Coronavirus/COVID-19 Research Continuity Information

The primary resource for information regarding Coronavirus/COVID-19 and the Boston College community can be found here:

University Coronavirus Updates

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research would like to address any potential research issues that might arise.  Therefore, please refer to the information below, and return regularly for updates.  This information will be regularly updated regarding any impacts that could occur.


 

March 29, 2020 Update

The Governor of Massachusetts has extended the stay at home advisory until May 18. Non-essential businesses remain closed and individuals are advised to remain at home.

March 24, 2020 Update

Per the recent guidance from Governor Baker, as of March 24th, only essential staff and research personnel will be permitted on campus and in research laboratories, and this will be solely to engage in critical building and instrument/equipment maintenance functions to ensure minimal disruptions and loss of resources and equipment.   If there are any questions about this policy, please direct them to your department chair or Dean.  

All approved essential personnel permitted to enter campus must follow appropriate health and safety guidelines, starting with standard laboratory safety requirements and adding social distancing, proper frequent handwashing, and routine cleaning of all work surfaces before and after you use equipment or perform any other tasks.  If there are any questions about these guidelines please direct them to the Office of Environmental Health and Safety.

March 17, 2020 Update

Dear Members of the Boston College Research Community,

Given the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic and Governor Baker’s latest recommendations to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we are requiring that all research at Boston College ramp down for a minimum of three weeks by the end of business Friday March 20th, 2020 and with the possibility for a longer period of limited laboratory access. This includes research being conducted by faculty, staff, visiting scientists, undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.

Our major goal at this time is to minimize social interactions and to reduce the density of people in our research settings and laboratories by prioritizing the most critical activities. As much research activity as possible should be conducted remotely or postponed. Note that this not a closure of the university, or complete cessation of all research-related activities, but is intended to allow researchers to be able to continue critical functions while minimizing the spread of the coronavirus. We ask research group leaders to identify contributions that individuals in their group can make while working remotely. Specific instructions for Basic/Wet Laboratory Research, Core Facilities, Human Subjects Research, and Research Involving Vertebrate Animals can be found in the specific sections below.

BC Coronavirus Updates can be found here:
https://www.bc.edu/content/bc-web/sites/updates/coronavirus.html

VPR Research Specific Information can be found here:

https://www.bc.edu/content/bc-web/research/sites/vice-provost-for-research/coronavirus.html


BASIC/WET LABORATORY RESEARCH

All researchers are now asked to initiate a rapid ramp-down strategy to enable remote work to the maximum extent possible. Each Principal Investigator (PI)/Supervisor will be responsible for the generation, distribution, and coordination of a strategic plan that will enable a ramp-down of laboratory research activities by Friday, March 20th. Due to the unique research carried out by different labs, it is important that each laboratory plan for potential disruptions based on the nature of the work conducted. PIs are responsible for providing these strategic plans to their lab members, department chairs, and facilities operations managers by Friday, March 20th at the latest.

It is anticipated that by Friday, March 20th the only activities occurring in research labs will be essential functions to maintain equipment, instruments, samples, reagents, and resources (e.g. cell lines or animal strains). Experiments that are not critical must be postponed. In those instances where critical research cannot be postponed, restrict the work to long-term (ongoing) experiments and activities that would generate significant financial and data loss if not completed; this includes work to maintain critical samples and animal populations. Personnel in research laboratories must follow health and safety guidelines such as social distancing, scheduling shift work when possible, proper frequent handwashing, and routine cleaning of all work surfaces. We expect that the vast majority of researchers work from home as much as possible during this time, thus PIs should identify activities that laboratory members can carry out to conduct research remotely (e.g., data analysis, literature review, manuscript/grant writing, and computational modeling).

Steps you should take to ensure continuity of critical lab functions:

  • Identify critical infrastructure and critical procedures that require daily/weekly personnel attention. Critical infrastructure for example is anything that cannot be simply powered down and walked away from, or whose continued operation is necessary to maintain another critical resource (e.g., tissue cell culture maintenance, 80 freezers, liquid nitrogen storage, animal studies, nitrogen dewars).
  • Identify and prioritize critical laboratory activities.
  • Identify laboratory personnel able to safely perform essential activities, and consider cross-training where appropriate to ensure sufficient back-up if needed.
  • As a guide, research programs should reduce the density in laboratories to 3 or fewer essential personnel, when possible.
  • Require all laboratory personnel/staff performing critical functions to abide by social distancing guidelines.
  • Each Principal Investigator (PI)/Supervisor must have access to contact information for your critical staff and should provide this information to your department/unit business offices.
  • Consider documenting critical step-by-step protocols/instructions.
  • Coordinate with colleagues who have similar research activities to identify ways to ensure cross-coverage of critical laboratory instrumentation, power, 4oC and -20oC refrigerators, and liquid nitrogen storage tanks.
  • Review contingency plans and emergency procedures with all laboratory personnel/staff.
  • Be prepared for some of your laboratory personnel to self-quarantine, fall ill or otherwise be absent.
  • Maintain a sufficient inventory of critical supplies (e.g., tissue culture media, critical gases) that may be impacted by domestic and/or global shipping delays. However, no one should hoard critical supplies like masks.
  • Establish protocols to communicate with members and essential personnel via email, Skype, Zoom, text, etc.
  • Ensure lab security by locking doors and storage cabinets. Have designated / essential personnel perform a security check of the lab when entering and leaving.
  • Chemical storage: Properly cap / seal all chemicals and place into proper storage locations. All gas cylinders should be shut at the source. No chemicals should be left on the bench or in hoods. Flammables should be stored in flammables cabinets.
  • Biological samples / animals: Designate essential personnel to monitor and manage cell cultures, biological samples, animals, etc. as needed. Have all biological and hazardous waste removed or properly stored and declared for pickup.
  • Contact the Director of Environmental Health & Safety, Gail Hall, gail.hall@bc.edu, 617-552-0300, with any questions or concerns.  


CORE FACILITIES

Boston College core facilities and recharge centers will be ramping down activities. This includes: The Center for Isotope Geochemistry, Flow Cytometry, the Imaging Facility, the Mass Spectrometry Center, the Magnetic Resonance Center (MRC), Scientific Instrumentation and Machining Services (SIMS), and the X-ray Crystallography Center, the Scanning Electron Microscope and Transmission Electron Microscope Facilities (SEM/TEM), the Clean Room and Nanofabrication Facility (CRNF), and the Animal Care Facility (ACF).

During this time core facility personnel will focus their efforts on preventing loss of instruments, equipment, resources, reagents, and samples. Health and safety will be the top priority, and as with other research laboratory spaces, core staff should work from home whenever possible. Core staff should identify activities that they can carry out remotely (e.g., data analysis, literature review, manuscript/grant writing, and computational modeling) and they should be available by phone and/or email. When presence in the lab is essential social distancing and other protective measures such as proper frequent handwashing and routine cleaning of all work surfaces should be followed.

If PIs/facility users absolutely require core facilities for key critical and essential experiments, these must be approved in advance, in writing from VPR (chilest@bc.edu), Executive Director of Research Infrastructure (Joshua.rappoport@bc.edu), and the respective core facility head. Please note that given the evolving nature of this current situation, access to core facilities cannot be assured even for any possible essential experiments.

Steps you should take to ensure continuity of critical lab functions:

See above, as appropriate


HUMAN SUBJECTS RESEARCH

Ongoing research activities involving face-to-face interactions with participants, including new enrollment for studies involving face-to-face human subjects, must stop immediately until further notice. This applies to domestic and international human subjects research for which BC is the only or the primary IRB. From a regulatory perspective, this is considered a temporary pause in human subjects research activities for those studies impacted.

Ongoing Human Subjects Research Activities that Do Not Involve Face-To-Face Interactions:

Research activities that do not involve face-to-face interactions with human research subjects may continue. For studies that do not currently use remote/virtual participation, you may submit an amendment to include this flexibility where appropriate, and the IRB will review it as soon as possible.

Pending IRB Submissions for Human Subjects Research:

The IRB will continue to review and approve pending submissions, and will prioritize amendments proposing to move data collection activities to an online or phone format. For studies involving face-to-face interactions that do not meet the above exceptions, the IRB will review the study, but explicitly note that enrollment cannot start until the above restrictions are lifted.

New IRB Submissions for Human Subjects Research:

Please note that the IRB will be prioritizing amendments to existing studies that need to change their method of data collection. Therefore, review of new protocols may be delayed. However, you may continue to submit new protocols for studies that do not include face-to-face interaction, or studies that will not enroll participants for face-to-face interactions at this time.

Research Labs Engaging in Human Research:

All on-campus labs that collect human subjects data in person must stop in-person interactions with research participants immediately. PIs and lab managers should make immediate plans to have team members continue research activities remotely. If it is absolutely necessary for lab members to be physically present in the lab, personnel must follow health and safety guidelines such as social distancing, scheduling shift work when possible, proper frequent handwashing, and routine cleaning of all work surfaces. If you need to discuss an exception to this policy, please contact Erin Sibley at erin.sibley@bc.edu or 617.552.1758.

Notification of Research Sponsors, Funders, and Other Oversight Bodies:

If the study needs to be paused, please notify any sponsors and funding agencies based on guidance in your award notice, agreement or contract.

If you have any questions, please contact irb@bc.edu or call the Office for Research Protections at 617.552.4778. Our staff will be checking voicemail between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm and will respond to your call as soon as possible.


