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

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the restriction of on-campus research activities at McMaster University. Research taking place on-campus has been limited to that deemed “essential,” as defined in the update from the (acting) Vice-President Research (VPR) on March 20, 2020.  The University recognizes that research has continued in earnest since the on-campus restrictions were imposed and applauds the research community for continuing to advance their work from off-site in a manner that fully respects Public Health directives. Working from home continues to remain the preference, however as some research cannot be done off-campus without access to on-campus infrastructure, the University, informed by the advice of local public health officials and by the legislation and guidance of the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada, has planned for a gradual, phased increase of on-campus research.

McMaster’s phased approach will allow us to increase research activity while maintaining the health and safety of all personnel as well as the community in which we live.  This gradual return to research will facilitate the fulfillment of the University’s research mandate in compliance with all government, public health and university guidelines and directives consistent with our Strategic Research Plan, “Research for a Brighter World.”  McMaster’s phased return to increased research activity was developed through a pan-University consultative process which identified the following guiding principles.

The University will adhere to and promote relevant public health directives. The University and its research personnel will comply with both the letter and spirit of the Province’s document “A Framework for Reopening our Province.” The University will protect the physical, mental and emotional health and safety of researchers and will ensure that no researcher feels compelled to work on campus.  Researchers who feel uncomfortable about their work situation, for whatever reasons, may confidentially report their concerns to their Dean, Associate Dean of Research (ADR) or the (acting) VPR.  In keeping with current supervisory responsibilities, researchers will retain responsibility for their research teams.

It is recognized that University policies and guidance may be more restrictive than government and health agency policies. Also, the research community is cautioned that, should the overall demand for access be deemed too high to meet social distancing requirements, access may need to be scheduled over extended times in order to better align with demand and available space and facilities.  If issues of public health and safety develop during any phase of increased activity, access to campus may be restricted to less than that initially approved. There may be a need to stop all non-essential research again, should there be direction from Public Health or if McMaster has any concerns for the well-being of its personnel or the broader community with whom the personnel interacts. As such, researchers must, at short notice, be capable of shutting down their research in a safe manner within the shortest period possible. Essential research as previously defined may be allowed to continue.

Entering Phase 1:

As always, the health and safety of our university community remain our top priority and responsibility, and as we continue to prepare buildings and labs, and ensure all COVID-specific health and safety concerns and modifications are addressed, we confirm that Phase 1 will begin May 30th for those who have received written approval from their Chair and/or ADR.

Phase 1 will allow a limited number of research personnel to access campus for research that cannot be undertaken in a remote manner.  This phase does not signal a return of researchers to campus for any other reason. No individual will come to campus to take part in activities that include (but are not limited to) regular office work, group or individual meetings, literature reviews, paper writing, grant preparation, thesis defences, comprehensive exams, etc. Trained undergraduates and graduate students will be permitted to work on approved research projects but “hands on” training of such individuals is not permitted.

Process:

Researchers- including those previously approved through the earlier “exemption for essential research” process- will complete an online form that includes plans for their proposed on-campus research. Approval must be received from the Department Chair and/or Associate Dean Research (ADR), and confirmation from the University that the campus is now open for a phased increase of research, before any activity takes place. Directors of research facilities that support the research enterprise will also be required to submit a plan for approval. Plans will adhere to the policies outlined in this document and other relevant documents including McMaster’s Workplace Health and Safety Guidance  and, for research taking place on the premises of our hospital partners or at McMaster Innovation Park, the policies of that institution.  Each principal investigator will need to work with all research personnel in their labs to review those policies and guidelines and to establish appropriate protocols that are relevant to their particular research environment.

Chairs, ADRs and managers of research platforms/ shared equipment will work with researchers to establish protocols and schedules for such facilities.

Plans can be submitted through the online form. Once submitted, the plan will move forward for review by the Department Chair and/or ADR. Researchers will receive an email once the review is complete, letting them know of the outcome. This may take a few days.

The online form will ask researchers to provide:

  • A brief rationale for why the research must be conducted on campus rather than remotely
  • The building(s), floors, rooms for which access is requested.  While the number of personnel working in each room will need to comply with social distancing guidelines, understanding consolidated plans for personnel within buildings will allow the university to better plan for such things as traffic flows, elevator access, cleaning, etc.
  • Names of research personnel who will require access at this time (NOTE: research is limited to the fewest number of personnel required to conduct the work)
  • Plans for meeting the guidelines for hygiene and physical distancing as described in “Adjust the Workplace” in the Workplace Health and Safety Guidance  (e.g. by minimizing numbers of people in labs and/or scheduling on-campus activities into shifts)
  • Researchers will be asked to confirm:
    • that McMaster’s pandemic-specific Workplace Health and Safety Guidance guidelines are understood and will be followed by all members of the research team
    • that no research will involve face-to-face human participants
    • that they have plans for a safe and as rapid as possible shutdown are in place, should they be called for by the University and/or Public Health officials

Instructions related to preparing the physical state of your lab can be found in “Adjust the Workplace” in the Workplace Health and Safety Guidance document.  Information regarding travel to and from campus, access to buildings, movement in halls and stairways and access to washrooms will be provided by Facility Services. Depending on circumstances, access to some buildings or sections of a building may be temporarily restricted to allow for special cleaning.

Increasing Phased Return to On-Campus Research

Phases 2 and 3 are in large part aligned with Stages 2 and 3 of “A Framework for Reopening our Province.”  Dates will be determined by the President and Vice-Presidents and announced by the (acting) Vice-President Research.  More detailed instructions on those phases will be made available before specific dates are announced. In each phase, Environmental and Occupational Health Support Services (EOHSS) and Facility Services will provide researchers with directions on physical/social distancing, hygiene practices and (re)defined maximum occupancies/personnel density for implementation.  McMaster personnel undertaking research at any of our partner hospitals or at MIP will follow the directives of that institution.

McMaster’s entry into Phase 2 will be dependent on an assessment of the success of Phase 1. Remote working remains the preferred method but managed, staggered laboratory/office access will be allowed for faculty, PDFs and graduate students (with physical/social distancing, hygiene practices, and (re)established maximum occupancies).

Similarly, McMaster’s entry into Phase 3 will be dependent on an assessment of the success of Phase 2. Continuing return with relaxation of staggered occupancy of space and increased opportunity for involvement of untrained undergraduate and graduate students is anticipated.