Research

 

Last Updated: April 2, 2020

Research Western continues to assess rapidly evolving circumstances presented by COVID-19. Our first priority is to protect Western’s students, trainees, staff and faculty.

At the direction of the province, Western has moved to an essential services model, which affects many researchers on campus. Appropriate access to buildings has now been provided to members of our community who have been identified as essential for maintaining critical research programs. Work related to COVID-19 also continues in several labs.

All others are to work from home.

If you have encountered issues related to access, please communicate directly with your Chair or Dean, as appropriate.

We urge caution and we must exercise a sense of urgency to adapt to ongoing situations.

We are working with partners across campus to develop contingency plans that address unique challenges affecting research given these limitations to service. We will preserve critical ongoing studies wherever it is safe and possible to do so.

To help us achieve these objectives, we ask that you:

  • Refrain from initiating any new research studies involving animal models. For specific information, please visit the ACC site on OWL (AUP PIs only, password required).

  • Recognize that new protocol submissions for animal-based research can still be submitted to the ACC and will be reviewed following regular procedures. Initiation of any newly approved AUPs must not commence until a future date, which will be communicated.

  • Refrain from initiating any new human participant research studies that do not adhere to public health guidance related to social distancing.

  • Recognize that new REB applications for human participant research can be submitted and will be reviewed following regular procedures. Researchers should not conduct research activities involving face-to-face interactions until social distancing is no longer a requirement.

  • Ensure you, your staff, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars have the necessary tools, materials and data to continue work at home where possible to do so.

  • Consider, as appropriate, alternate ways of conducting research (e.g., using telephone/ Zoom instead of in-person interviews) so long as doing so does not affect the project’s scientific merit or integrity.
  • Ensure research activities are conducted safely and in accordance with applicable public health recommendations and best practices. 

  • Stay informed of information provided on Western’s COVID-19 information pageand disseminate all relevant information to appropriate research staff. 

  • Reduce the risk of exposure by following public health precautions provided by the Middlesex-London Health Unit.  

ACVS is also working hard to ensure the continuity of research programs that involve animals. As information becomes available, we will communicate it here, through Research Western’s website and by email.

We will continue to review and update the following FAQ as necessary to provide the latest information for minimizing impact on Western’s research operations. If you have additional questions after reviewing these FAQ, please email research.comms@uwo.ca.   

Research Continuity

1. How should the research community prepare for reductions to service?

  • Western has now moved to an essential services model. Appropriate building access has been provided to members of our community who have been identified as essential to maintaining critical research programs.
  • Consider, as appropriate, alternate ways of conducting research so long as doing so does not affect the project’s scientific merit or integrity.
  • Consider what tools, books, materials, equipment and data, etc. would allow you to continue your work at home.
  • Ensure communication tools (e.g., Zoom, Teams, etc.) and contact lists for relevant lab members, collaborators, etc. are up-to-date.

2. Can I continue my research at home?

We encourage you to ensure you have access to any necessary tools, books, materials, equipment and data to continue research at home, in cases where it is possible to safely do so. You can also begin to think about preparing publications, grant and research proposals for a future date.

3. Should I continue my research in the community?

You need to consider postponing your research or changing your methodology to ensure you follow social distancing practices necessary for breaking the chain of transmission. Until further notice, these changes do not require approval of the human research ethics boards, but they must be reported to ethics@uwo.ca within five business days.

4. Can I continue to enroll research participants?

Enrollment of research participants has not been suspended at Western at this time; however, any Lawson-affiliated studies that do not provide a potentially essential treatment option with a time-limited enrollment should be suspended until at least April 30, 2020. Regardless of where you conduct your research, we also encourage you to refrain from new recruitment for studies requiring face-to-face contact under conditions that violate social distance guidelines. Please minimize risk for yourself, your participant and the population.

5. Should I begin/submit new research protocols/studies?

  • Cease initiating new research studies involving animal models. New protocol submissions for animal-based research can still be submitted to the ACC and will be reviewed following regular procedures. Initiation of any newly approved AUPs must not commence until a future date, which will be communicated.
  • Please refrain from initiating any new human participant research studies that do not adhere to public health guidance related to social distancing.
  • New REB applications for human participant research can be submitted and will be reviewed following regular procedures, noting that the REB is currently prioritizing studies related to COVID-19. Researchers should not conduct research activities involving face-to-face interactions until social distancing is no longer a requirement.
  • Compliance with institutional, provincial and national guidelines — and the safety of participants and staff — supersedes REB approval.
  • If you have any questions about the appropriateness of conducting your research at this time, please consult with your department chair or Associate Dean (Research).

