Friday, March 6, 2020

UPDATE (March 12, 2020): A page with FAQs about COVID-19 preparations for researchers is available here

Dear Researchers, 

The University of Iowa is closely monitoring the coronavirus and associated COVID-19 disease, and plans are in place to anticipate, minimize, and adequately manage its potential impact on campus life and operations. Regular updates about these efforts are available on this site

Additionally, the Office of the Vice President for Research wants to inform you of our efforts to support the research enterprise and help you prepare for various scenarios.

What special planning should researchers carry out? Please see the checklist at the bottom of this message.

Emergency personnel. At this time, there are no plans to restrict access to university research spaces, but it's prudent for every research group to plan ahead in the event that full access is not possible for some time period. If illness or related impacts of COVID-19 interrupt operations of labs or broader campus operations, the university's Critical Incident Management Plan could be invoked. Meanwhile, I encourage you to review your colleges' and units' own plans for managing critical incidents and ensuring continuity of operations. Additionally, if you don't already have a plan in place for your lab or area of responsibility, some things you might consider as you determine how best to support and/or maintain your research activities:

  • Human health, welfare and/or safety. 
  • Information technology services or security. 
  • Building or property security, safety, and integrity. 
  • Research animals, specimens, or equipment. 
  • Critical infrastructure (power, water, heat, roads, etc.). 
  • Critical business, contractual, or legal obligations including employee payroll.

In each unit, emergency personnel who can back up on mission-critical tasks and help lead decision-making should be already designated. If you are unsure of who in your research project is designated as emergency personnel, work with your department administrator or an equivalent administrator to identify them. 

Precautions. Remember, all personnel should stay home if they experience any symptoms including fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. The university also asks any faculty, staff, or students who have recently traveled to or through countries hit hardest by COVID-19 (currently China, Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Iran) to stay home and inform the University of Iowa via this link of their plans for self-isolation. You're also encouraged to limit physical contact with others, such as handshaking and sharing of food. Finally, the most effective prevention measure is frequent, thorough handwashing. 

Communications. If a communications plan for your research group is not already in place, designate points of contact so everyone receives timely information. If you receive media inquiries, please forward them to the Office of Strategic Communication at

Plan for researcher time. Principal investigators and research group leads should discuss approaches now, in the event that some personnel are unable to come to work. Coordination with research support services such as core facilities, Environmental Health and Safety, and the Office of Animal Resources should be considered where applicable. This kind of advanced planning will make future decisions straightforward and minimize disruption to research activities.

Remote access. The university is not currently asking employees to work remotely, but it's a good idea to be prepared in case that would become necessary in the future. Information Technology Services encourages you to test out the technologies you might need to work from off campus. Here is a list of common IT services used for remote work and how to access them. 

Prioritization. Depending upon the nature of your research, you might consider prioritizing work that can only be carried out in your research facility, and put off work amenable to remote support, such as data analysis. Stockpiling results and data now that could be analyzed remotely in the future is a potential option that might create future flexibility.

Save samples along the way. If you are carrying out a long-term experiment and if it is feasible to freeze samples at specific steps, you might consider doing this more often.

Proposal deadlines. In general we expect that the Division of Sponsored Programs (DSP) will be able to submit proposals, even if personnel are working remotely. Our experience is that most federal agencies strive to be flexible about deadlines under crisis circumstances beyond our control. However, if agencies are officially closed, proposals will most likely remain in a queue, pending resumption of agency operations - as has been the case during federal budget-related shutdowns. Information will be posted on the DSP website, if necessary. 

Travel. The Iowa Board of Regents issued a 30-day moratorium, starting March 5, prohibiting university-sponsored international travel for faculty, staff, and students. Further, the University of Iowa encourage members of the UI community to strongly consider deferring non-essential personal international travel during spring break and in the months ahead. Should you choose to travel internationally on a personal trip, the UI offers several guidelines to aid the university in supporting your health and safety. Among them is the expectation that if you travel to a country with a CDC Level 3 travel warning due to COVID-19, you will be expected to self-isolate for 14 days upon your return. 

Checklist. By working together on advance planning we can help everyone in your research group focus on their efforts and work together as a team. Even if our plans are not ultimately needed for the COVID-19 situation, knowing they are in place can help bring no small measure of peace of mind-and help us prepare for any future challenges. Here are some actions you should consider, if you haven't already:

  • Identify emergency personnel and ensure they know what to do in the event of suspended operations
  • Remind lab personnel of your communication plan or create one if not in place
  • Identify priorities in case of restricted access 
  • Ensure remote access to files, data, servers, etc. 
  • Prioritize experiments 
  • Plan for remote proposal submission 
  • Check travel restrictions before making travel plans. 

One final note. I want to give a tip of the hat to our colleagues in the Office of Research at the University of Washington, whose excellent messaging regarding preparations for researchers in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak was borrowed and adapted for our purposes. 


Marty Scholtz 
Vice President for Research