Research leadership from across the University of Michigan is working to solidify re-engagement plans so faculty and staff are prepared for when the state of Michigan eventually authorizes the limited reopening of research activity.

The university quickly ramped down noncritical laboratory research activities on March 20 in order to minimize the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, and also to preserve personal protective equipment for clinical care. U-M plans to implement a phased approach to safely ramp up research once the state approves such activity.

“In less than a week, the U-M research community rapidly responded to the pandemic, shifting and pausing important research and scholarship efforts,” said Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research.

“Together, through these collective actions, we have begun to flatten the curve, and we now turn our attention to how we may begin to re-engage research in a public-health-informed manner when conditions allow.”

A timeline for implementing the first phase of research re-engagement is dependent on guidance from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who on May 7 modified her stay-at-home order and extended it through May 28.

The team from the Office of the Vice President for Research will follow up with schools and colleges once a timeline for the first phase of research re-engagement is solidified with state guidance, understanding this may occur in mid- to late May, or be extended into June or beyond.

The first re-engagement phase will apply only to individuals involved in experimental laboratory research and studio-based research, along with some locally based, non-human-subjects field research. Individuals who are authorized by their school, college or unit to resume research operations during this first re-engagement phase will be provided a cloth mask, as well as instructions on cleaning and maintenance.

Research and scholarship that can occur remotely will continue to do so. Buildings that are not open for laboratory or studio-based research remain restricted to critical approved personnel only.

Buildings that will open to laboratory or studio-based research will not yet be open to other activities beyond the approved research and critical approved activities in the buildings.

Universitywide planning efforts are led by a new Research Ramp-up Committee, which includes representation from Research Associate Deans; the Department of Environment, Health and Safety; Preeti Malani, U-M’s chief health officer; the Provost’s Office and the Rackham Graduate School.

This committee, which is informed and benchmarked across peer institutions and national organizations, is providing guidance and resources to U-M schools, colleges and units so they can develop research re-engagement plans specific to their area.

OVPR also has developed a new webpage that includes information about how the U-M community can safely re-engage research amid COVID-19, covering important details such as entry into buildings and how many individuals can safely occupy research spaces.

“These new procedures will force us all to adjust our normal research operations, but they are important and necessary actions to protect our employees, students and the communities we live in,” Cunningham said.

“We will continue to assess the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation to determine the university’s approach moving forward, and it is important to remember the planning you do now will support the long-term success of the U-M research enterprise.”

Research leadership from across U-M plans to host a virtual town hall in the coming weeks to answer questions and provide guidance on research re-engagement planning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. More information about the town will soon be available on the U-M COVID-19 Research Solutions portal.

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