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Immediate modification of research practices to address COVID‑19

March 18, 2020

To: Faculty conducting research, scholarship, and creative activity
Subject: Immediate modification of research practices to address COVID-19

Washington State University is immediately taking action to implement extreme social distancing. These actions will affect research practices at WSU. It is important to note that WSU is not suspending research activities at this time.

The purpose of this memo is to provide you with updated guidance regarding conduct of research at WSU within the context of extreme social distancing. It is also to identify for you that there may be resource issues in addition to extreme social distancing that may impact research, also requiring guidance.


WSU remains open and expects all of its mission elements to be met within reason as we shift to an extensive telework environment.  Accordingly, researchers should continue their work during this period subject to implementing extreme social distancing and within the guidance of local county health directives to mitigate spread of COVID-19. In addition, public health directives coupled with sanitary work practices, conservation of key research resources in anticipation of disrupted supply chains, and the potential for shelter in place directives to be put in place, mean that it is time to consider various aspects of the research enterprise and how they should be conducted from a risk and sustainability perspective. Topics of that nature discussed in this memorandum include:

  • Immediate ramp-down and postponement of high-risk research activities
  • Continuation of low-risk research activities
  • Prioritization of critical research activities that address major needs, including research on COVID-19 itself and actions to sustain the research enterprise in the long term
  • Preparation for suspension of WSU research activity, should that system-wide decision be made

WSU is closely monitoring federal agency guidance regarding research activities, as well as guidance provided by federal, state, and local public health and other government authorities. Although this guidance is about continued research operations, we also must prepare now to suspend all research activities should there be a directive to “Shelter in Place” by federal, state, or local authorities, or if resources and manpower are severely limited. Please be aware that all WSU locations are subject to local public health directives, which currently vary by county and we should expect them to continue to do so.  Thus, not all campus locations may be affected similarly.

Conduct of research: Research mentees

Note we are very mindful of the situation faced by our students, and are working to mitigate financial support and other issues faced by these individuals. Postdoctoral associates and student research workers (mentees) must telework if at all possible. While teleworking mentees should perform tasks that advance their research program, such as literature reviews, manuscript preparation, and data analysis. Should a mentee and the advisor believe a mentee’s presence in the laboratory is essential, the advisor must receive approval from the unit director before asking a mentee to be present in the laboratory. Such approval should only be granted to protect instruments, conduct COVID-19 related research or continue experiments that have been running for more than 2 weeks and when no other personnel have the ability to continue the research. As stated below, advisors must minimize the number of personnel working at any time, and in general must also justify the need for laboratory presence of each mentee before the unit director will allow an exception to the telework policy.

Additional information regarding graduate students and undergraduate student workers will be provided soon.

Conduct of research: Faculty, PIs, leadership, postdocs

Ultimately, continued research should be established by PIs in consultation with their department chairs, directors, and facilities managers. Please work in collaboration with your unit leadership, and coordinate with your associate deans or vice chancellors for research and appropriate WSU regulatory/compliance bodies (e.g., IRB, IACUC, IBC, OCV, EHS, and Safety Committees) to implement your plans. Please note that the Provost will be providing further guidance as it relates to tenure and promotion. For postdocs, please follow current guidance from HRS regarding WSU employees, taking these research-specific guidelines into consideration.

Current actions and planning needed

  1. Extreme social distancing: Laboratory staff should be reduced to a minimum (typically 1-2 researchers, as safety protocols permit) to ensure social distancing. Alternate shifts could be considered for some activities.
  2. Immediate ramp-down and postponement of high-risk activities: See below for research activities that will be ramped down immediately.
  3. Continued execution of low risk activities: Research outside of laboratories involving no person-to-person interactions, including work executed remotely and on-campus work involving only a single individual, should continue.
  4. Critical research activities: Research activities relevant to COVID-19 or necessary to enable long-term sustainability of research capability (infrastructure, facilities, equipment, effective animal care, and others) should be prioritized and continued. This work, determined locally, may need to proceed at a slower pace due to COVID-19 or other issues.
  5. Preparation for systemwide suspension of laboratory research activities if so decided by WSU: Suspension of laboratory research in particular requires advance preparation because such a decision may be required on short notice. This will be facilitated by use of a checklist as discussed below.

Guidance on specific research activities

Research activities that will be ramped down and postponed:

  1. Activities that include all in person human subject research, such as clinical research, in-person research visits, community-based, and new studies that have not yet started. Research conducted virtually can proceed.
  2. Activities that are deemed high-risk by the unit, college, and system leadership.

Critical research activities that should be prioritized, but may be slowed by COVID-19, resources, or other issues (These should be determined locally; the following are suggestions. Please note this is a fluid situation and recommendations regarding activities may change):

  1. Research involving the coronavirus and efforts to mitigate COVID-19 disease, assuming it is conducted under current guidelines.
  2. Laboratory research where immediate discontinuation would generate significant data and sample loss. Such work should be continued, at a reduced level, in a manner that allows for prompt suspension should WSU so decide, while preserving key plant, tissue, cell-line, environmental, or other samples. Researchers should carefully consider the situation before starting new activities, particularly if major work could be lost in the event of a “Shelter in Place” or similar action.
  3. Work that maintains critical infrastructure, facilities, and equipment in a safe and secure mode, ready to resume operations when the crisis has passed.
  4. Work that maintains critical samples and animal populations, including the well-being of research animals, and distinguishing between novel animal populations and commercially-available animal populations.
  5. Other activities essential to maintain enduring WSU research capabilities as specifically designated by unit, college, campus, or system leadership.

Completion of a laboratory research checklist in preparation for potential suspension of WSU laboratory research activities:

Principal investigators (PIs) involved in laboratory research should complete the preparatory portion of the checklist posted here (adapted from and provided courtesy of the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture). The preparatory portion of the checklist should be completed by Friday, March 20, 2020. Please inform your Associate Dean of Research (Pullman campus) or Vice Chancellor of Research (other campuses) via email when you have completed the preparatory portion of the checklist. Please also review the full shutdown checklist so you can implement it if and when necessary.

Thank you again for your efforts to conduct research in a safe, secure, and sound manner as WSU deals with the coronavirus pandemic.

Please contact the Office of Research with any questions about this guidance at 509-335-5238. And again, please continue to check the WSU COVID-19 and Office of Research websites for updates.


Bryan J. Slinker
Interim Provost

Christopher J. Keane
Vice President for Research


Note: This guidance includes material and ideas provided by similar notices from MIT, Stanford, Michigan State University, and other institutions