Research Continuity Guidance

Auburn University is closely monitoring the emergence of COVID-19 and consulting with public health officials to ensure the safety of the university community.  

The following guidance is given to address concerns related to research operations at Auburn University.  Principal investigators should review this information as they plan for continuity of operations for laboratory and research facilities.  For university-wide updates on the response to COVID-19, see https://ocm.auburn.edu/news/coronavirus/

Impact on Research and Related Services:

  • If you are planning to submit a proposal, the appropriate college-level designee or OSP contract administrator will continue to the best of their ability to submit proposals even if personnel are working from a remote location. All new applications should go through the usual review process including the routing of the e-Cover Form (note that e-CF creation/review/approval from off-campus will require VPN).

  • Support from staff in Proposal Services & Faculty Support (proposal development assistance, funding searches/PIVOT support, etc.) will continue to be available as long as the university remains open and operational. As necessary, all attempts to work remotely will be utilized.

  • Contract/grant negotiations, processing of awards, modifications and subcontracts, account set-up and other post-award actions will continue without disruption as long as the university remains open and operational. As necessary, all attempts to work remotely will be utilized.

  • If you are the principal investigator of a grant/contract for which deliverables have/will be delayed by offsite work or staff disruptions, please ensure that you include an explanation of the delay in your next progress report. The explanation should outline the alternative work completed and your plan for accomplishing the original deliverables.

  • The Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) has developed a repository for both specific agency guidance and institutional guidance on mitigating the impacts to research related to COVID-19. COGR has also maintained an FAQ and Resources page on COVID-19’s impact to Federal awards. In addition, this page includes a link to COGR’s Federal Agency Guidance Matrix.

Salary Guidance for Contracts & Grants

  • The Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) has developed a repository for both specific agency guidance and institutional guidance on mitigating the impacts to research related to COVID-19. COGR has also maintained an FAQ and Resources page on COVID-19’s impact to Federal awards. In addition, this page includes a link to COGR’s Federal Agency Guidance Matrix.

Guidance for Expanding Off-Site Research and Related Activities

The Guidance for Off-Site Research and Related Activities and Points of Consideration provided below supplements the Research Continuity Guidance posted in March 2020.  It applies to all AU personnel and students engaged in research and related activities.  University-wide updates continue to be available at the following link: https://ocm.auburn.edu/news/coronavirus/.

Off-site research and related activities are defined as research and related activities (sponsored, AU-funded or unfunded) conducted at sites or in facilities that are not owned, operated, controlled or managed by AU.

This guidance cannot and does not address all activity-specific and location-specific challenges, circumstances and scenarios that AU’s teams may encounter. Rather, it is general guidance intended to help faculty and staff developing a plan for off-site sponsored programs (the “off-site plan”).

  • All Guiding Principles contained in the Research Continuity Guidance apply to off-site research and related activities.
  • Personnel should follow AU guidelines, policies and procedures, and compliance approvals when traveling to and from off-site locations (including AU’s Travel Policies), as well as when conducting off-site research and related activities. Additional guidance for any offsite plan:
    • The principal investigator (PI) has overall responsibility for oversight of compliance with off-site travel guidelines.
    • AU research personnel should follow the site’s guidelines and precautions or AU’s guidelines, precautions and policies – whichever is more stringent.
    • Delay research and related activities until a later date if circumstances at a site prevent personnel from following either the site’s guidelines and precautions or AU’s guidelines, precautions and policies.
  • Principal investigators who will be off-site should review and discuss the off-site plan with applicable department heads and associate deans for research (ADRs) before commencing off-site research and related activities, including making travel arrangements prior to travelling to the site. The off-site plan will then be communicated by the PI with the project personnel.

Points of Consideration

Department heads and ADRs should contemplate the below points of consideration when discussing off-site plans with personnel.

  • Coordinate with site management and/or collaborators ahead of time and jointly develop a plan that aligns with the guidelines and policies from all participating institutions.
  • Note that all university-related travel will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Ensure field research travel is approved by the vice president for research and economic development. All other essential travel is to be approved by the executive vice president or provost.
  • Do not relax physical distancing practices and other precautions such as face coverings except when emergencies or limitations associated with certain travel modes make it impossible.
     
  • When developing an offsite plan, the following issues should be considered:
  • Individuals who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 must avoid off-site research activities. This must be strictly monitored by the PI or designee.  Individuals who have reason to believe they may have been exposed to or have any symptoms of the coronavirus should call the Auburn University Medical Clinic at 334-844-9825 before visiting the clinic. After-hours or on weekends, call East Alabama Medical Center’s COVID-19 hotline at 334-528-7425 before going to the hospital.
     
  • Self-Screening and General Protection (Medical/Risk Factors)
            - should include continued self-assessment while off-site.
     
  • Host Institution/Facility Rules and Precautions
     
  • Documentation & Communication Plan
    Prepare a list of all personnel (team members) with contact information, and at least one emergency contact per team member. For privacy purposes, please maintain this information separate from the off-site plan.

