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).  Agencies may be flexible about deadlines under difficult circumstances beyond our control.  However, if agencies are officially closed, proposals will likely remain in queue, pending resumption of agency operations. You should move forward to submit by the published deadline regardless.

  • 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 is officially open and operational.  If a closure occurs, all attempts to work remotely will be utilized to the best of our ability.

  • 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 is officially open and operational.  As necessary, all attempts to work remotely will be utilized.

  • If you are the principal investigator of a grant/contract and you anticipate that your deliverables will be delayed by offsite work or staff disruptions, please contact your program officer or technical point of contact immediately to let them know of your work plan adjustments and copy the Office of Sponsored Programs (ospadmn@auburn.edu) on the communication.  The appropriate OSP Contract Administrator will be made aware of the notice.  Additionally, please prepare a brief explanation of the delay for your next progress report.  The explanation should outline the alternative work completed and your plan for accomplishing the original deliverables.  For non-federal sponsors (industry, state, other), this contact will be critical as there is less likely to be information shared directly by them during this time (similar to the notices being released by federal agencies).

  • As we hear from sponsors on any special considerations and allowable deviations on current grants and contracts, we will post these updates to the following link.   Federal agencies are aware of the current challenges and the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) has developed a repository for both specific agency guidance (as it becomes available) and institutional guidance on mitigating the impacts to research.  COGR has also released an FAQ document regarding COVID-19’s impact on federal awards.

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 “What’s New” webpage.

  • The Office of the University Veterinarian and the Division of Laboratory Animal Health (DLAH) have a staged preparedness plan designed to allow for continued operations as the COVID-19 situation evolves. Information on COVID-19 and related Auburn University policies and practices can be found online.

  • The DLAH has supplies of food, bedding and PPE (face masks, disposable gowns and exam gloves) on-hand in sufficient quantities to allow the program of laboratory animal care to self-sustain for 4 weeks at current census. All personnel associated with the program are cross-trained and personnel within the Auburn University community who have appropriate experience have been identified should it become necessary to recruit additional animal care support.

  • School-, college- or investigator-administered care will continue to be the responsibility of that entity. All are strongly encouraged to plan for potential personnel and supply limitations.

FAQs

  • What will the impact of COVID-19 be on my research program?

At present (March 13, 2020) the impact of COVID-19 on your research animals should be minimal. However, this could change as the COVID-19 situation evolves. You are strongly encouraged to plan ahead and, whenever possible, redirect your research activities to those that do not require animal care and use.

  • What will happen if the public schools and/or university close?

Daily care of animals will continue with limited operations if local schools close. Operations will be further restricted if pandemic conditions are extended. Such changes and their implications for animal care and use will be communicated through the Office of the Vice President for Research.

  • Can I still order research animals?

The ability to procure additional animals will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

  • What can I do to help?

We ask that all animal users assist the DLAH with biosecurity by limiting traffic into the vivaria to that which is essential and by re-using PPE whenever possible.

As the University remains operational, for all grants/contracts in which project-related activities continue without disruption, all applicable salaries/fringe benefits should continue to be charged accordingly.

As a reminder, if you are the principal investigator of a grant/contract and you anticipate that your deliverables will be delayed by offsite work or staff disruptions, please contact your program officer or technical point of contact immediately to let them know of your work plan adjustments and copy the Office of Sponsored Programs (ospadmn@auburn.edu) on the communication. The appropriate OSP Contract Administrator will be made aware of the notice.

Currently, there remains uncertainty related to what federal agencies will be allowing in regard to the charging of salaries/fringe benefits to sponsored programs for which a disruption causes effort to be curtailed, however the Office of Management and Budget has released OMB Memo M-20-11 (“Administrative Relief for Recipients and Applicants of Federal Financial Assistance Directly Impacted by the Novel Coronavirus”) and OMB Memo M-20-17 (“Administrative Relief for Recipients and Applicants of Federal Financial Assistance Directly Impacted by the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) due to Loss of Operations”) with the intention of providing flexibility to federal agencies in their application of 2 CFR 200. Note that this is not direct guidance to recipients of federal financial assistance.

Currently, NIH is the only agency that has publicly announced their intent to incorporate this flexibility via NOT-OD-20-086:

Cost Related Flexibilities/Expenditure of Award Funds - Salaries:

NIH understands that many researchers may be unable to work as a result of or related to the effects of COVID-19. If a recipient organization’s policy allows for the charging of salaries and benefits during periods when no work is performed due to the effect of COVID-19, regardless of the funding source, including Federal and non-Federal, then such charges to NIH grant awards will be allowable.

Reminder: NIH awarding Institutes/Centers (ICs) may request documentation to confirm the requirements of institutional policies.

At this time, the Department of Defense will only allow recipients to charge salaries and benefits to currently active awards for work actually performed to meet the project activities, regardless of the location where those duties are performed (i.e., telework eligible). Some allowable activities may include -- e.g., data analysis, preparation of articles and papers based on the analysis of the research findings, monitoring sub-recipients, care of research animals, direct charged administrative costs, etc.

If agency-specific guidance has not been issued salaries should be charged to unrestricted funds until further clarification is issued. If salary/wage transfers are appropriate at a later date, CGA will waive the 90-day transfer deadline, given the extraordinary circumstances.

A matrix is being developed to reflect agency guidance related to salaries as information is released. This document will be shared as more agencies provide their plan. In addition, sponsor information related to COVID-19 (deadline extensions, contact information, administrative guidance) is being shared via the OVPRED website (COVID -19 Information Received from Sponsors). For more information, visit the university’s COVID-19 information page and sign up for daily email updates.

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.

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.