Research Continuity Guidance for Georgetown University Laboratories and Research Groups

March 16, 2020 

In recognition of the developing emergency of the COVID19 pandemic, we must now take steps to minimize the spread of the virus, while safeguarding our most vital research operations and assets. Effective immediately, Georgetown University’s policy is that all Georgetown researchers must work remotely with very limited exceptions.

Research activities that require access to a Georgetown space—office, laboratory or otherwise—are permissible only with express and written decanal approval.  Granted permission will be limited.  For Main Campus investigators, exceptions can only be granted by the Dean of your School; for GUMC investigators, decanal approval should be sought from the Dean of the School of Nursing & Health Studies by NHS faculty, or by the GUMC Dean for Research for other GUMC faculty.  Permission will not be granted for undergraduates to engage in research in a Georgetown space.

Requests for permission to access research sites must be submitted by 5 pm on Monday, March 16 using this form.

Principal Investigators (PIs) and group leaders must implement the following immediately:

  • Do not start new experiments or data collection.
  • Act now to bring existing experiments and studies to a safe stopping point.
  • Designate critical laboratory and other research activities and personnel.
  • If you need approval for access, discuss with your Chair and Dean the basis of the request.
  • Ensure that permitted personnel adhere to best practices for social distancing.

These points are discussed in more detail below.

Permissible research activities: The decision to grant an exception will be based on balancing both the short and long-term impacts of short-term disruption, with the aim of preserving research assets as much as possible, against the potential costs to public health.  We define three types of research activities:

  1. Critical human subject research:
    1. All “non-therapeutic” human subjects research involving face-to-face contact but not the administration of drugs, must shift to remote data collection while maintaining integrity of the research, or be safely stopped. This involves both on- and off-campus human subjects data collection. Please see pertinent guidance from Georgetown and MHRI for information on how to submit an amendment to the relevant IRB to report such protocol modifications.
    2. “Therapeutic studies”, defined here as those that involve the administration of drugs or monitoring of devices that may provide direct therapeutic benefit to study participants are likely to receive quick approval to continue.  Trials with investigational treatments, including drugs and devices, are assumed to provide the potential for therapeutic benefit, and are therefore similarly likely to receive expeditious approval.
    3. To the extent possible, study activities that can be conducted remotely by telephone or online, such as screening or follow-up, should be done in this way.  Please see pertinent guidance from the Georgetown and MHRI IRBs.
  2. Critical laboratory research activities: Projects involving live organisms that are particularly sensitive to interruption, causing severe negative impacts. Examples include:
    1. Environmental/seasonal work on plants/animals – Living organisms need to be maintained and loss of animals/plants will lead to catastrophic loss of data sources and extended (a year or more) impacts on labs. For example:
      1. Mosquito diapause studies
      2. Butterfly responses to climate changes
    2. Live animal studies – Investigators must continue their responsibilities for existing animal colonies and experiments. For example:
      1. Maintenance of rodent breeding colonies
      2. Maintenance of drosophila lines
      3. Completion of already-started animal and plant experiments with time-sensitive protocol requirements or procedures that cannot be temporarily scaled down
    3. Long-term medical research requiring timely processing of samples.
    4. Tissue culture lines that need to be maintained until such time as they can be safely stored.
  3. Non-critical projects – not allowed:  Experimental research that can be paused without severe long-term negative impact on ongoing research will not be allowed to proceed.  This includes microbiological/eukaryotic cell biology work in which strains can be viably frozen, chemical / materials research in which samples can be safely stored, as well as methods development research. It is recognized that this represents a significant disruption to the research efforts of majority of our faculty, students, and postdoctoral fellows involved in experimental science.

Permission for Access: To reduce the number of critical staff to the absolute minimum, all PIs must use this Google form to submit requests for access to research sites by 5pm Monday, March 16.  Requests will be jointly reviewed by both department chairs and deans, with final authority resting with the dean.

  1. Designated workers
    1. Each lab with permission may designate a limited number of “essential” lab members, who would be responsible for maintaining the live experimental material.
    2. The lab head together with the chair should manage schedules to ensure coverage.
    3. No individual may be compelled to come to campus for any purpose.
    4. People who are sick with a fever, cough or shortness of breath should not come to campus.
  2. Access is primarily for maintenance or completion of experiments or already-started and scheduled research procedures
    1. No new experiments/studies may be started without decanel approval.
    2. Existing experiments/studies should be completed as quickly as possible.
    3. Store biological specimens as quickly as possible.  Transfer electronic data to media for remote analysis
    4. Animal colonies need to be maintained, but should be minimized to essential numbers.
    5. No new animal orders or imports will be accepted unless required for survival of specific strains; this will require approval by the DCM Director.
  3. Other emergency personnel – All other labs may designate one or more members who can come in only to deal with emergencies (e.g. essential equipment that needs attention, such as -80 freezers, or liquid nitrogen storage).
  4. Deliveries – In some cases, deliveries may arrive after the labs are restricted. If so please notify the Chair so that a designated worker can safely store the package.

Best Practices: To ensure the most effective social distancing, a minimum of researchers will be allowed on campus.  Those who are granted access should abide by the following guidelines:

  1. The Chair and the PIs will work together to ensure that there are as few personnel as possible in the lab at the same time
    1. Work spaces and staffing must be organized to ensure 6 feet between any two staff members
    2. Stagger schedules to reduce chance of overlap
    1. Limit time in the lab or animal facility
    2. Wear gloves and other personal protective equipment while in the lab or animal facility
    3. Wash/sanitize hands before and after being in the lab environment.
    4. If two people encounter one another, they must stay 6 feet apart.
    5. If any personnel is not feeling well, s/he should not come in!  Have the alternate replace.
  2. To further protect the safety of the personnel
    1. On-campus parking will be provided to ensure that personnel do not need to use public transportation