Remobilizing research (COVID-19)

Guiding principles and key considerations for faculties

Following the April 16, 2020, meeting of the Research Commission, the Office of the Vice-President, Research (OVPR) called for the creation of a Research Restart Taskforce (RRT). The RRT was tasked with developing a general framework, including guiding principles, for the remobilization of research across all campuses and off campus. The framework was endorsed by the OVPR and approved by the Administration Committee.

The RRT's efforts aim to ensure coherence, coordination, and consistency across all faculty plans. It will also ensure that processes and practices requiring an institutional perspective are developed in collaboration with other units. The RRT will provide guidance, advice, and recommendations to the OVPR, the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), the COVID-19 Recovery Taskforce, faculties, key services (e.g. Facilities) and other groups as required.

The seven-member taskforce is chaired by the Associate Vice-President, Research Support and Infrastructure, and constitutes a representative group of the vice-deans, research from six faculties (Arts, Engineering, Health Sciences, Medicine, Science, Social Sciences).

Current situation

In March 2020, the University of Ottawa initiated its Emergency Management and Business Continuity Plan (Policy 125) in response to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic situation. As a result, all on-campus operations and activities were significantly scaled down or shut down, including research activities. In late March, the OVPR initiated a process to allow COVID-19-related research and some time-sensitive and critical research to continue; this formal derogation process was implemented in collaboration with the faculties. As a result, approximately 10% of research activities were allowed to continue, subject to strict adherence to sanitary precautions and physical distancing.

On April 27, the Government of Ontario issued A Framework for Re-opening Our Province, a three-stage plan for restarting and remobilizing businesses, services, and public spaces. Locally, Ottawa Public Health has led the charge in the fight against COVID-19, and has provided direction and advice on the sanitary precautions to implement, and restrictions to impose, in Ottawa. Given uOttawa's proximity to Gatineau, where a significant proportion of our staff, faculty members, and students reside, the Government of Quebec's COVID-19 response will also affect our remobilization plans. Inevitably, issues will arise where each province's strategies and actions differ: since Quebec has adopted a date-based approach while Ontario has opted for a benchmark approach, uOttawa will need to thread the needle between these two approaches and their different timings and restrictions. 

On May 14th, the Province of Ontario published "A Framework for Reopening our Province -  Stage 1". The published guidelines, taking effect on Tuesday May 19th, allow for the reopening of some university research labs as follows: “Opening non-essential professional services related to conducting research and experimental development in physical, engineering and life sciences, such as biotechnology, agriculture and industrial research and development labs.” However, direction from the Province was clear that "businesses should open only if they're ready," and that while Ontario can gradually begin to reopen workplaces, "working from home should continue as much as possible". The Chief Medical Officer of Health has also provided guidance on how the openings of businesses and workplaces could be implemented safely.

Although the summer academic term will entirely be delivered remotely, the remobilization of our research activities will lead to the re-opening of our campuses over the summer, along with key campus operations and services.

 


The safety and well-being of our faculty, staff and students are paramount.


 

Starting assumptions
  • uOttawa will adhere to Provincial and local public health agencies directives and guidance.
  • The Provincial government will authorize the resumption of some on-campus university activities in the May-June timeframe, with a number of restrictions.
  • There are a series of safety measures that must be in place for our campuses to re-open.
  • As research was deemed an essential activity and continued at a reduced level during the pandemic, this is a remobilization effort to ramp up our research enterprise.
  • Because academic programs will be delivered online during the Spring/Summer term, the increase in activity on our campuses will be driven by the remobilization of our research enterprise.
  • Remobilization will be carried out in a progressive, phased approach.
  • It will not be business-as-usual for several months.
  • A second wave of COVID-19 infection and an outbreak on campus are likely to occur.
Guiding principles

Key Institutional Principles and Considerations

  1. The health and safety of uOttawa’s students, faculty and staff is our foremost priority.
  2. Recovery efforts at uOttawa will align with public health directives and guidance.
  3. Recovery will be carried out in a progressive, phased approach. Safety is the first consideration for the timing, rate and scale of recovery efforts.
  4. Faculty and staff should continue to work remotely until both public health and university directives allow for a safe return to campus. Everyone who comes to campus will follow practices that promote safety, good hygiene and adhere to physical distancing directives.
  5. Academic programs will continue to be mostly delivered online. All efforts will be made to support distance learning and ensure students receive the best education under the circumstances.
  6. The first step of uOttawa’s progressive return will be the reopening of our research labs. As a research-intensive university, it is vital that we restore our ability to conduct research as a first step in recovery efforts.

