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Return to Onsite Research and Scholarship

Return to Onsite Research and Scholarship

The situation involving COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and the Research & Scholarship Return Team appointed by the chancellor has developed the following guidance to assist members of the research community with a safe return to onsite research and scholarship.  Effective June 1, per the Governor’s order and in compliance with campus guidance, investigators may return to onsite research activities. The information below summarizes guidance for campus-, college-, and department-level units for transitioning back to on-site work. 



We are currently in Phase 4 of the "Restore Illinois" plan. Under Phase 2, only essential research was allowed on campus, such as COVID-19-related projects, seasonal work, work related to national security, or projects for which suspension would result in irreversible data loss. As manufacturing, offices, and retail reopened in Phase 3 in Zone 6, more routine research activities, subject to regulations to maximize the safety and health of our students, researchers, staff, and faculty, resumed on campus. Note that the state provides guidance for manufacturing operations, which are somewhat similar in scope to research operations, but no specific research operations guidance. 

The campus is responsible for setting principles that are attentive to the safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff, and greater community; are guided by scientific evidence; and provide continuity and uniformity where possible and appropriate. The campus has reviewed and approved Unit Return-to-Work Plans  and will provide timely updates to EOs and solicit plan updates, if needed as conditions evolve. The campus will monitor non-compliance and provide additional oversight as necessary. Employees should talk to their supervisor about concerns regarding returning to work and can reach out to local, school, or college human resources departments as well. Illinois Human Resources is also a resource for questions or more information.


The list below applies to units at the department level, or as appropriate to higher-level units involved in research and scholarship (e.g., colleges, schools, centers, and institute-level units such as BI, IGB, or MRL). Units are encouraged to monitor compliance by their staff and researchers to ensure that safety measures are observed.

In order to reopen, each unit must prepare a unit Return-to-Work Plan. This plan must address the following:

a) Return-to-work flexibility: Unit plans must acknowledge that not everyone can return to work. A mechanism should be set up so approvals to return to work are routed via the unit office instead of, or in addition to, the immediate supervisor, to make sure the unit can track workers who require exceptions. This includes, but is not limited to, cases such as high-risk individuals, or individuals giving care to relatives or young children while normal care mechanisms remain unavailable.

b) Office work: Office work by unit staff, researchers, and scholars should be conducted remotely, with special exceptions made by the EO. This includes meetings of any size early in Phase 3, although this restriction may be relaxed to State guidelines with campus guidance further into Phase 3.

c) Studio work: Scholarship in many units includes studio work, such as rehearsals of musical, dance, or theater ensembles. The unit plan should include modifications to satisfy safety requirements such as distancing or wearing PPE as required by state and campus. Alternative arrangements, such as outdoor studio space, should also be considered.

d) Non-lab research and scholarship: A range of research and scholarship activities, such as computational research, manuscript preparation, and data analysis, does not require a physical presence on campus and should continue remotely. Additional research and scholarship activities do require physical presence; for example in archives and libraries for access to print materials, specialized equipment, and computer software. In such cases, units should follow guidance for Shared and core facilities (e), below.

e) Shared and core facilities: Core facilities and units with facilities such as shipping and receiving, storerooms, or multi-user research facilities must develop plans that describe how these facilities will ramp up. Plans should include any restrictions on opening hours, cleaning and sanitizing procedures (see Experimental laboratory research (g) below), and a management system for facility access by scholars and researchers, if reduced staffing is required to satisfy distancing and other rules with reduced personnel. For the safety of others in the facility, units should turn away researchers and scholars who do not comply with unit safety guidelines.

f) Space readiness: Units must coordinate with F&S and building workers to ensure that spaces are kept clean, disinfected sufficiently to allow for safe scholarly and research activities, and labeled to comply with space restrictions (e.g., one person per elevator; unidirectional staircases; restrictions on water fountain use; six-foot distancing labels in common spaces such as conference rooms, kitchens, or similar areas). For rooms that are less than 300 square feet, a “one person at a time” policy is recommended for all units.

