Research Laboratories Restricted to Only Essential Activities
Dr. Gene Bourgeois, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dr. Walter E. Horton Jr., Associate Vice President for Research and Federal Relations | April 1, 2020
Email sent to faculty, staff, and students
Laboratory-based science is an important component of our research mission at Texas State University. Circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic now require us to work together to temporarily restrict access to laboratories on the Texas State campuses for the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students, and to comply with the stay-at-home directives now in place throughout Central Texas. On March 27 we shared some initial guidance, and now we are providing information on implementing the restriction.
The Stay-at-Home/Work Safe order issue by Hays County and Williamson County prevents individuals from leaving their homes except for purposes of essential activities or to perform or obtain services from an essential business, essential governmental function, or critical infrastructure. Regarding universities, there is language allowing for essential activities that include “performing critical research, or performing essential administrative functions.” Based on these orders all university research laboratories at Texas State are restricted from access except for individuals performing essential tasks.
Understandably there are questions as to what constitutes essential research activities. First, all research at Texas State is important so that alone is not the benchmark for defining essential. Also, it is true that a pause in routine research activity will have consequences regarding collection of data, publication of research results, and other usual benchmarks of progress. So, while very unfortunate, a disruption of these types of outcomes is not synonymous with “essential” in the present context.
It is impossible to provide a definition of “essential” that will cover the unique circumstances for all research activities at Texas State. One example of performing an essential function is an individual who enters a research laboratory for a brief visit to assure that there are no issues related to the equipment or other components of the facility. This is very different from going into the facility to conduct experiments and collect data which, in general, would not be considered an essential activity. In rare cases, a more ongoing activity may be approved as “essential” (see below).
For the duration of the stay-at-home orders and other precautions in place related to the coronavirus outbreak, the goal is to have an intentional change in activity from a business as usual mode to focusing only on critical functions in the laboratory.
So, without trying to be fully inclusive or exclusive, research laboratory access is limited to a very small number of personnel who maintain essential research-related actions that include:
- performing a brief walk-through of the laboratory to make sure that everything is OK.
- activity that if discontinued immediately would generate significant data and sample loss.
- activity that if discontinued would pose a safety hazard.
- activity that keeps critical equipment and infrastructure in facilities and laboratories safe or avoids catastrophic loss.
- activity that maintains critical samples, reagents, and materials.
- activity that maintains animal populations.
- activity that maintains critically-needed plant populations, tissue cultures, bacteria, archaea, and other living organisms.
- COVID-19 related activity that has a timeline for deployment that could address the crisis.
- activity in support of essential human subjects research.
Also, as we have indicated in previous communications, students cannot be compelled to participate in research laboratory-based activities, even those identified as essential. In no case may there be academic or professional retribution against students who decide not to participate in such activities during this time.
Please act immediately to transition laboratories to restricted access. The restricted access mode should be fully in place by Monday, April 6. If any essential activity is planned beyond intermittent brief walk-throughs, you will need approval of the planned activity from Dr. Michael Blanda, Assistant Vice President for Research, who will review requests in conjunction with the Chief Research Officer. Please contact Dr. Blanda via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your understanding and leadership during these unprecedented circumstances.