health care and public health systems can cope with the volume of current and potential cases.
All types of on-site or remote site research are allowed
On site research activity normal at 85-100%
  • Restart normal research operations, including field research and human subjects research.
  • No bans on any activities is in place, but some restrictions may be imposed on case-by-case basis
  • Very large gatherings allowed on case-by-case basis

Considerations for continuing research activity

  • Develop a checklist for laboratory-based research. Start in Phase 0/1 to develop restart/safety plans based on the above phases (SOPs need to be developed by the PI, approved by their department head and ADR/Dean's Office, and filed with EH&S) – PI/Department/College plans should be flexible enough to enable the swift ramp down of research to an earlier phase in response to changing circumstances.
    • Plans must comply with physical distancing requirements and should provide for the lowest density of people reasonable to carry out research.
      • Consider staggering work schedules to maintain low personnel density
      • Assign # workers in each space
      • Define conditions for wearing additional PPE
    • Gatherings, including group meetings, and even one-to-one discussions should continue to occur virtually.
  • Plans for cleaning/sanitizing labs and research work spaces, along with a sustainability plan.
    • Research teams utilizing shared space must coordinate their plans
  • Any personnel returning from out of state or who has been exposed to COVID-19 must follow current guidance on 14-day self-quarantine prior to reporting to campus – these individuals should work from their place of quarantine to the greatest extent possible if they are asymptomatic.
    • International graduate students who can't return to K-State, but are able to engage in sponsored research activities are, by definition, foreign components. Consult with OIP, SPA, and URCO (for export control review) when planning for the restart of research that necessarily involves graduate students in this situation. Foreign graduate students may not be eligible for salary support if they are not in the U. S.
  • DO NOT restart research that requires PPE without first ensuring/acquiring an adequate supply of PPE. Start ordering PPE now, if necessary, to have on hand for restart if current stock on hand is insufficient.
    • If cloth or other face masks are mandated as part of physical distancing when conducting research where higher-level PPE is required/expected, are they available.
  • Non-critical research that generates large volumes of hazardous waste and/or necessarily involves chemical, biological, radiation or other hazardous should not restart until Phase 4 at the earliest.
  • Carrying out research should be limited to K-State employees and registered graduate students – undergraduates and volunteers should not be allowed to conduct research until Phase 5 (or 6) is reached. The exception to this is undergraduates who play essential roles in mission-critical studies and their participation must be approved in advance on a case-by-case basis.
  • All planning must consider the needs of employees/students with current disability accommodations or those who will require new accommodations

Guidance for shifting time and effort on grants to support research

With implementation of furloughs, there have been some questions from faculty with research grants about switching the source of their funding from state funds to sponsored project funds. Human Capital Services issued guidance in 2017 on furloughs that partially addressed this situation. The Council on Governmental Relations provided its own guidance as well.
Taken together, the OVPR is providing the following guidance. Under very specific circumstances, described below, faculty may adjust their time and effort from state funds to sponsored project funds.
  1. Faculty with research grants that support salary can, with the approval of their sponsor, increase their effort on said grant for a period of time for the purpose of accomplishing the deliverables of said research, whether to get back on schedule following the interruption of our shutdown or other reason (such as lack of student or other personnel).
  2. Actual time and effort expended on the sponsored grant or contract and ultimately reported (charged or cost-shared, as the case may be) must reflect the approved change.
  3. This change must be approved by the department head, who will ensure that the department's teaching commitments are maintained.
*Note that this is not a blanket authorization for faculty with sponsored research grants to shift their sources of funding. Please contact your department head and/or associate dean for research in your college for more information or if you have any questions.