Keep Researching

A Guide to Ramping Up Research, Scholarship, & Creative Activities

Introduction


This document was created to guide the ramp up of research, scholarship and creative activities (RSCA) at UNC Greensboro (UNCG). Ramp up activities have proceeded in accordance with the prevailing federal, state, UNC system, and university guidelines on protecting the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and the community. This document, and the processes described within, has evolved over time when additional guidance has become available and process improvement/revision has become necessary. The information and guidelines presented in this document apply to the ramp up of research, scholarship and creative activity after August 17, 2020.

Considerations When Developing the Ramp-Up Reentry Plan


  • Think about the inherent risks associated with ramping up your RSCA.
  • Assess your RSCA risk profile (Low, Moderate, High).
  • Submit a Ramp-Up Reentry Plan describing the risk mitigation activities and arrangements that you will undertake in the RSCA environment for review and approval.

What are the risks associated with ramping up RSCA?

There are risks associated with ramping up all types of RSCA. There are three main areas to consider when thinking about the risks inherent to ramping up your RSCA: people, environment, and viral transmission. The following describes specific risks in each area and some strategies to mitigate the risks.

People

People will likely have concerns about coming back into the RSCA environment. Faculty must ensure that they, students, postdocs, and other staff feel safe and heard regarding their comfort level to reenter the RSCA environment. If people are uncomfortable, let them know that you and the institution are doing everything possible to keep them safe.

Know where to find safety and mental health information (see Resources section). Remember that gentle encouragement, support, and good communication will go a long way towards helping everyone feel comfortable about reentering an RSCA environment.

If individuals (faculty) feel uncomfortable participating in research, scholarship and/or creative activities, they should alert their chair/head or dean; if students, their faculty supervisor or dean of students; if staff, HR.

CDC guidelines state that people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and should take extra precautions.

Remember that health information is confidential; do not ask people if they are at increased risk for severe illness. Instead, provide access to information about the CDC guidelines and communicate a plan that requires each person to run through a basic self-health checklist, daily.

If individuals identify any of the following common symptoms they should stay home, monitor their health, and if needed, contact their care provider. In addition, UNCG requests that individuals who experience COVID-19 symptoms or contract COVID-19 complete the UNCG COVID-19 Self-Reporting Form (see Appendix A for additional information). Common Symptoms of COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
RSCA environment

The SARS-Cov-2 virus is highly transmissible. Controlling proximity and duration of exposure are two ways that the risk of transmission of the virus can be mitigated in an RSCA environment.

Proximity. People should practice physical distancing and work/interact at least 6 ft apart. Distance markers, removal of office furniture, and designation of “off-limits” space will help create a physically distanced environment.

Duration of Exposure. To minimize proximity and duration of exposure, reduce the overall density of people in the environment at any one time, and over time. Consider having people alternate their workdays and /or work in shifts. In a laboratory setting where two or more people may be sharing space for prolonged periods of time, consider designating each person a 10ft working radius.

Lab Re-Entry Safety Checklist. The UNCG Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) has developed a Lab Re-Entry Safety Checklist. The checklist can be found in Appendix B. Use this checklist if you are reentering the lab, starting work, preparing for research to resume, or contemplating working alone, or if you need emergency or EH&S contact information.

COVID-19 Training. UNCG requires that all personnel (faculty, staff, students) who participate in the ramp up of new, or resume established research, scholarship and / or creative activities, complete the online COVID-19 Training module. The online training module can be found here. Please work with your Department Chair/Head/Director to manage your COVID-19 training certification requirements.

Ramping Down Activities. We must be prepared, if the public health situation warrants, to rapidly ramp down research, scholarship, and/or creative activities. Think seriously about how you will ramp down your RSCA activities if infection occurs in your environment. How will you coordinate and communicate the process to your people? Identify what RSCA activities are essential to prevent catastrophic loss of data, models, continuity. Who needs access to university infrastructure to conduct essential RSCA? What university infrastructure is needed to continue essential activities? What activities can be done remotely?

Viral Transmission

Personal protective equipment (PPE) especially N95 masks that are used in clinical health care settings are in short supply. As RSCA ramps up, there will be rare instances where N95 masks will be the only way to mitigate fully the risk of viral transmission. The PPE that laboratory research personnel utilize (surgical or cloth masks, gloves, lab coats, face shields, eye protection, disposable gowns) will, when employed with physical distancing, decrease transmission of the virus. UNCG has established a central resource repository, from which departments/units can request PPE. If you have additional questions about how to obtain PPE through the central repository, please contact your Department Chair/Head. Masks / Face coverings are required to be worn in public spaces on the UNCG campus.

