General

Approach for Research Recovery & Adaptation

Last updated Wednesday, June 4, 2020 at 10:55 PM EDT

I. Overview

The University of Toronto (U of T) Principles for Research Recovery and Adaptation (the Principles) articulate the overarching implementation principles for a phased resumption of university research activities that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This document (the Approach) outlines the process for gradual and controlled research recovery and adaptation on- and off-campus. The Approach is a companion document to the Principles, and the COVID-19 Guideline for Reopening Research Spaces and these should be considered together.

All research conducted at or under the auspices of the university must follow all applicable policies, including the university’s policy on the Ethical Conduct of Research and Health & Safety Policy. Research recovery relies on many institutional resources and these have their own recovery plans. Institutional resources include such divisions as University Operations, which provides cleaning and waste management and Environmental Health & Safety, which provides lab permits and advice on lab safety.

Above all, the university is committed to the health, safety and wellbeing of all community members. We recognize that researchers will want to begin or resume their research activities as soon as possible. However, initially, not everyone will be allowed to do so. We appreciate how our academic community continues to adapt to new circumstances in these unprecedented times.

This document provides an institutional perspective for research recovery while also offering flexibility and adaptability for divisions and units to determine their research activities based on their capacity and needs. Research recovery will be based on The Ontario Government’s Framework for Reopening our Province and the capacity and readiness assessments at the divisional level. The university may revise or update this document as necessary in response to public health or institutional directions.

II. Research Recovery & Adaptation Plan Assessments

On-Campus Research

Initially, not everyone will be allowed to begin or resume their research activities on-campus. Alternative research approaches are encouraged in such instances. At this time and in the near future, all research that can be undertaken from home will continue remotely.

The Ontario Government’s Framework for Reopening our Province has outlined three phases of return, and the University of Toronto’s return will follow the stages set out in this roadmap. At U of T, the potential stages of restart will follow the stages set out in Ontario’s framework, implemented to our institutional circumstances.

The university is committed to ensuring a safe work and study environment, and to implementing measures that take into account public health advice and operational considerations. 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.

Capacity assessment: In the recovery and adaptation period, both buildings and individual research spaces will have restrictions on the number of people allowed in accordance with public health directives and university guidance. Divisional research recovery plans must ensure the ability to maintain physical distancing more generally in the building based on overall building occupancy. In this consideration, buildings include individual office space, research space, graduate rooms, classrooms, leased space and common areas. University Operations will oversee building readiness, including caretaking, reminders and postings on physical distancing and entrance signage.

Divisions need to be mindful of the number of people allowed in research spaces to ensure that physical distancing measures are followed.

  • Those who need to come to campus for research and are given divisional permission to do so, are expected to return home upon completion of their research task or activity (e.g., come to the lab to run an experiment and then return home to continue with other aspects of the research that can be performed remotely).
  • It is possible that individuals will be given specific times when they are allowed on campus so that numbers are limited to the same cohort. Scheduling regular research cohorts between midnight and 7 a.m. as a way to increase capacity is not allowed as we do not have the full complement of institutional safety resources available during this time.

Research readiness: Any resumption of research will also depend on the readiness of divisions, units and researchers to ramp up their research activities. Divisions are responsible for considering, in their own research recovery plans, issues such as the availability of research supplies and equipment, related supply chain considerations (e.g. computing equipment, personal protective equipment) and availability of qualified trainees and staff.

Based on the capacity assessment and research readiness, and the Principles for Research Recovery and Adaptation, if divisions need to prioritize research plans based on capacity or readiness restraints, the considerations included in Table 1 may be used. The Stages in Table 1 are aligned with the Ontario Government’s Framework roadmap. The Division of the Vice-President Research & Innovation (VPRI) will advise Divisions of the Stage that the University is at based on guidance from public health authorities.

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. Virtual or remote (e.g., surveys) research with human participants is encouraged where appropriate. Additional institutional guidance from the Research Ethics Board, based on government directives, will be developed. 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.

