More than 700 researchers returned to the Ann Arbor campus in recent weeks and safely ramped up activity as part of the University of Michigan’s pilot wave to re-engage research and scholarship.
The pilot wave proceeded smoothly, with new health and safety procedures implemented, said Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research. In accordance with state regulations, the university plans to launch a second, more expansive wave of research re-engagement on June 4 that involves faculty and staff from 12 units on the Ann Arbor campus.
Researchers from the College of Engineering, LSA, College of Pharmacy, Life Sciences Institute, Medical School and A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning participated in the pilot wave, which began May 21.
The second wave will expand to also include researchers from the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design, School of Dentistry, School of Kinesiology, School of Music, Theatre & Dance, School of Public Health and School for Environment and Sustainability.
“The health and safety of our employees is paramount, and so we will continue to collaborate with public health experts and monitor important safety metrics to determine the best path forward,” Cunningham said.
As part of the pilot wave, a limited percentage of the workforce in eight buildings was authorized to ramp up activity. The second wave will allow for research and scholarship with only 30 percent capacity in 45 buildings on the Ann Arbor campus.
Research leadership within units will identify select employees who can return to campus as part of the second wave. The governor’s executive order, issued May 15, does not allow for visiting scholars to participate in laboratory research at this time.
Before researchers may return to campus, they must complete a training module that outlines practices for safely resuming their work. Faculty and staff receive daily temperature screenings before they enter approved buildings, and a greeter from the Division of Public Safety and Security also asks them a series of brief health-related questions.
Employees, on average, waited less than three minutes to enter buildings during the pilot wave. In an effort to expedite the intake process, Information and Technology Services developed a new online tool with health-related questions for researchers to answer before arriving on campus each day.
If researchers receive a green checkmark at the end of their daily health screen, they can show it to the greeter and move quickly to the temperature check. If employees do not have a mobile device, they can either access the tool on a computer and print their green approval screen, or the greeter will ask the screening questions in person.
During the two-week pilot wave, no researchers tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Any research personnel actively working on the Ann Arbor campus who test positive for the virus will participate in a mandatory workplace contact tracing protocol to help identify co-workers who may have been exposed to the virus.
Beyond campus, limited in-state field research can be approved with appropriate safety plans in place. Out-of-state travel remains restricted at this time.
Current restrictions on in-person human subjects research remain in place, and a university committee is developing a risk stratification and timeline for safely resuming this type of work.
“The process for safely ramping up research and scholarship is a gradual one, but I am pleased to report that our researchers throughout this pilot wave are practicing social distancing and wearing face coverings,” Cunningham said.
“These important safety measures not only protect our employees’ health and safety — they play a critical role in ensuring the university can proceed with a public health-informed fall academic semester.”