COVID and Human Subjects Research

January 6, 2021


Sent on behalf of Mark A. Barteau, Vice President for Research


Over the past seven months, we have been able to resume many research projects, including those involving human participants. Each of these has been reviewed and approved at the department, college, and, in the case of human subject research, university level, taking into account the risks, benefits, context, and the COVID-19 situation for the appropriate location. The management and infection control plans you have submitted have demonstrated a strong commitment to the safety of researchers, participants, and our communities. Together, the Texas A&M research community has been successful in preventing the spread of the virus through research activities. However, it is critical that we not let our guard down or become lax in maintaining COVID safety protocols.

Today we find ourselves in different circumstances than even a month ago. While the distribution of vaccines is encouraging, it will likely be months before most of the campus community can be vaccinated. At the same time, we are seeing record levels for local and state positivity rates and ICU occupancy. Testing remains critical, and I congratulate our colleagues working at the Global Health Research Complex for delivering saliva-based testing as a vital component of our testing capacity.

At this time, we are not considering additional restrictions or requirements for research, including those involving human participants. We will continue to monitor the situation, both in the community and among our employees and campus-resident students who are required to be tested over the next few weeks. However, I want to encourage you in the strongest possible terms to transition research involving human subjects to virtual interactions and to reduce or eliminate in-person interactions if at all feasible.

If COVID infection rates continue to rise among the populations, including students and community members, from which we draw participants, it may become necessary to halt in-person research with human participants. A number of institutions have already done so. While making a shift to purely virtual activities may be an inconvenience now, it may help avoid a future shutdown.

Thank you for your dedication to advancing knowledge through research and doing so in a safe and responsible manner. The standards that you uphold and the behavior that you model may be the most important lesson of all for the young minds that we shape.