General

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Research FAQ

Last updated Thursday July 22, 2021 at 11:30 PM EDT

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Information on the Review of Face-to-Face Human Research and Off-Campus Research - July 22, 2021
 

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

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 General Workplace Guidelines (GWG) 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 Ontario Government’s Roadmap to Reopen outlines three phases of return, and the University of Toronto is following the stages set out in this roadmap, implemented to our institutional circumstances.

If researchers return to on-campus research, they must follow their divisional research recovery approval process. The University’s Research Ethics Boards (REBs) are currently reviewing research proposals of all risk levels for face-to-face human participant research. The REB review process focuses as usual on human research ethics issues. There is a second review process by the Face-to-Face COVID-19 Review Committee (F2FCRC) that 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 is 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. Off-campus research with existing approvals may continue. Further details are provided in FAQ 9.1 below.

 

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 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 roco@utoronto.ca

FAQs

Updates to 3.1

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 General Workplace Guidelines (GWG).

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.

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:

  1. Is PPE Required?
    1. Review the COVID-19 General Workplace Guidelines (GWG) (Section 9) to determine if physical distancing measures will be appropriate for the research space(s).
    2. 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 ehs.ppe@utoronto.ca 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.
  2. Purchasing:If PPE is required, it can be purchased through the researcher’s existing supply chain (e.g. MedStore, ChemStore).

 

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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 University’s REBs are currently accepting all 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 FormApprovals from both review processes will be required before F2F research activities can commence.

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 General Workplace Guidelines (GWG).

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, chemical 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

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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 Should masks and eye protection 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 masks (e.g. procedural or surgical masks) and N95 respirators may not be substituted with non-medical masks when medical-grade masks or N95 respirators 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.

At the outset of the pandemic, NSERC and SSHRC authorized institutions to provide an unfunded extension of 12 months for grants that ended between February 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021 due to delays as a result of COVID-19. NSERC and SSHRC have authorized institutions once again to provide an unfunded extension of 12 months for grants that end between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022 regardless of any previous extensions obtained for the grant(s) to date.

NSERC or SSHRC grant holders wishing to obtain an extension can write to their contact in RSO or IPO.

More details about NSERC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic are available on NSERC’s website or for SSHRC’s response to COVID-19 on SSHRC’s website. You can also reach out to your contact in RSO or IPO.

CIHR  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 were extended.

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 My flight was cancelled due to COVID-19 and the airline has offered a refund, a credit or conversion to frequent flyer points; how should I proceed?

Financial Services has issued guidelines on steps that university employees should take in light of a new refund policy being provided by Air Canada and potentially other airlines to customers. The University has a responsibility to the government, donors and funding agencies to pursue all possible refunds available, and therefore any university researcher who has previously received a reimbursement from the university for a flight not taken should now be proactively seeking this refund from Air Canada and any other airlines and subsequently reimbursing their department for the cost of the ticket. They should also be advised that under no circumstances should the refund be converted to frequent flyer points. Researchers should consult with their Divisional administrators and Divisional Financial Advisory Services and Training (FAST) Team Representatives for more details on this process. Questions regarding expenses on restricted research and innovation funds may be directed to the “Authorized By:” staff contact in the Funded Research Digest (FReD) and via the VPRI contact list.

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, NSERCSSHRC, and CRC have postponed the deadlines for submitting financial reports for 2020-21 (April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021) until September 30, 2021. 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 Olga Ledeneva, Manager Research Financial Reporting & Audit.

As other sponsors notify University of Toronto regarding 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.

5.5 CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC provided Supplement funds to grantholders for salaries and stipends in response to COVID-19. What are the details of this Supplement funds program?

In late summer 2020, the Tri-Agencies each offered a supplement amount for each active eligible grant to help offset the cost for PIs who continued to pay students and/or staff from their grants during April 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020 (the “qualification” period). Supplement funds could be used for salary (including benefits) or stipends only, between April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021 for NSERC and SSHRC. The eligible period for use for CIHR grants is April 1, 2020 to the end date of the primary grant for which the Supplement funding was provided. Those paid with the Supplement funds could/cannot also be receiving other federal income support programs simultaneously. Given the very specific purpose of this program, we created a dedicated web page, which you can access for more details at: COVID-19:  Supplements for Tri-Agency Research Grants.

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 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.
     

15 May 2020Canada Research Continuity Emergency Fund (CRCEF): $450M, provided over 4 phases for:

  • 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 receives an instalment for April 1st in the final funded year of your grant. For example, grants that were in their automatic unfunded extension year as of April 1st, 2020 were not offered a funded extension).

NSERC contacts all holders of eligible and active Discovery Grants directly during the final funded year of the grant 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. Finally, NSERC is contacting active eligible grant holders in the order of the final funded year : for example, those who are in their final funded year starting April 1st, 2021 will be contacted by NSERC after April 1st 2021 to offer the extension. Those whose final funded year begins on April 1st, 2022 will be contacted in 2022, and so on.

NSERC will confirm who has accepted funded extensions with Research Services once they have received responses from eligible grant holders and confirmed the funded extension amount. In turn, Research Services will add the additional budget year to your fund.

Additional details are available on NSERC's website.

6.0 Facilities

6.1 Is the ONRamp space in the Banting building open?

ONRamp remains closed in accordance with measures put in place by the Province of Ontario and Toronto Public Health

For further details please contact entrepreneurs@utoronto.ca.

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. Bookings are available on a weekly basis. If there is capacity, additional researchers will be prioritized according to their research needs.

Researchers are asked to contact their analyst for all project-related questions. For general RDC enquiries, you can email rdc.info@utoronto.ca.

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.

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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.

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

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?

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.

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 ehs.office@utoronto.ca. 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 ehs.office@utoronto.ca

10.0 Vaccines

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 vaccination page for updates.