 

Remobilizing research principles

  • Those who can conduct their research activities remotely will continue to do so.
  • Required supporting campus infrastructure and business services must be operational at levels required to enable research remobilization efforts. This includes access to, and support from, libraries.
  • Returning staff, faculty, and students must practice strict sanitary precautions and comply with the physical distancing directives in place.
  • Research remobilization plans will be implemented in phases that allow for a progressive and safe increase in campus, building, floor, and room occupancies and densities.
  • Research remobilization plans must take into account the range of dependencies and interdependencies.
  • Faculties will be responsible for developing their research remobilization plan, with support and guidance from the OVPR, the RRT, and the uOttawa COVID-19 Recovery Taskforce.
Roles and responsibilities

Administration Committee (CA)

Approval of uOttawa's overall COVID-19 recovery plan and its constituent parts, including the General Framework for Remobilizing Research.

 

Office of the Vice-President, Research (OVPR)

Endorsement of the General Framework for Remobilizing Research; coordination and support for faculty research remobilization plans

 

Research Restart Taskforce (RRT)

Development of the General Framework for Remobilizing Research @uOttawa; support and coordination for faculty research remobilization plans; ensuring coherence, coordination and consistency across all faculty plans.

 

Faculty

Responsible for the development and implementation of their research remobilization plan; consultation and coordination with other faculties and services to ensure dependencies and interdependencies have been properly considered; responsible for a plan to quickly wind-down or interrupt research remobilization efforts in case of a new infection wave or outbreak on campus.

Remobilization planning approach

Managing occupancy and density in a "physical environment" approach

Recognizing that the research-intensive environments across our three campuses are not homogeneous, the principal planning challenge faced by faculties will be managing occupancy and density to ensure proper physical distancing and sanitary precautions. Because research laboratories tend to be concentrated in specific locations (i.e. research buildings such as ARC, or on specific research floors or wings), the number of research personnel and the size of research groups returning to campus must be managed accordingly. Similarly, Libraries will be developing a plan to first enable limited and mediated access to their physical collection and resources while ensuring physical distancing and safety precautions.

Using a "physical environment" planning approach will allow faculties to identify the concentration areas - offices, rooms, laboratories, floors and buildings - where circulation, interaction and congregation must be identified and minimized. Faculties will have to work closely together, particularly where they are co-located in a specific building (e.g. RGN, STEM, DMS).

 

Progressive and phased research remobilization plan

First, it is important to remember that no staff, faculty or student should feel compelled to return to campus if they have concerns for their personal safety and well-being. In terms of individuals wanting to come back to campus to re-enter their labs, we expect those numbers to increase progressively over the next several months. How quickly that number increases will be a function of:

  1. OPH and provincial governments loosening of restrictions,
  2. uOttawa’s ability to maintain a safe campus environment,
  3. the ability to provide the required supporting campus infrastructure and business services, and
  4. personnel on campus continuing to adhere to sanitary and safety precautions.

One phasing model proposed by a number of universities:

  • Phase 0: current (approved derogations, COVID)
  • Phase 1: first return phase (May-June?) - "one-third"
  • Phase 2: second return phase, partial academic programming on campus (Jun-Sept?) - "two-thirds"
  • Phase 3: full research, return of some non-essential activities with restrictions (Sept-Dec?)
  • Phase 4: back to full operations (early 2021?)

 

The concept of “thirds”

Phase 1 will seek to reach approximately “one-third” of normal research activity, progressing to “two-thirds” of normal research activity during Phase 2 and finally reaching near full research activity during Phase 3 and beyond. Each faculty research remobilization plan will describe the plan and process to reach those benchmarks, recognizing that some flexibility may be needed to recognize specific local contexts and constraints.

