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COVID-19 Research Update: June 5, 2020

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

Progressing to Phase 2

  1. Research Activity Level during Phase 2: 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 myself ( 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.
  1. Human subjects research: The IRB has designated that all research activities involving in-person contact with participants must be postponed or remain on hold. Procedures that do not require in-person contact with participants that have been approved by IRB can continue.  If appropriate to the research, investigators may submit protocol changes to the IRB that change procedures to those that do not require in-person contact. Investigators may also submit new protocols for review that include in-person contact so as to be ready to immediately start research when in-person contact is allowed by IRB.
  2. Research Activities Involving Use of Animals. Animal welfare is our primary concern and we will all work together to ensure that ethical care is delivered without interruption. Longer-term research activities involving UT-owned animals may resume in accordance with ORED Guidelines for on-campus research activity. Prior to resumption of longer-term animal studies, researchers must submit an approval request for review that describes the need and incorporates current health-safety guidelines. As always, studies must use approved IACUC protocols and be coordinated with the animal facilities supervisor/manager or OLAC following the approval of the request to ensure that sufficient resources and personnel are available to support the activities. Research activity level could decrease suddenly should COVID-19 pandemic conditions worsen, therefore researchers should consider delaying initiation of animal studies when there would be insufficient resources to shut down within five days and restart at a later date. Prior to initiating an approval request, please contact the IACUC Office ( or OLAC ( for additional assistance as lab animal facilities1 are currently operating with reduced staffing and animal populations and may not have the capacity to support large or rapid increases in animal-based research activities. Studies involving large animals conducted at the UTIA AgResearch Research and Education Centers or Veterinary Medical Research Center will operate under existing guidelines in place for animal research.
  3. Field Research Work:  Guidance in this category remains the same, with instructions found here.  As a reminder, 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.
  4. Travel: If there is a circumstance where you believe university-related out-of-state travel must occur, you may submit a request for an exception by emailing the request to Requests will be reviewed by senior university leadership.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Thank you for continuing to help us all move safely forward!