University researchers: Preparing for potential impact to your lab or research program

Mar. 7, 2020

This message was sent on behalf of Research & Innovation to subscribers of the University's ResearchNotes group email list.

Dear Colleagues,

The University continues to closely monitor the outbreak of coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19. With the ongoing concern about the spread of this disease, laboratories and research facilities should begin to plan for the possibility of a significant disruption to normal operations.

Each laboratory or research facility is best positioned to create a continuity plan that will meet their unique needs. The guidance below is provided to facilitate the development of that plan. In addition, the University has preventive measures and controls in place to support the health and safety of our University community. We continue to review and adapt our planning and strategies as more is learned every day. The University has created a Novel Coronavirus Information page, which will be updated regularly. The page contains the latest information and includes a variety of sources, as well as tips for faculty, students and staff regarding issues that could arise from coronavirus.

Research continuity guidance for laboratories and research facilities

Assumptions that you can use for planning, based on a scenario with widespread COVID-19 communal transmission:

  • A significant percentage of your laboratory workforce may be out sick or unable to come to work.
  • Essential research infrastructure, such as power and telecommunications, will be maintained.
  • Sponsored Projects will continue operations on a limited, remote basis with a focus on proposal submission deadlines, reporting and invoicing deadlines, and setup of new awards.
  • Animal Resources and Environmental Health & Safety will maintain critical functions.
  • Orders for critical supplies may be delayed.
  • Processing of visas by the federal government may be delayed, resulting in delayed appointments.
  • Core facilities and other fee-for-service resources may not be available.
  • Repairs performed by Facilities and other University and non-University service providers may be delayed.
  • Decontamination of your workspace may be necessary in the event of a local illness.
  • The University will communicate any disruptions to laboratory access.

Steps you can take now to ensure continuity of critical functions:

  • Identify procedures and processes that require regular personnel attention (e.g., cell culture maintenance, animal studies).
  • Assess and prioritize critical laboratory activities.
  • Identify any research experiments that can be ramped down, curtailed or delayed.
  • Document a succession plan of who is the primary, secondary and tertiary responsible and authorized person to continue research and lab work in the event the primary person is unable to perform essential functions.
  • Identify personnel who are able to safely perform essential activities.
  • Ensure that you have access to contact information for your critical staff.
  • Cross-train research staff to fill in for others who may be out sick or unable to come to work.
  • Ensure staff have the appropriate training.
  • Consider documenting critical step-by-step instructions.
  • Coordinate with colleagues who have similar research activities to identify ways to ensure coverage of critical activities.
  • Review contingency plans and emergency procedures with researchers and staff.
  • Maintain a sufficient inventory of critical supplies that may be impacted by global shipping delays.
  • Consider installing remote control monitoring devices for critical equipment (e.g., -80 °C freezers, liquid nitrogen storage dewars, incubators).
  • Communicate significant planned absences and/or lab closures to Environmental Health & Safety, business offices and other key administrative units.
  • Track any costs associated with COVID-19 impacts

Measures you can take to prevent the spread of illness among your group if the risk of COVID-19 increases within the local community:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer is not a substitute for hand washing in the laboratory.
  • Disinfect common laboratory areas and touch points (e.g. doorknobs, sink handles, freezer doors, fume hood sashes, telephones) with 70% ethanol, diluted (1/50) bleach solution, or EPA registered COVID-19 disinfectant. View information on the EPA’s Registered Antimicrobial Products for Use Against Novel Coronavirus.
  • Remind staff to stay home when they are sick or not feeling well.
  • Consider alternating work schedules to meet the demands of the laboratory while limiting close contact with others.
  • Identify work that can be done from home or remotely, such as data analysis.
  • Test and update remote work technologies such as VPN and Microsoft Teams conferencing.
  • Note: VPN access may be limited, and you may need to prioritize access for your group.
  • Avoid in-person meetings. Use remote work technologies such as Microsoft Teams conferencing.

Other safety considerations:

  • Ensure that individuals performing critical tasks have been adequately trained and understand whom to contact with technical or safety questions.
  • Avoid performing high-risk procedures alone. When working alone is necessary, exercise maximum caution.
  • Notify colleagues of your schedule when working alone for an extended period of time.
  • Ensure that high-risk materials (radioactive, biohazards, chemicals) are secured.

Grant related questions:

  • Sponsored Projects is reviewing questions relating to the allowability of costs associated with any disruptions to sponsored projects stemming from the coronavirus.
    • Send questions to departmental business offices who should coordinate with Sponsored Projects.
    • In order for a cost to be allowable, it will require consistent treatment across all funding sources.
    • The federal funding agencies are working on a unified message in this regard. Once it is published, Sponsored Projects will share it with the University community.

Next steps:

The University remains vigilant and prepared, following guidance and the health and safety protocols from the CDC, Washoe County Health District, Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, as well as coordinating closely with State and other local officials. The University administration and Issues Management Response Team have preventive measures and controls in place to support the health and safety of our University community. We continue to review and adapt our planning and strategies as more is learned every day in the event of widespread U.S. community transmission of COVID-19. The University community will be notified via email, through the University Emergency ALERT system, and the University’s home page , which may include a banner message with the University’s status any immediate action plans, and a link to University’s Novel Coronavirus Information page , which is updated as new information becomes available.

Health officials, the University, and state and local governments remind everyone that maintaining a sense of calm is of utmost importance at this time. Stay informed with fact-based information from reliable sources, including those listed above in this message. Avoid feeding into or fueling speculation or hysteria that is prevalent during such global events. We cannot emphasize strongly enough the value of practicing daily health precautions and proper hygiene, and to follow the information from the sources we’ve provided on the University’s Novel Coronavirus Information page.


Mridul Gautam

Vice President for Research and Innovation
Ross Hall, Room 201
(775) 327-2363