Updates and Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)
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COVID-19 Research Facilities

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If you have questions related to faculty scholarship affected by COVID-19, visit Research Central, an online portal to receive your inquiries and requests.

Research in Labs

Consistent with the UT Knoxville Return-to-Work plan, research will continue to operate at a state of reduced activities.  Beginning June 8, permissible laboratory work in Phase 2 is expanded to include exploratory, longer-term, and other research in addition to that required for contractual obligations, student progress, and operational maintenance.

  • Remote work is still encouraged whenever possible, and the lab environment should not be used for activities that can instead occur off-campus.  Work in laboratories should continue to follow the approved health safety plan for the lab.
  • All employees at UT Knoxville and the UT Institute of Agriculture who are included in laboratory health safety plans should also complete their Return-to-Work training.
  • Requests for approval of long-term experiments: Should conditions related to the pandemic worsen in the future, the research activity level for the university could be rapidly decreased. Therefore, if a longer-term experiment is initiated that is unable to end in five days without loss of experimental results/purpose, a request to approve the continuation of a long-term experiment should be submitted. An approval request is filed by submitting the request form in Veoci for review by appropriate departmental safety officers, department head, research center director and/or associate dean for research.  If approved by these parties, the request will be considered by Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Matthew Mench (mmench@utk.edu) for final review/approval.
  • Reopening laboratories requires the creation and approval of a laboratory health safety plan by the appropriate departmental safety officers, department head, research center director and/or associate dean for research for each room that will be reopened.  The approved plan must be in place prior to lab reopening, along with posting of the plan in the lab, training of all lab personnel about the plan, and signing of the posted plan by all lab personnel who will work in the lab.

In case of an infection or suspected infection in a research lab, studio, or creative space, please follow the Guide to COVID-19 Infection Response and the Checklist for Achieving Safe Voluntary Hibernations or Required Shutdowns for Research Laboratories. These documents build on the more general campus guidance for when a case of COVID-19 is reported.

Visitors to Laboratories

Please limit any laboratory visitors to those absolutely necessary (e.g. equipment repair and training). Before visiting or entering the laboratory areas, please modify the health safety plan to add visitors to the plan and gain approval. If approved, the self-screening should be administered to the visitor(s) prior to arrival to determine if they should be permitted to come to campus. If they are permitted to visit, have visitors read, sign, and comply with the approved laboratory health safety plan, ensuring that proper PPE are available for them.

When a PI is hosting a visitor (e.g., technical support, collaborative researcher, etc.) from off campus, which should still be rare at present, but perhaps more common in the Fall semester, they now have TWO steps to perform:

The form is a simple request for information: name of visitor, location(s) of visit, date(s) of visit, contact information including email of the host, affirmation of approval to visit by host and submission date for the entry. Thus, it is straightforward to complete and should be done on the day (first day of a multi-day visit) of the visit.

Important to Note:

Self-screening should occur every day of a multi-day visit, whereas completing this form only needs to occur on the first day. Also, should a visitor fail the self-screening during their intended visit, this event should be reported to department head/center director and ADR/center director, so that it can be reported to the EOC, because the “self-isolation form” for the University only applies to our staff, faculty and students, and not our visitors.

Please be aware that this additional process is only for use with visitors to research laboratories and groups and not for other types of visitors to campus. Further, a different process is to be used with persons who would come to campus to participate in human subjects research and that process is described at irb.utk.edu/covid-19/.

Field Research Activities 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, UT and UTIA personnel may continue to conduct field research activities as long as guidelines for reducing risk and exposure to COVID-19 are followed and do not conflict with current state, federal and international travel restrictions. Field research activities, including travel, should be suspended in localities that have declared a shelter in place order in response to COVID-19 community spread. Planned routes of travel to and from field locations should be developed to either circumvent these areas or minimize encounters with the general public and local authorities while transiting through.

Personnel conducting field research should consult with their department head and associate dean for research to decide which studies are necessary and which studies can be postponed. If field travel is deemed necessary, researchers must submit a plan for review before field activities commence that recognizes and incorporates current health-safety guidelines. For approved field research activities, personnel must practice social distancing for all activities, including travel to and from the research field site. Personnel should also work with a partner if at all possible and inform their supervisor of their location and when they will return.