g) Experimental laboratory research: Such research is allowed, with restrictions to satisfy social distancing requirements. In particular, unit plans should address the following: 

  • How mandatory PPE requirements (masks at work) and hygiene/disinfectant requirements will be fulfilled; how PPE will be supplied in addition to the two face masks provided by campus. See Laboratory Cleaning and Disinfection.
  • How space will be utilized to allow distancing of at least six feet (and preferably more than 300 square feet of space per researcher). In cases where the number of researchers exceeds capacity, either priority of return-to-work or shift plans to allow equal and fair access should be described.
  • The unit approves each laboratory return-to-work plan, and it is the unit’s responsibility to verify with DRS if there are questions about any such plan.
  • How the initial ramp-up is to occur. It is recommended that reasonable restrictions on work hours be put into effect in the early stages of Phase 3, until it is clear that the unit’s support personnel (e.g., departmental staff, storeroom, receiving, or other such facilities) are operating at a level to handle the required volume.

h) Field research: Some aspects of field research can be managed as a combination of (d) Non-lab research and scholarship, and (g), Experimental laboratory research, above. Additional considerations, including travel to and from field research sites, must be managed in order to comply with social distancing requirements—traveling to the site in separate vehicles, for example.

i) Animal research: Researchers must comply with the guidance issued by the Division of Animal Resources.

j) Human subjects research: Researchers must comply with guidance from the Office for the Protection of Research Subjects.

k) Controlled access to unit buildings: Campus will maintain locked buildings to ensure controlled access. Only unit personnel designated to return to work should have card or key access whenever it is possible or practical to do so.

l) Regular monitoring: Units should provide regular monitoring (walk-through) by unit leaders or their designated staff to ensure that all staff, scholars and researchers are following appropriate safety measures. The purpose of this monitoring is not punitive action, but as in the case of DRS laboratory safety reviews, to catch emerging problems early and maximize compliance for the health and safety of everyone in the unit.

The unit Return-to-Work Plan must be reviewed at the College or OVCRI level, as appropriate, and approved, before scholars and researchers return to work. Revisions may be required based on the review process, prior to approval.

(m) Training: Everyone returning to campus must take DRS “COVID-19 Safety” training. Units can track training completions via the instructions below: 

Scholar and Researcher Responsibilities

Scholars and researchers within units, including Principal Investigators, supervisors, and professional and student laboratory staff, also have responsibilities for the safe return to work.

a) Personal responsibilities: Everyone returning to campus must comply with general distancing, hygiene and sanitizing requirements as set forth by the CDC, the state, and the university. 

b) Training: Everyone returning to campus must take DRS “COVID-19 Safety” training. In addition, experimental laboratory researchers must follow the DRS COVID-19 “Safe Conduct of Essential Research Activities," and read and implement the DRS “Laboratory Ramp-Up Checklist” or equivalent documents as provided by their unit. PIs and lab managers are required to certify that COVID-19 safety measures are in place and to inform Department Heads using this Online Verification.

c) Building access: Researchers and scholars accessing any facility for research purposes must comply with that facility’s individual unit plans given the uniqueness of each facility. Researchers and scholars who refuse to comply with safety guidelines will be asked to leave and no longer allowed access. The DRS or similar checklist must be implemented by each supervisor (e.g., project PI, staff supervising Physical Sciences Tech Assistant, director-level staff of program within a unit) by creating a Return-to-Work Plan for each laboratory, staff group or other working group, which must be approved by the unit’s EO or designated staff. The plan must comply with this document, applicable DRS documents, and the overall Unit Return-to-Work Plan. For experimental laboratories, the plan must be incorporated in the safety plan as part of SOPs.

d) Personnel: A list of personnel must be communicated by supervisors to their unit EO or designate for approval to return to work in the unit’s spaces, such as labs or rehearsal spaces.

e) Approvals: It is recommended that the unit, not the supervisor, contact personnel and provide a list of approved personnel to supervisors. Minimally, approval requires that personnel have taken applicable training and certify that they have participated in the Return-to-Work Plan provided by the supervisor to the unit. Units are also encouraged to verify that personnel understand that they may decline to return to work, depending on child care arrangements, status as a high-risk individual, or other concerns. 