6. Will I be able to access my laboratory/office in the event the university reduces services?

Access to facilities has been restricted to members of our community who have been identified as essential for maintaining critical research programs. If you have encountered issues related to access, please communicate directly with your Chair or Dean, as appropriate.

7. Can I continue to hold lab/other meetings?

You must follow social distancing practices. Rather than hold in-person meetings, please ensure your team has up-to-date contact information and that you make use of tools like teleconferencing and Zoom to maintain contact with lab members and collaborators.

8. Should I continue to pay graduate students?

Yes. There will be other productive work graduate students can do and they should continue to be paid from grants.

9. Will research with local hospitals be affected?

Hospitals are inherently high-risk facilities. The university continues to work closely with its partners to determine the best manner of transporting patients and animal models between sites.

10. If I am engaging in clinical research at the hospital, can we still recruit new participants and/or conduct study-related procedures within the hospital?

Investigators should determine if their studies are, by nature, potentially “essential treatment options” with time-limited enrollment windows. If so, ongoing recruitment is still permitted.

If clinical care procedures are still taking place as scheduled, investigators will need to use their judgement to determine whether research activities are considered to be urgent or essential based on patient safety and continuity of care during this time.

In both instances, you will need to also consult with clinical service units supporting the study to ensure ongoing capacity, as well as area leadership (e.g., administrative Director) to ensure continued support under current work circumstances.

11. Will long-term prospective studies be interrupted?

Our priority is to protect Western’s students, trainees, staff, faculty and research participants. We recognize costs related to interrupting ongoing studies. Long-term prospective studies can continue if they are able to safely respect public health recommendations related to social distancing and self-isolation.

We ask that no new long-term prospective studies are initiated. If you continue with existing protocols, you must maintain the integrity of the data and pay special attention to social distance and hand-washing recommendations. Please contact your Associate Dean (Research) or Research Western with any specific questions.

12. What will happen to equipment and facilities requiring ongoing installation, maintenance and calibration?

Appropriate access to buildings has now been provided to members of our community who have been identified as essential for maintaining equipment. If you have encountered issues related to access, please communicate directly with your Chair or Dean, as appropriate.

13. How will biological materials (e.g., cell lines, tissue samples, etc.) be managed and preserved in the event of the university suspends use of research involving biological materials?

Appropriate access to buildings has now been provided to members of our community who have been identified as essential for maintaining biological materials. If you have encountered issues related to access, please communicate directly with your Chair or Dean, as appropriate.

14. How will animal models be protected in the event of reductions to university services?

A group led by the university veterinarian is directing operations according to the crisis management program to ensure animal care needs are managed, necessary supplies are procured and required essential staff are identified. Every effort will continue to be made to protect animal health and well-being.

15. How will REB-approved human participant research studies requiring changes to study-related procedures (e.g., data collection and analysis, recruitment, etc.) be handled?

Human research ethics has developed plans to efficiently and effectively address change requests to REB-approved research in the wake of COVID-19 preparations. We will continue to communicate any changes.

16. How will the university ensure safety of personnel and security of research facilities when campus activities are suspended?

Campus Police and Facilities Management have established procedures for locking-down buildings and conducting regular patrols.

Research Laboratories

17. How can I prepare my lab to minimize hazards and potential disruptions?

  • Ensure lab users are aware of ongoing activities and that a communication system is in place to minimize hazards and potential disruptions, while ensuring continuity.
  • Update the emergency contact list for lab spaces and for specific equipment/facilities consumables in use.
  • Identify equipment/facilities/reagents/cultures/other that will require special attention (e.g., maintenance or shutdown, certification or calibration requirement) during a closure or a reduced personnel situation, and ensure Standard Operating Procedures are updated and available.
  • Ensure appropriate lab clean-up, storage of materials and equipment operations after completion of experiments.
  • If necessary, identify and train additional personnel in the operation of essential and critical equipment.
  • Plan for adjustments to research methodology where collaboration or research participation may be compromised due to illness or absenteeism.
  • Ensure necessary supplies are accessible and on hand (e.g., liquid nitrogen, compressed gas). Have a plan in place for when supplies will be delivered, including contact numbers for suppliers.
  • Routinely assess whether lab work can be safely continued with available personnel and available personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Plan for start-up, if necessary, following a service disruption.

18. Do I need to perform risk assessments related to COVID-19 for my research laboratories?

Unless you work with the virus, or infected human samples, there is no need to perform additional risk assessments.

19. Do I need to wear any additional personal protective equipment (PPE) in the lab (respiratory protection for example)?

Unless you work with the virus, or infected human samples requiring special precautions, there is no need for additional PPE. To help avoid shortages of PPE supplies, please continue to only use the PPE you need for your research. If you have any questions, please contact Health, Safety and Wellbeing at 519-661-2194 or extension 82194.

