FAQs: Research activities and the COVID-19 pandemic

Updated 7/1/2020: Question 16 updated with information about the university’s Research Reboot Phase 2.

Updated 6/1/2020: Question 21 added regarding human subjects research and clinical trials.  

Updated 5/29/2020: This page was revised to include information about “Return to Research Phase 1.”  

  1. Can graduate students, postdocs and health professions students continue with laboratory-based research?
    Graduate students, postdocs and health profession students engaged in research may elect to participate in laboratory-based research activities that have been approved by their department chair and the Dean’s office. A decision about whether to participate in laboratory research should be informed by a discussion between the learner and their PI outlining the research to be done, possible concerns about health risk, and a plan to mitigate or eliminate these risks, including the laboratory member’s personal responsibilities for risk reduction.
  2. Can a PI force a research trainee to take part in laboratory-based research?
    Even if a request for authorization for continuation of limited research activities is approved by the Dean’s office, a PI may not pressure graduate students, postdocs or health professions students who are engaged in research to take part in laboratory-based activities during the pandemic, regardless of visa status. Consistent with campus and SMPH guidelines, students, staff and trainees who are not engaged in a laboratory research activity authorized by the Dean’s office cannot be physically present in the laboratory and should work at home on other aspects of a research project such as writing, planning experimental protocols, or data analysis.
  3. What should a graduate student, postdoc, or health professions student engaged in research do if they feel pressured to work on-site?
    Graduate students, postdocs and health professions students who feel pressured to work on-site in laboratory research should report such incidents to the SMPH Dean’s Office. Please use the SMPH student mistreatment reporting system.
  4. Can research approved during the essential research process continue?
    Yes. All research that was approved during the essential research phase (mid-March through May 2020) will need to be approved through the OVCRGE application process. While applications are being considered, all previously-approved essential research may continue in an uninterrupted manner. Only one application is to be used for both previously approved research and any additional research.
  5. Are undergraduates allowed to work in SMPH laboratories during phase 1?
    Undergraduate researchers or student hourlies must not engage in laboratory-based research in SMPH laboratories during phase 1 and should instead work remotely on other aspects of the research project if feasible, such as data analysis, writing or administrative responsibilities.In rare cases, the SMPH will allow an undergraduate to engage in laboratory-based research in an SMPH laboratory during phase 1. In such cases, evidence should be provided to demonstrate that the undergraduate provides a unique skill set to the research program that cannot be duplicated by another researcher in the lab. Undergraduates requiring training or direct supervision should not engage in laboratory-based research at this time. Submit requests to Andrea Poehling (andrea.poehling@wisc.edu) in the SMPH dean’s office.

    • Updated guidance about undergraduates is posted in Research Reboot Phase 2 and is in effect until further notice. 
  6. Can faculty access their offices? What is the process?
    Faculty who are not directly carrying out research, but are instead supervising personnel, are discouraged from applying for access since COVID-19 mitigation efforts rely on reducing the density of people in our buildings. Faculty who are carrying out research may apply for access to research space using the OVCRGE application process. They may also access their offices if their research requests are approved. If a faculty member feels it is necessary to be present for safety of their lab, they may apply for access to their office. Occasional and brief work-related office visits for tasks that cannot be carried out remotely are allowed without permission.
  7. Can clinical faculty practicing telehealth access their research offices?
    Yes. The faculty must apply for access to their research offices using the OVCRGE mechanism. This requirement also applies to faculty who were previously approved for telehealth activities in their research offices. Similarly, faculty in departments who require research office access for experimental purposes must apply for access to their research offices using the OVCRGE mechanism. Such faculty will not be included in research space personnel density considerations.
  8. Do research cores need to apply for space access using the OVCRGE form?
    Yes. Cores should apply using the OVCRGE process, accounting for core staff in the application. Core facilities that are administered out of a department or center should list the unit head as the ‘collaborator.’ For cores that report to the SMPH Dean’s Office, please list Associate Dean Anjon Audhya (audhya@wisc.edu) as the ‘collaborator.’ Additional advice for core operation follow:

    • Cores should use door occupancy signs to indicate when equipment rooms are occupied. Users should additionally share contact information when making reservations in core facilities to facilitate communication.
    • No more than one user per room for any space that is less than 700 square feet. No face to face training is possible during phase 1 of research restart.
    • Users should enter a core instrumentation room 15 minutes after the beginning of their reserved time. By delaying entering a room, a user can lower his/her personal risk of exposure by allowing potential aerosolized virus to settle or clear through air exchange.
    • Users must wash and/or sanitize their hands after entering the facility and before leaving.
    • Users must wipe down surfaces with disinfectant or 70% alcohol sprayed on Kim wipes to prevent aerosolizing settled virus prior to use of equipment. Cores should provide ethanol and Kim wipes to reduce dust. Users must keep a mental note of surfaces touched during their sessions and clean all surfaces again prior to leaving an equipment room.
    • Use of gloves is discouraged unless necessary for an experimental procedure, as they present a false sense of security. Hand washing and sanitizing equipment is strongly preferred.
    • Users must clean door handles prior to leaving the area.
  9. Should educational programs apply for access using the OVCRGE form?
    No. The current process is intended for research activities only.
  10. Should personnel wear masks/face coverings while in SMPH space?
    Yes. Masks are required for all personnel in SMPH space at all times. The one exception is that individuals are allowed to remove their face mask if they are in a room alone with the door closed.The recommendation that single-use facemasks should not be used for more than four hours that was originally included in SMPH guidance has been removed. You may use your facemask until it becomes unserviceable.
  11. Something on the OVCRGE form isn’t working. Where do I direct questions about the application form?
    Questions about the on-line application form should be directed to Max Coller in the OVCRGE: max.coller@wisc.edu
  12. Can I revise my lab’s approved application for research access during phase 1 of research restart?
    Yes, but revisions should be rare. Revisions must be approved by the unit director and the SMPH Dean’s office. To revise a previously approved application, you must discuss the change with your unit director to determine whether the change conforms to the OVCRGE and SMPH guidelines. Then, the PI will use the OVCRGE process to initiate a modification.
  13. May others apply for research access on a PI’s behalf?
    No. The PI is ultimately responsible for all content in the application form and should complete the application themselves.
  14. How should chairs/section chiefs/center directors submit their unit’s plans to SMPH for review?
    Department/section/center applications should be submitted to Andrea Poehling (andrea.poehling@wisc.edu) as a single pdf that includes (1) a unit-wide response to specific considerations outlined in the “Information for chairs, division chiefs, and center directors” section of the SMPH guidance and (2) each of the PI applications from the unit.

    • After receiving a PI’s application, the chair/chief/director (i.e., unit head) reviews it and requests any needed edits from the PI. (Instructions for editing the OVCRGE application are below.)
    • The PI and all collaborators may view and edit the application. Therefore, there is no process for the collaborator to “send the form back” to the PI.
    • Once the PI’s application is finalized, the unit head downloads the application as a pdf and includes it in the single pdf that will be submitted to the dean’s office. There is no automated workflow that advances the PI’s application to the dean’s office. (Instructions for creating a PDF of the application are below.)
    • There is no standard format for the overall unit-wide plan. The plan should address the four considerations outlined in the “Information for chairs, division chiefs, and center directors” section of the SMPH guidance (personnel densities, communication strategies within the unit, communication with units that border the department’s space and confirmation of building manager engagement).
      • Review personnel densities for individual labs and building floors and confirm that individual lab plans conform to OVCRGE and SMPH guidelines.
      • Define communication strategies that will be used to allow labs to equitably and safely schedule commonly used instruments, such as autoclaves, dishwashers, centrifuges, etc.
      • Communicate with other chairs, division chiefs, and center directors whose units directly border your unit’s space to ensure that differing unit plans do not inadvertently create clusters of personnel. In cases where two or more units share space on a common floor, report how many researchers from your unit will be present in your unit’s assigned space. Confirm that this communication has taken place.
      • Confirm that building managers have created safety signage that prevents personnel clustering (e.g. only one person per elevator or rest room and closing or repurposing meeting rooms). The SMPH Dean’s Office will work with Mark Wells to ensure that building managers are involved in implementation.
    • When the unit-wide plan is complete, the unit head emails a single pdf (which includes the unit-wide plan and each of the PI applications from the unit) to andrea.poehling@wisc.edu. Andrea will coordinate review of the plan by the Office of Basic Science, Biotechnology, and Graduate Studies and will communicate with the unit head as needed throughout the process.
    • For departments/divisions that possess multiple work units that are not contiguous, separate plans may be submitted on behalf of individual floors/buildings to the SMPH Dean’s office.
  15. When can animal ordering begin?
    Animal ordering can resume following SMPH approval at the school level. PIs should contact BRMS prior to ordering to determine their capacity for receiving animals. Units may be required to stagger orders so that the system is not overwhelmed.
  16. How will phase 2 of research restart proceed?
    SMPH guidance on the university’s Research Reboot Phase 2 was announced on July 1, 2020. It is available here.
  17. Where can personnel report concerns about personnel density or other possible safety concerns?
    First, try to resolve any concerns within your unit, either by working with other individuals within your workgroup, your PI, or your unit head. If this is not possible or does not resolve the problem, contact Andrea Poehling (andrea.poehling@wisc.edu) in the SMPH Dean’s Office to outline your concern. The Dean’s Office will then follow up on reported safety concerns.
  18. Can a collaborator assign someone else to be an additional collaborator?
    There is not a way for someone listed as a collaborator to assign additional collaborators. We suggest the following workarounds:

    • Ask the PI to add the additional collaborator.  Instructions for editing the OVCRGE application are below.
    • Ask the PI to download a PDF of their request form and email it to the additional collaborator. Instructions for creating a PDF of the application are below.
    • The chair/chief/director downloads a PDF of the application and emails it to the additional collaborator. Instructions for editing the OVCRGE application are below.
  19. How can the OVCRGE application be edited?
    Go to https://vcrge-uwmadison.smapply.io/prog/research_reboot/. If you’re not currently logged in, click on the “Log In” button in the upper right (not the “LOG IN TO APPLY” button in blue). It should take you to your application. (In the case of a collaborator who has access to multiple applications, you should see a link to “[Number] applications” above the blue “APPLY” button. If you click on the “[Number] applications” link, it will list all applications. Click on the relevant application and it should take you to the application.)

    1. Click on the Research Reboot Data Form Part 2.
    2. Click on the three dots (…) in the upper right corner.
    3. Choose “Edit.”  Begin editing.
  20. How can a PDF of the OVCRGE application be downloaded?
    Go to https://vcrge-uwmadison.smapply.io/prog/research_reboot/. If you’re not currently logged in, click on the “Log In” button in the upper right (not the “LOG IN TO APPLY” button in blue). It should take you to your application. (In the case of a collaborator who has access to multiple applications, you should see a link to “[Number] applications” above the blue “APPLY” button. If you click on the “[Number] applications” link, it will list all applications. Click on the relevant application and it should take you to the application.)

    1. Click on the three dots (…) in the upper right corner.
    2. Choose “Download.” Follow the instructions to download a PDF.
  21. Who should we contact regarding human subject studies or clinical trials questions?
    The majority of human subjects research and clinical trials will be restarted in Phase 2 of the research reopening (after July 1, 2020). A plan to prioritize the reopening of these studies in phase 2 is forthcoming from the OVCRGE. Please do not submit a request via the OVCRGE form until guidance is released. Human subjects studies or clinical trials that were approved in Phase 0 essential research phase (mid-March through May 2020) may continue. For studies that may have patient safety concerns in the period of June 1-June 30 (Phase 1) or are COVID-19 related research, please access the COVID-19 Research website at www.clinicaltrials.wisc.edu or contact Chief Clinical Research Officer Betsy Nugent at enugent2@wisc.edu for information on how to proceed. Additional guidance related to restarting face to face human subjects research was released on June 3, 2020.

Should you have additional questions about any of these issues or questions about Return to Research Phase 1, contact Andrea Poehling, Director, Academic Program Development and Evaluation, at andrea.poehling@wisc.edu. See the Return to Research Phase 1 guidance here