March 20, 2020 Status Letter

Dear Colleagues:

In the face of unprecedented and uncertain times, The Office of Research and Innovation has worked closely with the leadership of WMU and college deans to prepare for the possible disruptions in operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This COVID-19 website (https://wmich.edu/research/covid-info-research) outlines research guidelines and provides key information on numerous topics and will continue to be updated.

Our priority is to protect the health and safety of the WMU research community consistent with the WMU actions described this morning.  The key facts are outlined below.

  • All ORI research support units are operational for essential functions, although staff members are working remotely where possible. 
  • Face-to-face group meetings and group research work related to essential research are discouraged, even when social distancing and stringent hygiene processes are practiced.  WebEx or other videoconferencing resources should be used to replace face-to-face activity wherever possible.
  • Research related to COVID-19 is encouraged and can continue, with appropriate efforts to reduce in person meetings and utilize remote access to the fullest extent possible.
  • Essential operations for projects unrelated to COVID-19 can continue with clear procedures to reduce person to person contact and includes examples such as
    • maintaining liquid nitrogen levels in storage tanks and critical gases for cells line, equipment and long term experiments.
    • maintaining ongoing animal experiments where stopping the experiment would compromise the project but not starting new projects unless they are essential
    • feeding and caring for animals
    • maintaining critical cell cultures
    • monitoring long term experiments in the public interest
    • any work requiring travel must comply with the university travel policy prohibiting non-essential travel
  • For research involving continuing essential operations, the number of staff who are required to maintain in-person, essential operations must be minimized. Essential operations that include care and feeding of animals should remain alert to announcements from the ORI compliance staff and not expand any work.
  • University equipment cannot be removed with the intention of performing research or creative scholarship at an off campus site, if the work is not normally performed at that location.
  • Each lab should develop a communications plan for notifying lab personnel of any temporary changes and assure all contact information and processes are in place to efficiently share updates on operations.  This can also be used if the situation changes in the future.
  • Face-to-face human subject activities should be delayed or replaced with remote access following the guidelines already provided by ORI. 
  • If necessary review and implement the lab hibernation process available at https://wmich.edu/research/covid-questions
  • You can continue to pay staff and students on current grants unless notified otherwise by ORI.
  • Assure that anyone, regardless of student or employee status, that as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak determines it is not in their best interest to conduct on-campus laboratory work they can do so without fear of retribution.
  • Research leaders should promote continuing interactions via remote processes to support their teams, and help more junior investigators such as students identify remote work that they can perform such as data analysis, research planning, reading the literature, writing manuscripts or theses, preparing for committee meetings etc.
  • We are closely following government actions, and possible further restrictions of on-campus laboratory work remain a possibility.

Last, we know you all want to help in the situation, and our colleges are working to collect any extra personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, disposable gowns, face shields, respirators including those with face shields, ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, etc. that could be used by medical professionals.  Please contact Terri Kinzy or your research dean to arrange for donations to be delivered to Sindecuse Health Center who will assure they are used to protect health case staff.

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out for assistance, we are here to help.  Our actions now protect the long term research and creative scholarship at WMU.

Terri Goss Kinzy
Vice President for Research and Innovation

Jennifer Bott
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost