Updates and Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)
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COVID-19 Research Update: March 12, 2020

Memo from Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Matthew Mench regarding research continuity during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. 

The Office of Research and Engagement (ORE) is working with university leadership to plan for potential impacts of the COVID-19 virus and related disruptions. It is important to note that campus remains open, and although people are highly encouraged to practice social distancing and maintain a high level of hygiene, there are no restrictions on research activity. The basic laboratory and infrastructure of the campus supporting research and creative activities (hereafter all termed as “research”) remains active ORE continues to function with all services, so that proposals can still be written and submitted, and support will be available as most operations can be done remotely.

At this point, however, it is important to plan for contingencies and think about what may happen in the event that certain campus functions, persons including in research groups, and/or buildings become unavailable due to COVID-19. Because you, as research leaders, know your own labs and potential risks, you are best-equipped to define scenarios and help develop contingency plans for partial cessation or cessation of operations. At this point, we are asking you to develop a contingency plan within a week, communicate and discuss this plan with your departmental/center safety officer, and department head or research center director to finalize.  Then, your department head or director will communicate, discuss and revise the plans with their college dean or selected delegate (typically an associate dean for research), or supervisor of the center director.  The plans from the College and from supervisors of groups for research centers and labs will be shared with ORE and other necessary parties for discussion, revision and approval (by March 20).

The plans developed should consider these potential issues:

  1. Are there any safety issues that would emerge if labs in your department/college were shut down for any given length of time?
  2. Do you have experiments, materials, animals/plants/insects/etc., or facilities that must continue to operate and/or be preserved during a cessation or partial cessation?  What would be the minimum oversight and supervision required for these required operations and/or preservation?  Who is sufficiently trained and experienced to perform the needed oversight/supervision for your lab (“lab” includes a research program with multiple rooms)?
  3. How would you ensure that more than one occupant is present per active lab room to achieve the minimum level of necessary safety for personnel should the lab room need to remain operational?
  4. What would be the sequence of events for the complete shutdown of operations in your lab, including progressive reduction in active personnel and necessary time to safely achieve cessation?  If your lab has essential operations/preservation as defined in #2, what are the sequence of events for the partial shutdown of operations in your lab, including progressive reduction in active personnel and necessary time to safely achieve partial cessation?
  5. What assistance beyond your lab personnel are needed to complete a safe cessation of lab operations, or if #2 applies to a portion of lab operations, a safe partial cessation of lab operations (e.g., Facilities Services, Environmental Health and Safety, etc.).
  6. Who do you need to inform of any changes in plans/operations, how would you inform and what would be the focus of the information that you would provide?
  7. What work can be done on your research grants/contracts remotely for a period of time if research work cannot be conducted in your lab?
  8. What business functions will need to continue remotely to support your laboratory during a cessation or partial cessation? Will items need to be ordered, delivered and/or installed/deployed to maintain safe operation of any equipment that is still operating after cessation/partial cessation?

While the campus remains open and we have no plans to curtail research, we do want to minimize potential disruption by:

  • Providing guidance to the university research community.
  • Protecting our students, employees, and the community who are at higher risk for adverse health complications from COVID-19;
  • Reducing the risk of transmission among University community members;
  • Maintaining research operations and research support services;
  • Being prepared to perform a safe and orderly cessation or partial cessation of research operations, should that become necessary.

University guidance, updates, and information related to research activities and COVID-19 are continuously being developed and can be found at utk.edu/coronavirus.  Please point all online traffic toward this site for updates, and avoid posting other documents elsewhere that may become out of date. Thank you all for your support and help to help us navigate through this period of time.

Matthew Mench
Interim Vice Chancellor for Research


Read the latest COVID-19 research updates from the Office of Research and Engagement.