Date: March 13, 2020
To: Associate Deans (Research), for distribution to the research community; Research Western; Research Officers
From: Sarah Prichard, Acting Vice-President (Research)
Subject: COVID-19 Updates
Dear Associate Deans (Research),
Thank you for your continued collegiality and efforts to ensure timely communication with our research community as we respond to rapidly evolving circumstances presented by COVID-19.
At this time, research continues as usual.
I am writing to provide a few updates.
First, we will mirror guidelines issued by the Tri-Agencies and recognize claims for non-refundable travel as eligible expenses for all internal research funding programs. These claims must include relevant cancellation documentation.
There are currently no provisions for increasing grant values to compensate for these expenses.
Second, I ask that you continue to consider contingency plans – particularly with respect to animal care, equipment, etc. – in the event we are asked to close the university.
Third, we have drafted a set of frequently asked questions, which I have attached here and would recommend you please share with researchers. These will be posted on Western’s COVID-19 information page and I anticipate we will update them as we progress.
Sarah Prichard, Acting Vice-President (Research)
Frequently Asked Questions
Will Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, due to be held at Western from May 30-June 5, be cancelled?
At this time, no decision has been made to cancel Congress. We continue to monitor the situation and to work with the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences to determine the best course of action.
Will the university cancel research-related and/or conference travel?
Western strongly encourages faculty and staff to defer travel to all countries and regions identified by the Government of Canada as having active travel health notices for COVID-19. For those faculty and staff who do decide to travel internationally, please follow the steps listed here. To protect the health, safety and wellness of the university community, Western has cancelled future university-sanctioned international travel for all students until June 1, 2020.
Will granting agencies reimburse funding for cancelled travel?
The Tri-Council funding agencies (Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council and Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council) have stated that reimbursement of non-refundable travel is an eligible grant expense. This applies to travel for principal investigators and research personnel.
There are no provisions to increase grant values to compensate for these expenses. We recommend you reach out to your faculty research officer, Associate Dean (Research) or Research Western for information pertaining to other granting agencies.
Will extensions be provided for grant/grant reporting deadlines?
We do not yet know how grant deadlines may be affected. Research Western continues to communicate with funding agencies and to operate on the assumption of business as usual. Any news will be communicated to the research community by email.
We recommend you reach out to your faculty research officer, Associate Dean (Research) or Research Western with any specific questions.
How will institutional signatures for grants and contracts be managed?
In the event of university closure, Research Western has documented internal procedures to ensure it is able to provide electronic signatures, including through delegated signing authority where required.
Will I be able to access my laboratory/office in the event of a university shutdown?
In the event of a university shutdown, access to facilities will be restricted to essential services. Associate Deans (Research) are currently identifying essential research programs that may require additional access.
Will research with local hospitals be affected?
Hospitals are inherently high-risk facilities. The university continues to work closely with its partners to determine the best manner of transporting patients and animal models between sites.
Will long-term prospective studies be interrupted?
At the present time, research programs are continuing to operate on the assumption of business as usual. Our priority is to protect Western’s students, trainees, staff and faculty. We recognize costs related to interrupting ongoing studies.
Current guidelines recommend not beginning any new long-term prospective studies, but to continue with existing protocols by paying special attention to social distance and hand-washing recommendations. Please contact your Associate Dean (Research) or Research Western with any specific questions.
What will happen to equipment and facilities requiring ongoing installation, maintenance and calibration?
Associate Deans (Research) are currently identifying and prioritizing key personnel responsible for ensuring the continued function of research equipment and facilities.
How will biological materials (e.g., cell lines, tissue samples, etc.) be managed and preserved in the event of a university shutdown?
Associate Deans (Research) are currently developing contingency plans and identifying key personnel who carry responsibilities for ensuring biological materials used in research are preserved.
How will animal models be protected in the event of a university shutdown?
A group led by the university veterinarian is currently developing plans to ensure animal care needs are managed, necessary supplies are procured and essential staff are identified. Every effort will continue to be made to ensure animal comfort and preservation.
How will REB-approved human participant research studies requiring changes to study-related procedures (e.g., data collection and analysis, recruitment, etc.) be handled?
Human research ethics is compiling a plan to efficiently and effectively address change requests to REB-approved research in the wake of COVID-19 preparations. Communications will be forthcoming.
How will the university ensure safety of personnel and security of research facilities if Western is closed?
Campus Police and Facilities Management have established procedures for locking-down buildings and conducting regular patrols.