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Careful planning

Expansion of some on-campus research activities, resumption of some fieldwork


By Dr. Neil Bose

I am very pleased to be writing at this time to advise that the St. John’s campus will move to YELLOW Level of the COVID-19 Research Working Group Framework, effective Tuesday, March 16.

At that time, we will expand the access to on-campus research spaces and resume low-risk fieldwork within the province, subject to some restrictions. At this time, research that involves face-to-face interactions with research participants must remain paused or be carried out virtually.

First and foremost, consistent with the appeals from the chief medical officer of health, researchers who are able to carry out their research remotely should continue to do so, regardless of the provincial alert level.

Researchers on the St. John’s campus who are unable to carry out their research remotely, and whose activities meet the following criteria, can be approved to resume research activities as summarized below:

(1)   On-campus research activities that can be carried out without exceeding density limits for research spaces and that follow approved activity-specific Health and Safety Plans may resume. In all cases, the individuals involved in the requested activities must not take unreasonable personal risks in coming to and going from campus (e.g. driving in shared vehicles with others outside of their household).

(2)   At this time, density limits have been set at greater than 225 square feet per person within a shared on-campus space. Multiple researchers may access a space coincidentally subject to not exceeding density limits; maintaining physical distancing; using appropriate personal protective equipment; and defining and following cleaning protocols. It will be important that the requests use the COVID-19 density calculator (here), with appropriate adjustments to account for equipment/etc., for each room that access is being sought. Where density limits can’t be met, a schedule of access must be included in the request to demonstrate that a plan for safe access has been prepared. Similarly, this will be required for spaces that will be shared among different research groups. Deans (or delegates) will need to track densities and co-ordinate across requests to ensure that approved activities are appropriately scheduled so that density limits (225 square feet) are not exceeded.

(3)   Where on-campus research spaces are unable to accommodate the number of researchers requesting access to a space, or where staggered scheduling of spaces is not possible, priority for access to research spaces will be given to the following:

a. research activity involving undergraduate honours students, thesis-based graduate students, initially those close to completing their degrees, and post-doctoral fellows close to completing their terms of appointment;

b. research activity by disproportionally affected researchers in accordance with equity, diversity and inclusion principles;

c. research activity that involves external partners or funding bodies that have not indicated flexibility under the COVID-19 circumstances, and which have end dates that are within 12 months of the request being made; and,

d. time-sensitive and deadline-driven research that cannot be adapted or carried out remotely.

(4)   Time-sensitive, high-priority, low-risk, in-province fieldwork (except in Labrador) that complies with Memorial travel restrictions. At this time, fieldwork must not include overnight stays nor multiple individuals travelling in the same vehicle.

(5)   Activity-specific Health and Safety Plans must include a briefing of all members of the research team about the scope of the approved activities and the measures in the Health and Safety Plan. There have been some concerns raised about whether the members of research teams, and in particular graduate students, are aware of the scope of approved research requests and of the health and safety plans. Deans (or delegates) must confirm that this briefing is included in Health and Safety Plans prior to submitting the request to Environmental Health and Safety (EHS). Also, there needs to be a procedure defined within the Health and Safety Plans for record-keeping for the purpose of contact tracing and a protocol for working alone where that is part of the request.

The YELLOW Level request form for access to on-campus research spaces is available here, and the request form for fieldwork is available here. Please ensure that full details regarding the criteria noted above are clearly addressed on the request forms and the activity-specific Health and Safety Plans.

In all cases where graduate students or post-doctoral fellows are to be involved in on-campus research activities, the approval of the dean of the School of Graduate Studies (deansgs@mun.ca) is required prior to submission of the request.

Deans, or delegates, will review requests and submit those that fit the criteria noted above to EHS with a copy to research.requests@mun.ca. When EHS has advised deans of its approval of the activity-specific Health and Safety Plans or any required changes, final approvals will be communicated to researchers by their deans, or delegates, along with any changes to the scope of approved activities or to the activity-specific Health and Safety Plans.

If you are making a request that requires support from other units (e.g. CREAIT, Animal Care, Technical Services, Library, etc.), please confirm such support is available from those units prior to submitting a request and copy the appropriate person in the support unit on the request. Please note that support units are also all impacted by the immediate COVID-19 situation. Also, each of these support units will have their own Health and Safety Plans, which must be followed by individuals receiving support from these units.

With careful planning of research activities within your academic units and with attention to the health and safety of our researchers, I am confident that we can quickly resume many research activities that were paused in mid-February. We look forward to further resuming activities as the province moves to lower alert levels.

Thank you once again for your continued co-operation in these unusual times.

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