UD’s Return to Research Under COVID-19
Guidelines & Resources
The University of Delaware is working to resume research operations — with the safety and wellbeing of the community our highest priority. This page provides an overview of UD’s phased-in return to research, in alignment with state and University guidance. It draws from a comprehensive plan developed with broad input from a working group including representatives from colleges, institutes, core facilities, environmental health and safety, communications, maintenance and operations.
Here, UD researchers also will find required forms that must be approved and access to training materials that must be completed prior to returning to campus, field-based or site-based research. A phased-in approach is being implemented. For additional information contact UDResearch@udel.edu
Return to Research Checklist
The Research Office is providing two checklists to aid in returning our research community back to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. All University of Delaware PIs and core facility directors conducting research or who are part of UD Research must complete a research ramp-up checklist. A link to this checklist can be found below.
If a PI’s research involves human subject interaction procedure modification and adjustments must be in place to conduct in-person interactions. These procedures must be approved by the IRB when required, prior to completing the Research Office online form requesting permission to return to campus. Prior IRB review and approval is required for any proposed research protocol modifications beyond the incorporation of COVID-19 related health screening questionnaires/temperature checks, and implementation of PPE and physical distancing modifications, or phasing of different populations enrollment (e.g., not enrolling COVID-19 vulnerable populations). A link to this checklist is below.
Employee, Student and Visitor Training
During the COVID-19 pandemic all University of Delaware faculty, students, staff and visitors who are conducting research or who are part of the UD Research must complete training and adhere to guidelines of their respective programs. Click below to complete this training:
UD Workplace Guidelines
Return to campus guidelines for all UD employees
Home Health Screening
Are you at risk of COVID-19 exposure?
Campus Reopening and Planning
Task forces guiding UD’s phased approach to reopening
Research Ramp-Up Phases
Research Currently in Phase 4
We are now in Phase 4 – the “New Normal,” with the resumption of all on-campus research. Thanks for your continued patience and collaboration as facilities become readied for re-occupancy.
Governor’s stay at home order in place; travel restrictions. Local/regional COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increasing; limited COVID-19 testing; limited access to PPE
PHASE 0. ESSENTIAL WORK: Maintenance of animal and critical cell lines, equipment; activities that directly support state of Delaware requests.
- Projects that directly address COVID-19 research, and PPE manufacturing and production.
- Essential staff only in UD research facilities, comprising < 5% of research and facilities personnel.
- Building managers and academic unit leaders prepare movement plans for research buildings and place signage and instructions within buildings. These plans should be broadly shared with researchers and plans should be posted at building entrances.
- Centralized procurement of PPE in anticipation of Phase 1 research. Phase 1 PIs prepare for research ramp-up; includes reviewing and revising standard operating procedures (SOPs), making changes to align with physical distancing guidance and the level of support infrastructure available.
Governor’s stay at home order and restrictions loosening. Local/regional COVID-19 cases decreasing for 14+ days, hospitalizations flattening; COVID-19 testing availability increasing; identification of new COVID-19 cases with quarantining and contact tracing; limited access to PPE may remain.
PHASE 1. Time-sensitive and field-based research that can be performed safely with physical distancing and limited support infrastructure, highly-limited return to indoor research spaces. Expectation of ~10-15% of total UD research-related workforce researchers and essential support personnel returning to campus facilities and field-based work. Disruption of effort/data collection causes catastrophic data loss or delays. Seasonal data collection such as outdoor non-human subjects field and agricultural work; long-term longitudinal studies; animal experiments where a delay would result in euthanasia or loss of a colony.
In this limited phase, prioritized research includes:
- Prioritize access for graduate students and postdocs close to completion where lack of campus access will jeopardize timely degree or term of appointment completion. Graduate students scheduled to graduate in May or August 2020. Postdoc appointments ending on or before August 31, 2020.
- Prioritize research work of
a) tenure track (not yet tenured) faculty,
b) sponsored projects with fixed, time-sensitive deliverables and
c) sponsored projects with no ability to charge salaries/stipends for no-work.
Core facilities resume limited operations to support time-sensitive research within this phase and to prepare for the next phase of research ramp up. For information regarding library access visit the Library, Museums and Press website.
PIs prepare for Phase 2 research ramp-up; includes reviewing and revising SOPs, making changes to align with physical distancing guidance and the level of support infrastructure.
UD establishes self-reporting system for symptom and exposure monitoring via Qualtrics or similar platform.
Research work that can effectively be performed remotely should continue to be done remotely.
Further relaxation of executive orders and restrictions. Local/regional COVID-19 cases significantly decreasing for 28+ days, hospitalizations decreasing; COVID-19 testing availability meeting UD needs; Rapid identification of new COVID-19 cases with quarantining and contact tracing; PPE more widely available
PHASE 2. Gradual expansion of on-site research or studio activities.