 

Table 1

  On-campus Research
Stage 1 Research requiring immediate on-campus activity
If divisions need to prioritize research plans based on capacity or readiness restraints, the considerations may include:
  • Research related to SARS-CoV–2/ COVID–19 that cannot be undertaken remotely.
  • Research that, if paused or not allowed to begin, would negatively impact the ability of a graduate student to complete or to begin program requirements and requires minimal on-site work and time to complete.
  • Long-running research in which a serious loss of research material, data, or equipment could occur if the work continues to be disrupted, is at a critical milestone or close to an endpoint.
  • On-going studies that require regular care, conditioning or inspections (e.g., maintenance of cells, or tissues, etc.).
  • Research specifically to address reviewer comments in a manuscript where the response is expected.
  • Research required to meet a contract deadline that cannot be renegotiated.
  • Highly unique research circumstances.
Stage 2 Research requiring on-campus activity
If divisions need to prioritize research plans based on capacity or readiness restraints, the considerations may include:
  • Research that, if not allowed to begin or paused, would negatively impact the ability of a faculty member to meet critical career and grant application milestones.
  • Early stage projects and experimental directions.
  • Highly unique research circumstances.
Stage 3 Ongoing research in the longer term
  • Research that can be undertaken on-campus while COVID-19 remains a community health risk and measures will continue.

 

Off-Campus Field & Third-Party Site Research

Initially, not everyone will be allowed to begin or resume their research off-campus. Alternative research approaches are encouraged in such instances. At this time and in the near future, all research that can be undertaken from home will continue remotely.

Academic divisions will approve off-campus recovery plans based on the ability of a field site or third-party site to accommodate the increase of occupancy while complying with public health directives. As always, the university is committed to the safety, health, and wellbeing of all members of our community, to the provision of a safe and healthy work and study environment, and to the prevention of occupational injuries and illnesses. This commitment includes current COVID-19 measures. Institutional third-party and field sites are similarly dedicated to their communities.

Table 2 provides a risk-based approach for field and third-party site research.

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 off-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. Virtual or remote (e.g., surveys) research with human participants is encouraged where appropriate. Additional institutional guidance from the Research Ethics Board, based on government directives, will be developed. 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.

Field site capacity assessment

  • The public health directives of these sites or facilities must be followed and if permission from the site is required, it must be granted before proceeding with research.
  • For University of Toronto research field sites that are used by multiple academic divisions, there will need to be coordination and discussion among the relevant academic divisions.
  • In cases where multiple researchers or teams are going to the same research field site, there will need to be coordination and prioritization to ensure that we can meet the public health requirement of physical distancing. It may be possible to schedule visits to the field site to avoid issues with physical distancing.

Third-party capacity assessment

The public health directives of these sites or institutions must be followed and if permission from the site is required, it must be granted before proceeding with research (e.g., Toronto Health Academic Sciences Network).

 

Table 2

  Field Research Third-party Site Research (e.g. museum/collection works, private sector, community-based settings, affiliated institutions)
Level 1 Field research below is considered low-risk with respect to COVID-19 and should be able to start immediately but must be submitted and considered for approval.
  • Is in facilities that have been opened
  • Is local (i.e., no overnight accommodation required)
  • Is in areas that are close to medical facilities
  • Does not need any local services (e.g., food, retail)
  • Involves working outdoors in non-strenuous conditions
  • Working in groups with fewer than 5 people where physical distancing can be maintained
  • Is not near vulnerable communities
  • Is aquatic research that does not require a boat (e.g., shoreline work, low water depth)
  • Involves individual transportation to the field site
  • Does not require shared equipment.
  • Does not require shared indoor workspaces
  • Can meet local public health directives
Third-party site research in facilities that have been opened is considered low-risk with respect to COVID-19 and should be able to start immediately but must be submitted and considered for approval.:
  • Are local (i.e. no overnight accommodation required)
  • Does not need any local services
  • Physical distancing can be maintained
  • Individual transportation can be taken to the site
Level 2 Field research is considered medium-risk with respect to COVID-19 and will require a mitigation plan (with unit and Environmental Health & Safety), if any of the following apply:
  • Requires limited local services
  • Includes long-distance work requiring multiple stops for gas, food, washrooms
  • Requires overnight accommodation in commercial lodging or multi-person housing with individual rooms
  • Involves chartered flights with few passengers
  • Involves work where personal safety has higher risk mitigated through specialized safety training (e.g., boater safety, tree climbing)
  • Involves work with medium to large animals, specimens or samples that require simultaneous handling by multiple people
  • Takes place in locations where physical distancing cannot be easily maintained (e.g., shared vehicles, shared boats)
  • Requires power tools or strenuous activities
  • Uses shared equipment
  • Requires working Indoors in shared space
  • Involves work with fewer than 5 people in which physical distancing cannot be maintained
  • Involves work with more than 5 people outdoors while maintaining distancing
  • Can meet local public health directives

