Last updated Monday March 25, 2021 at 5:30 PM EDT
If you have broader questions relating to COVID-19 and the University's planning, we encourage you to visit the University's COVID-19 website.
Message from the VPRI
The University launched UTogether: A Roadmap for the University of Toronto. It serves as a guide to the community as we undertake the process of returning to research, course instruction and other activities on our campuses in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Regular updates will be made to the roadmap as new guidance, strategies, and related materials become available.
As part of this roadmap, the Division of the Vice-President Research & Innovation has released two documents to guide the recovery and adaptation of research. The Approach for Research Recovery and Adaptation outlines the process and risk assessment considerations for gradual and controlled research recovery and adaptation on and off campus. The COVID-19 Guideline for Reopening Research provides strategies and the University’s requirements for making research spaces ready for re-entry or increased occupancy.
We encourage everyone to review these materials. Academic divisions, UTM and UTSC, and their units must follow the principles, processes and guidelines that are articulated in these documents.
The University of Toronto is committed to the health, safety and wellbeing of all of our community members and to the prevention of occupational injuries and illnesses, which includes current COVID-19 measures. We appreciate how our academic community continues to adapt to new circumstances in these unprecedented times.
Status of Research
The University remains committed to minimizing the transmission of the virus on campus. As such, in accordance with the provincial State of Emergency, all research that can be conducted remotely must be done remotely. Researchers are encouraged to consider alternative procedures for projects that do not disrupt scholarly merit and integrity. The University is advising all members of its community to avoid all non-essential international travel.
If researchers must return to on-campus research because the nature of their work requires them to do so, they must have an approved research recovery plan from their division or unit. To apply, they must submit to their Chair (or Dean in single department faculties) a research recovery request using an approved divisional or unit form. Academic divisions will approve on-campus recovery plans based on the capacity of buildings and research spaces to accommodate increased occupancy based on public health guidance and that include measures such as 2m physical distancing and use of masks. The same process should be used for those who want to modify their previously approved research recovery plan (e.g. if researchers wish to increase the number of people in their lab they need to revise their plan and submit it to their Chair or Dean).
On March 22, 2021, the University’s Research Ethics Boards (REBs) have resumed reviewing limited submissions of face-to-face (F2F) human research as one of two separate review processes. The REB review process will focus as usual on human research ethics issues. There will be a second review process by the Face-to-Face COVID-19 Review Committee (F2FCRC) that will focus specifically on the COVID-19 health and safety risks of the research being proposed, through the review of the principal investigator’s submission of the Face-to-Face and Off-Campus (F2FOC) COVID-19 Review Form. Approvals from both review processes will be required before F2F research activities can commence. Further details are provided in FAQ 3.1 below.
Researchers who wish to conduct research at an off-campus site or conduct on-site field research (e.g. Koffler Scientific Reserve, Hart House Farm, Gull Lake) that does not involve any F2F human participant research must complete the Face-to-Face and Off-Campus (F2FOC) COVID-19 Review Form. Further details are provided in FAQ 9.1 below.
- Faculty members have a responsibility to their staff, students and research participants by staying informed of current University-wide and research-specific guidance. Please ensure that all relevant information is disseminated to applicable research team members and that the University’s guidance is followed.
- Researchers are encouraged to visit the Centre for Research and Innovation Support (CRIS) website which has curated a set of resources for researchers. These new Spotlight pages are updated regularly to respond to the needs of our community.
- Reduce the risk of exposure and transmission of COVID-19 by following all applicable public health precautions
- This page is frequently updated with the latest relevant information on how to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on research and innovation operations across the University. If your question was not answered in any of the resources below, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Updates to 3.1, 9.1, 10.1
1.1 When can I restart my research?
Each academic division will have a process for determining the recovery and adaptation of research including the specific requirements for approval. This process is based on the University of Toronto Approach for Research Recovery and Adaptation and the COVID-19 Guideline for Reopening Research Spaces
Please contact your unit head for information.
