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COVID-19 Research Update: March 25, 2020

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

As I write to you this morning, I would like to emphasize that we are continuing in our present research status of reduced operations where as much work is done remotely as possible, and any laboratory-based activity is done safely while practicing social distancing. The next step is to help us reach a final agreement on the essential lab activities which will continue if the status changes to an essential-only condition.

The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has had the opportunity to review the ~ 500 contingency plans from UT Knoxville, the UT Institute of Agriculture, the UT Space Institute, and the Graduate School of Medicine. The EOC is now developing a coordinated campus-level approach for supporting the implementation of these plans, if needed. Their present focus is on the plans that have self-identified as “essential.”

Essential research activities, as determined by the university leadership include:

  • Research related to COVID-19
  • A limited number of approved long-term experiments (e.g., involving organisms or slow chemical/physical processes that would cause near complete loss of the experimental results), while not allowing any secondary experiments or material characterizations
  • A variety of necessary maintenance and safety operations (e.g., animal and plant care, freezers, refrigerators, cryogenic liquids supply, gas cylinder replacement, weekly monitoring of key laboratory equipment, etc.)
  • Other essential on-campus research activities as approved specifically by the Vice Chancellor for Research

Having completed this review of the submitted contingency plans, we now need to work together to reach an agreement on a finalized set of laboratory-level contingency plans with approved essential activities.

Bill Dunne will be emailing the appropriate Deans, ADRs and other research leaders with reviews of the submitted contingency plans where activities were self-identified as essential. Please have department heads and research center directors discuss these plans and EOC comments internally with lab leaders, work through any issues, and preferably resolve issues at this level.  Colleges and campus-level research centers for all of their subordinate units would then provide two types of coordinated feedback to the EOC lead, Bill Dunne:

  • Requests for revision of an EOC review decision concerning identified essential activities
  • Any additional information related to the essential activities needed to achieve campus-level coordination

Our intention is to complete this review and finalize the laboratory-level contingency plans for essential activities by Friday, March 27.  Any requests for revision should be submitted sooner, if possible.  Overall, the goal of this process is to arrive at a finalized list of activities that would continue if the university did move to an essential-only status, so that we can then collectively achieve this status safely and expediently through coordination with labs, Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), campus security, and facilities services.

Matthew Mench
Interim Vice Chancellor for Research

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