Research Continuity Planning for COVID-19

  Latest Updates:

  • May 5: Updates on research resumption posted (below)
  • April 8: COVID-19 Research Guidelines (below)
  • April 1: COVID-19 Research Forum created
  • March 30: New policy on restricted access to University buildings (below)

Research Resumption

May 5, 2020

On April 23, 2020, Governor Pritzker issued an extension of our state’s ‘stay at home’ order through May 30th, in line with public health recommendations from federal authorities, to continue the progress that we have witnessed in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. While ensuring the health and safety of our community is paramount, the impact of the widespread closures on our research enterprise has been significant. The centrality of research to the University of Chicago cannot be overstated and planning a safe return to research activities is a high priority.

To address this, the Office of the Provost has convened a faculty committee to provide guidance on principles for a phased reintroduction of on-campus research. The committee is working on the assumption that research resumption will occur in stages based on the overall status of the pandemic in Chicago and Illinois, guidance from State and City Public Health authorities, and prevailing conditions at the University. Please note that while the Governor’s order extends through May 30th, we encourage all researchers and other work in education and administration to continue remote activities until further notice whenever possible.

The guidance of the faculty committee will inform implementation planning by deans and detailed preparations by individual research groups, which we expect to begin by mid-May. Our work will proceed in close collaboration with the Medical Center to establish state-of-the-art safety protocols and logistical planning for safe resumption of research. Foremost is the need to ensure that we do whatever we can to reduce health risks to faculty, other academic appointees, students, and staff. This will include preparing best practices for personal protective equipment, coronavirus testing as appropriate, and detailed plans for social distancing within each research area, as well as plans for regular cleaning in accordance with public health guidelines.

The deans and other academic leaders will be in further communication with labs about these topics in the days and weeks ahead. I want to thank the University of Chicago research community for meeting these unprecedented challenges with generosity of spirit, and for continuing to pursue new knowledge and innovations in the face of this pandemic.

Ka Yee C. Lee, Provost


COVID-19 Research Guidelines

April 8, 2020

This document provides COVID-19 research guidelines for on-campus research that directly targets this current pandemic. Research activities should have an impact in the short term (within 6 months) unless vaccine-related research (within 1 year). For purposes of this guideline, ‘impact’ means that an undertaking should achieve a go/no-go endpoint of usefulness suitable for transfer from the research stage to a development partner (e.g., an industry, governmental, or clinical partner) within the indicated timeline.

  • Proposals to improve testing, treatment, or clinical characterization of COVID-19 must provide compelling arguments that the research is directly relevant to the current COVID-19 pandemic and will achieve an impact endpoint within six months of start date.
  • Proposals for COVID-19 vaccination should achieve an impact endpoint within one year of start date.
  • Studies of specific potential drug targets against COVID-19 will also be considered but must include strong rationale (e.g. rapid testing a drug/compound in a HTRL core facility) – most would be deemed too slow and unlikely to yield an impact endpoint within 6 months of start date
  • Priority will be given to proposals to demonstrate the feasibility of obtaining clinical samples, or residual material, from the Department of Pathology’s Clinical Laboratories.
  • Priority will be given to proposals that are written in response to any COVID-19-related Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) from a federal agency, carried out in response to a request from a federal agency to repurpose toward COVID-19, or are validated by major third parties such as governmental or non-governmental organizations or companies active in infectious disease development that could serve as development partners should impact be achieved.

Highest priority will be given to those projects deemed most likely to enhance treatment of COVID-19 patients, or to terminate the spread of infection.

Application of guidelines:
Each division should use these guidelines to assess current on -campus COVID-19 related research activities and new proposals.

New proposals must specify:

  • All personnel involved (including graduate students)
  • Number of in-person contact hours
  • Whether any live virus propagation/amplification requiring the BSL3 facility at Howard Taylor Ricketts Laboratory is being proposed
  • If research activities involve samples or specimens that may contain SARS-CoV-2 and need to involve the Office of Research Safety.
  • If any research cores or animal work is needed.
  • All work locations
  • A plan for social distancing and staggered work schedules, when multiple personnel are involved.

New policy on restricted access to University buildings

March 30, 2020

In the last weeks and days, we have taken unprecedented steps to keep people safe from COVID-19 and to stop the transmission of this virus. We appreciate the tremendous support across campus and the flexibility you have shown as we work together to keep our community safe. Despite such efforts across the state, new COVID-19 cases are continuing to increase rapidly in Illinois with widespread community transmission, and we must do more to “flatten the curve.”

Therefore, beginning on Tuesday, March 31, at 5 p.m., all academic and administrative campus buildings will move from general key card access to secure key card access, whereby only those individuals deemed essential personnel who must be on campus will be able to access the facility. Each unit has previously compiled a list of essential personnel whose key cards (University IDs) will now be the only cards that can unlock doors. Since our goal is to significantly reduce the number of people on campus, we have asked the deans and officers to review the list of essential personnel for their units and limit access to the fewest possible people.

We recognize that some instructors have particular situations that make teaching remotely from home very difficult. We will consider designating instructors as essential personnel at the request of deans, on a very limited case-by-case basis and for teaching purposes only. In these cases, we will identify specific classrooms for teaching and recording course sessions, and those classrooms will be cleaned after each use.

Much like the City of Chicago has been forced to close public parks and playgrounds, we are forced to ensure that only those who truly must be on campus can access our facilities. Protecting the health of these individuals is paramount and having extra people in our buildings increases the chance of illness for those who must come to campus, including our front-line healthcare workers.