Human Subjects Research

The Office for the Protection of Research Subjects has developed guidance related to COVID-19. Revised data collection procedures submitted through an Emergency Change request are approved until June 30, 2020. Beginning July 1, 2020, all protocols will return to data collection processes as detailed in the previously approved IRB protocol, subject to updated university guidance on safety practices.

Animal Research

The Division of Animal Resources has developed a Resumption of Animal Research Request Form.

The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has contingency plans to address potential disruptions in operations. For the foreseeable future, the IACUC office will continue to accept protocol submissions and amendments and will process them as usual. We currently anticipate that the time needed for complete review and approval should remain close to normal.

Please also keep the following in mind:

  • All protocol procedures, including monitoring, must be followed as described and approved in your protocol. If a need for changes in procedures is anticipated, including the need for addition of personnel to the project, these must be approved by the IACUC prior to their implementation. As usual, you should submit protocol amendments via our online portal.
  • Please review your ability to conduct research projects and teaching activities that are planned for the next few weeks in the event that availability of project personnel changes. If a disruption occurs in the ability of your personnel responsible for animal care to perform their duties, contact the relevant veterinary office (DAR or AACUP) and IACUC office immediately.
  • All principal investigators/research staff who currently have animals on projects should make sure that their emergency contact information, including cell phone numbers, is up to date in case you need to be reached for animal-related questions or decisions.


Many students and postdocs have had their research progress delayed by the COVID-19 shutdown. Units should be prepared to work with the Graduate College and their own college to flexibly assist students and postdocs with respect to deadlines and funding.

Deans and Department Heads have been given discretion to approve on-campus research provided that appropriate health and safety precautions are followed. Individual undergraduate or graduate students may participate in research within an individual faculty member’s lab, as part of that faculty member’s approved laboratory safety plan.  Participation in on-campus research projects should be voluntary and whenever possible alternative remote experiences should be made available.

Sponsored Project Information

All SPA functions continue to be conducted and SPA continues to post information including a Sponsor Policy Table, FAQs, and Summer Appointment Guidance at: Impact of COVID-19 on Sponsored Projects.

Contact your SPA Representative with questions related to research funding.

COVID-19 Proposals
If the purpose of a proposal or supplement submission is for COVID-19 predominately related to the COVID-19 pandemic, please use the following methods to communicate this information to SPA. 

  • Pre-proposal or proposal: Please use the COVID-19 radio button in Supplemental Information/Project Characteristics. A description of this field was also added to the SPA Proposal Field Guide.
  • Proposal update, funded agreement (new and mod) or unfunded agreements (material transfer, non-disclosure, software license or data use, other): Please type “COVID-19” in the Other Information field.
  • Award management: If not already noted in the myResearch Portal as indicated above, please notify your Award Management Coordinator during account setup or any time thereafter.

COVID-19 Related Project Extensions, Supplements, and Scope of Work Changes
An assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on sponsored projects should be conducted to determine if the impact results in a need for a delayed start date, additional time, or funding to complete the original statement of work, or if the impact results in a reduction/change in scope or adjustments in a project deliverable timeline. After exploring available options with the agency program officer, the investigator should do the following: 

New Awards or New Funding
PIs should notify SPA if there are any adjustments needed to the period of performance start date.

No Cost Extension or Change in Scope of Work

  • for time, use your agency’s standard process;
  • an initial time extension up to one year with no change in scope can be approved by SPA for many standard federal research projects;
  • all other requests need agency approval with SPA countersignature on the request.

For awards with progress reports due during the pandemic: include a statement that describes the impact (if any) of the pandemic on the progress of the project. 

Division of Research Safety COVID 19 CAMPUS SAFETY RESOURCES