There are 3 prevailing types of plans currently under consideration by universities across the country:

  • a “priority category” plan (disciplines, buildings, types of research),
  • a “priority cohort” plan (early career researchers, graduate students nearing completion of degree, industry contracts), and
  • a “priority rotational” plan (allowing everyone who wants to come back, but on a rotating or shift schedule to respect the one-third/two-thirds benchmarks).

Thus far, the majority of universities are considering a remobilization plan that prioritizes cohorts – specifically early career researchers and graduate students – in combination with a rotation model to enable a lager proportion of faculty and students to access campus while minimizing occupancy and density.

Key considerations

While not meant to be an exhaustive list of key considerations, faculties should take the following into account as they develop their research remobilization plans:

  • Faculty members must identify essential personnel required on campus and retain responsibility for team members under the principle of duty of care.
  • Faculty members may have multiple labs and teams, in the same or different buildings.
  • Congregation points such as core facilities, animal facilities, Libraries, shared equipment and research spaces must be a prime consideration
  • Researchers may be conducting off-campus research, needing to adhere to restrictions in effect locally
  • Researchers may have arriving postdocs and students, collaborators, or visiting scientists
  • Inbound and outbound international travel will continue to have severe restrictions and requirements (self-isolation)
  • Managing access to buildings and labs (registration, check-in points)
  • Plan for faculty members who need to retrieve research materials from their office.
  • Faculties for whom a large proportion of researchers require access to physical materials from Libraries (e.g. access logistics, priority requests)
  • Mode of travel to and from campus/building by personnel (walk, car, public transit)
  • Other non-research staff (faculty, services) co-located in building
  • Key congregation points: elevators, hallways, stairs, common areas, washrooms, lunchrooms, meeting rooms, service points, faculty offices, common facilities (Libraries, core facilities, animal facilities, shared equipment, freezer rooms, stores, food establishments)
  • Cleaning/custodial services are likely to be the key rate-determining factor for return
Implementation

Faculty research remobilization plans will be developed over the coming weeks, informed by RRT framework and guiding principles, with support from the OVPR, the COVID-19 Recovery Taskforce, other faculties, Facilities, Office of Risk Management, and others as required. The RRT and the OVPR are responsible for ensuring coherence, coordination and consistency for the overall institutional research remobilization plan, in accordance with any Provincial and local public health agency guidelines and directives:

  1. Each faculty will confirm the intent to proceed with increased research activity within its departments, schools and units, recognizing that each may have different needs and constraints.
  2. Each faculty will develop its own process to determine which labs are to re-open and in which phase. As a reminder, the key considerations are a) managing occupancy and density and b) the ancillary and support services required for the planned research activities.
  3. Each researcher must have an appropriate contingency plan in the event the work must end suddenly (e.g., due to renewed government restrictions or illness amongst team members)
  4. In cases where multiple faculties (and/or services) occupy the same building, those faculties must consult and coordinate with other occupants to ensure distancing and safety and sanitary precautions can be maintained. 

Each faculty will present its plan to the Office of the Vice-President, Research for final approval and sign-off. OVPR final approval will include confirmation with Facilities, ORM, Protection and other key services to ensure proper coordination across campus to cover all required dependencies and interdependencies (including maintenance, custodial, service kiosks, etc.). As a result, some faculty research remobilization plans may require some modification and adjustments.

Finally, a few pre-conditions for a safe return to campus

Before returning to campus, the following measures will be in place:

  • Appropriate infection control measures will be in place (PPE and sanitation) (Facilities, Procurement)
  • Appropriate signage and density control measures are in place (Facilities and faculties)
  • A COVID-19 self-assessment on-line form to be completed daily for all personnel coming to campus (Office of Risk Management, Human Resources)
  • A COVID-19 toolkit for managers and for employees is currently under development and will be deployed in stages over the coming months. (Office of Risk Management, Human Resources)
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