Enhanced cleaning/disinfection practices. A simple way to reduce transmission of the virus is to keep things clean. Encourage people to wash their hands frequently. Identify high touch areas (see Appendix C for some suggestions) and equipment that should be cleaned frequently, at least at the start and end of the day. Be sure to consult specialized cleaning/disinfection protocols for RSCA surfaces and equipment (e.g., desks, lab benches, tables, chairs, computers, musical instruments).

Communication is the key to stopping the spread of the virus if infection occurs in your environment. Familiarize yourself with the institutional illness reporting process (Appendix A). Assure people that there is no stigma associated with contracting the virus. There will not be any repercussions. The health and safety of students, faculty, and staff is the institution’s top priority.

DETERMINING THE RSCA RISK PROFILE


Assessing your RSCA risk profile is not an absolute science. The risk profile depends on the specific RSCA you will ramp up and if the inherent and research-specific risks can be mitigated. 

Low risk RSCA must meet the minimum risk mitigation requirements:

  • physical distancing of > 6 feet
  • limited numbers of people in a space (e.g., lab, Center/Institute, performance space)
  • limited access to that space (e.g., limited hours, limited days)
  • enhanced cleaning/disinfection practices
  • PPE as needed; masks / face covering required

Moderate and high risk RSCA must meet as many minimum risk mitigation requirements as possible, acknowledging that for activities with these risk profiles physical distancing of > 6ft and/or limiting access may not be possible.

Listed below are some examples of what characterizes RSCA with low, moderate, and high-risk profiles.

Low Risk
  • Laboratory Research that meets the minimum risk mitigation requirements (see above);
  • Local Field Research (within 50 miles of UNCG); travel to field site with 1 person/car; meets minimum risk mitigation requirements in the field environment;
  • Human Subjects Research that meets the minimum risk mitigation requirements and is conducted with no face-to-face contact with subjects; all research conducted remotely;
  • Scholarly Activity (e.g., data analytics; writing; composing; creating; choreographing; practicing) where only occasional on campus presence is needed and meets the minimum risk mitigation requirements;
  • Studio Activity that meets the minimum risk mitigation requirements;
  • Community Engaged Activity where work is conducted remotely with no face-to-face contact with partners, participants, or clients; partners dropping off/picking up resources, such as food or equipment, with enhanced cleaning/disinfection practices and availability of PPE.
Moderate Risk

Meets minimum risk mitigation requirements, when possible.

  • Laboratory research that requires an increased number of personnel (up to but not exceeding 10) in a laboratory over increased periods of time;
  • Field research that occurs > 50 miles from the UNCG but within the state of North Carolina (Field research conducted > 50 miles from UNCG in state requires Chancellor approval (see Appendix D. for important additional information about remote field research and information to be included in the ramp-up reentry plan to support the request for approval)); travel to and within the field site with 1 person/car;
  • Human subjects research that involves / requires in-person contact with people who the CDC has determined may be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and populations who have been advised by the CDC to take extra precautions including - racial and ethnic minority groups, people living in rural communities, people with disabilities, people with developmental and behavioral disorders, people experiencing homelessness, pregnant and breastfeeding people;
  • Human subjects research that involves extended on campus laboratory access (i.e., increased number of consecutive days, increased duration of activity);
  • Human subject research wherein data collection occurs in controlled*, off-campus locations;
  • Studio activity not amenable to physical distancing;
  • Community-engaged activity with populations that may be at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and that requires face-to-face interactions with physical distancing, wearing masks, contactless exchanges, limiting time together, enhanced cleaning/disinfecting, and if possible safe meetings out of doors involving < 10 people; PPE is provided to all partners who want it and who don’t already have access to it.

*Controlled, Off-Campus: Non-UNCG data collection site that has developed COVID-19 guidance for operations consistent with CDC guidance (e.g., educational institutions, health care clinics, etc.)

High Risk

Meets minimum risk mitigation requirements, when possible.

  • RSCA activity where > 10 people are required to be together to perform the activity;
  • Field research that is conducted out of state or internationally – Note that field research conducted out-of-state or internationally requires Chancellor approval (see Appendix D. for important additional information about remote field research and information to be included in the ramp-up reentry plan to support the request for approval);
  • RSCA that requires personnel be in close proximity for extended periods of time
  • Human subjects research that involves / requires in-person contact with people who the CDC has defined as at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 ;
  • Human subjects research wherein data collection occurs in an uncontrolled** off-campus location
  • Community Engaged Activity that involves vulnerable and higher risk populations, requires partners to be in close proximity, gather in large numbers (>10 people), indoors, and/or for extended periods of time; PPE is provided to all partners who want it and who don’t already have access to it.

**Uncontrolled, Off-Campus: Data collection sites not subject to CDC operational guidelines (e.g., home visit sites, street corners, downtown gallery space, etc.)