1.2 Where do I find more information about how to restart research?
The research recovery and adaptation process is being managed at the divisional level, in harmony with the following university-wide guidance documents:
- University of Toronto Approach for Research Recovery and Adaptation
- COVID-19 Guideline for Reopening Research Spaces
Please contact your unit head for specific information on how the research recovery and restart process is being managed in your division.
1.3 How do I determine whether I need PPE for my research space or lab?
The Environmental Health and Safety Office has outlined the following steps to obtain PPE for research spaces:
- Is PPE Required?
- Review the Guideline for Reopening Research Spaces (Section 6) to determine if physical distancing measures will be appropriate for the research space(s).
- If the assessment indicates that consistent two-metre physical distancing is not possible or is challenging, consider relocating or reassigning workbench areas, relocating equipment, scheduling access, etc. You can also contact your local safety committee and EHS at email@example.com for further assessment on mitigation measures in advance of relying on PPE, or proceed with the required PPE purchasing. As a general rule,masks cannot be used to replace the need for physical distancing. Note that all research restart plans (or plans to increase research capacity) must be approved by the division, including information from your assessment.
- Purchasing:If PPE is required, it can be purchased through the researcher’s existing supply chain (e.g. MedStore, ChemStore).
2.0 Research with Indigenous Communities
2.1 My research is in an Indigenous community. What should I be aware of?
Indigenous populations are at increased risk from COVID-19 for numerous reasons; thus, in-person research with Indigenous individuals and communities is currently not possible. This includes observational research, both on and off-reserve, involving humans, wildlife, and environmental studies on the land. Please see the COVID-19 update from the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health for more information.
3.0 Human Research
3.1 What is the current status of research with human participants?
All research work that can be conducted remotely must be done remotely, and researchers may only work on campus if the nature of the work requires them to be on-site.
Face-to-face (F2F) human participant research where the University’s Research Ethics Boards (REBs) were the Board of Record was previously suspended on November 23, 2020. Given the lifting of the provincial State of Emergency, as of March 22, 2021 the University’s REBs have begun accepting limited submissions of F2F human research as one of two separate review processes. The REB review process focuses on human research ethics issues. The second review process is conducted by the Face-to-Face COVID-19 Review Committee (F2FCRC) and focuses specifically on the COVID-19 health and safety risks of the research being proposed, through the review of the principal investigator’s submission of the Face-to-Face and Off-Campus (F2FOC) COVID-19 Review Form. Approvals from both review processes will be required before F2F research activities can commence.
Acceptance of submissions for F2F research will occur in a stepwise progression based on COVID-19 research risk, beginning with Level 1 research and following prioritization criteria determined by the Research Restart Steering Committee. Information regarding which studies are currently accepted into the process can be found on the Face-to-Face Research Review Status page.
COVID-19 research or F2F research where the participant is receiving a service that would be delivered/received regardless of the research may be submitted for REB review at any time. Researchers should contact firstname.lastname@example.org if they have questions regarding whether their study qualifies. Researchers currently in other regions or countries where public health directives may allow for F2F research to commence may submit their protocols for REB review at any time.
Amendments to pivot to online or virtual methodologies will continue to be reviewed, and all renewals and protocol completion reports will continue to be reviewed to ensure that protocols remain in good standing.
For research where the U of T REB is not the Board of Record (e.g. a TAHSN REB is the Board of Record), researchers should follow the applicable direction of that institution (assuming the in-person research is not on the U of T campus).
4.0 Research Laboratories
4.1 How do I reopen my research space?
Each academic division will have a process for determining the recovery and adaptation of research including the specific requirements for approval. This process is based on the University of Toronto Approach for Research Recovery and Adaptation and the COVID-19 Guideline for Reopening Research Spaces.
Please contact your unit head for information.
4.2 Will hazardous waste pickup continue?
Environmental Protection Services (EPS) are operating normally for hazardous waste operations and chemical spill emergency response. EPS can obtain access to buildings and labs with support from the U of T lockshop and caretaking to pick up biohazardous waste and radioactive waste. If you don't have a regular weekly pickup please contact EPS at (416) 946-3473 or email@example.com to request pickup and/or supplies. The central chemical waste rooms/facilities will continue to be serviced by our contractor as per normal schedules.