20. How will the University deal with limited research supplies of critical consumables (e.g., gloves and masks)?

There are currently supply chain issues for Personal Protective Equipment, especially for respiratory protection. As part of pandemic planning, the CDC has issued new recommendations on the reuse of N95 respirators to conserve their supply. During this time of critical shortage, it is recommended that you take the following actions:

Consider what respiratory protection you are using and ensure it is required for the work.Do you really need an N95 respirator, or would a face mask suffice? Are there alternatives?

Can you change procedures to avoid the hazard until respirators are available again?  For example, can you employ engineering controls, perhaps in another lab (equipment like a biosafety cabinet or a fume hood)? 

If the procedure cannot be changed, consider if it is reasonable to re-use the disposable respirator, or to use a reusable elastomeric ½ face respirator with N95 or N/P100 cartridges.  Normally, these are not recommended for work with biohazards because the risk of exposure to the hazard is increased compared to a single use disposable N95; however, it may be necessary to reuse respirators in times of critical shortage. 

Optimization of N95 Respirators in Short Supply Situations  

In exceptional circumstances, where there is a severe shortage of N95 respirators (e.g., the current COVID-19 crisis), strategies will be implemented at the University to optimize supply.  These will include: 

  • Temporary extended use and limited reuse of N95 respirators.
  • Where feasible, limiting the number of people who perform work requiring the use of respirators.
  • Using alternative, non-disposable respirators, such as half-face respirators equipped with HEPA cartridges.
  • The use of engineering controls if possible; e.g. fume hoods and biological safety cabinets 

Updated use of N95 respirators in Animal facilities  

To align with the CDC recommendations’ goal to conserve the supply of N95 respirators and through consultation with the Western’s occupational health physician and Health, Safety and Wellbeing, please note the following indications for using N95 respirators which remain unchanged: 

  • In cage wash areas, when cages are dumped.
  • In conventional holding rooms when cages are changed.
  • When aerosols may be generated and work occurs outside of a biological safety cabinet. 

  Effective immediately, N95 respirators will no longer be required for the following activities:    

  • In holding rooms when cages are changed in a biological safety cabinet (BSC).
  • In holding rooms when cages have lids or are on ventilated racks.
  • In conventional holding rooms for routine entry without cage change (optional).
  • ACVS classroom training (optional). 

Where N95 respirator use remains indicated please continue to apply the following reuse recommendations:

Limited Reuse 

As per CDC/NIOSH recommendations, N95 respirators can be reused up to, a maximum of five times provided:  

  • The respirator is not used for contact with an infected person/patient.
  • The respirator is not contaminated or soiled.
  • When not in use, the N95 respirator is stored in a clean, breathable container, such as a paper bag between uses. To minimize potential cross-contamination, store respirators so they do not touch each other and the person using the respirator is clearly identified. Storage containers should be disposed of or cleaned regularly.
  • Users clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after touching or adjusting the respirator (if necessary for comfort or to maintain fit).
  • The respirator maintains its structural and functional integrity.
  • The N95 filter material is not physically damaged.

It is imperative that N95 users: 

  • Discard N95 respirators following use during aerosol-generating procedures.
  • Discard N95 respirators contaminated or soiled.
  • Discard any respirator that is obviously damaged or becomes hard to breathe through.
  • Discard N95 respirators following close contact with, or exit from, the care area of any patient co-infected with an infectious disease requiring contact precautions.
  • Perform hand hygiene with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after touching or adjusting the respirator (if necessary for comfort or to maintain fit). Avoid touching the inside of the respirator.
  • Pack or store respirators between uses so that they do not become damaged or deformed. 

If you have any questions, please contact Health, Safety and Wellbeing at 519-661-2194 or extension 82194. 

Granting and Agreements

21. Will granting agencies reimburse funding for cancelled travel?

The Tri-Council funding agencies (Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council and Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council) have stated that reimbursement of non-refundable travel is an eligible grant expense. This applies to travel for principal investigators and research personnel.

There are no provisions to increase grant values to compensate for these expenses. We recommend you reach out to your faculty research officer, Associate Dean (Research) or Research Western for information pertaining to other granting agencies. Updates from granting agencies are being compiled on Research Western's website.

22. Will extensions be provided for grant/grant reporting deadlines?

These decisions are made by each individual agency. Research Western continues to communicate with funding agencies and to determine the course of action. Any news will be communicated to the research community on the Research Western website and by email. NSERC and SSHRC, as examples, have offered extensions of up to 12 months on grants ending between February 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021.

We recommend you reach out to your faculty research officer, Associate Dean (Research) or Research Western with any specific questions.

23. How will institutional signatures for grants and contracts be managed?

Research Western has documented internal procedures to ensure it is able to provide electronic signatures, including through delegated signing authority where required.