General

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Research FAQ

Last updated Monday September 28, 2020 at 3:45 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

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 & Innovation has released two documents to guide the recovery and adaptation of research. The Approach for Research Recovery and Adaptation outlines the process and risk assessment considerations for gradual and controlled research recovery and adaptation on and off campus. The COVID-19 Guideline for Reopening Research provides strategies and the University’s requirements for making research spaces ready for re-entry or increased occupancy.

We encourage everyone to review these materials. Academic divisions, UTM and UTSC, and their units must follow the principles, processes and guidelines that are articulated in these documents.

The University of Toronto is committed to the health, safety and wellbeing of all of our community members and to the prevention of occupational injuries and illnesses, which includes current COVID-19 measures. We appreciate how our academic community continues to adapt to new circumstances in these unprecedented times.
 

Status of On-Campus Research

Academic divisions, UTM and UTSC continue to implement a phased approach to the recovery and adaptation of research including on-campus research and off-campus sites. With Stage 3, the majority of legislative restrictions are lifted and return-to-campus is prioritized for those working directly with students and those involved in research activities.

For those that need or prefer/want to return to on-campus research, you must submit to your Chair (or Dean in single department faculties) a research recovery request using an approved divisional or unit form. Academic divisions will approve on-campus recovery plans based on the capacity of buildings and research spaces to accommodate increased occupancy based on public health guidance and that include measures such as 2m physical distancing and use of masks. The same process should be used for those who want to modify their previously approved research recovery plan (e.g. if you wish to increase the number of people in your lab you need to revise your plan and submit it to your Chair or Dean).

The University remains committed to minimizing the transmission of the virus on campus. As such, all other research should continue remotely where possible and researchers are encouraged to consider alternative procedures for projects that do not disrupt scholarly 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 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 5.9,6.1
 

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 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.

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 Guideline for Reopening Research Spaces (Section 6) 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).

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. Some research that involves face-to-face contact with human participants may restart with approval from the REB and the researcher’s primary department.
 

Previously Approved Studies

Researchers wanting to restart face-to-face REB-approved research must first submit an amendment that includes additional ethical considerations, completion of a checklist, and informed consent language with respect to risks of COVID-19 and necessary precautions to be taken. Once the amendment is approved, the researcher must then submit a request for research recovery approval to their respective department chair or faculty dean.
 

New Studies

New research that involves face-to-face contact with human participants should be submitted to the REB for review with the completed checklist, taking into account the new COVID-19-related ethical considerations and informed consent language. Once approved, the researcher must then submit a request for research recovery approval to their respective department chair or faculty dean.

Important points to consider:

Vulnerable Populations

Research that involves visiting or direct contact with vulnerable communities will not restart at this time. Research with external communities, including Indigenous communities and organizations may need to be collaboratively reconsidered in light of potential constraints. Please note that virtual research can continue if there is no direct contact with participants.
 

Virtual Research Methods

Virtual research (e.g. online survey, Skype/Teams or phone) can continue if there is no direct contact with participants. If changes will be made to an approved protocol or consent process to conduct the research through virtual methods, please submit an amendment for REB review. Please contact ethics.review@utoronto.ca for guidance.
 

Research at TASHSN Hospitals

Please follow the direction of TAHSN hospitals regarding research conducted under their auspices.

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

U of T REBs will continue to accept and review all new submissions and continuing review activities (renewals, amendments, adverse events and protocol completion reports). Timelines may be longer than normal. 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 Should masks be worn in the lab?

The University of Toronto’s Policy on Non-Medical Masks or Face Coverings requires that a non-medical mask or face covering be worn in all Common-use indoor University spaces include lobbies, elevators, hallways and corridors, stairwells, washrooms, service desks, cafeterias and lunchrooms, common areas in residences, study lounges, meeting rooms, classrooms, research and teaching labs, shared or open-space offices, and other locations used in common where practicing physical distancing may be difficult or unpredictable. An exception may be made for research environments where the approved departmental/divisional research re-entry plans allow individuals to maintain a consistent two-metre physical distance.

Masks do not replace the need for two-metre physical distancing, hand washing, and staying home when sick. Non-medical cloth masks can be worn in labs even when using chemicals. Please ensure that you do not touch your mask with gloved hands. If you are working with flammables, your cloth mask should have at least as high a flame resistance rating as your lab coat. For example, if your lab coat needs to be Nomex, your mask’s outer layer should also be Nomex. Please use the General Laboratory PPE Assessment Tool to determine appropriate lab coat material type. Individuals wearing non-medical masks, whether provided by the University or not, are required to clean their masks regularly and replace them periodically following the instructions of the manufacturer and advice of public health authorities.