    Gather and organize information about the site, such as physical location (address or geo-coordinates if there is no physical address), COVID-19 safety guidelines, requirements, precautions and measures, closest medical care available near the off-site location, and any documents evidencing permission from the authority that controls site access confirming their approval to conduct AU research.

    Have a contingency plan in place if one or more team members decide to discontinue their participation at any time (for any reason) during off-site activities.

    Maintain an easily accessed (e.g., a shared Google Drive, Microsoft Teams, etc.) daily activity log to record work locations (public or private venues where team members conducted the research and related activity), operational anomalies that resulted in contact with persons other than team members, and other data related to team member safety.
     
  • Travel Plans

                                                When traveling to, from and at the site, consider the following questions:

  • Will stops be minimized to reduce the potential for contact with non-team members?
  • How will team members maintain personal hygiene standards consistent with CDC COVID-19 guidelines?
  • For longer trips involving group transportation using vehicles, what precautions will be used to maintain physical distancing? If two or more people will occupy a vehicle, will there be an empty seat (or other separation) between occupants?  Will they always wear face coverings?  What are the procedures for disinfecting vehicles?  Personnel should follow AU physical distancing and face covering guidelines to the greatest extent feasible and consider additional precautions where appropriate.
  • Carefully consider how to implement physical distancing procedures and other precautions when using boats, vessels, trains, airplanes, or other forms of group/mass transportation. What guidelines or requirements have operators implemented?
  • Improve the ventilation in the vehicle if possible (for example, open the windows or set the air ventilation/air conditioning on non-recirculation mode).
     

Reference Documentation:

Public Health Guidance
- Centers for Disease Control
- Alabama Public Health

University Guidance
- General COVID-19 Information
- Research Continuity Guidance
- Office of Risk Management and Safety
- Office of Research Compliance

Research Integrity

  • Research Integrity activities are expected to continue without disruption. 

Research Compliance

  • The IBC, IRB, and IACUC will continue regular operations to the extent possible.
  • Based on concerns related to COVID-19, regulatory oversight agencies have issued statements that in-person compliance committee meetings may be supplemented or replaced with remote technology-assisted voice or video conferences.  Such options will be made available for compliance committee meetings during this time.
  • Compliance checks for sponsored projects are expected to continue without disruption.
  • Principal investigators on IRB protocols are encouraged to submit renewal requests as early as possible to allow adequate time for processing and review.
  • Investigators conducting human subjects research must consider the risk(s) to participants within the current COVID-19 environment.  Risk of exposure to COVID-19 resulting from participation in human research may arise when research procedures include face-to-face interactions with participants, physical presence of participants on Auburn University campus or research site, or other scenarios.  Investigators are encouraged, as appropriate to meet research objectives, to consider replacing in-person activities with remote activities, technology-assisted participant interactions, or other methods to reduce the risk of participant exposure to COVID-19. 

    Investigators with active IRB protocols and those that are submitting new applications to the IRB may need to submit modifications to approved protocols and/or provide additional information related to the current COVID-19 environment.  Further information may be found on the Research Compliance-IRB COVID-19 Guidance webpage.

The Office of the University Veterinarian and the Division of Laboratory Animal Health have begun to expand animal research activities in the vivaria. Guidelines for expansion of activities have been established and distributed to investigators to ensure the safety of researchers and animal care personnel. School, college or investigator administered care continue to be the responsibility of that entity. Questions should be directed to the Office of the University Veterinarian.

The Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) has developed a repository for both specific agency guidance and institutional guidance on mitigating the impacts to research related to COVID-19. COGR has also maintained an FAQ and Resources page on COVID-19’s impact to Federal awards. In addition, this page includes a link to COGR’s Federal Agency Guidance Matrix.

Currently, all university travel, both domestic and international, is suspended.  However, necessary research-related travel is allowable as an exception.  For updates, see https://ocm.auburn.edu/news/coronavirus/

Research computing resources maintained by OIT (Hopper, Globus) will be operational and accessible through normal channels. Access to Hopper from off-campus will require an AU VPN connection and DUO two-factor authentication. Operational status and access for research computing resources are dependent on the availability of other campus IT core resources.

The Office of Innovation Advancement and Commercialization continues to offer intellectual property (IP) commercialization information and assistance to faculty inventors through online sessions.  More information is available here.

Auburn University Libraries'  three buildings will be closed to the public. This includes Ralph Brown Draughon Library, the Library of Architecture, Design, & Construction, and the Cary Veterinarian Medical Library.  

However, the Libraries' faculty and staff are here to meet your teaching and research needs as best we can and to make access to library resources as seamless as possible.

Risk Management and Safety (RMS) will continue to offer the following mission-critical support functions for research, although staff will primarily be working remotely:

  • safety and health consultation
  • emergency response
  • radioisotope delivery
  • regulated waste management
  • testing and certification of critical lab equipment (safety showers, fume hoods, biological safety cabinets)
  • protocol review
  • communications and interactions with regulatory agencies 

 

Noncritical functions such as laboratory inspections and in-person training will be postponed until further notice, although training and meetings may still be conducted remotely to the extent feasible.