RESEARCH INVOLVING VERTEBRATE ANIMALS

The Animal Care Facility staff will continue to provide the standard level of service and animal husbandry. As described above, all animal labs are being asked to ramp down for at least the next three weeks (and perhaps for longer). If it is absolutely necessary for lab members to be physically present in the lab, personnel must follow health and safety guidelines such as social distancing, scheduling shift work when possible, proper frequent handwashing, and routine cleaning of all work surfaces.

The PI of each lab must send a brief plan describing how they will ramp down research and limit the number of lab personnel in the facility to Erin Sibley (erin.sibley@bc.edu) by Friday March 20th, and she will forward this to the appropriate offices in the university.


OFFICE OF SPONSORED PROGRAMS

The following links will provide guidance in relation to the COVID-19 associated with proposal submissions and award management from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health:

National Science Foundation:
https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2020/nsf20053/nsf20053.jsp

National institute of Health: FAQ’s and guidance:
https://grants.nih.gov/grants/natural_disasters/corona-virus.htm

If you have questions in regard to other sponsoring agencies, please reach out to your respective PreAward contact in OSP. If you have any other OSP-related questions please reach out to Sharon Comvalius-Goddard sharon.comvalius-goddard@bc.edu and Susan Hoban susan.hoban@bc.edu


ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH AND SAFETY (EHS)

During the time that laboratories are minimally staff or closed, it is important that certain personnel at the University know what essential activities are being maintained, who will be maintaining them, and who can be contacted in an emergency. Sharing this information protects your lab and the University. We are asking that you provide this information to your Chair and Operations Manager. EHS will create a limited access Google Drive location where these documents will be stored.

Additional guidelines and checklist for laboratory ramp-down can be found on the Environmental Health and Safety website: https://www.bc.edu/offices/publicsafety/ehs.html   


 

March 13, 2020 Update


Per current BC guidance
:

  • Anyone who is showing signs of fever or respiratory symptoms, must stay home, limit contact with others, and consult with their health care provider.  Anyone returning from overseas should self-quarantine at home for 14 days.
    • This applies to all BC faculty, staff, and students.
    • Any external individuals involved in BC-sponsored or -hosted research should be informed of this policy as soon as possible.
       
  • All on-campus academic events, and University-sponsored travel to international and domestic locations, have been suspended, unless approved by the Provost, Executive Vice President, or the Office of the President.
    • This applies to events such as courses, workshops, meetings, conferences, and seminars.
    • Researchers should consider using teleconferencing as an alternative as appropriate.
       

Further research specific information:

  • Principal Investigators (PIs) / lab heads should consider compiling the following, and posting or distributing to all relevant personnel as appropriate:
    • Current contact information for each member of a research laboratory/team;
    • A list of any instruments or equipment that require specific maintenance or upkeep, or that have specific shutdown procedures;
    • A list of any samples or reagents that have specific storage needs.
       
  • PIs/lab heads should coordinate with research laboratory/team members to assess consumable and reagent inventories so as to ensure research can be sustained if any disruptions in the supply chain occurs.  However, no one should hoard critical supplies like masks.

  • PIs/lab heads should ensure that all hazardous materials (radioactive, biohazards, chemicals) are secured.

  • PIs with pending grant application/reporting deadlines should reach out to contacts at OSP for information on any specific guidance from funders regarding possible delays or disruptions.
  • The IRB is currently not reviewing new protocols proposing domestic or international travel, so that amendments to current studies that need to change their method of data collection can be prioritized.  If you have any questions, please contact Erin Sibley (see contact details below).

  • If you plan on leaving the USA and working remotely on research activities, please contact Taylor Green and Sharon Comvalius-Goddard (see contact details below).

We appreciate the efforts all Boston College researchers are making to ensure that the important work in our labs and other research sites is able to continue.  Please reach out to the colleagues listed below with any questions that might arise.


Important Contacts

Thomas C. Chiles
Vice Provost for Research and Academic Planning
DeLuca Chair in Biology
617-552-6840
chilest@bc.edu

Guillermo Nuñez
Executive Director, Research Administration
617-552-3541
guillermo.nunez@bc.edu

Joshua Rappoport
Executive Director, Research Infrastructure
617-552-0953
rappopoj@bc.edu

 

Sharon Comvalius-Goddard
Director, Office for Sponsored Programs
617-552-8259
sharon.comvalius-goddard@bc.edu

Gail Hall
Director, Environmental Health and Safety
617-552-0300
gail.hall@bc.edu

Erin Sibley
Director, Office for Research Protections
617-552-1758
erin.sibley@bc.edu

Taylor Green
Assistant Director, Export Controls and International Research
617-552-1144
taylor.green.2@bc.edu