Lab-based research ramps up to gradually increase the number of people on campus to ~33% of personnel working simultaneously with strict physical distancing requirements of PPE, no more than 2 people per lab bench, no more than 4 people per 1,000 sq. ft.; shift work and alternate day work schedules recommended. All field-based research can resume consistent with local guidance/conditions. Limited time-sensitive human subjects work may be possible depending on restrictions with prioritization of:
- Research with significant likelihood of providing direct therapeutic benefit to the study participants, which outweighs the risk of COVID-19 exposure
- Studies for which in-person research interactions can occur, with no added risk, in the context of a clinical care visit
- Research with minimal physical contact/proximity with study participants.
- Studio activities, such as visual and performing arts and design, will be permitted.
- Instructional lab and studio spaces will be available to permit for preparation and redesign of fall semester classes.
- Common/gathering areas and multiple cubicle spaces and shared offices remain closed. Desk and group work continues remotely. Research work that can effectively be performed remotely should continue to be done remotely.
- Continued use of self-report for symptoms or exposure.
Further relaxation of executive orders and restrictions. Local/regional COVID-19 cases minimal, hospitalizations decreasing; COVID-19 testing availability meeting local needs; Rapid identification of new COVID-19 cases with quarantining and contact tracing; PPE fully available.
PHASE 3. Further expansion of on-site research.
- Further gradual relaxing of physical distancing requirements such that 67% of lab personnel are working simultaneously.
- An indoor density of, at most, one person per 125 square feet will allow two-thirds of laboratory personnel to be at work simultaneously. More importantly than the square footage, it is critical that work density continues to allow individuals to stay at least 6 feet apart.
- Additional in-person clinical/human subjects research and extension/outreach activities are permitted.
- Faculty may request access to work in their office on a regular basis. Requests are submitted to their Dean and then to the Provost for approval. If approved, faculty will need to work alone in their office. Additional guidance will be provided to faculty who are approved for access.
- Research work that can effectively be performed remotely should continue to be done remotely, including meetings, advising, etc.
- Limited access to common spaces consistent with executive order guidance on gathering group sizes in effect. Common spaces may be used in a limited capacity. Specifically, at most, 10 individuals are permitted in a shared space provided the space can accommodate the total number of individuals separated by at least 6 feet. Common spaces may be used for eating/drinking at this time as long as the following are adhered to:
- Before and after eating, you should wash your hands thoroughly to reduce the potential transmission of the virus.
- If dining on campus, you should wear your mask or face covering until you are ready to eat and then replace it afterward. Eating establishments must meet requirements to allow at least 6 feet of distance between each customer, including lines and seating arrangements. Individuals should not sit facing one another. Employees are encouraged to take food back to their office area or eat outside, if this is reasonable for your situation.
- Employees should wipe all surfaces, including tables, refrigerator handles, coffee machines, etc. after use in common areas.
- Continued use of PPE and social distancing.
Minimal to no government restrictions. Widespread testing, identification of new COVID-19 cases with quarantining and contact tracing, effective therapeutic(s) and/or vaccine widely available.
PHASE 4. New Normal.
- All on-campus research permitted, including computational research, in-person human subjects research, and extension/outreach activities. Some physical distancing requirements remain in place. Common areas and shared offices re-open consistent with executive order guidance on gathering group sizes in effect. Should still consider performing work remotely.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What UD research operations changes are in place?
UD moved from Phase 3 to Phase 4 research operations in May 2021. The following procedures and updates are in place:
- All on-campus research is permitted — no application required — including undergraduate research, computational research, in-person human subjects research, and extension/outreach activities. Please note that shuttered buildings/facilities need to be approved for reopening before personnel can enter.
- Effective Monday Jan. 3, 2022, masking in all shared spaces is mandatory. Mask enforcement will continue to be emphasized regardless of vaccination status. All students, faculty and staff will be required to wear masks in all settings, including research laboratories. Given the high transmissibility of the Omicron coronavirus variant, UD requires a well-fitted mask worn properly in accordance with mask instructions. For complete guidelines for other campus settings, visit UD’s Coronavirus webpage.
- In all instances, maintain physical distancing of at least 3 feet from others.
- For research involving vulnerable populations, consider the benefits of continuing virtual engagement. Continue to follow the COVID-19 Human Subjects Research Checklist. Questions should be directed to the UD Institutional Review Board (IRB).
- Keeping personnel records for contact tracing will no longer be required.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Complete the Qualtrics daily health screening survey.
- Stay home if you have symptoms.
- Get vaccinated/boosted!
- Supervisors and mentors are not permitted to inquire of an employee’s or student’s vaccination status.