If a lab has a large amount of chemicals to be disposed instead of moving them to the building’s central chemical waste storage area you can designate an area in the lab and leave the chemical waste there with a sign indicating 'Chemical waste for disposal'. Call the EPS general line (416-946-3473) or email firstname.lastname@example.org and request a pickup, which will be handled on a first-come first-served basis. Any stable chemicals for disposal that can wait until normal lab research operations resume should be set aside in storage until then.
4.3 If my laboratory staff or trainees are not able to perform their regular duties as a result of the COVID-19 shut-down may I cease payroll commitments to them?
Please refer to FAQ 5.6 for information regarding research-funding supported staff and trainees.
4.4 I sometimes work alone on campus. Are there resources I can access?
4.5 Should masks be worn in the lab?
The University of Toronto’s Policy on Non-Medical Masks or Face Coverings and Joint Provostial and Human Resources Guideline on Non‐Medical Masks requires that a non-medical mask or face covering be worn in all indoor University spaces (including University-owned and leased spaces), whether restricted-access or open to the public, including research areas. All lab members must wear masks. Certain considerations for mask exemption may apply, please visit the General Workplace Guideline (GWG) – Chapter 6.
Masks do not replace the need for two-metre physical distancing, hand washing, and staying home when sick. Non-medical cloth masks can be worn in labs even when using chemicals. Please ensure that you do not touch your mask with gloved hands. If you are working with flammables, your cloth mask should have at least as high a flame resistance rating as your lab coat. For example, if your lab coat needs to be Nomex, your mask’s outer layer should also be Nomex. Please use the General Laboratory PPE Assessment Tool to determine appropriate lab coat material type. Individuals wearing non-medical masks, whether provided by the University or not, are required to clean their masks regularly and replace them periodically following the instructions of the manufacturer and advice of public health authorities.
Medical-grade masks (e.g. N95 respirators or surgical masks) may not be substituted with non-medical masks when medical-grade masks are mandated by EHS to either conduct research or where physical distancing measures are not possible.
Consistent application of the Policy on Non-Medical Masks or Face Coverings and associated guideline documents is important. Only use masks in labs that are applicable and appropriate per the Policy, Joint Provostial and Human Resources Guideline, GWG-Ch 6 and the specific research being conducted within the lab.
4.6 Are there any materials I should avoid in a cloth mask?
Avoid readily combustible plastic fabrics that will melt when ignited. Examples are polypropylene, acrylic, polyester and others.
4.7 Why am I seeing areas closed for special cleaning in the research labs?
All university buildings, including research and teaching spaces are subject to increased cleaning and disinfection as per public health guidance. In addition, the University is taking the proactive step of doing additional cleaning to areas whenever an individual tells us they have COVID-19 related symptoms or report a confirmed case of COVID-19. Additional cleaning should not be interpreted as a sign of a confirmed case. For both symptomatic and confirmed cases, we follow the same procedures of contact tracing and disinfection in our buildings. We also provide community notifications and cleaning notifications to those affected. These notifications are provided out of an abundance of caution and do not signal elevated risk or require any further action by individuals, other than those who are contacted directly by the Health & Safety Office. We have a COVID-19 dashboard that is regularly updated with any confirmed cases on our three campuses.
5.0 Research Funding
5.1 Issues associated with COVID-19 are affecting my ability to undertake key aspects of my funded research project within the original timeframe and budget. What do I do?
During this period of uncertainty and potential related delay/interruption to research programs, it is important to keep research sponsors apprised of the status of funded research initiatives. Every initiative is subject to a research agreement which includes contractual obligations.
Most major research sponsors, have existing mechanisms for addressing exceptional circumstances, and are sharing information via dedicated web pages, such as those hyperlinked in 5.3, below.
NSERC and SSHRC have authorized institutions to provide an unfunded extension of 12 months for grants that end between February 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021 due to delays as a result of COVID-19.NSERC or SSHRC grant holders wishing to obtain an extension can write to their contact in RSO or IPO.
CIHR has provided an automatic one-year unfunded extension to all active CIHR grants in order to give researchers an additional full year to use any residual unspent funds. The automatic extensions were confirmed in the early summer of 2020 and all eligible CIHR funds at U of T have now been extended.
