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COVID-19 Research Update: March 13, 2020

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

This message is a follow-up to yesterday’s message concerning contingency planning for the partial or complete cessation of research-related activities at UT Knoxville and the UT Institute of Agriculture, where at this time, the university continues to be fully operational with respect to research-related activities, but needs to plan for a variety of possibilities.  In addition to research labs, this new message also adds new types of facilities that should be included in this contingency planning: departmental shops and instructional laboratories.

We are now able to provide a link to the contingency plan* that each research lab leader, shop supervisor, and instructional laboratory manager should complete for their facility concerning a plan for cessation of activities in their labs or shops.

All form entries will be placed in a master spreadsheet to which departmental safety officers, department heads, deans, associate deans, and research center directors will have view access.  This view access is intended to enable these facilitators and leaders to ensure that all facilities associated with their unit have included the necessary information for this contingency planning.  Also, the spreadsheet will enable the progressive review process of the submitted contingency plans by March 20.


  • March 17: Appropriate person develops a contingency plan for a facility
  • March 18: Person communicates and discusses plan with the departmental/center safety officer, and department head or research center director to finalize
  • March 19: Department head or director communicates, discusses and finalizes the plans with their college dean or selected delegate (typically an associate dean for research), or supervisor of the center director
  • March 20: The plans from the college and supervisors of groups for research centers and labs provide the plans to ORED and other necessary parties for discussion, revision and approval

The contingency plan link* will enable plans to be submitted for each facility or group of facilities serving a single function for the purpose of resolving potential issues, such as:

  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. Are experiments, materials, animals/plants/insects/etc., or facilities present 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. Ensuring 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? [Note that this requirement is “per room” and not “per facility”.]
  4. Defining 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 a facility 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 facility 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 needs 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 for externally funded research grants/contracts remotely for a period of time if research work cannot be conducted in a lab?
  8. What business functions will need to continue remotely to support a facility 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?

Again, 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.

Thank you for your assistance with developing the set of facilities and operations contingency plans for the University.  Please consider all potential users of the labs you are evaluating in your plans. ORED has also recently posted human and animal research guidance along with university guidance, updates, and information related to COVID-19 at

*All contingency plans have been submitted and are under review. The online form has been closed.

Matthew Mench
Interim Vice Chancellor for Research

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