Research Compliance  /  COVID-19 FAQ

COVID-19 - Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Deferring Research

On March 18, 2020, the President and Provost issued a memo regarding essential research operations. Importantly, the memo said:

Routine continuation of research activities does not qualify as an essential research operation. To protect the health of our community, laboratory personnel should be instructed to work remotely. Some of you have already been informed that continuing work in the laboratory must be approved by your division chair. We write to confirm that this requirement is Institute policy.

As you transition your labs toward closure, you may have questions.  We provide some guidance, here.

Research, General:

Do not start new experiments - especially with animals or precious reagents.

What is a critical research function?

Critical functions are making preparations necessary for safely shutting down a laboratory, or for sustaining a capability through a hiatus.  Your division chair must approve all critical research functions.

What is an essential project?

An essential project is one that involves time-sensitive research that cannot be easily repeated, restarted or shut down.  All personnel continuing on essential projects must be willing to do so and a plan considering social distancing and general laboratory safety must be in place.  Your division chair must approve all essential projects.

What steps should I consider when closing my lab?

See EHS's COVID-19 Guidance for Researchers

What do I do with my lab waste during reduced operation or lab closure?

Follow your established lab waste protocols. All waste streams other than electronic waste will operate as usual during reduced operation (lab debris, chemical and biological hazardous waste will be picked-up from the laboratories.)  In case of lab closure, waste will be picked-up so it does not accumulate in laboratories while closed.

What if experiments involving hazardous material (Chem or Bio) are deemed critical/essential?

If your research is critical is approved by your Division Chair, and involves the use of hazardous material, make sure to follow proper safety protocols and use appropriate PPE. Have a safety plan to notify your supervisor when you are in the lab or have a buddy system in place (the plan should take into account social distancing). Be prepared to interrupt/deactivate /abort your experiment if the lab full closure is mandated. Familiarize yourself with EHS's COVID-19 Guidance for Researchers.

Research with Human Subjects:

I perform human subjects research. Is there anything I should know?

On March 11, 2020, the Provost sent a memo asking all researchers to suspend human subjects research that involve in-person testing.  A copy can be found here.

On June 3, 2020 the IRB Chair released the application for restarting human subjects research. A copy can be found here. (Requires on Campus, or VPN log in to download)

Research with Live Animals (Vertebrate and Invertebrate):

I perform live animal research overseen by the IACUC and/or cared for by OLAR, what should I do if I have questions?

Contact OLAR immediately, at olar@caltech.edu, if you have not done so already. Work with OLAR to identify critical projects that involve live animals, and identify the key personnel who will aid in the basic maintenance of these animals. OLAR may ask that projects involving technical assistance or hazardous material be suspended with little notice.

What is a critical project?

A critical project is one that involves time sensitive experiments that cannot be easily repeated, restarted or shut down. For example, a continuing long term study of vertebrate animals that requires a critical time point collection of data in the next few days or weeks.  New projects are not considered critical projects, these should be deferred until such time as all on campus research resumes.

What are the criteria for continued "essential" or "critical" animal research projects?

Researchers should understand that continuation of even essential or critical animal research projects should really be a continuation in order to get the project to a point where the research can reasonably be deferred.  Designating something as essential or critical is not carte blanche to keep a project going indefinitely.  As everyone has learned through institutional communications, non-essential research needs to be deferred.  A systematic approach of winding down seems appropriate for essential research.  But, particularly for animal research, there must be a reasonable end designated in researcher's plans, and their plans cannot be to continue indefinitely or until OLAR tells the researcher that OLAR is depleted of resources.

Criteria:

  1. The research is time sensitive.
    Is the research time sensitive? Is there a data collection point that must be gathered in this period of restriction of personnel on campus?
  2. The experiment cannot be postponed.
    Why couldn't this experiment be conducted after the period of restriction? For example, has the animal involved undergone some special surgical or medical procedure, which, if the experiment were delayed, might compromise the animal's health or render the animal not useful for the experiment? Or, is there a time course that will end during the period of restriction and the experimental endpoint is euthanasia? Is the animal's health compromised such that it might not survive until the end of restriction?
  3. All personnel are willing to participate and a detailed plan has been developed to adhere to social distancing.
    Per the Caltech memo of March 16, 2020, graduate students reporting to campus should be involved in an essential research function. If a graduate student has an essential role in a critical research function or whose work is at a critical stage in the laboratory, accommodations should be made to conduct those essential functions in a manner consistent with social distancing while maintaining laboratory and experimental safety protocols. For example, minimizing the number of people in a laboratory space while adhering to relevant safety protocols may require supervision or a buddy system.
    If working with animals, the plan should include a timeline, including a reasonable end date, and be coordinated with OLAR and approved by the Attending Veterinarian. OLAR may limit the duration of experiments proposed.
  4. Everyone involved in continued animal research must be aware that OLAR resources may become strained during this period of restriction. This could be driven by deterioration of supplies needed or unavailability of animal care personnel. If this happens, all research may need to stop immediately, even if it meets these criteria. 

I have animals on order, what will happen to these?

All pending animal orders will be postponed until after the campus closure. No new orders will be accepted.

I perform research involving invertebrates or live animals not overseen by OLAR or IACUC, what should I do?

Secure your most valuable genotypes. Identify key personnel who will maintain stocks and formulate a maintenance plan that requires as little activity as possible.

Research with Biohazardous Materials:

I work with biohazardous materials, is there anything I should do?

If at all possible, biohazardous materials should not be left unattended in laboratories during closure.

You may be asked to bleach many materials, and to secure the rest, without extended notice. Secure your stock materials, and limit the volumes of a) viable cultures of viral vectors used for packaging or b) active cultures of Risk Group 2 (or higher) cultures/materials. If you have questions, please contact the Biosafety Officer at lquenee@caltech.edu.

Are there any other considerations?

Secure samples of your valuable cell lines, strains, DNA etc. in long-term storage. If applicable, identify key personnel who will maintain liquid nitrogen tanks and CO2.

Research with Controlled Substances:

I use controlled substances in my research.  What if I need to order more?

No new orders will be placed during this time period. However, if the substance is needed to maintain animal health or welfare, please contact OLAR to confirm that they can provide the substance as needed.

Are there any other considerations?

If at all possible, confirm that all controlled substances, lockboxes and keys are properly secured before leaving.