In its initial response during the early days of the pandemic, CIHR cancelled the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition. To mitigate the impact of the cancellation, CIHR offered a one-year financial extension to all existing Investigator-Initiated Research grants scheduled to expire between June 30, 2020 and March 30, 2021 for those who had applied to the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition. A 6-month financial Bridge grant was offered to Nominated Principal Investigators (NPIs) in the Fall 2019 Project Grant competition who applied to the Spring 2020 competition However, on May 28, 2020, CIHR announced it was re-instating the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition relying on virtual peer review. Those who had been offered either of the two financial extension options will have been offered a choice to return the extension to enable their application to stand in the Spring 2020 competition or keep the financial extension and next apply in Spring 2021.
The timelines for the Fall 2020 Project Grant competition have been adjusted to allow time to deliver the Spring 2020 competition and to ensure there is no overlap between competitions, so that applications not funded through the Spring 2020 competition will be able to be submitted in the Fall 2020 competition.
Smaller and /or private sector sponsors may not publicly communicate in the same way. Should you have questions or concerns about existing agreements with such sponsors, please be in touch with the relevant VPRI staff member.
5.2 If my own travel or that of a member my research team has been cancelled due to COVID-19, will this be an eligible expense?
If travel arrangements in relation to a funded research initiative have been cancelled but purchased travel fare did not include options for refunds due to cancellation, and no cancellation insurance was purchased, the travel claimant must document cancellation and financial credit details.
The Tri-agencies (CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC including New Frontiers in Research Fund – Exploration funding), have confirmed that the reimbursement of non-refundable travel fees from agency funds is acceptable considering the impacts of COVID-19. This applies to the travel of both principal investigators and research personnel.
Researchers should continue to work with the Research Services Office to determine eligibility on other external funding sources. If a cancelled travel expense is not eligible on an external funds source, an alternative funds source may be identified in consultation with the head of the academic unit/division and expenses re-allocated.
5.3 How do I stay up-to-date regarding COVID-19-related information being issued by funding agencies?
Researchers and research support staff should regularly visit the websites of their research sponsors to see what new information they may be providing regarding COVID19-related changes. Given that the number of sponsor programs is in the thousands, we cannot link to them all here. Here are links to some key sponsor updates:
5.4 How will COVID-19 impact deadlines and process for submitting mandatory financial reports such as Form 300 to the Tri-agencies?
CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC, CRC and CFREF have postponed the deadlines for submitting financial reports for 2019-20 (April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020) until September 30, 2020. The preparation and distribution of financial reports will be led by the Research Oversight and Compliance Office (ROCO), utilizing SharePoint for both distribution and collection. Questions may be directed to Donna Walker, Director, Research Financial Reporting & Audit.
Other sponsors have also communicated extension of their financial reporting deadlines due to impacts of COVID-19. The Research Oversight and Compliance team will contact affected grantees with revised timelines as they become available.
5.5 CIHR’s Spring 2020 Project Grant competition, canceled on April 2, 2020, is now proceeding. What does this mean for those who applied to the re-instated program? Is there an impact on the Fall 2020 Project Grant competition?
On May 28, 2020, CIHR President Dr. Michael Strong announced that CIHR will proceed with reviewing the applications submitted to the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition (which had been cancelled on April 2nd.) The peer reviews process will occur between June and August with video-conference panels as in-person peer review is unviable at this time.
Spring 2020 applications submitted by Nominated Principal Applicants (NPAs) who did not receive a financial extension will be reviewed, unless specifically withdrawn by the NPA. Those NPAs who were offered a financial extension based on the original decision to cancel the Spring 2020 competition will be contacted directly by CIHR to discuss the options available to them.
CIHR’s total budget for the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition will be approximately $245 million (depending on how many of those offered a one-year funded extension opt to keep that extension)
The Fall 2020 Project Grant competition will proceed as planned, however there may be adjustments needed to the timelines to ensure that those who are not successful in the Spring competition have the opportunity to re-submit in the fall. Any changes to the timelines will be announced to the community shortly.