The University is an intellectual home and community for all of us, and I recognize that this additional measure of locking our doors, albeit temporarily, will be difficult for many of us. While for now we cannot gather together on campus, we remain united as a community as we work together in our fight against the coronavirus pandemic. This is an extraordinary step needed to protect the University and our broader community. Thank you for your partnership and commitment in these difficult times.


Ka Yee Lee, Provost



Research Guidance for “Stay at Home” Order

March 21, 2020

Yesterday, Governor Pritzker issued a “stay at home” order for the state of Illinois, effective today at 5:00 p.m. through April 7. The order’s objective is to reduce the spread of coronavirus by asking Illinois residents to stay at home as much as possible, while providing for continuation of a number of designated “essential” activities.

Last week, we asked all laboratories and research teams on campus to immediately limit the number of people physically present in the research environment to only essential individuals and to develop a plan for the possibility of a shutdown. Under this new “stay at home” order, we must begin implementing those plans.

All non-essential research activities requiring people to be present on campus must be suspended. Access to research facilities and laboratories will be limited to essential personnel only, as identified by the lab director, principal investigator, and your Dean. University buildings will remain closed and card access systems will be set to the normal after-hours and weekend access parameters that have been established by the individual departments. Please note, you should not remove any items from your office or research space, other than storage devices, lab notebooks and papers, without prior approval from your dean.

Those designated to perform essential research functions will be allowed access; essential research functions are defined as:

  • Critical maintenance procedures to maintain long term laboratory viability and safety. For example, providing animal support and maintaining critical equipment such as computation equipment, deep-storage freezers, incubators, mass spectrometers, and electron microscopes.
  • COVID-19 research that may mitigate the spread of the pandemic.
  • It is critically important that all essential personnel continue public health practices including physical distancing, hand hygiene and cleaning workspaces while on campus.

We asked every unit to submit a list of essential personnel, contact information, location, and function by yesterday at 5:00 p.m. We know that essential on-campus functions may change over time and we will partner with you to adapt to unique circumstances as the situation evolves. Updated information and resources will be posted on this website.

Lastly, we ask that you consider donating any personal protective equipment you may have to help ensure the safety of our medical personnel as they screen and treat patients. If essential personnel are in labs to perform critical functions, please consider collecting any personal protective equipment you can spare. You can click here to see what is needed and where and when to drop it off, and you can use this form to track your donations. Thank you for anything you can do to help our medical staff stay safe.

The challenges that we are facing are unprecedented and the potential impact on our research community is significant. Please be safe, interact virtually with your teams and colleagues, and take care of yourself and those around you as we deal with this pandemic together as a community.


Ka Yee Lee, Provost


Guidance for Research Continuity Planning

March 16, 2020

The rapidly changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic requires us to continue to take deliberate steps to actively curtail its spread. Protecting the health and safety of our faculty, researchers, students, staff, and research participants is our top priority, and University leaders and deans have been unequivocal on this point. We – along with our peer institutions – are taking unprecedented steps to safeguard our community, which now must include significantly ramping down on-campus research activities. To help reduce the number of people on campus, we are asking all Principal Investigators who lead on-campus research teams and laboratories and directors of on-campus research facilities to take the following actions immediately:

  • Limit the number of people physically present in the research environment to only essential individuals. All people who can conduct their work remotely should do so right away.
  • Prioritize the health and safety of your research teams, labs, and participants. The definition of safety will mean different things for different types of research and may change over time.
    • For those who are able to conduct research with no one physically present on campus, research activities should transition online immediately.
    • For those who conduct human subjects research involving person-to-person contact that does not directly benefit the subject, those activities should be suspended immediately.
  • Implement public health practices into all research environments, including: limit the number of people physically present to essential people only; implement social distancing strategies for people who must be on site; consider having people work in asynchronous shifts; and use virtual meetings where possible. Visitors (i.e., anyone who does not have an official University of Chicago appointment) and minors are not allowed in any research lab.
  • Implement a ramp down of people in your laboratories and facilities without delay. Identify which operations are critical and which can be deferred or paused. Please plan for operating with the minimum number of people physically present to preserve critical functions through at least April 15.
  • Develop a plan by Wednesday, March 18 for the possibility of a total lab closure. We need to be prepared for the possibility that we could be required to close one or more labs with little notice, and planning now ensures the greatest opportunity to preserve research and data. Your dean will instruct you where to submit the plan.
  • Continue vital research related to COVID-19 and start new projects related to COVID-19, following containment guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and in consultation with the Office of Research Safety.

We understand the impact that these changes will have on our research community and are actively working to provide support and resources during this challenging time:

  • To assist you with the development of these plans, the Resources page provides planning considerations, checklists, and templates
  • We are planning two virtual townhalls for researchers on Tuesday, March 17 and Thursday, March 19, at which further information will be shared and questions answered.

These decisions are not ones we take lightly, and we appreciate the deep concern you have for your teams and your research. Acting definitely now gives us the best chance of preserving the most critical components of research in the event of a required complete shut-down, and we must be prepared for that possibility.

We will keep you informed as we move forward together, and we are grateful for your partnership.


Ka Yee Lee, Provost




Resources and tools for continuity planning are available here.


Town Halls

Researchers are invited to attend two virtual town halls, at which further information will be provided. These will be held Tuesday, March 17 at 12:00PM and Thursday, March 19 at 3:00PM.

Slides from March 19 Town Hall

Slides from March 17 Town Hall

Due to the expected large audiences for these events, we strongly suggest questions be submitted in advance through the RSVP forms.