General

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Research FAQ

Last updated Friday April 3, 2020 at 3:00 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

To all members of the U of T research community: 

The Division of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (VPRI) is continually assessing the COVID-19 situation and will provide updates to the research community regarding impacts on the University’s research operations. We want to assure you that the University’s response is guided by the need to ensure the health of our community and, as much as possible, the continuity of critical research activities.

As of Friday, March 20, 2020, only those research labs that are conducting critical COVID-19 related research and time-sensitive critical projects with exemptions may continue.

For any research projects that have received an exemption to continue, the University is requiring social distancing as a measure to help disrupt the chain of transmission of COVID-19 in an effort to protect vulnerable individuals and to reduce overburden on our healthcare system. All those in research environments should continue to review the information from the University’s homepage, which is continually updated.

All other research should continue as possible remotely. No other on-campus research (i.e., research activities that have not received exemptions from the University) may be conducted. Consider alternative procedures for ongoing projects that do not disrupt scientific merit and integrity (e.g. changing in-person interviews to phone interviews).

These FAQs have been created and are being reviewed and updated daily, as necessary, with the latest available information on how to minimize the impact of these extraordinary events on research operations across the University.  If you have  additional  questions after reviewing these  FAQs  please email  roco@utoronto.ca.

Faculty members have a responsibility to their staff, students and research participants to ensure that certain precautions are taken:  

  • Stay informed of current  University-wide  and research-specific guidance, ensuring that all relevant information is disseminated to applicable research staff and that the University’s guidance is adhered to

FAQs

Updates to 3.8, 4.1, 4.6, 9.0
 

1.0 Human Research

1.1 What is the current status of human research?

The REBs will be using the following principles concerning research with humans at this time:

  1. Only critical COVID-19 research and critical research approved by the Incident Management Team for exemption may be conducted on campus. All other research that can only be conducted on campus must be shut down on Friday, March 20, 2020 at 5pm.
  2. Only new submissions for on-campus research that are approved by the Incident Management Team (for research on-campus) will be reviewed by the REB.
  3. Off-campus research can continue if there is no direct contact with participants (e.g. online survey, Skype 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.
  4. 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 note TAHSN hospitals are focusing on clinical care. Please follow the direction of the TAHSN hospital concerning research.

For more information on REB review, please see TCPS 2: Research Ethics Review during Publicly Declared Emergencies

2.0 Animal Research

2.1 What is the current status of animal research?

Separate communication has been sent to researchers. Please follow-up as necessary with your local facility. Questions about protocol review and approval should be sent to acc.coordinator@utoronto.ca.

3.0 Research Laboratories

3.1 How do I shut down my lab?

Instructions are available here.

3.2 Are there any additional templates or checklists available to help me in preparing my lab?

We have templates available to help you prepare your lab in case there is any disruption:

  1. Laboratory Contacts List
  2. Equipment Maintenance Information
  3. Equipment Specific Instructions
  4. Laboratory Emergency Preparedness Checklist

3.3 Will hazardous waste pickup continue?

During the University of Toronto lab research operations shutdown Environmental Protection Services (EPS) will still be operating normally for hazardous waste operations and chemical spill emergency response. EPS will be able to 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.

For lab closures, ONLY emergency cases will be considered due to staff constraints at this time. Please contact Aman Khan – ((416) 978-7910) / aman.khan@utoronto.ca) or Rob Provost ((416) 978-7000 / rob.provost@utoronto.ca) for lab closure-related questions.

3.4 Will my essential equipment consumables continue to be delivered?

Yes, the University will maintain access to certain point of delivery for certain critical supplies. More information to come soon.

3.5 What does social distancing mean for labs?

  • Social distancing does not replace the normal requirement for wearing PPE in the laboratory e.g. safety glasses, lab coat, gloves.
  • Social distancing within labs should be implemented to the extent possible (i.e. maintain a 2 metre distance between individuals in the lab);  
  • Limit the number of individuals in the lab at any one time  
  • Disinfect common laboratory areas and frequently touched surfaces with disinfectant e.g. 70% ethanol (e.g. doorknobs, sink handles, freezer doors, fume hood sashes, lab phone) 
  • If needed, implement alternating work schedules to meet the demands of the laboratory while limiting close contact with others to ensure the safety of colleagues

3.6 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?

In accordance with [COVID-19] Continuing University Supports for Employees, most employees will receive pay continuity until April 30 and are expected to continue to work either remotely or in limited circumstances onsite, as previously instructed.  Human Resources is working with managers in units where exceptions apply and where there is no ability to work at home because of the type of work performed.

Updates regarding Post-doctoral Fellows, Graduate Students and Teaching Assistants may be found at these linked sites.

3.7 Understanding that U of T lab-based research operations are shutting down, some research can continue and may require purchasing of equipment or supplies. Is this possible?

All purchasing should be suspended unless urgent and needed to maintain critical operations or essential COVID-19 research.