For more details, please see Dr. Strong’s letter at: Update to Spring 2020 Project Grant competition.
You may also reach out to your contact in RSO.
5.6 If the work of my research-funding supported staff or trainees is impacted by COVID-19 how should I determine next steps with respect to pay continuance?
Most externally funded research personnel continue to be engaged in work remotely, or on campus for essential research programs. The University expects these research personnel will continue to be paid.
The University also expects that funding commitments for trainees such as graduate students and post-doctoral fellows will be met and that supervisors will ensure that they are able to maintain their academic progress.
Academic administrators should work with their divisional leaders and Divisional Human Resource Offices to assess any individual circumstances that require special consideration. The School of Graduate Studies has issued guidance for Chairs and Supervisors.
5.7 Is institutional funding in place to bridge lost or interrupted research funding?
No, there is no institutional fund to bridge lost or interrupted research funding. Unfortunately, some research programs, if we are not able to restart them in the coming weeks, and if there is no external funding support to maintain wage continuity, will require difficult decisions. Academic administrators will need to work with their PIs and divisional leaders to address financial challenges to research programs, ensuring that plans take appropriate account of the University’s collective agreements and employment policies.
There are many different and complex situations across our campuses. Each PI’s research program is relatively unique in terms of funding source(s) and personnel. Each program has different opportunities to continue work remotely, or as we start to consider restart of operations, to be able to maintain physical distancing and other control requirements related to COVID-19.
5.8 Who can I speak with to obtain specific information regarding funding continuity from sponsors of my research program?
An important first step is to visit the website of your research sponsor(s). Many funding organizations have web pages dedicated to COVID-19 changes to their funding programs. Where there is no externally facing information on the sponsor website, faculty members can turn to their unit/division research support staff, or with the relevant staff member in the VPRI Research Services Office or the Innovations & Partnerships Office . We do not recommend engaging directly with research sponsors, given the pressures on sponsors at this time, and the University’s efforts to negotiate helpful and consistent program adjustments.
5.9 What Federal Government programs are available to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on my research?
In addition to the COVID-19 Emergency Benefits described on the Government of Canada website, the Prime Minister has made the following announcements specific to research programs at universities and research institutions:
22 April 2020Federal Tri-agency Supplements: $291.6M, including:
- Up to $40M to extend expiring federal graduate research scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships. Award holders will need to attest that their research was disrupted by COVID-19 constraints and that they are not benefiting from compensation under the Canada Emergency Student Benefit or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit or other income supports related to COVID-19. Award holders will be contacted in the coming weeks by their respective agency, and the funding will be provided before September 30, 2020. Further information is available here.
- The balance of the fund, $251.6M ($32.3M SSHRC, $140M NSERC; 79.3M CIHR), is to supplement existing federal research grants, to support students, post-doctoral fellows and research support staff. Additional information about this supplement program is available at COVID-19: Supplements for Tri-Agency Research Grants.
- • wage support to universities and health research institutes, so they can retain research staff who are funded from industry or philanthropic sources and are unable to access existing federal or provincial COVID-19 support measures. The Fund is providing up to 75 per cent of the eligible research personnel’s wages, with a maximum of $847 per week for up to 24 weeks per individual, within the eligibility period of March 15, 2020 to August 29, 2020.
- • support to universities and health research institutes to maintain essential research-related activities during the crisis, and to ramp back up towards full research operations. The Fund is covering up to 75 per cent of total eligible costs incurred between March 15, 2020 and November 15, 2020, and will support activities such as the safe storage of dangerous substances, equipment maintenance and recalibration, and restarting data sets that were interrupted during the pandemic.
All funding has to be fully expended by 31 March, 2021
The University is working with academic divisions on the allocation of these resources.
5.10 NSERC is providing a one-year funded extension to all active Discovery Grant holders. What do I need to do?
NSERC is offering a one-year funded extension to all active Discovery Grants including: Discovery Grants, Discovery Grants – Subatomic Physics (Individual, Project and Major Resources), Discovery Grants – Northern Research Supplements and Discovery Development Grants. By “active”, NSERC means that the grant received an instalment for April 1, 2020. If you began your unfunded automatic extension year on April 1st, 2020, then unfortunately your grant is not eligible.
