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August 11, 2020

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

Research status and plans entering the fall semester

The resumption of university research beginning June 1, 2020, has proceeded remarkably well. This is a credit to all the contributors to the research enterprise: PIs, students, and post-docs who have implemented safe practices in their research; deans, department heads and building managers who have vetted individual research plans; and support staff across the university who have maintained vital activities from animal care, to compliance, to grant and contract support. As we welcome new and returning students for the fall semester, it is essential to maintain a high level of diligence with respect to COVID-19 safety. If there are significant outbreaks of infection in laboratories or buildings, across campus, or in the community, it may become necessary to curtail some research activities, or even return to remote operation with only essential research activities permitted.

Summarized below are the status and guidelines for research as we begin the semester.

  1. Research that is currently being carried out remotely should continue remotely to the extent possible.

  2. Campus research and fieldwork should continue under plans previously approved at the department or college level. These must include plans for laboratory occupancy, social distancing, scheduling, PPE, hygiene, and cleaning protocols. Required plan elements with respect to these criteria are unchanged from the guidance issued on May 7, 2020. https://vpr.tamu.edu/plan-for-resuming-research-operations-5-7-2020. Changes or deviations from approved plans will require submission to and approval by the department head, director, and/or dean, depending on college policy.

  3. Undergraduate researchers are permitted for the fall 2020 semester with adherence to safety protocols and training per the guidance issued on July 21, 2020. https://vpr.tamu.edu/in-person-undergraduate-research-guidelines-7-21-2020.

If the introduction of new researchers, whether undergraduate or graduate, cannot be accommodated within approved occupancy and social distancing constraints, PIs must submit revised plans for approval. Note that training of new researchers may be difficult while maintaining social distancing. It is essential that all parties wear appropriate PPE and minimize close contact in such cases.

  1. Researchers working with living organisms should wear the appropriate PPE and observe the appropriate protocols for their research.  Some procedures, such as surgeries, may require multiple personnel to work in close proximity.  Such activities should be carried out with the minimum number of personnel feasible and allowable.  Activities that involve participation of other personnel, for example, animal care by Comparative Medicine Program (CMP) staff, should be organized such that the minimum number of people are present at any time. Any deviations from approved protocols/permits must have prior approval by the cognizant body (IACUC, IRB, IBC, etc.)

  2. Clinical activities and research involving human participants must be approved by the Clinical Research, Education, and Service Advisory Committee, per the guidance issued on June 8, 2020. https://vpr.tamu.edu/plans-for-resumption-of-clinical-and-human-participant-research-education-and-service-activities-6-8-2020. Shared and core facilities used by multiple PIs must have infection control plans approved, in addition to individual PI plans, before work with human participants can be resumed.

  3. The protocol for COVID-19 reporting described in the Provost’s COVID reporting memo of July 20, 2020, https://www.tamu.edu/coronavirus/messages/july-20-covid-19-reporting-process.html remains in effect. The online reporting form is available at https://redcap.tamhsc.edu/surveys/?s=N38DRD4EMK. Submission of this form will initiate contact tracing by the COVID-19 Investigations and Operations Center. The Office of Risk, Ethics, and Compliance (OREC) will notify SSC regarding cleaning of spaces in which an infected individual has been present within the last seven days. If a space, such as a laboratory, will not be cleaned by SSC, OREC will notify the responsible individual. In such cases, the laboratory should be closed for a minimum of 24 hours, prior to cleaning, as described in the Provost’s guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting facilities of July 20, 2020, https://www.tamu.edu/coronavirus/messages/july-20-tamu-guidelines-related-to-the-monitoring-of-covid-19-reporting-and-cleaning-and-disinfecting-facilities.html. As an alternative to cleaning, the laboratory may be closed for 7 days after the infected individual was last present.