Latest information and updates about COVID-19 (coronavirus) from McMaster University
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Overview

With the successful implementation of Phase 1, coupled with the Government of Ontario further easing restrictions, McMaster is now positioned to move to Phase 2 of its Phased Increase of On-Campus Research. Under Phase 2, remote working remains the preference and, currently, a return to campus remains voluntary for researchers. The research community will be advised if this changes. As with Phase 1, all appropriate safety protocols must be in place before a researcher or any required staff or team member returns to campus. Please note, with the exception of what is described below, all meetings are still to be held remotely.

Training of Research Personnel

Note: The addition of any research personnel, previously trained or new trainees, requires a simple amendment to your already approved Research Activity Plan. If you do not already have an approved Research Activity Plan, you must submit one before any training can begin.

Training of McMaster researchers (undergraduates, graduate students, PDFs, staff), non-McMaster volunteer researchers and visiting scientists working on McMaster-based research projects, when possible, should be done remotely. When not possible, training is allowed under certain conditions; precautions required will depend on the category of the training.

Category 1: Training which maintains physical distancing greater than 2m. 

Training that can be done from a distance of at least 2m is allowed provided the instructor and trainee follow existing COVID-specific work processes and shared space protocols.

Category 2: Training from a distance of less than 2m that may include limited direct contact.

Training that requires the instructor and trainee to be within 2m of each other is allowed only under these conditions:

Note: The addition of any research personnel, previously trained or new trainees, requires a simple amendment to your already approved Research Activity Plan.

Involvement of Human Participants

Note: Research personnel or researchers (those conducting the research) are distinguished from human participants (those who are the subject of the research). Due to the complexities and potential for increased risk, all Research Activity Plans involving human participants will be submitted separately through this portal.

For research activities where participants require materials or instruments but do not need to attend campus, items should be delivered by mail or courier. Where this is not possible, in-person delivery of materials by research personnel does not require additional approval, but does require strict adherence to social/physical distancing policies, and procedures should be clearly outlined in any relevant ethics applications. At the present time, research personnel may not enter homes or buildings of participants under any circumstances.

The VPR will consider special requests for involving human participants in fieldwork that clearly demonstrate the benefits to human health and well-being.

Research is permitted under the following conditions:

  • Prior to coming to campus for the first time, all research personnel must complete the Employee/Research Checklist. For subsequent visits, the provincial self-assessment must be completed one hour before coming to campus.
  • All research participants must complete the provincial self-assessment one hour before coming to campus. If determined safe to participate, once on campus, participants must adhere to McMaster-specific COVID policies and directions.
  • All studies must occur in rooms specifically designated by the respective ADR and Department Chair.
  • Records – including names, times and dates – must be kept to facilitate tracking and participants should be advised of this in their Letter of Information. If this differs from previously approved confidentiality protocol, new documents must be filed with the appropriate research ethics board. Similar records will be kept of all research personnel involved.
  • With the exception of COVID-19 research, no research involving “high risk” individuals is permitted. “High risk” individuals, as described by Canada’s Public Health Agency, include those with certain medical conditions, weakened immune systems and older adults. Letters of Information must ask participants to identify if they are “high risk” and to seek medical advice if they are uncertain.
  • All participants and researchers must wear a face covering in indoor public spaces at all McMaster locations.
  • All research personnel must be trained on standard (pre-COVID) SOPs for research involving human participants and COVID-specific work processes and shared space protocols.
  • With the exception of those studies conducted in hospital clinics and clinical research laboratories under the oversight of the hospital guidelines and personnel or a licensed physician respectively, any invasive or aerosol generating medical procedures are prohibited.

Category 1: Observation of participants under controlled conditions

Observational studies, where the observer is in a separate room from the participant, are permitted only if the participants and research personnel wear surgical masks during face-to-face interactions and abide by all University masks and face covering guidelines. Only one human participant per room is permitted, with the exception of child participants accompanied by a parent or guardian. Face-coverings are not required while alone in an observation room nor for children under five-years old.