Researchers should strongly consider delaying all field research activities involving contacts with multiple people (e.g., field work in towns, cities and other high population density areas, visits to archives, libraries, museums, public exhibits, art galleries, any in-person polling of the public, etc.) that cannot be successfully carried out while following CDC COVID-19 guidelines.

The following planning and preparation recommendations to minimize risks should be followed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Continue to monitor federal and state orders with respect to access and keep current on updated UT COVID-19 information and support: utk.edu/coronavirus
  • Maintain robust communication to receive updates or get assistance; maintain a frequent check in schedule.
  • For overnight trips, ensure extra lodging is available to maintain social distancing, i.e. single rooms, single
  • Even for small groups, discuss transportation options to maintain social distancing; avoid public transportation and other venues that may conflict with CDC
  • Blend traveling in vehicles and maintaining social distancing practices will be complex; so please be thoughtful about approaches to minimize exposure and

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Community Engaged Research

Similar to field research, community engaged research moves research activities off-campus and may require additional procedures and/or restrictions that ensure the safety of researchers, community partners, and community/student participants. The broad range of activities that sometimes accompany community engaged research often overlaps with other aspects of academic life, such as service-learning and volunteer activities.

For additional guidance on processes and plan development during Phase 2, researchers involved with community engaged research should consult with Marisa Moazen in the office of research; those with questions involving community outreach and engagement should contact Javiette Samuel.
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Core Facilities

University core facilities are still operational at this point and should follow the same guidance as research in laboratories. If you have questions regarding core facilities, contact Jon Phipps at jphipps.utk.edu.

Core facilities with contact information and current status:

Core Facility Location Contact Email Status
Advanced Microscopy and Imaging Center (AMIC) SERF 101 Andreas Nebenfeuhr nebenfeuhr@utk.edu Reduced
Biological and Small Molecule Mass Spectrometry Core (BSMMSC) Buehler 613 Hector Castro hcastrog@utk.edu Standard
CEB Bioimaging Center SERF 732 Steve Ripp saripp@utk.edu Reduced
Ion Beam Materials Laboratory Senter 101 Bill Weber wjweber@utk.edu Reduced
JIAM Advanced Photoelectronic Spectrometer Lab JIAM G029 Paolo Vilmercati pvilmer1@utk.edu  Suspended
JIAM Electromagnetic Properties Lab (JIAM EMP) JIAM G026 Han Zhang hzhang98@utk.edu Normal Operations
JIAM Electron Microscopy JIAM 138 John Dunlap jrdunlap@utk.edu Contact Facility Manager
JIAM Molecular Beam Epitaxy Lab JIAM G029 Paolo Vilmercati pvilmer1@utk.edu  Standard
JIAM Micro-Processing Research Facility (MPRF) JIAM 2nd floor cleanroom Eric Lukosi lukosi@utk.edu Standard
JIAM X-Ray Diffraction JIAM 224/228 Michael Koehler mkoehler@utk.edu Standard
Laboratory for Environmental Archaeology McClung Museum Howard Cyr hcyr@utk.edu Reduced
Polymer Characterization Laboratory (PCL) JIAM 104 Katrina Pangilinan kpangili@utk.edu Standard
User eXperience Lab and Messaging Effects Core (UXL) Communications 230 Rachel Volentine rvolenti@utk.edu Reduced
CEB Next-Gen Sequencing SERF 722b Veronica Brown vabrown@utk.edu  Contact Facility Manager
UT Genomics Core Mossman 347A Joe May bioseq@utk.edu Standard
UT Water Quality Core Facility Tickle 325 Adrian Gonzalez agonza13@utk.edu Standard
UTIA Genomics Hub 308 Plant Biotech Bldg. Sujata Agarwal sagarwal@utk.edu Standard

Notes

  • Standard Operations: Users may book instrument time and have no access restrictions.  Samples may be delivered to the facility (in person or by mail) and will be received and processed as normal.  Staff will be available during business hours for assistance. Follow standard booking and ordering procedures.
  • Reduced Operations: Users should contact facility staff to reserve instrument time and/or for facility access.  Assisted use and/or training may be temporarily unavailable to comply with social distancing recommendations.  Services regarding processing samples may be delayed or unavailable. Contact the facility prior to booking instrument time or submitting samples.
  • Essential Operations: Facility staff will be available to conduct work for projects that are long-running and have approval as essential research to utilize a core facility, involve COVID-19-related research identified as essential, or have approval to through appeal to the Vice Chancellor for Research to be classified as essential and to utilize a core facility. Users must contact the facility director prior to booking instruments or submitting samples.
  • Suspended Operations: Staff will be unavailable to assist users at this time and the core facility will be closed. Please contact the core facility for updates or further information.