Refer to the March 18th memo issued by Procurement Services which advised:

  • All purchasing should be suspended unless urgent and needed to maintain critical operations
    • if necessary, the individual placing the order (via uSOURCE, Purchase Order or PCard) must ensure that the delivery can be accepted by an individual on campus (off campus deliveries are not permitted)
  • Regular procurement processes and protocols remain in place
  • Procurement staff are working remotely and can process requests as they are received

Should you have questions regarding research-related procurement during this period, please be in touch with your academic unit/division contact.

3.8 My job requires that I work alone at times 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.

4.0 Research Funding

4.1 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 4.3, 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. 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.

4.2 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.

4.3 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:

4.4 Will COVID-19 have an impact on the roll-out of the new Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration originally scheduled for April 1, 2020?

The Agencies have committed to implementing the new Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration (the “Guide”) on April 1, 2020, as indicated in their recent communication. The Division of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (VPRI) in collaboration with stakeholders across the University of Toronto have made significant progress over the past several months in reviewing and revising institutional policies to support the requirements in the new Guide. The ongoing COVID-19 situation has not impacted these preparation efforts and the University of Toronto is on track to implement the Guide on April 1st. Information about additional training modules and learning tools will be posted on the VPRI Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration – Renewal website and communicated to the researcher community.
 

Resources:

4.5 How will COVID-19 impact deadlines and process for submitting mandatory financial reports such as Form 300 to the Tri-agencies?

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.   Internal institutional deadlines have not yet been established, further details will be communicated to grant recipients and business administrators.     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.

4.6 CIHR announced that it has cancelled the Project Grant Competition for Spring 2020. What are the implications for Principle Investigators?

On April 2, 2020, CIHR President Dr. Michael Strong advised the community that CIHR will cancel the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition. This is an unfortunate outcome but in light of this challenging time for all Canadians, we also understand that CIHR has had to make difficult decisions.

To mitigate the impact of the competition’s cancellation, CIHR provides the following options:

  • Financially extending all Investigator-Initiated grants expiring between June 30, 2020 and March 30, 2021 for one year. The amount provided will be equivalent to one year of the grant’s annual average value.  Those accepting this option can apply in the Spring 2021 competition (but not the September 2020 competition).
  • Applicants to Spring 2020 can have their applications forwarded to the Fall 2020 competition, with a one-page supplement for additional support data or publications.
  • CIHR will financially extend bridge grants given to NPIs in the Fall 2019 Project Competition if they had applied to the Spring 2020 competition:
     
    • The amount provided will be the equal to 6 months of their bridge grant amount
    • NPI’s receiving the bridge grant extension can apply to the Fall 2020 competition.
       

The Research Services Office, and Dr. Tania Watts our CIHR University Delegate, are closely monitoring developments and will continue to update the community as information becomes available.

The University is actively working with the Granting Councils and the government on assessing the impact on the research community. There is a recognition of the long term consequences of the pandemic on our work.  However, the government’s attention, quite rightly, is focused on more urgent issues, particularly those directly impacted by immediate economic effects.  We expect that our issues will be given due consideration at the appropriate time.

5.0 Facilities

5.1 Is ONRamp at U of T Entrepreneurship open?

ONRamp is closed until further notice.

5.2 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.

6.0 International

6.1 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. Note, all on-campus research operations are to be shut down by Friday March 20 at 5:00pm. Researchers should continue to review the information here and on the University’s homepage, which are regularly updated.

6.2 Can my international partners visit the University of Toronto?

International visits and delegations are not permitted due to federal travel restrictions.

6.3 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.

6.4 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.

7.0 Research & Innovation Resources

7.1 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. This new Spotlight page will be updated regularly to respond to the needs of our community. To sign up to receive future email communications from CRIS, including new Spotlight resources, please click here.

7.2 How can I collaborate and/or share my research expertise or resources to respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19?

As outlined in the March 24, 2020 memo we have established points of contact for aggregating U of T’s contributions. There is a central online platform for those wishing to contribute their research expertise and/or resources. We ask that you add your information to the appropriate lists on the website.  If you are unable to access the site, please email strat.initiatives@utoronto.ca.

7.3 Where can I find resources for my Startup?

The latest resources and updates can be found at http://entrepreneurs.utoronto.ca/covid19resources/.

8.0 Students

8.1 Can I still hire undergraduate research trainees and/or engage them in course-based research during the summer term?

Yes, provided that the research is conducted remotely. Until further notice from the University, no on-campus research may be conducted (other than research with approved exemptions, which is not appropriate for undergraduate trainees).  All undergraduate trainee research activities must follow up to the minute COVID-19 public health and safety guidelines and also observe the University’s COVID-19 restrictions on research travel and human participants research.  Supervisors are encouraged to be flexible and creative as they develop summer research projects and/or courses, using virtual collaboration and training tools.

9.0 Research with Indigenous Communities

9.1 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. 

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