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Research update

Statement from vice-president (research) regarding research activities


By Dr. Neil Bose

As you are aware, the COVID-19 situation in the province is changing rapidly, as are public health directives and advice.

This has necessitated a further change from what was communicated in my statement from Feb. 10.

The objective of this change is to support the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s “circuit breaker” and help reduce the community spread of COVID-19 by reducing interactions between people as a result of coming and going from our campuses and by eliminating the need for the vast majority of our faculty, staff and students to leave their homes at this time.

In view of the COVID-19 developments in the St. John’s metro region, I am writing to advise that the St. John’s, Signal Hill, Marine Institute and Labrador Institute campuses will be reverting to Level 5 of the COVID-19 Research Working Group (CRWG) Framework for a Phased Approach to Returning to On-Campus Research Spaces, Fieldwork and Face-to-Face Interactions with Research Participants.

We hope that this will be a short-term change and that we will be able to ramp research activity back up to recent levels when the circuit breaker has achieved its objective. This change does not apply to Grenfell Campus at this time.

Monday, Feb. 15, deadline

For the campuses of Memorial that will operate under Level 5, all research, including on-campus research, fieldwork and research involving face-to-face interactions with research participants that was approved at Levels 4, 3 or 2 or which was commenced outside of the framework, must be suspended immediately.

In an effort to allow for an orderly transition, researchers have until 5 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in order to shut down their research spaces and to retrieve any research materials they wish to have in their possession during the circuit breaker.

Please note that the ability to provide this transition period depends on COVID-19 developments in the province over the next couple of days. As a result, researchers should not delay in their transition activities.

Reasonably delayed?

For the duration of the circuit breaker, I am only prepared to consider requests from deans or school heads, or their delegates, for on-campus activities related to (1) critical COVID-19 research, (2) essential clinical trials or (3) critical research continuity activities.

Examples of critical research continuity activities include access to research spaces for the purpose of feeding and caring for animals used in research; securing or servicing research equipment that cannot be simply turned off for the duration of the circuit breaker; and one-time access to research spaces to retrieve or secure data or other research materials.

Before making a request for access for research continuity activities, please ask yourself if this access could reasonably be delayed for a couple of weeks without a significant impact on the research program or progress. If the answer is yes, please do not make a Level 5 access request.

If you are making a request that requires support from other units (e.g., CREAIT, Animal Care Services, Technical Services, Library, etc.), you must confirm such support is available from those units before submitting a Level 5 request.

Please note that support units are also all impacted by the immediate COVID-19 situation. In terms of Animal Care Services, animal orders are suspended for the next two weeks at which time it will be re-evaluated.

Research exemptions

In March/April 2020, and prior to formalizing the CRWG process, a number of researchers had made “research exemption” requests for activities, many of which relate to animal care needs or servicing sensitive research instruments.

These requests fit under Level 5 of the framework and can continue uninterrupted but researchers must complete the Level 5 request form, including the Health and Safety Plan, so that the details of the activity, individuals involved and locations involved are up to date and can be reviewed by EHS. This must be done immediately.

As described in the framework, students involved in activities with approved access must be supervised during their access to research spaces. There are also strict expectations for activity-specific Health and Safety Plans, including limiting access to only those personnel named in the request, adherence to density limits, physical distancing and enhanced cleaning activities, for any approved research activities.

Health and Safety Plans

Health and Safety Plans must be included in requests and must be reviewed, amended and approved by Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), or the campus health and safety authority in the case of the Marine Institute, prior to the commencement of approved activities.

Level 5 access for on-campus research activities must be requested using the on-campus research activities request form here.

Dean or school heads, or their delegates, must review any requests associated with researchers in their units, determine whether the requested activity meets the Level 5 criteria and submit any requests they support to research.requests@mun.ca for consideration by the CRWG.

We will endeavour to respond to these requests quickly, which will be helped by careful due diligence by deans in the initial review of requests and by co-operation with any campus-specific processes noted in the framework.

School heads at the Marine Institute must co-ordinate their requests with the Marine Institute Research Working Group and associate vice-president (MI).

Difficult circumstances

While we wish we never ended up back in this situation, we hope that the circuit breaker period will be a short one.

Through the COVID-19 Research Working Group, during the winter/spring 2020, we developed an effective and efficient process to resume research activities in a manner that was safe during the pandemic.

We will reactivate that process as soon as possible so as to get research activities back up and running.

Thank you once again for your co-operation under these difficult circumstances.

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