General

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Research FAQ

Last updated Friday June 5, 2020 at 3:30 PM EDT

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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.

This is a message from the Division of the Vice President, Research & Innovation

Last week the University launched UTogether2020: 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 and 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 adaption 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 recognize that researchers want to begin or resume their research activities as soon as possible. However, not everyone will be able to return at the same time, and decisions will need to be made in accordance with a set of principles for priority setting. We appreciate how our academic community continues to adapt to new circumstances in these unprecedented times.
 

Status of On-Campus Research

Academic divisions, UTM and UTSC have begun planning a phased approach to the recovery and adaptation of research including on-campus research and off-campus sites. All other research should continue remotely where possible and researchers are encouraged to consider alternative procedures for projects that do not disrupt scientific merit and integrity (e.g. changing in-person interviews to phone interviews).
 

Stay Informed

  • 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 will be 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 roco@utoronto.ca.

 

FAQs

Updates to 5.10, 7.3
 

1.0 Restart

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:

Please contact your unit head for specific information on how the research recovery and restart process is being managed in your division.

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?

The concept of minimal risk has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research that involves face-to-face, in-person contact with human participants will not restart on-campus at this time (although there may be rare exceptions that will require specific prior approval). Similarly, research that involves visiting or direct contact with vulnerable communities will not restart at this time. This situation should affect how the researcher assesses the risk level of the research, especially if it involves having participants leaving their homes to participate in research. Research with external communities, including Indigenous communities, and organizations may need to be collaboratively reconsidered in light of potential constraints or changes in focus as a result of the pandemic.

Off-campus research can continue if there is no direct contact with participants (e.g. online survey, Skype/Teams or phone). If changes will be made to the protocol or consent process to conduct the research through non-contact methods, you should submit an amendment for REB review. Please contact ethics.review@utoronto.ca for guidance. If a currently-approved off-campus study will involve an amendment that is COVID-19 related, please contact ethics.review@utoronto.ca at the time of submission.

Please follow the direction of the TAHSN hospitals concerning research.

3.2 What human ethics protocol submissions will the U of T REBs review?

The REBs will continue to prioritize all new COVID-19-related protocols as well as any amendments to facilitate off-campus research that does not involve direct face-to-face interactions or interventions with participants.

U of T REBs will continue to accept and review all other new submissions and continuing review activities (renewals, amendments, adverse events and protocol completion reports). Timelines may be longer than normal for non-COVID-19-related protocols. Please note that the REBs are reviewing all new submissions even if the research cannot be undertaken at this time due to COVID-19 restrictions. The continuance of review is to prevent a backlog of submissions once COVID-19 restrictions are removed.

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 hazwaste.ehs@utoronto.ca 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 hazwaste.ehs@utoronto.ca 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?

The University has Working Alone Guidelines that include resources available to support members of our community while on our campuses.

4.5 Does the prohibition on gatherings of more than 5 people apply to critical research projects or essential services?

No, critical research labs and essential services are not covered under Ontario’s emergency order that restricts gatherings of more than 5 people. Refer to the Guideline for Reopening Research Spaces.

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 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 announced that all active CIHR grants will receive an automatic one-year extension to the authority-to-use-funds date in order to give researchers an additional full year to use any residual unspent funds. Researchers need not apply for the extension. CIHR will also financially extend all existing Investigator-Initiated Research grants scheduled to expire between June 30, 2020 and March 30, 2021 for one year for those who had applied to the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition. Bridge grants provided to Nominated Principal Investigators (NPIs) in the Fall 2019 Project Grant competition who applied to the Spring 2020 competition will receive a 6-month financial extension. More details about CIHR's response to the COVID-19 pandemic are available on CIHR's website, their FAQ, or you can reach out to your contact in RSO or IPO.

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.

For questions regarding eligible research expenses, please contact the appropriate staff member in the Research Services or the Innovations and Partnerships Offices.

5.7 What actions have been taken to mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19 on researchers and their programs?

The University has engaged both levels of government and funding agencies to address concerns about continuity of research funding. At present, public sector institutions are not eligible for the federal Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program. Significant work, in partnership with other universities and research hospitals, continues to make the case for support of our country’s research personnel. We know that researchers have many questions about their funding and we continue to work to get them answers.

5.8 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.

5.9 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.

5.10 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 2020$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. Grant holders will be contacted in the coming weeks by each agency. The funding will be provided before September 30, 2020. The value of the supplement will be commensurate with the average level of support provided to trainees and research support personnel for each agency over a three-month period. Grant holders will be required to attest that there were indeed interruptions to the work of trainees and research support personnel caused by COVID-19, and that the additional funding will be used to support them. Additionally, the trainees and research support personnel supported by the supplement will need to ensure they are not benefiting from compensation under the Canada Emergency Student Benefit or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. They also cannot be benefitting from other income supports related to COVID-19, including the extensions of tri-agency scholarships and fellowships discussed above. Grant holders who did not pay salaries or stipends from a grant will not be eligible for the supplement. Eligible grants are those that were active on April 1, 2020 and that were not already in a time extension period.
     

15 May 2020$450M, including two block grants to universities to provide:

  • wage supports for up to 12 weeks for universities and health research institutes to avert layoffs of research personnel. The support will cover up to 75% of salary for research personnel who are funded through non-governmental sources (industry or philanthropic) and are unable to access the government’s existing COVID-19 support measures. Consistent with the provisions of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, funding will support up to a maximum of $847 per week per employee, even if their work has been suspended temporarily.
  • in Fall 2020, universities and health research institutes with resources to maintain essential research-related activities during the crisis, and to ramp back up to full research operations once physical distancing measures are lifted. This will cover up to 75 per cent of total eligible costs, and will support activities such as the safe storage of dangerous substances, and restarting data sets that were interrupted during the pandemic.

The University awaits information from the tri-agencies on how these resources will be made available.

6.0 Facilities

6.1 Is the ONRamp space in the Banting building open?

ONRamp is closed until further notice.

6.2 Is the Toronto Research Data Centre open?

No. Toronto RDC is closed until further notice. Researchers are encouraged to email their analyst with questions. They are available by email during the closure.

7.0 International

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?

No. Based on the guidance of public health officials, the University is advising all members of its community to avoid all non-essential travel. Refer to the U of T FAQs for additional information on travel.

7.4 If I have additional questions about my current international partnerships, who should I contact?

If you have additional questions after reviewing these FAQs please email international@utoronto.ca.

8.0 Research & Innovation Resources

8.1 Where can I find additional resources?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centre for Research & Innovation Support (CRIS) has curated a set of resources for researchers. These new Spotlight pages include the latest COVID-19 funding opportunities as well as resources to support you to continue your research during the pandemic. To sign up to receive future email communications from CRIS, including new Spotlight resources, please click here.

8.2 Where can I find resources for my startup?

All of the University’s entrepreneurship programs remain active and are providing support to entrepreneurs remotely. The latest resources and updates can be found here.

8.3 What library supports for research are available during this time?

Please visit the UTL Research Support page and the COVID-19 Research Resources page.

Feel free to reach out to your liaison librarian if you have in-depth research needs.

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