NSERC is contacting all holders of eligible and active Discovery Grants directly to describe the extension option, and provide a timeline by which you must accept or decline the funded extension. You do not need to reach out to NSERC or request this extension through Research Services.
The one-year funded amount is equal to the one-year amount of your annual funding level. NSERC is contacting active Discovery Grant holders in order of the final funded year end-date: for example, those who are in their final funded year are being contacted now and over the next few weeks, followed by those who are in their second last funded year, and so on. If you are only in your first or second year of your Discovery Grant, it could be many months before NSERC contacts you.
We expect that NSERC will confirm their process for notifying Research Services when someone accepts the extension and the confirmed amount later in the fall.
Additional details are available on NSERC's website.
6.2 Is the Toronto Research Data Centre open?
Yes. the, Toronto RDC is open for a limited number of researchers with approved projects in keeping with safety measures put in place including maintaining physical distancing and wearing a mask in RDC and Robarts Library. If there is capacity additional researchers will be prioritized according to their research needs. RDC is initially targeting student researchers with deadlines for graduation and researchers with revise and resubmit deadlines. All researchers interested in returning are welcome to submit a request.
To book an appointment, send your request to email@example.com and include your name, PI name, project number and answers to these questions:
- What is your current need?
- Do you have a deadline?
- If known, how much time do you anticipate needing?
- What unique software and files will you require?
RDC staff are reviewing all requests and will assist all researchers interested in using the Centre.
7.1 Should I be continuing to collaborate with my international partners?
We encourage continued international collaborations using virtual tools; we recognize that international collaboration is crucial for addressing significant global issues including our response to COVID-19.
7.2 Can my international partners visit the University of Toronto?
International visits and delegations are not permitted due to federal travel restrictions. We encourage you to meet with your partners online at this time.
7.3 Should I be traveling internationally for my research?
7.4 If I have additional questions about my current international partnerships, who should I contact?
7.5 I have returned to Canada and I am a licensed health care professional exempt from quarantine under the federal Mandatory Isolation Order. I have no symptoms of COVID-19. Can I return to campus immediately?
No. While limited exceptions under the Order may apply to a small number of faculty, staff or students, the University has a broad legal obligation to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of its workers, and in furtherance of that obligation you must self-isolate/quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Canada.
8.0 Research & Innovation Resources
Research & Innovation Resources
8.1 Where can I find additional resources?
The Centre for Research & Innovation Support (CRIS) helps faculty to find tools, training and expertise across our three campuses. This fall, faculty can register for a new webinar series, Making & Sustaining the Pivot, to engage with colleagues on how to adapt your research program during the pandemic and beyond. CRIS also offers a full calendar of workshops and training, Spotlight pages on hot topics, and a searchable resource hub. To sign up to receive future email communications from CRIS, please click here.
8.2 Where can I find resources for my startup?
9.0 Off-Campus Research
9.1 What is the current status of off-campus research?
Researchers who wish to conduct research at an off-campus site or conduct on-site field research (e.g. Koffler Scientific Reserve, Hart House Farm, Gull Lake) that does not involve any Face to Face (F2F) human participant research must complete the new online Face-to-Face and Off-Campus (F2FOC) COVID-19 Review Form, which contains branching logic so that only questions relevant to off-campus research are asked.
Researchers are to send a copy of the completed F2FOC form (provided as a PDF when the form is submitted) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Researchers will be contacted by Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) once that review has been conducted. If there are any questions in advance of submitting the form, please contact OHS directly at email@example.com.
As a researcher at U of T who has an approved research restart plan and/or has approval to conduct face-to-face human participant research, am I eligible for priority access to a COVID-19 vaccine?
The provincial government is leading the vaccine rollout, guided by a framework that gives priority to those that are most vulnerable, such as long-term care residents, First Nations communities and frontline healthcare workers. Researchers will be prioritized in the same way as other members of the public, as determined by the provincial framework. Please visit the UTogether vaccine FAQ for updates.