Category 2: One-on-one interviews maintaining a social distance greater than 2m.

Research personnel may interview participants on campus in only those rooms designated by their ADR in consultation with their Chair.  Such interviews are permitted if researchers and participants  are separated by a distance of at least 2m, wear surgical masks and a plexiglass shield/barrier is positioned between the two individuals.

Category 3: Group interviews, focus groups and multiple participants in the same room while maintaining a social distance at least 2m.

Research personnel may interact with up to 10 individuals, including researchers, provided individuals are separated by a distance of 2m, researchers and participants wear surgical masks, and a plexiglass shield/barrier is positioned between all individuals.

Category 4: Non-invasive techniques and invasive techniques and participant use of equipment where social distancing of at least 2m cannot be maintained.

Research that requires participants to use props or equipment such as objects, keyboards, tablets, joysticks, exercise equipment or involves non-invasive techniques such as eye-tracking devices, EEG, blood pressure monitoring, etc. or invasive techniques such as drawing blood, tissue biopsies, etc. is permitted only if all the following criteria are met:

  • All researchers and human participants wear surgical masks and follow all COVID and non-COVID health and safety protocols.
  • Only one participant at a time will be in direct contact with a researcher, i.e., during fittings for devices
  • Multiple participants using equipment may occupy a single room or space in accordance with Category 3.
  • Research involving active exercise and/or use of exercise equipment is restricted to one participant and one researcher in a room at any one time. Participants may remove their mask during, and for a reasonably short period of time, after the exercise; researchers will wear a surgical mask at all times and will be separated from the participant before, during, and after exercise by a distance keep a 2m and a plexiglass shield/barrier.
  • Researchers must contact equipment manufacturers to ensure COVID-specific cleaning products and procedures do not pose risk of damage to the equipment. If there is a potential risk, the equipment should not be used.
  • Participants must not be asked to remove their masks for any reason, i.e., difficult to capture data (facial expression); rather, the research should stop.

Note: Research – unless COVID-specific and/or already approved by the VPR – in Categories 3 & 4 must not include any participants over the age of 60, as that demographic is at greater risk of death to COVID-19, according to Ontario’s Epidemiological Summaries.

Procedures for Approval for Human Participant Research (including linkages to MREB and HiREB)

Approvals are required for all activities described above. In all cases, as you are developing your plans, experts from McMaster Research Ethics Board (MREB), Hamilton Integrated Research Ethics Board (HiREB), Environmental & Occupational Health Support Services (EOHSS) and the  Biosafety Office are available to provide guidance. Please contact directly for assistance.

As with previous phases, research conducted at a hospital site or McMaster Innovation Park must also adhere to site-specific SOPs and protocols.

All work involving human participants must be approved by MREB or HiREB, in addition to your ADR. These approvals may take several days. Where COVID-19 precautions and guidelines require modifications to previously approved protocols, Letters of Information and other documentation, the standard protocol amendment processes should be used. For a full workflow on resuming on-campus human participant research, please click here.

PIs are reminded that informed consent requires participants to understand the risks and benefits of taking part in any study, and to have a clear understanding of what will be asked of them. All relevant information should be included in Letters of Information, which should be sent to participants in advance of them coming to campus if they are a new participant in a study.

If you are submitting your Research Activity Plan for the first time, please visit the Phased Return to Research Application Form Decision Tree.

If you are making an amendment to a previously approved Research Activity Plan, please use this portal.

If you are submitting your Research Activity Plan for the first time, and it does not involve human participant research please use this portal.

If your research involves human participants, please submit your Research Activity Plan to this portal.

Consultation with External Research Partners

Meetings with external research partners and stakeholders (collaborators, industry, community, and government representatives) are encouraged to take place remotely, when possible.  In cases where that’s not feasible, please contact your ADR or the Office of the Vice-President, Research at vprsrch@mcmaster.ca.