Research Continuity Guidelines
Mason continues to closely monitor the COVID-19 outbreak and will provide updates as warranted.
Effective March 21, 2020 research activities conducted in Mason labs and facilities, including leased facilities were suspended. Additionally, all research activities conducted at off-site locations outside of researcher’s homes, including clinical settings and field sites, were suspended.
Exceptions to this suspension are restricted ONLY to “critical” activities, including animal husbandry, research related to COVID-19, and maintenance associated with essential equipment and materials.
If you have critical research that requires access to Mason campuses, field sites or other specialized facilities, you MUST:
- Submit an electronic request to your associate dean or director for research providing the information in this form. Requests for “critical” research-related activities designation will be reviewed by a committee convened online by the vice president for research. You must receive approval to proceed before starting work on any research related activity.
- Identify personnel able to safely perform essential activities. Identify an individual or individuals who can provide direction if you become ill. Ensure that you have access to contact information for your entire research team and all team members know that they should notify you if they become ill.
- Coordinate with colleagues who have similar research activities to identify ways to ensure coverage of critical activities.
- Maintain a sufficient inventory of critical supplies that may be impacted by global shipping delays and/or required for essential activities during a university shutdown. Assess supply chain/vendor delivery of regular consumables, such as liquid nitrogen, that cannot be bulk purchased and stored ahead of time.
- Consider installing remote control monitoring devices for critical equipment (e.g., -80C freezers, liquid nitrogen storage dewars, incubators). If you have samples that are shipped to central repositories on a regular basis, consider shipping sooner to insure deliverables are accomplished. Prepare equipment if there is routine upkeep required. Consider any necessary steps to extend the time between required maintenance tasks. If certain equipment is not actively in use, consider implementing the shut-down process now.
Sponsored Programs related information:
- The Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) is providing regular support to the Mason research community with OSP staff working remotely. Details about OSP continuity plans and contact information can be found on the OSP website.
- To ensure smooth communications, please use email to send documents electronically. Financial transaction approvals can be provided through electronic signatures and/or email.
- OSP is monitoring updates from federal sponsors regarding proposals, awards, and cost allowability associated with any disruptions to sponsored projects resulting from COVID-19.
o If you have any questions or concerns about the overall strategy described in the research continuity guidance, please send them to the Associate Dean for Research or Director of Research in your College or School. They will coordinate with OSP.
o For project-specific communications and questions for sponsors, contact your Research Administration Manager.
o Principal Investigators (PIs) should continue to request assistance for proposal submissions as early as possible on the request for proposal assignment form. Support for proposal submissions are expected to continue as normal. Given the increased reliance on remote working and electronic communications, increased time should be provided for proposal review and submission to avoid delays related to slow systems or outages.
o Fiscal Services has provided a guidance memo (PDF) regarding reimbursement for nonrefundable travel costs as a result of conference cancellations or other travel restrictions. For specific questions about charging travel costs to a sponsored award, contact OSP.
o Principal investigators who anticipate delays in submitting project deliverables or required reports should communicate directly with their program officer and OSP.
o For a cost to be allowable, it will require consistent treatment across all funding sources. Some agency-specific guidance is currently available:
- Council on Governmental Relations:
- National Science Foundation: NSF coronavirus information
- National Institutes of Health: FAQs about COVID-19
- Office of Justice Programs: Grantee update (PDF)
- Department of Energy: Accommodating interruptions from COVID-19 (PDF)
- Department of Defense: FAQs about COVID-19
- Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA): FAQs about COVID-19
- Department of the Air Force: Potential Contracts Affected by COVID-19 (PDF)
- The Office of Research Integrity & Assurance (ORIA), (formerly RDIA), will provide regular support to the Mason research community, although most ORIA staff will be working remotely. To ensure smooth communications, utilize email and send documents electronically. Any updates or changes will be posted to the ORIA website.
Frequently Asked Questions
Effective March 21, 2020 research in Mason labs and facilities will be restricted ONLY to critical activities, including animal husbandry, research related to COVID-19, and maintenance associated with essential equipment and materials. See the critical research activities section of this website. You must coordinate such activity with your Dean’s office.
Yes, but visits must be infrequent/intermittent, in response to an unanticipated need, and you must use social distancing practices.
You may take laboratory notebooks, computers, and other storage devices home. Laboratory animals, equipment, specimens, chemicals, tools and other supplies should not be taken home.
Your research continuity plan should include the location of computers, lab notebooks, and similar items, including those of others members of your research team.
ORIA husbandry staff will continue to provide routine care (food, water, sanitation, health checks) for the animals under their care.
Contact Mason’s Biosafety Officer, Adam Fleming, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703) 993-4788. He will guide you in understanding the safety protocols and committee reviews that might be necessary prior to initiating work. At the present time, COVID-19 is not subject to heightened export controls that would restrict the involvement of foreign researchers in such work. Research with COVID-19 is considered a critical research activity, but any new research that has not already been approved must go through the “Critical Activities Related to Research” protocol noted previously.
You do not need to notify your research subjects. The IRB does not require a modification for a temporary pause in research activity. Please see guidance in the sponsored programs section of these FAQs in relation to notifying your sponsor.
All research compliance committees are planned to meet as scheduled using virtual meetings. Staff office hours will be conducted electronically, and guidance for scheduling remote office consultations will be posted on the RDIA website.
Treatment of these types of expenses may vary by sponsor. If you have specific questions please contact OSP to review sponsor policies related to allowable costs and documentation requirements. If further federal guidance is issued it will be shared with the Mason research community.
Given the current phase of the pandemic and the Virginia stay-at-home orders, we cannot lift the restrictions that are in place. There is still uncertainty about when the restrictions might be lifted. As a state university, we will follow Virginia’s stay at home orders as required. One-time access to campus to retrieve critical items is permitted but should be coordinated with your Dean’s Office.
