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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Research Reboot – Return to Research

This page has important information about returning to campus research space. Those who are approved must abide by requirements laid out to conduct research and maintain safe conditions at all times.

All plans for on-campus research must comply with campus and external guidelines and be an approved activity. Researchers should be aware that depending on the situation, such as an increase in positive cases in the community or cases on campus, we may need to again quickly introduce additional restrictions to on-campus research activity. We will continue to monitor and provide guidance to our research community.

Research is being restarted gradually, with a focus on expanding on-site research and scholarly activities while minimizing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to our students, staff, faculty, and the larger Madison community. “On-site activities” refer to research and scholarly activities conducted on campus, at University-owned facilities, and at non-University field locations or leased spaces.

Faculty and PIs must request approval for all on-site activities conducted by individuals for whom they have responsibility, whether as part of research teams (e.g. a lab group) or as independent researchers (e.g. a graduate advisee).

Phase 0, which was our initial response to COVID-19, was to move most research off campus. Only ‘essential’ research activities on campus were approved.

In Phase 1, which began in early June, a limited expansion of research activities were approved. During this time, a health safety protocol was developed by a committee consisting of me, the associate vice chancellors for research and the associate deans for research representing all the schools and colleges.  We also worked with EHS,FP&M and consulted an architecture firm that designs research labs to develop our guidelines. . In Phase 1, we took a conservative approach to setting guidelines with the goal of learning how to operate safely in this new environment.

Phase 2 continues a gradual expansion of research activities while ensuring we continue to follow guidelines to minimize the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please review the Public Health Protocols.

Significant changes in workplace practices are still expected from returning researchers in Phase 2. We will still require limitations on research site dynamics and building-level procedures to maintain physical distancing, minimize the total number of people in research spaces at any given time, reduce contact duration, develop capacity for contact tracing, and monitor for local instances of viral infection. Health safety protocols that follow government recommendations and best practices will be maintained throughout campus operations in Phase 2.

Phase O: Minimal Research Presence on Campus

Only research that meets certain restrictive criteria is allowed on campus. This includes research that has the potential to address the COVID-19 crisis; therapeutic human subjects studies involving drugs or devices, or other human subjects research activities that are critical to the health and safety of patients or study participants; and projects where termination of the research would lead to loss of long-running experimental data, critical time-series or time-sensitive data, loss of equipment, or the loss of life of critical research-related organisms.

Phase 1: Restricted Expansion

During Phase 1, research activities with low risk for viral transmission and that can be conducted safely by modifying the work environment will be considered. Only activities that cannot be performed at home will be allowed on site. In addition, Phase I also allowed restart of face to face human subjects research interactions that offer the potential for meaningful benefits to individual participants and mitigate potential risks.

Review Phase I guidance here.

Phase 2: Continued Expansion

Phase 2 allows more research and scholarly activities to occur on campus. Throughout this period, we will announce allowed activities on this web site. These include a return of undergraduate students to support research and scholarly activities, face-to-face human subjects research interactions, and a general increase in the number of individuals on campus.

Your chair, associate dean, or center director will also have information on what is permissible and how to apply for Phase 2 restart.

Individuals without approved activity in Phase 0 or Phase 1

Read our Phase 1 guidance on conducting research and scholarly activities on campus, as well as the guidelines of your department, college/school, or center. These provide information on how to return to campus to conduct your research and scholarly activities while minimizing the risk of transmission of the virus. Contact your department chair or associate dean for research on the procedure to request approval to come to campus. You must complete the on-line request form. You cannot return to campus until you have received approval.

Activities permitted in Phase 2

Research spaces should be staffed to maintain a maximum of one person per 200 square feet of research space (or one person per room for rooms less than 400 square feet). Researchers should also maintain 6 feet of physical distancing for personnel working and moving within research spaces, and limit the duration of time that researchers are working in shared spaces, even with physical distancing. Safe distances between individuals depends on several factors, including the nature and layout of specific rooms, HVAC systems, as well as research protocols.

Consult your unit on guidelines on how to do this work while minimizing the risk of virus transmission. At a minimum, all participants must wear face coverings and gloves. Depending on the activity, surgical masks may be more appropriate than face coverings. Lab coats and face shields may also be required. Limit duration of the work conducted in close proximity to 1 hour and mandate immediate hand washing after removing gloves.

