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Return to Onsite Research and Scholarship

Return to Onsite Research and Scholarship

The situation involving COVID-19 continues to evolve. The information below summarizes guidance for research and scholarly activities during the pandemic. 

Guidance for Research-related Travel

One of the many benefits of COVID-19 vaccination is the possibility of safely resuming travel for research. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance states that vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19.  The CDC guidance provides that individuals who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine can travel safely within the United States. As a reminder, “fully vaccinated” means two weeks after a final vaccine dose (the second dose of Moderna or Pfizer or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson). 

This guidance applies to faculty, staff, and students for travel to conduct essential research. Units should incorporate this guidance into their current trip approval processes.

Before Travel

Your first steps in considering travel should be to consult the General Guidance for University Travel and assess the COVID-19 situation at your destination.  International restrictions are fluid, so check the CDC’s COVID-19 “Travel Recommendations by Destination” as well as the U.S. Department of State website for other international travel warnings.  Because local conditions can change rapidly, approval to travel could be rescinded at any time, up until the date that travel begins. Note that the University may terminate trips in progress and expect travelers to return to campus if COVID-19 conditions create a danger for participants.

The University strongly encourages people to wait until they are fully vaccinated before traveling.  Please read this for more University guidance about employee vaccination status. If you have a medical condition or are taking medication that weakens your immune system, you may NOT be fully protected even if you are fully vaccinated.  In that case, you should talk to your healthcare provider before planning to travel.

Justification and Safety Plan

While investigators and departments are not required to have a safety plan in place, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation recommends safety plans as a best practice.

All trip organizers should provide the following information to their unit head:

  • A description of the planned trip, with specific details about why the trip is necessary.
  • A COVID-19 safety plan for activities or events during the travel, tailored to the locations on the trip. (See campus recommendations and a template to specify COVID-19 safety measures here.)
  • How trip participants will be informed of this plan.
  • Contingency plans, should any participant develop COVID-19 symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 while on the trip.

Trip organizers should work with their approving unit to complete these steps before travel or trip-related purchases are made. Some trips may have details and specifications that make necessary safety mitigations challenging. If approving units have questions or concerns, they should contact the Division of Research Safety.

Applicable COVID-19 Protocols and Restrictions

  • Trip participants must follow the CDC recommendations for domestic or international travel and should continue to follow established on-campus safety measures while traveling and at their destination.
  • Trip participants must abide by the trip safety plan, if one exists, as well as all COVID-19 safety requirements related to travel, testing, or quarantine for their destination or locations encountered during stops while en route.

Testing and Quarantine

Fully vaccinated individuals do not need to participate in pre-travel quarantine.  Individuals who are NOT fully vaccinated should limit themselves to essential activities like attending work and buying groceries in the two weeks before travel. Regardless of your vaccination status, you should maintain your University testing schedule prior to travel. 

  • All trip participants must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result within the past 3 days (72 hours) on the day of the trip.
  • Trip organizers must review the test result—in person—before departure and must deny participation if the negative test  result is not within the 72-hour timeframe.
  • Test results should not be submitted in advance.
  • Proof of test results can be shown on a printed paper or a smartphone, but trip organizers should NOT keep any test results or copies of test results. A printed result must be returned to the participant.
  • If the trip is for more than seven days, participants must plan to show another negative test result obtained at a local COVID-19 testing location, if possible. Ongoing testing for trips longer than seven days should be included in the COVID-19 safety plan. If ongoing testing is not possible, trip organizers should explain why.
  • International travel must include plans for obtaining a local COVID-19 test before returning to the United States. Before boarding a flight, all air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated people, are required to have either (1) a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 3 days before travel or (2) documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months.

After Travel

Resume your University testing schedule, testing as soon as possible upon return.

Travelers who are fully vaccinated do not need to self-quarantine after travel, unless they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. If they have symptoms, they should test immediately and quarantine until receiving a negative test result.

Travelers who are NOT fully vaccinated should self-quarantine for 7 days and get tested 3-5 days after their return.

Transportation

For private car travel, limit vehicle occupancy to one person (the driver) if participants are unvaccinated. This mitigation is not necessary when:

  • individuals already share a household (e.g., spouse, housemates) or,
  • all individuals are fully vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2.

If unvaccinated people must share a vehicle, mitigation strategies including distancing, masking, and enhanced ventilation within the vehicle must be employed. This approach also applies to participants who do not wish to disclose their vaccination status.  See COVID-19 Safety for Fieldwork for additional guidance.

Other forms of transportation, including public transportation, present a greater risk because of the inability to control distance and occupancy. When public transportation cannot be avoided, consider traveling during off-peak times and avoid crowds at gathering locations (stops, transit centers). Skip rows and seats between yourself and other riders if possible. Masks are required on public transportation such as planes, buses, and trains, when traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations, as well as at many venues and events.

Lodging

Rooms may be single occupancy, or double occupancy when the individuals already share a household (e.g., spouse, housemates) or when the individuals are fully vaccinated (two weeks after final dose).

  • Each room should have a private bathroom.
  • All participants must wear masks in common areas when in public, including in common areas of hotels.
  • Roommates do not need to wear face coverings when they are in their room.

Contingency Plan During the Trip

Individuals who have a known exposure to COVID-19 must be tested, and must quarantine as soon as possible, unless they are fully vaccinated per CDC guidelines. Anyone who develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should test immediately and quarantine until receiving negative results. If a participant tests positive, all participants must be tested. Trip organizers are responsible for contact tracing and for ensuring that isolation and quarantine protocols are observed.

  • Trip organizers must provide appropriate care and support for participants who test positive.
  • Participants who test positive must isolate and cannot travel to return to campus until after their isolation period. 
  • If a unit determines that a positive test makes it unsafe to continue the program, the remaining members of the group will immediately return to campus and the trip will be terminated.
  • Trip organizers must arrange to have a university employee remain at the program site and continue providing care and support to any participants who must remain on location in isolation or quarantine, after others return.

Other Safety Recommendations

Indoor leisure activities should be avoided, while outdoor activities may be encouraged.
Participants should minimize interactions with the general public during the trip, when possible.

References

Travel Recommendations from the CDC

Guidance on COVID-19 safety measures for fieldwork from DRS

Guidelines for travel approval from the Provost

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.

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. 

CHECKLIST FOR PIs AND UNITS

Division of Research Safety COVID 19 CAMPUS SAFETY RESOURCES