Note - Cannot be near vulnerable communities

Third-party site research in facilities that have been opened is considered medium-risk with respect to COVID-19 and will require a mitigation plan (with unit and Environmental Health & Safety):
  • Requires limited local services
  • Includes long-distance travel to research site with multiple stops for gas, food, and washrooms
  • Requires overnight accommodation in commercial lodging or multi-person housing with individual rooms
  • Involves chartered flights with few passengers
  • Involves work where medium to large physical distancing cannot be easily maintained (e.g., shared vehicles)
  • Uses shared equipment

Research that involves face-to-face in-person contact will need specific prior approval.

Note - Cannot be near vulnerable communities

Level 3 Field research is considered high-risk with respect to COVID-19 and the university will indicate when it can be resumed or started:
  • Requires commercial flights
  • Involves international work, but not in countries with high infection rates or compromised health systems
  • Involves work in remote communities and/or work in collaboration with vulnerable populations
  • Requires accommodation in shared rooms
  • Requires access to indoor public locations with many people (e.g., transportation hubs, office buildings).
  • Adequate PPE can be used, but because of the nature of the work it may be difficult
Third-party site research is considered high-risk with respect to COVID-19 and the university will indicate when it can be resumed or started:
  • Requires commercial flights
  • Involves international work, but not in countries with high infection rates or compromised health systems
  • Involves work in remote communities or work in collaboration with vulnerable populations
  • Requires shared accommodation
  • Requires access to indoor public locations with many people (e.g., transportation hubs, office buildings)
  • Adequate PPE can be used, but because of the nature of the work it may be difficult

III. Process for Approving Research Restart Plans

The following process will be used for the approval of on- and off-campus research restart:

Individual research spaces in the recovery period will have restricted numbers of people allowed at one time and must follow public health directives. All approvals will be granted for a limited period (with possibility for renewal) and can be revoked at any time should public health, university or divisional requirements change.

  1. All divisional research recovery plans at each Stage (on-campus) or level (off-campus) requires the approval of the relevant Dean of the academic division or Vice-Principal Research of UTM and UTSC, in consultation with the Associate Vice-President, Research Oversight and Compliance. This includes critical time-sensitive research that was approved for continuance. Previously approved maintenance exemptions may continue while research requests are approved. In multi-department academic divisions, Chairs will make recommendations to the Dean or to the UTM/UTSC Vice-Principal Research.
  2. Academic divisions are developing divisional research recovery advisory committees; for multi-department academic divisions, Chairs and Director input is sought via divisional committees. The divisional committees will consider local processes within their divisions guided by the Research Recovery and Adaptation Principles and other guidance developed by the Research Restart Steering Committee.
  3. Faculty members will submit to their Chair (or Dean in single department faculties) research restart requests using an approved divisional or unit form. Postdoctoral fellows and graduate students should work with their Principal Investigators, faculty member or supervisor to complete the form if requesting access. Request forms will be tailored by academic divisions, but should include information on the type of research to be restarted, proposed number of individuals to return to campus, and compliance with Environmental Health & Safety, Occupational Health & Safety and any related Divisional measures will be met. For off-campus institutional third-party and field sites, the health and safety guidelines or restrictions of that institution should be noted.
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