Phase 2: Face-to-Face Human Subject Research

Face-to-face human subject research interactions will be permitted in Phase 2, with approval.     Steps for mitigation of risks due to COVID-19 must be performed for these studies, with extra consideration provided for higher risk study populations.

Before applying to conduct your face-to-face human subject research, consult the EHS Guidance for Minimizing COVID-19 Risks for Face-to-Face Research Activities and assure that your research plan aligns with those guidelines.

Face-to-Face guidance documents (includes: research reboot table, high-risk guidelines, template for information sheet to study teams and template script for study teams.)

For investigators in SMPH, please also see:

Phase 2: Undergraduate Students

Undergraduate students play a critical role in a variety of research and scholarly activities. Such opportunities are a major reason students come to our campus, and these research experiences are important for their education and their future career options. In previous research reboot phases,undergraduate students were rarely allowed and only if an exception was approved by a dean, vice chancellor or their appointee.

As of July 1, 2020, undergraduate students will be able to request to return to campus to conduct research and scholarly activities. As with all researchers and research staff, they will have to be approved before returning to campus. Faculty and PIs must follow the approval processes of their school, college, or OVCRGE to bring undergraduate students on site. The PI and student must ensure all public health protocols, as defined by campus guidance, are followed to keep our community safe. We recommend the PI have a conversation with the student about the importance of following community guidelines both on and off campus.

In addition to approval by the school, college or OVCRGE, the PIs must complete the campus online form as part of their request to conduct new research during Phase 2. Faculty and PIs must complete this form on behalf of all personnel under their supervision, including undergraduate students, who are seeking to return to on-site research.

Work that can be successfully completed remotely should not be conducted by students on campus.

In some situations, student training activities may require close contact (less than 6 feet physical distance).

Phase 2: On-site Library Research

Browsing, consulting non-circulating materials, and other forms of on-site library research will soon be enabled. Faculty should first request approval for themselves as well as any graduate student advisees or undergraduate employees who need on-site library access to conduct research. Once building access is enabled, users will be able to schedule on-site access appointments directly through the Libraries. For updates on building access, consult the COVID-19 Library Restart Dashboard and FAQs for Library Services.
This approval process is not for scheduling library materials for pick-up. Users can do so through the Libraries’ Pickup by Appointment page.

How to request approval

Your chair, associate dean, or center director has details on what is permissible and how to apply for Phase 2 activities. The approval process requires submitting a campus on-line request form.  Depending on the school or college, the application process is slightly different.

Individuals with approved activities in Phase 0 or Phase 1

Any expansion of research activities not previously approved in Phase 1 will need approval following the guidelines of your department, college/school, or center. You must return to the campus on-line request form and add the new activities to your existing plans. The form will be pre-populated with information you already provided for Phase 0 or Phase 1.

Individuals without approved activities in Phase 0 or Phase 1

Read guidance on conducting activities on campus, as well as the guidelines of your department, college/school, or center. These provide information on how to return to campus to conduct your research and scholarly activities while minimizing the risk of transmission of the virus. Contact your department chair or associate dean for research on the procedure to request approval to come to campus. You must complete the on-line request form. You should not return to campus until you have received approval.

Remember that on-going research activities may impact other units on campus – FP&M, animal care staff, biosafety staff, custodial staff, and PPE needs.  We cannot ignore the risk that if someone with access to a building tests positive, there may be serious consequences:  closing large parts of a building, loss of staff (not just in their lab, but staff in animal care and custodial staff) due to potential quarantines, as well as the cost of cleaning.

Additionally, as we move to Phase 2:

  • Everyone should continue to follow campus strategies to limit disease spread.
  • Research that is being accomplished remotely is encouraged to be done that way.
  • All employees will be required to wear either a reusable cloth face covering or a single-use disposable mask while inside.
  • Hygiene rules must be observed.
  • It is important to keep contact with other persons as low as possible.
  • Visitors are not allowed on campus.
  • As more restrictions are put in place to ensure campus and public safety, we may need to consider new actions to ensure the safe maintenance of vital research across our campus. New restrictions may require a narrowing of research activities on campus.
  • Travel restrictions are in place through August 17, 2020.
  • Onsite workers must take the COVID-19 training