Letters to the UMB Community

COVID-19 Research Guidelines

March 18, 2020

Dear Colleagues:

We have sent out several communications with regard to the escalating novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with the goals of keeping you informed and protecting the health and safety of all of our employees to the greatest extent possible. We will continue to closely monitor the outbreak of the coronavirus disease.

Given the fluidity of the situation and the increasing numbers of COVID-19-infected persons, significant state-wide efforts were announced yesterday to mitigate viral spread through social distancing, including the closing down of all bars, restaurants, gyms, and movie theaters. Therefore, our laboratories and core facilities should immediately transition from normal operations to the Moderate Research Restrictions status described in this document. Each of us should rapidly move to protect people and research programs, as well as key reagents and equipment. It is possible that more restrictions will be forthcoming, and you should be prepared for that transition as well. These restrictions would be based upon a variety of current events and governmental mandates.

All faculty, staff, and students should continue to follow existing UMB advice for Step 2 and Clinical Activities.

We wish to emphasize four points:

  1. Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) are students first and foremost. Therefore, every effort must be taken to keep them safe, consistent with the University's efforts to protect all students on campus. Accordingly, GRAs should not be designated as essential and every reasonable effort should be made to have them engage with and continue their research activities remotely. See guidance here.
  2. Post-doctoral fellows are subject to these restrictions as well.
  3. We urge you each to be very judicious on the classification of individuals as essential research personnel. Overuse of that category is counter to our objective of lowering the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
  4. UMB is not discontinuing research. We are prioritizing research activities that can be done remotely (data processing, proposals, publications, patents, reviews, research group meetings, administrative meetings, etc.) in the interest of our safety.

Moderate Research Restrictions: UMB is currently operating at this level. At this time, laboratories should ramp down activities significantly, conducting only research activities that are in a critical phase at this time. Critical phase means that abandoning them would cause a major or irreversible loss in project viability. Principal Investigators should carefully consider this criteria before approving the continuation of research, and where a doubt exists, should discuss the options with their chair, director, or dean. This high-priority work should be a very limited set of the current laboratory bench-based experimentation. See guidance here.

One objective is to reduce the density of people in research spaces in order to comply with social distancing guidelines. We expect substantial reductions in personnel achieved through staggering or rotating personnel. A target for large crowded laboratories is 30 percent occupancy and certainly fewer than 10 people at a maximum. Team up with other labs, so-called "Buddy Labs," to provide immediate close-by contacts for personal security or to cover animal monitoring in the event that an entire lab becomes quarantined.

Severe Research Restrictions: UMB is not operating at this level, but it may become necessary. All basic and animal research experimentation requiring a physical presence at UMB would cease and laboratories would move to maintaining important instruments, animal colonies, cell lines, and similar resources.

All UMB grant support services will continue to operate as is. Federal agencies are introducing significant flexibilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, the National Institutes of Health has built in flexibility for researchers and institutions related to grants administration, fiscal issues, and time periods for no-cost extensions, as well as delayed submissions and reporting. Please reach out to your program director as soon as possible with concerns and questions.

Thank you for your strict adherence to these new policy guidelines. Your cooperation and support is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS
Interim President
University of Maryland, Baltimore

Laurie Locascio, PhD
Vice President for Research
University of Maryland


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