Additional Guidance on Continuity of Research

The best way as a principal investigator or a research lab lead you can help stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep the members of your lab/team and the community safe is through extensive social distancing.

With that in mind, we expect your lab/research team will only be pursuing key activities by the close of business on March 20th.


Since Wednesday, March 18th, we have learned that some of you need additional time due to the complexity of the lab experiments and to determine essential personnel, and other related tasks. In consultation with the President and the Executive Leadership, we are now allowing until COB, March 24th to give you more time to recalibrate down your activities to key only activities. Until that time, if you need their assistance to perform this recalibration, you may ask your graduate research assistants to work with you in an environment cognizant of our obligation to protect our people by practicing social distancing. Before March 24th, we will provide more detailed guidance on how to handle the dependence of the continuation of your key research activities on select graduate research assistants in your laboratory.

Research Activities:

  1. Review your research portfolio and identify projects and activities that can be carried out by researchers working remotely, without face-to-face contact with others. Examples of such activities include data analysis and review, modeling and simulation, data curation, writing etc. These activities may continue without interruption.
  2. For guidance on all human subject research studies that involve direct human subject contact, see the IRB and VPR’s Office’s announcement.
  3. Principal Investigators (PIs) and Research Leads should immediately identify key research experiments/activities that are at a critical phase, meaning that discontinuing or delaying them would cause a major or irreversible loss in project momentum (e.g., work involving critical cell lines and animals). This high-priority work should be a limited set of the current laboratory bench-based experimentation that is already ongoing, provided the key personnel needed for the project are able to come in and work, while ensuring social distancing, personal hygiene, and following rigorous disinfection practices. Please see here for recommended practices.
  4. Please note that the university is mandating telecommuting for all faculty, staff, students and postdocs except those designated personnel who are expected to report in-person to carry out critical and key functions for their units or schools. Please use your best judgment in determining critical and key research activities that must continue in-person in your laboratory while the rest of the team and community is implementing social distancing and heightened hygiene and cleaning practices to slow the spread of COVID-19. We expect PIs and project leads to use a high threshold in designating personnel as “essential” and identifying activities as “key and critical” to the work of the research team/lab. Please consult with your Associate Dean for Research or Department Chair for guidance in making this determination. Graduate students cannot be designated personnel.
  5. Delay initiating any new data collection or research activities that will require an increase in the number of personnel in your laboratory.
  6. Make an individualized plan for the undergraduate students and graduate students working in your laboratory/research team as it relates  to their own research progress (e.g., dissertation, thesis work). Help them identify activities they can engage in during this time that do not require coming in to the laboratory, meeting in-person with other research team members, or direct contact with research participants.
  7. Move research activities, such as group meetings, presentations, sharing and review of data to remote operations via zoom and email.
  8. Encourage your laboratory and research team members to continue their productivity on other areas such as proposal writing, paper writing, reviewing papers, report writing, data analysis, and similar activities that will cause minimal disruption to the team’s long-term goals. Use zoom or other technology to accomplish these goals while maintaining social distancing.
  9. For funded research, email the relevant program officers to inform them that UVA is working under extraordinary circumstances and that your research project timeline will likely be delayed. Sponsored Programs has also created a site for links to updates and guidance from specific sponsors (e.g., NSF, NIH)

Preparation for Further Reduction in Laboratory Activities if it Becomes Necessary:

  1. Review your laboratory inventory and infrastructure to identify elements of your laboratory that must be maintained even if no research projects are conducted, so that a future restart could occur without significant damage to research continuity in the lab.

Infrastructure maintenance examples include maintaining special animal population that cannot be reproduced if a colony is lost, special materials, methods, and data that cannot be easily reconstructed (unique cell cultures, for example), and samples that cannot be recreated (long-term stored in -80C freezers).

  1. Communicate clearly who the designated personnel are on the team, their duties, and their in-person work schedule to maximize social distancing. We are in modified mode now and will continue research where possible. For those designated personnel who do need to perform activities in the lab in person, develop a staggered lab/work schedule for those personnel come into the lab and maintain the critical and key activities. The scheduling should take into account the requirement of sufficient social distancing, working in shifts, and cleaning between shifts following earlier guidelines.
  2. Have written instructions to your designated personnel on maintaining your key laboratory systems, procedures for feeding animals, for instance, so that someone else can pick up the activities in your laboratory, if needed. 
  3. Provide cross training to designated personnel across similar labs and continue to leverage similarities between labs. At the least, establish communications with other similar labs and needs.
  4. Conduct an inventory of the materials and supplies needed to maintain the key elements of your laboratory and order additional materials as needed to sustain for up to eight weeks (e.g., animal food, water, bedding, personal protective equipment, liquid nitrogen).

The PI/lead researchers should communicate directly with their employees and research team members to develop and implement project-specific plans for research continuity.

For additional guidance, please visit the Research Continuity webpage.