In this rapidly evolving situation, VCU research leadership, my team and I are taking action on both campuses to limit the exposure to the virus of university research staff, faculty, students, trainees and other personnel. I write to further clarify my earlier directive to limit the number of designated essential staff in your research lab space beginning March 23.
The minimal research operations and staff plan must be approved before individuals are designated essential to work. VCU will maintain minimal access to laboratories so that only critical activities, such as the maintenance of animals, cell lines, unique reagents, and essential equipment and materials, along with research related to COVID-19, can continue. Be aware that custodial cleaning of campus space, including lab space, will be limited. Hazardous waste will not be collected on a regular basis. Follow the guidance below to help protect the VCU community and beyond:
“PI + no more than 2” staffing
To minimize risk of person-to-person transmission, labs should curtail in-lab designated essential staff to the “PI + no more than 2.” This guidance applies to staff who must be approved as essential and needed to work on only the most critical research, including that related to COVID-19. More than two individuals can be designated as essential so that staff may work in shifts and further lower personal contact. I urge you to err on the side of caution; the safety and security of people comes first. The intention of this guidance is to ensure critical research can be completed without placing undue burden on one individual and to strongly encourage that no more than two individuals are working in a lab at a given time.
Note that Deans or Associate Deans for Research at colleges/schools and Institute/Center Directors may decide to further restrict the number of allowed essential personnel in individual buildings.
If essential operations include care and feeding of animals, the research staff member(s) assigned to that task should carefully monitor announcements from the Division of Animal Resources.
PIs must obtain approval on minimal operations and staffing plans from their department chair/center director AND their Dean or Associate Dean for Research. Staffing plans may not identify undergraduate students as essential, except as approved by the Provost or the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences.
To facilitate this process, a separate document providing further explanation and a sample designation form have been created and posted to the OVPRI COVID-19 website for you to upload to this RedCap survey.
I recognize that all research we do is important, but in these extraordinary circumstances, we need to focus on what is most critical. I trust the Deans or Associate Deans for Research in each college/school or Institute/Center Directors to make that determination.
As we continue to monitor the landscape, I fully expect that we will have to adapt by making additional changes to our guidelines. It is important that you continue to review updated information related to VCU research resources and operations on the OVPRI COVID-19 website.
P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D.
Vice President for Research and Innovation