Submitting a Ramp-Up Reentry Plan


Faculty who plan to ramp up research, scholarly, or creative activities individually, without any additional personnel in the RSCA environment and that do not involve animal or human subjects, are not required to submit a ramp-up reentry plan. It is assumed that the on-campus presence and activity of faculty in this circumstance is covered under the Department or Unit “Return to Work” plan.

Faculty who plan to ramp up or resume research, scholarship or creative activities with additional personnel (undergraduate, graduate, post-doctoral, research staff) must submit a Ramp-Up Reentry Plan.

The Office of Research and Engagement has created a form that should be used when developing the plan (see Appendix I for additional information). The plan is submitted electronically and will be routed for review and approval using the InfoReady Review Portal.

Review Process. Department chairs/heads/directors (in collaboration with deans) will review information about how risks associated with personnel, density, and utilization of space will be mitigated. For those schools/colleges with associate deans for research, the associate deans will review and approve the risk profile assessment. The Office of Research Integrity will review ramp-up plans when animals (see Appendix E for additional information) or human subjects (See Appendix F for more information) are involved. All plans will be reviewed by the Office of Research and Engagement.

The responsibility of developing a Ramp-Up Reentry Plan should not be taken lightly and once developed, it is imperative that you follow the plan. If not, the possibility of illness or transmission of the virus increases, and your RSCA could suffer catastrophic harm. Moreover, you could jeopardize the ability of your colleagues around you to conduct their RSCA or instigate rapid, institution-wide ramp-down activities.

Take time to put together a meaningful Ramp-Up Reentry Plan. Note that every researcher has the prerogative to NOT ramp up/resume on campus activities if they are uncomfortable, especially if they are planning to bring a specific population of human subjects to campus.

In addition to addressing the inherent risks associated with being in the research environment, plans to ramp up field research or research involving animals or human participants must address additional risk mitigation issues (see Appendices D, E, or F respectively for more information).

Submitting a Modified Ramp-Up Reentry Plan


Modified Ramp-Up Reentry Plan Guidance. Faculty with an approved ramp-up reentry plan should submit a Modified Ramp-Up Reentry Plan if they plan to expand their RSCA activities beyond what was approved originally in relation to scope, personnel, and space to be utilized. It is important that the proposed modifications be reviewed in the context of the original plan. As such ORE recommends:

  • starting with a copy of your most recent approved ramp-up reentry plan;
  • add information to the section(s) of the plan that is/are relevant to describe the modifications; for example name, location, frequency and duration of planned activities (Tip: Use a different font color or bold text to differentiate the modification information/text from the original text);
  • Save the modified document as: Unit_Last Name_Mod according to the modification file naming convention;
  • click on submit application in InfoReady Review portal: https://uncg.infoready4.com/CompetitionSpace/#manageCompetitionsDetail/1814161;
  • answer the modification question as yes and other compliance questions as appropriate;
  • provide brief detail about what modification(s) is/are being presented;
  • upload the file and submit.

A modified plan is reviewed using the same process as a new ramp-up reentry plan.

All projects that involve in-person engagement with humans/human subjects that ramp up or resume (from remote or online activities or from suspended animation) on campus or in the community, must submit a Ramp-Up Reentry Plan. Failure to submit a new or modified Ramp-Up Reentry Plan under these circumstances may result in the loss of your ability to conduct RSCA.

Progress Report. Three weeks after your new or modified plan is approved a progress report, solicited from the InfoReady Review system, is due. If your plan is not working (too many people in the RSCA environment, people aren’t taking the daily self-health assessment seriously, etc.), let us know. We will provide assistance to revise the plan in such a way as to address safety concerns while advancing the RSCA.

May I submit a modified plan to update risk mitigation activities consistent with evolving risks (increased or decreased) and/or to include process improvements? Absolutely.

Taskforce Members


Chair, Dr. Nick Oberlies – Chemistry and Biochemistry
Dr. Amy Adamson – Biology
Dr. Susan Calkins – Office of Research and Engagement
Dr. Mitch Croatt – Chemistry and Biochemistry
Dr. Keith Erikson – Nutrition, IACUC
Dr. Jennifer Etnier – Kinesiology
Dr. Lisa Goble – Office of Research Integrity
Dr. Laurie Gold – Kinesiology, IRB
Dr. Kim Littlefield – Office of Research and Engagement
Dr. Yashomati Patel – Biology, IBC
Dr. Hemali Rathnayake – Nanoscience
Dr. Terri Shelton – Office of Research and Engagement
Melanie Stadler – Environmental Health Science, Biology, Graduate Student
Dr. Danielle Swick – Social Work
Mr. Derek Toomes, MFA – Art and Interior Architecture
Dr. Martin Tsz-Ki Tsui – Biology
Mr. William Walters – Contracts and Grants