COVID-19 Update: Human Subjects Research, Contact Tracing and More
05/08/2020, 11:25:01 AM
From the Vice President for Research at the University of Houston. View this message in browser.
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Dear Research Faculty,

Since last Friday, we have received requests from 217 faculty members to return to campus to conduct research. The total number of individuals who were included in the requests is 1,335. Please note that approval of a request for access to research space will only be granted to those who cannot do their research from outside of campus. Limiting access to campus to only those who require it allows Facilities Services and Environmental Health and Safety to ramp up their services while facing the challenges of COVID-19. If you need access to your office to retrieve books or other research material but can otherwise conduct your research remotely, please make arrangements with your department chair to come on campus at a specified time to retrieve the required items.

Below are a few related topics that I would like to address. These topics are also on our Reopening Research page, but I want to make sure they receive your attention.

Human Subject Research

We continue to encourage researchers to conduct all human subject research remotely. Some face-to-face human subject research may be considered on campus if the guidelines we issued here can be followed. Specifically, social distancing must be maintained at all times. This may eliminate some research that requires close contact with subjects. Pre-screening for COVID-19 exposure, sanitation and hygiene processes must be followed at all times. In addition, research areas must be thoroughly disinfected between visits. Individuals in high risk groups or minors should not be brought on campus for human subject research at this time. 

Contact Tracing

We ask every individual who comes on campus to maintain and regularly update a list of substantive and known face-to-face contacts that they have had during the preceding two weeks (i.e., lab members they interact with on a daily basis, human subjects they came in contact with during study procedures, family members, friends, etc.). In the case of a coronavirus infection, this list should be made available to the Houston Health Department to facilitate contact tracing. The list can be as simple as two columns, one for the names and the other for the dates when the person was encountered.

Work Schedule

Many of the lab groups that returned to campus are quite large. Because of the density restriction of at most one individual per 200 sqft, larger lab groups will need to implement a staggered work schedule to minimize the number of people who are in the lab or other shared research areas at the same time. Work shifts, including work during non-regular business hours, should be considered. The work schedule must be posted inside the shared research space in an easily accessible place so that everyone knows who will be in the space at what day and time. Allow for at least 15-minute buffers between shifts to avoid contact of individuals during transition. Minimize rotating individuals among shifts to reduce the number of unique contacts.

Disinfecting Labs and Equipment

While Facilities Services clean common areas, they do not enter laboratory space. Cleaning and disinfecting laboratory space is the responsibility of the lab. As PI, you should designate one or more individuals responsible for cleaning and disinfecting. The responsible individuals should initial on the daily work schedule that they completed the cleaning at the end of each shift prior to the next shift arriving at the workplace so that the next shift can be assured that the space was cleaned. Remind them of the importance of disinfecting shared research areas and frequently touched surfaces (lab benches, doorknobs, sink handles, freezer doors, fume hood sashes, keyboards, microscopes, etc.). Minimize the sharing of equipment and devices. If they need to be shared, thoroughly disinfect the device between uses by different individuals.

Faculty Café

We are offering bi-monthly 50-in-5 Faculty Café sessions on University Research Explained that focus on available funding opportunities in response to the coronavirus crisis. The second online session on this topic is scheduled for today from 1 p.m.–2 p.m. Be sure to register for the event to get the link to the meeting. 


Best regards,

Amr Elnashai, FREng  
Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer

Amr Elnashai | VP for Research and Technology Transfer | | 713-743-4736

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