- New/returning personnel and visitors need to complete UD COVID online training.
- Travel for international research, scholarship and creative/performing arts requires submission of the online application form and approval prior to departure. Consistent with CDC guidance, all travelers need to affirm they are fully vaccinated prior to travel.
2. What face mask requirements apply to researchers?
Effective Monday Jan. 3, 2022, masking in all shared spaces is mandatory. Mask enforcement will continue to be emphasized regardless of vaccination status. All students, faculty and staff will be required to wear masks in all settings, including research laboratories. Given the high transmissibility of the Omicron coronavirus variant, UD requires a well-fitted mask worn properly in accordance with mask instructions. For complete guidelines for other campus settings, visit UD’s Coronavirus webpage.
Given the high transmissibility of the Omicron coronavirus variant, surgical or KN95 masks are strongly recommended. Please use this form on the UD Environmental Health and Safety website to order COVID protection supplies.
3. What physical distancing requirements apply to researchers?
4. What additional health and safety protocols do researchers need to follow?
All members of the UD community must complete the University of Delaware daily health screening each day prior to coming to campus for any commitment, regardless of vaccination status. This pertains to all employees reporting to work, as well as to all students participating in classes, labs, meetings, meals or other activities; using University facilities such as the Little Bob or library; or engaging in any other campus activity including informal meetings. Off-campus students must complete the survey prior to leaving their residence. Students in the residence halls must complete the survey before leaving their on-campus room/apartment. All UD students and employees will need to follow all instructions and steps provided to them based on their response to the screening. In addition, they may be asked to show a University ID and their email from that day verifying successful completion of the daily health screening questionnaire. Failure to do so will result in limited access to campus facilities.
5. How do I go about getting personal protective equipment (PPE), including KN95 and fire-resistant face masks, for my research team?
Please use this form on the UD Environmental Health and Safety website to order COVID protection supplies.
6. Can human subjects research be conducted now?
Yes, All human subjects research can commence. For research involving vulnerable populations consider the benefits of continuing virtual engagement. Continue to follow the COVID-19 Human Subjects Research Checklist. Questions should be directed to the UD Institutional Review Board (IRB).
7. Will undergraduate students be permitted to return to research labs and field activities?
8. What is the procedure for bringing a visitor to my lab?
The University of Delaware campus is open to visitors, including vendors and guests, and all are strongly encouraged to be fully vaccinated before coming to campus. Campus visitors are required to follow UD’s health protocols, which include wearing face masks, maintaining physical distance and observing daily health screening guidelines. Anyone who hosts or sponsors a guest is responsible for sharing UD policies and ensuring that they are followed.
9. Is travel for research purposes permitted?
Individuals must be vaccinated for travel — with no exceptions. Due to the increase in travel restrictions imposed as a consequence of the Omicron variant, UD travel is being re-evaluated in consultation with UD Risk Management and our insurance carriers.
Domestic research travel continues to be permissible; an approval process is not required. However, given the increased incidence of COVID-19, UD employees and students continue to be strongly encouraged to participate virtually in research activities/conferences, whether domestic or international, and postponing research travel whenever possible.
UD international travel for research, scholarship and creative activities may continue provided UD travelers are fully vaccinated and their travel is fully approved via an online application process prior to departure. The International Research Travel Request form, includes detailed questions, affirmation that all travelers are fully vaccinated and a review process that includes the traveler’s department chair and dean, in addition to the vice president for research, scholarship and innovation, the provost and the Office of Risk Management.
UD will support well-justified international research travel to CDC Level 1-3 countries. Travel to Level 4 countries will not be approved at this time. Individuals who are approved to travel are encouraged to book all travel via Concur and are responsible for remaining aware of the changing CDC and U.S. Department of State travel guidance.
1. Do I need to complete a "Human Subjects Research Checklist” prior to conducting in-person research?
Yes. If your research involves in-person interactions with research participants, physically in the same space, regardless of where the space is located, during the COVID-19 pandemic,then you must complete the “Human Subjects Research Checklist” prior to the return to in-person research. The checklist is not study specific. One checklist per PI starting in-person research is sufficient.
2. Can in-person research with human subjects be conducted at at UD?
Yes. In-person research with human subjects can be conducted following IRB-approved research protocols. Please visit the COVID-19 Human Subjects Research Checklist for up-to-date information and detailed guidance as it pertains to each ramp-up phase.
3. Should IRB-approved protocols be modified to accommodate changes triggered by COVID-19?
Yes. COVID-19-related changes to IRB-approved research protocols (e.g., changes to request on-line data collection from subjects, etc.) need to be submitted to the IRB via amendment and must be reviewed and approved prior to implementation.
DHHS and FDA regulations require that all changes in IRB-approved research must be reviewed and approved before changes may be implemented. The only exception to this requirement is that an emergency change may be made without prior IRB review and approval if it is done to eliminate an apparent immediate hazard to a specific participant. Emergency changes must be reported promptly to the IRB for review.
4. Can safety checks related to COVID-19 (i.e., body temperature checks and health screening questions pertaining to COVID) prior to in-person interaction with research participants be implemented without IRB approval?
Yes. Researchers can implement the COVID-19 related health screening protocols posted at https://www.udel.edu/home/coronavirus/return/testing/ prior to in-person interaction with human subjects without requirement for those screenings to be approved by the IRB. Body temperature checks and other safety screening COVID-19 health-related questions can be collected and those modifications do not need to be submitted for IRB review and approval unless they are intended to be used as research data (e.g., co-variants, COVID-19 related studies).
Any other changes protocols may need related to COVID-19 (e.g., changes to inclusion/exclusion criteria, elimination of certain procedures previously approved and now removed from protocol, etc.) must be reviewed and approved by the IRB via the amendment process prior to implementation.
5. How should COVID-19 related risks as they pertain to in-person visits be communicated to research participants?
The communicable spread of COVID-19 is a risk the members of our community are encountering in daily life. Research- informed consent documents must describe research-specific risks and should not address COVID-19 related risks not specific to research procedures. While not research-specific, the impact of COVID-19 in our daily lives has drastically affected how we interact with each other and it is important for prospective and returning subjects to be informed when making decisions about participating in in-person research visits. It is recommended that researchers provide subjects with the “Important information about COVID-19 and Research Participation” sheet at the time they are contacted to schedule in-person visits and instructed on how to complete the required health screening form.
6. I have an ongoing study registered in Clinicaltrials.gov. Do I have to make any changes to my registration?
Any changes made for research purposes to a registered and approved trial must be updated in the ClinicalTrials.gov registration within 30 days after IRB approval of the modification.
7. I am a UD researcher conducting a multi-site study approved and overseen by another institution’s IRB (under single IRB review). What should I do about the study?
8. Is the use of remote online tools acceptable to collect data from research subjects?
Yes. Online tools to enable remote meetings can be used when conducting research with human subjects. Transition from in-person to online/remote data collection must be submitted as a protocol amendment to the IRB for review and approval.
UD central IT recommends the use of Zoom for remote meetings/interviews. Zoom can be downloaded from My UD. UD offers several tips to manage privacy and security of meetings The use of HIPAA-compliant Zoom account> should be considered when collecting sensitive research data.
9. How should informed consent be documented when in-person signature of paper documents is not possible?
If signed informed consent documents are required as per the IRB- approved protocol, a written consent (can be an electronic version) must be provided and signed by the subject of legally authorized representative and collected by the researchers some way (i.e., by mail, electronically signed, scanned/faxed, etc.). Exchange of signed documents must be done securely. The IRB suggest consultation with IT as to secured used of available resources https://www1.udel.edu/security/bestpractices/”. Please remember subjects must be given a copy of the informed consent document for their records.
If researchers propose to complete an informed consent process but cannot obtain an original signature as per normal procedure, they may request a waiver of documentation of informed consent. To qualify, the research must present no more than minimal risk of harm to the subjects and involve no procedures for which written consent is normally required. For example, a waiver of documentation of consent is sometimes appropriate for non-sensitive survey type research. These justifications for a waiver of documentation should be added to the protocol form and must be approved by the IRB.
Detailed guidance and best practices on obtaining and documenting informed consent can be found on the Human Subject webpage.
10. When can remote enrollment of research participants be proposed for studies?
Remote enrollment can be considered in cases in which no in-person visit with a subject is feasible prior to their study initiation. That is, study will only involve remote interactions/data collection, or study can start remotely prior to in-person visits (e.g., some initial data collection can be completed electronically or via on-line meeting tools). Studies requiring in-person interactions with subjects can propose remote conversations seeking verbal agreement to participate from the subject but should ensure signature is obtained in ink or electronically at the time of the first visit.
Changes to existing protocols related to remote enrollment of subjects must be submitted to the IRB for review and approval via the amendment process.
11. Is the UD IRB accepting and reviewing submissions?
Yes, the UD IRB staff and committee members are working normal hours. Email is checked periodically and the IRB staff are triaging the urgency of requests made to the IRB.
The volume of COVID-19 related applications to the UD IRB has increased significantly; consequently, turnaround times may be variable. Researchers are asked to plan accordingly as they prepare for return to in-person research with human subjects during UD ramp-up phases 3 and 4 and visit the COVID-19 Return to Research/ for more information.
12. Who should I contact if I have additional human subjects related questions?
For additional information, please reach out by email to University of Delaware – HSRB (email@example.com) or by phone at (302) 831-2137.