March 22, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread globally at an exponential rate. Our most important goal right now must be to do everything in our power to ensure the public health of our community and the well-being of our students, faculty, and staff. To that end, this memorandum expands on and updates the information provided in my memorandum of March 19. In particular, this new memo changes the guidance on return to and access to research laboratories, creative activity locations, and other related facilities (labs, for short).
Effective immediately, we request that all OU researchers prepare for an orderly ramp down of all nonessential on-campus research by close of business Tuesday, March 24. Effective 5 pm this Tuesday, March 24 and until further notice, all OU research and creative activity requiring individuals to work on campus, in university-owned facilities, or in the field will be suspended, with rare exceptions as defined below to perform essential research functions. We expect this suspension to last for a few weeks, but we will be evaluating and updating the situation on an ongoing basis and will provide updates as appropriate. A few research facilities such as the National Weather Center will have additional access restrictions which will be communicated by the related deans. At this time, all lab meetings and other research-related group meetings must move to Zoom or other online formats.
What Research is Essential?
Research is essential if it must continue in order to prevent significant, long-term impacts on the viability of the research. Something that delays a project only for the duration of restricted campus research operations is not essential. Examples of research that may be considered essential include:
- care for live organisms (animals, plants) housed in university facilities;
- critical, long-term studies that would have to be repeated if interrupted or if time-sensitive data collection were to be impacted;
- work required to prevent damage to equipment that cannot be shut down temporarily; and
- research related directly to the effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Initial determinations about what constitutes essential operations, research, and staff are to be made by the department chairs, directors and center directors, vetted by the Deans or appropriate VP depending on reporting structures, and then approved by the Vice President for Research and Partnerships. If your needs change over time, you may submit requests for exceptions through the same process.
As indicated in the March 19 memo, all researchers should telecommute and work from home wherever possible. From now until 5 pm on March 24, for any work that is necessary for the orderly shutdown of nonessential research operations researchers must follow CDC-recommended good hygiene practices that include handwashing and social distancing, and shift scheduling where possible. This is to minimize contact while engaging in any necessary activities to shut down activities, ensure safety, care for live research organisms, and safeguard materials and information as needed.
To ensure a safe and orderly shutdown process, please refer to the Safety Checklist for Temporary Shutdown of Nonessential Laboratory Activities provided as an appendix at the bottom of this memo.
We are also asking all principal investigators (PIs) and research group managers to develop shutdown plans for any essential activities that may nevertheless need to be suspended due to future possible shelter-in-place orders external to the university.
As indicated in the March 19 memo, the Office of Research Services (ORS) will continue to do their best to support faculty in their pursuit of research grants and funding. However, most ORS research staff will be telecommuting, and you may see delays in response times and a prioritization of services provided. ORS remains committed to supporting the faculty in their research endeavors throughout this difficult period. To the extent possible, ORS will do their best to minimize disruptions to the pre-award research process. If you have any questions regarding the continuation of ORS services please contact Andrea Deaton (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Also, please be mindful of the fact that the stress and anxiety of this crisis are greatly amplified for many of our graduate students and postdocs. Many of them are living far away from their extended families and support networks and subsisting on modest stipends. This is especially true for our international students and postdocs. The requirement to work from home will also exacerbate feelings of isolation and any mental health challenges they may already face. We expect that all lab leaders will continue to be flexible, compassionate, and supportive of our graduate students and postdocs during this time of unprecedented crisis. Under no circumstance can graduate students and post docs be mandated to perform research on campus.
This past couple of weeks have been unusual and difficult for everyone. I wanted to thank you all for your patience, dedication and commitment to excellence in research at OU in this period of unprecedented change to our daily lives. We have much work to do in the weeks ahead. Together, with compassion and understanding for each other, we will get through this difficult and trying time and the university and all of us will emerge stronger as a result. Thank you so very much for all you do. I am fortunate and privileged to work in such a fantastic organization with such dedicated and caring colleagues.
Tomás Díaz de la Rubia
Vice President for Research and Partnerships
University of Oklahoma
Appendix: Safety Checklist for Temporary Shutdown of Nonessential Laboratory Activities
- Verify emergency contact information on door signs is accurate and two contacts and phone numbers are provided
- Post signs on experiments that will operate unattended, “experiment in progress” sign. The sign must include contact information and emergency shutdown procedures – written to allow for emergency responders to shut down your experiment
- Shut down non-essential and non-critical experiments, particularly those experiments that cannot be left unattended for more than a day.
- Take steps required to safely secure toxic or hazardous items. If you need to do this, as always please be sure to have a “buddy” around for safety during higher risk research activities;
- Take steps required to preserve critical research specimens and samples;
- Verify appropriate labeling of:
- Chemical containers
- Radioactive materials
- Safely manage pyrophoric materials – verify you have sufficient inert atmosphere supply and system is robust
- Place water-reactive materials in sealed labeled containers and place in a location that is unlikely to become wet
- For hazardous waste containers, verify:
- Proper labeling
- Lids are closed
- Vented caps are used where necessary
- They are in secondary containment
- Proper segregation
- Submit materials for hazardous waste pickup
- Verify chemicals are properly stored:
- Flammables in flammable cabinet
- Incompatibles, such as acids and bases, are properly segregated
- Corrosives are in corrosive cabinets
- Shut off equipment water supplies where possible or verify connection fittings are properly secured and robust
- Verify gas cylinder valves are shut off at the bottle. Close tanks and where possible remove regulators and place caps back on tanks
- Cancel or postpone routine gas deliveries
- Turn off and unplug electrical devices particularly heat generating equipment such as hot plates, stir plates, water baths, and ovens
- Elevate equipment, materials, supplies and chemicals off the floor to protect against flooding
- Verify refrigerators and freezers are tightly closed
- Remove extra materials from laboratory hoods
- Lower laboratory hood sashes
- Back up data
- Close all doors and lock cabinets containing valuables
- Decontaminate work surfaces in biosafety cabinets and close the sash
- Secure the lids on red biowaste containers
- Verify cryogenic liquids are being properly vented