Medical-grade masks (e.g. N95 respirators or surgical masks) may not be substituted with non-medical masks when medical-grade masks are mandated by EHS to either conduct research or where physical distancing measures are not possible.

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.

5.0 Research Funding

5.1 Issues associated with COVID-19 are affecting my ability to undertake key aspects of my funded research project within the original timeframe and budget. What do I do?

During this period of uncertainty and potential related delay/interruption to research programs, it is important to keep research sponsors apprised of the status of funded research initiatives. Every initiative is subject to a research agreement which includes contractual obligations.

Most major research sponsors, have existing mechanisms for addressing exceptional circumstances, and are sharing information via dedicated web pages, such as those hyperlinked in 5.3, below.

NSERC and SSHRC have authorized institutions to provide an unfunded extension of 12 months for grants that end between February 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021 due to delays as a result of COVID-19.NSERC or SSHRC grant holders wishing to obtain an extension can write to their contact in RSO or IPO.

CIHR has provided an automatic one-year unfunded extension to all active CIHR grants in order to give researchers an additional full year to use any residual unspent funds. The automatic extensions were confirmed in the early summer of 2020 and all eligible CIHR funds at U of T have now been extended.

In its initial response during the early days of the pandemic, CIHR cancelled the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition. To mitigate the impact of the cancellation, CIHR offered a one-year financial extension to all existing Investigator-Initiated Research grants scheduled to expire between June 30, 2020 and March 30, 2021 for those who had applied to the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition. A 6-month financial Bridge grant was offered to Nominated Principal Investigators (NPIs) in the Fall 2019 Project Grant competition who applied to the Spring 2020 competition However, on May 28, 2020, CIHR announced it was re-instating the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition relying on virtual peer review. Those who had been offered either of the two financial extension options will have been offered a choice to return the extension to enable their application to stand in the Spring 2020 competition or keep the financial extension and next apply in Spring 2021.

The timelines for the Fall 2020 Project Grant competition have been adjusted to allow time to deliver the Spring 2020 competition and to ensure there is no overlap between competitions, so that applications not funded through the Spring 2020 competition will be able to be submitted in the Fall 2020 competition.

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 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 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. Additional information about this supplement program is available at COVID-19: Supplements for Tri-Agency Research Grants.
     

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

  • wage supports 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 some of the government’s existing COVID-19 support measures. The government will provide up to 75 per cent of the eligible portion of eligible research personnel’s wages, with a maximum of $847 per week for up to 12 weeks per individual, within the eligibility period of March 15, 2020 to August 29, 2020.
  • support universities and health research institutes to maintain essential research-related activities during the crisis, and to ramp back up to full research operations once physical distancing measures are eased. 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 is working with academic divisions on the allocation of these resources.

 

5.10 NSERC is providing a one-year funded extension to all active Discovery Grant holders. What do I need to do?

NSERC is offering a one-year funded extension to all active Discovery Grants including: Discovery Grants, Discovery Grants – Subatomic Physics (Individual, Project and Major Resources), Discovery Grants – Northern Research Supplements and Discovery Development Grants. By “active”, NSERC means that the grant received an instalment for April 1, 2020. If you began your unfunded automatic extension year on April 1st, 2020, then unfortunately your grant is not eligible.

NSERC is contacting all holders of eligible and active Discovery Grants directly to describe the extension option, and provide a timeline by which you must accept or decline the funded extension. You do not need to reach out to NSERC or request this extension through Research Services.

The one-year funded amount is equal to the one-year amount of your annual funding level. NSERC is contacting active Discovery Grant holders in order of the final funded year end-date: for example, those who are in their final funded year are being contacted now and over the next few weeks, followed by those who are in their second last funded year, and so on. If you are only in your first or second year of your Discovery Grant, it could be many months before NSERC contacts you.

We expect that NSERC will confirm their process for notifying Research Services when someone accepts the extension and the confirmed amount later in the fall.

Additional details are available on NSERC's website.

6.0 Facilities

6.1 Is the ONRamp space in the Banting building open?

The 2nd and 5th floor of ONRamp are open to ONRamp members only with safety measures in place including:

  • Advanced booking required
  • Limited hours of operation: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday
  • Physical distancing and mask wearing requirements in place
     

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. If there is capacity additional researchers will be prioritized according to their research needs. RDC is initially targeting student researchers with deadlines for graduation and researchers with revise and resubmit deadlines. All researchers interested in returning are welcome to submit a request.

To book an appointment, send your request to rdc.info@utoronto.ca and include your name, PI name, project number and answers to these questions:

  1. What is your current need?
  2. Do you have a deadline?
  3. If known, how much time do you anticipate needing?
  4. What unique software and files will you require?

RDC staff are reviewing all requests and will assist all researchers interested in using the Centre.

7.0 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.

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.

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