Individual activities such as field work alone or lab work alone are not really individual when you consider the interactions that are required to get to the site where the work will occur. Additionally, since asymptomatic individuals can shed virus, adding additional people to our buildings does add risk, even if they work alone once there because security and safety personnel are doing rounds in the building.
For unoccupied locations, emergency showers/eyewashes are not being tested. Labs where critical research related activities are occurring should be flushing their own showers and eyewashes. All emergency showers/eyewash units must be flushed and checked for proper operation before any work begins following shutdown, however. As we implement plans for return to our labs, we will work with EHS to ensure that this is done.
EHS and security are conducting routine walk throughs of Krasnow, Peterson, Discovery Hall, Colgan Hall and IABR to check on refrigeration units housing valuable collections. EHS conducts walk throughs once a week. Security walk throughs are more frequent.
We are closely coordinating with operations staff in the buildings where critical activities are occurring. The number of staff requesting access and number of staff already accessing these research facilities and labs is a consideration when new requests for critical activities related to research are received.
If employees will be engaged in the project and are able to continue work remotely they can charge salary proportional to the work performed to the project. We anticipate further guidance from federal sponsors regarding these issues and will provide updates as more information becomes available.
The vast majority of our researchers have transitioned to remote work and are working in support of their sponsored projects. In these cases, they can continue to charge their time to their sponsored projects.
While remote work may not be the same as that done in the lab or the field, or in community, school or clinical settings, faculty, staff and students may still be able to contribute to their project by, for example, conducting literature reviews that inform project design or findings, working on journal articles and conference papers that describe recent results, participating in on-line group meetings to discuss recent findings or future plans for the project, and so on.
If an individual is unable to work on their project remotely, there may be options to redirect the individual to work on other projects or tasks. Most sponsor organizations have indicated their understanding of the constraints everyone is facing, and have indicated their commitment to being flexible. If you have concerns about continuity of pay for a specific employee or employees, please talk with you’re the department chair and Associate Dean or Director for Research.
Public Health Emergency Leave (PHEL) of up to 160 hours is available for all employees. The amount of leave available depends on whether an employee is full-time or part-time.
PHEL will be charged consistent with other types of leave and will follow the labor distribution for the employee at the time the leave is taken. If an employee is paid 50% on E&G (state) funding and 50% on a sponsored fund the PHEL leave will be charged 50% to the E&G org and 50% to the sponsored fund. In circumstances like those we face today, the vast majority of sponsors (if not all of them) expect their grantee institutions to have HR policies that are reasonable and uniformly applied, like the commonwealth’s PHEL policy and Mason’s implementation of it.
Agencies understand the challenges we are facing and are trying to be flexible where possible on time extensions. If you anticipate extensions beyond what is generally provided in your sponsors’ publicly available guidelines, OSP will work with you to facilitate interactions with your sponsors. This may include researchers contacting the program managers and/or OSP contacting the grants or contracts officer.
Principal Investigators should reach out to their Research Administration Manager in OSP who can help facilitate requests for time extensions or other administrative requests. If you are not sure who the appropriate contact is for your college or school, go to the OSP web page or contact Mike Laskofski.
All OSP and Research and Innovation Initiatives (RII) staff have been working remotely since the restrictions were implemented and things seem to be working smoothly. If you have a proposal submission you should follow the normal process and request assistance on the Request for Assistance form available on the OSP website. Mason has experienced some system delays as have our sponsoring agencies so it’s important that researchers finalize proposals well in advance of the deadline to ensure that they are not submitting on the day the application is due and risk system delays or issues impacting the submission process.
If there are any impacts to meeting proposal deadlines due to COVID-19, some agencies are providing some flexibility with deadline dates, but that varies by sponsor. If you are in that situation please reach out to your Research Administration Manager in OSP or your local research administrator to discuss.
There is a curating list of funding opportunities and data/analytics resources related to COVID-19 on the Research Development Services website. Please reach out directly to Rebekah Hersch if you are aware of opportunities not currently listed.
Although there is uncertainty in the timing of our return we do expect to return to campus and be able to continue our work as we did in the past. For proposals submitted in the last few months or in the next few months, most awards from federal sponsors won’t start until summer or fall, at which time it is possible that stay at home orders will have been lifted.
Sponsors understand the unique circumstances we find ourselves in – they too have similar constraints. If the proposal being prepared is for the nearer term effort - perhaps it’s a COVID-19 related project – and at least some of the work is likely to be performed while stay at home orders remain in effect, researchers should outline how they will perform the work under those circumstances. PIs should also coordinate with their Associate Dean or Director of Research in their college to ensure that the activity is appropriate to initiate during the current stay home order.
An employee temporarily working remotely due to COVID-19 should continue to charge the on-campus F&A rate. Although the employee is temporarily out of their office space, there is still significant expense that is being incurred to support the temporary remote employee. This includes, but is not limited to, items such as Network facilities and maintenance, which are being used extensively now by remote employees. This is also true for new proposals.
In general, we recognize that it is likely that some doctoral students may need to extend their time in their program, particularly if a key experiment or engagement cannot be conducted at home, or cannot be modified to be conducted at home. When academic progress is impacted, faculty advisors, program directors and the Office of Graduate Education should work together to provide appropriate consideration and accommodations to graduate students who are approaching their time-limit to advancement to candidacy or to finish their degree on a case-by-case basis.
Additional guidelines and guidance regarding Governor Northam’s hiring freeze has been provided by Carol Kissal, Senior Vice President, Administration and Finance, and can be found in the updated Fiscal and Operational Guidelines.
Yes, undergraduate research programs that can accommodate telework arrangements can be funded.