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CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) IMPACT ON TCU RESEARCH

As TCU manages the impact of COVID-19, the University remains open and all Research and Graduate Studies offices continue to provide full support for our research and sponsored programs enterprise. The Office of the Associate Provost for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies is doing our part to ensure TCU research administration functions remain available to our faculty, staff and research community during this fluid situation. Our goal is to enable TCU faculty, staff and research community to continue their work while taking the steps necessary to ensure the safety of employees, students, and the public.

Research activities may continue should you and your lab and project personnel be able to work remotely.  Human subjects research can continue in accordance to earlier guidance provided by our office, or in limited social interactions, as described by the CDC, or if it is necessary due to the nature of your work where the health of a research participant is a concern.

We ask you to continue to develop plans for how your work could be conducted remotely or paused to practice social distancing and protect your health and safety, and that of members of your research and project personnel.  For sponsored projects, if these precautions significantly impact research progress or if there is pause in your research, please contact the Office of Sponsored Programs via email at SponsoredPrograms@tcu.edu to coordinate with sponsors and program managers.

The Office of the Associate Provost for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies has assembled best practices and guidelines to support TCU faculty in their continued research and project practices while navigating the impact of the spread of COVID-19. Safety within our research laboratories is one of our highest priority. Please note that all TCU safety policies remain in place which align with laboratory safety practices that reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. It is essential to ensure adequate staffing to respond to situations that may arise.

This webpage will serve as a centralized location for updates and messages specific to research activities on campus.  We have also included links to guidance and information from the federal government regarding research updates related to COVID-19.

  • The University is open and all research offices continue to provide full support to the research enterprise.
  • The Office of the Associate Provost for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies is partnering with other University Offices to ensure that faculty will continue to be supported.

As for the impact COVID-19 has on research, or precautions and preparation you may want to consider for your research activities, please review the following:

  • Communications. If a communications plan for your research group is not already in place, designate points of contact so everyone receives timely information.
  • Remote access. All students, post-docs, staff, and faculty involved in research projects should ensure that they have access to information they need to carry out work remotely.  This might include, for example, access to literature, access to existing datasets and research-related files, and access to meeting software.  Principal investigators should prepare to carry out meetings remotely should university, government, or community restrictions be put in place without much lead time.  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, you might consider prioritizing work that is 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.

Proposal deadlines.  The Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) is prepared to complete standard operating services including submitting proposals, even if personnel are working remotely.  Our experience is that federal agencies are very flexible about deadlines under difficult circumstances beyond our control in the event university, government, or community restrictions prohibit our ability to submit.  However, if sponsoring 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.  Please contact OSP at SponsoredPrograms@tcu.edu for any questions or concerns.

Due to the rapidly evolving situation with the COVID-19 and in the interest of keeping public health and safety as our top priority we are placing the following restrictions on human subject research effective immediately.  This is being implemented to protect research participants, researchers, and the larger TCU community from risk of infection with COVID-19 as well as to ensure ongoing access to research which may provide essential support and care to participants. These restrictions will be in place until at least April 3rd and will be reevaluated on an on-going basis.

  1. Any in-person participant interaction must immediately pause. Research procedures involving no direct in-person interactions with participants may continue (e.g. data analysis, online surveys, telephone interviews). This applies to both exempt and non-exempt research studies.
  2. During this pause, researchers should consider whether it is feasible to modify their in-person participant research procedures to use alternative methods to gather study data (e.g. telephone, online). Investigators with protocols currently approved for in-person participant interaction can submit amendments to transition to alternative (i.e., remote) methods by submitting an amendment modification request form to IRBsubmit@tcu.edu. Please make sure the study protocol and consent forms are updated appropriately.
  3. Research visits that cannot be performed remotely and are not essential to a participant’s health and/or well-being should be postponed until further notice.
  4. Enrollment of new participants in human subject-related research should be allowed only if: 1) participation in the trial is essential to a participant’s health and/or well-being (must be cleared by TCU IRB in order to continue with restrictions); or 2) the enrollment and longitudinal participant management can be conducted remotely for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak.
  5. All new protocols submitted to the IRB for review that do not require direct in-person interactions with participants will be reviewed according to our normal processes. Those new protocols that require in-person interactions will be reviewed and feedback provided; however, no protocols requiring in-person interactions will be approved at this time.
  6. Continuing reviews of human-subject research will still occur during this time.

In addition, researchers should:

  • Follow the recommendations from the CDC.
  • Consider the participant population (e.g., are they considered “high risk” for COVID-19?) and the setting in which the interaction would occur.
  • Follow proper safety procedures for handling human specimens that may contain COVID-19.  Human specimens are handled at Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2). Appropriate PPE (lab coats, gloves, eye protection and face shields) should be worn in BSL-2 laboratories and procedures should be performed within a biological safety cabinet if there is a risk of infection. The CDC offers additional guidance: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/lab/lab-biosafety-guidelines.html.

Handling Human Specimens

Researchers are reminded to follow proper safety procedures for handling human specimens that may contain COVID-19.  Human specimens are handled at Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2). Researchers are reminded that appropriate PPE (lab coats, gloves, eye protection and face shields) should be worn in BSL-2 laboratories and procedures should be performed within a biological safety cabinet if there is a risk of infection. The CDC offers additional guidance: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/lab/lab-biosafety-guidelines.html. 

Animal facilities must be maintained at a level to ensure animal welfare. Essential personnel (faculty, staff, and graduate students) have been identified to continue providing husbandry services.

Federal regulations guiding oversight of animal research require the IACUC to review protocol changes before they are implemented.  Changes in aseptic surgery technique, euthanasia, anesthesia, analgesia, and sedation qualify for review under the IACUC’s Veterinarian Verification and Consultation (VVC) procedure.  All other changes should be submitted to the IACUC per (https://research.tcu.edu/research-compliance/iacuc/), via an Amendment request.

In all circumstances, researchers must use their best judgment to take action when animal welfare is in jeopardy.  In these cases, report the incident as soon as possible to IACUC@tcu.edu.

Award Management and Travel Restriction Impacts on Sponsored Projects

The Council on Government Relations (COGR) has developed FAQs Regarding COVID 19’s Impact on Federal Awards.  These FAQs address the following concerns for award management and allowability of costs:

  • Travel Charges, Including Cancellations
  • Remote Work Environments
  • Project Progress Obligations (addressing delays due to COVID 19)
  • Salary Charges
  • Allowability of COVID 19 Related Items on Grants

 

PLEASE NOTE:  This guidance points you back to your institutional policies.  Please ensure that you are following any notices or directives that are issued by OSP, Research Accounting, Finance or Human Resources when it comes to payments, reimbursements, allowable costs or payroll.

The NIH has announced various guidance regarding COVID-19 including Proposal Submission and Award Management flexibilities.  All NIH COVID-19 guidance can be found at https://grants.nih.gov/grants/natural_disasters/corona-virus.htm .

The NSF has announced various guidance regarding COVID-19 which can be found at https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/coronavirus/

COGR is maintaining a website which captures Federal Agency specific updates.  That website can be found at https://www.cogr.edu/institutional-and-agency-responses-covid-19-and-additional-resources

The Department of Energy has provided guidance on Accommodating Interruptions Caused by COVID-19.

OSP and Research Accounting staff are available to assist and help address any issues noted above.  Please contact OSP for any questions or concerns you may have SponsoredPrograms@tcu.edu.