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Cleaning Lab Equipment

Cleaning, disinfecting the outside of anaerobic chamber or glove box

  • If this is compatible with the conditions on the external surface of the chamber first, clean the surface(s) with a detergent or soap and water.
  • For disinfection, wipe surfaces thoroughly with a 70% alcohol solution, or use a 10% bleach solution provided these solutions are compatible with the surface (check manufacturer recommendations).

Decontaminating a biosafety cabinet

  • Allow the cabinet to continue to run.
  • Close all primary containers. Wipe down exterior surfaces of containers with appropriate disinfectant (soaked paper towel, gauze, or wipes).
  • Close waste containers, wipe with disinfectant, and discard as for other biohazardous waste.
  • Thoroughly wet all interior surfaces with appropriate disinfectant. Allow to remain wet for contact time (per manufacturer’s instructions) and clean. Note that bleach solutions are corrosive and will “pit” and rust stainless steel over time. If bleach is used, a follow-up rinse with 70% alcohol or mild detergent is recommended.
  • Allow the cabinet to run for 5-10 minutes after disinfection.
  • Turn off cabinet and activate germicidal lamp (optional). Germicidal lamps should be inactivated after 15-20 minutes.

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Removing Research Equipment or Materials

Transfer of on-going on-campus laboratory-based research to off-campus locations during the COVID-19 pandemic will only be approved if the risk of conducting the laboratory-based research on campus cannot be properly mitigated and if the personnel will face a sufficiently reduced risk by moving the laboratory-based research off campus.

The following items cannot be removed from research laboratories or offices for the purposes of conducting research off campus:

  • Equipment that requires recalibration or recertification when moved.
  • Equipment that requires the input of gases or the need for exhaust ventilation.
  • Equipment with non-ionizing radiation like magnetic fields or RF that can affect household items.
  • Equipment requiring power beyond standard 120V/15A (or 20A) home circuits.
  • Equipment that generates high heat or flames (ovens, dryers, furnaces, etc.).
  • Equipment with fast-moving parts, high potential energy, and/or crush or amputation risk.
  • Equipment that will generate hazardous waste per TDEC definitions.
  • Equipment that will give off vapors or fumes that require monitoring of exposure level.
  • Biological or microbiological materials.
  • Chemicals with a 3 or higher on the NFPA Diamond in the blue, red, or yellow diamonds and no symbol in the White
  • No chemicals that require working in a fume hood or w/local exhaust (snorkel) per the chemical product label and/or Safety Data Sheet (SDS).
  • Radiological materials and sealed sources.
  • High powered laser devices Class IIIB or IV; X-Ray radiation generating devices.
  • Animals or other animal-related materials from laboratory animal facilities or research
  • Information or data that by relocation would contravene information security requirements, confidentiality requirements, FERPA requirements, HIPAA requirements and any other institutional or funder requirements with respect to other data types including but not exclusive to PII or purchasing

Faculty may request an exception to conduct laboratory-based research activities off- campus through submission of the Exception Request form to their appropriate academic leadership for review. Initial reviews will be forwarded to the Vice Chancellor for Research for final disposition. Under no circumstances should university off-campus laboratory-based research activities occur without this approval.

Evaluating Options for Remote Work

  • Researchers must perform an initial and periodic self-assessment of non-university spaces utilizing checklist to be provided by EHS.
  • Researchers must undergo a virtual commissioning of the non-university location and equipment configuration including a safety audit utilizing Skype, Zoom, or other platforms with recording capabilities.
  • Researchers may arrange with their PI or lab manager to take notebooks, data storage devices, or computers for remote work.
  • Principal Investigators (PI)\Research Teams should consider whether or not appropriate data security and confidentiality measures can be put in place for research to conduct work at an alternate location, and are compliant with the requirements of the funding award.

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