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Research FAQs COVID-19

Stay home, stay safe

The university is grateful to the essential workers who are maintaining core services on campus or conducting research activities deemed essential at this time, including those leading the charge in COVID-19 related research. While the campus remains open to these essential activities, everyone else should be following government direction to stay at home and limit trips from home for only essential reasons. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has implored people to do even more to limit the number of these essential trips.

What is the university’s directive to the research community?

McMaster University now requires that all non-essential McMaster research be closed down by Tuesday March 24 at 5 pm. 

This applies to any research that requires people to be in laboratories or in any group setting, including field work. Research by individual researchers which can be conducted remotely, such as online interviews, and follows all social distancing guidelines can continue.

As I shut down my lab or if I have been approved for continued essential research, what steps should I take if social/physical distancing is challenging?

In the areas in which social/physical distancing can’t be achieved, Hamilton Public Health recommends the following:

  • Review and change the work flow as much as possible first to achieve the 2 meter rule.

If this is not possible:

  • Use a surgical mask covering nose and mouth and minimizing gaps (note: face should be free of facial hair) and dispose after usage or if it becomes contaminated with chemical, biological liquids, or body fluids.
  • Use eye protection – wear a face shield or appropriate safety goggles/safety glasses and protective gloves, i.e., disposable nitrile gloves. Dispose after each use. (PPE for eyes and gloves as per the Safety Data Sheet)
  • Ensure all protective equipment that is not disposable is washed with soap and water.  Appropriately wash hands and face after usage.
  • Commonly touched items/used spaces in the laboratory, i.e., door knobs, desks, drawer handles should be disinfected and wiped down on a regular basis.

Please refer to the following:

What is considered essential research?

Essential includes research that:

  • Is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Involves clinical trials or intervention studies with patients who need to monitored
  • For health and safety reasons must be maintained
  • For ethical reasons must be continued, such as some animal studies

What about essential research services that need to be maintained?

Essential research services that need to be maintained include:

  • The care of fish or animals, in coordination with the Central Animal Facility
  • Critical equipment monitoring or servicing
  • Cleaning and maintenance that support the essential research programs

My research is considered essential.  Are there additional processes I need to follow?

Even in the case of essential research, supervisors are reminded that they should limit research staff and graduate students to the number of people required to maintain the research program.  If possible, research staff should work from home, if the work allows them to do so. The request to deem an area of research essential must also include a staffing plan so it is known who is required to work on-site and who can work remotely.

When does this new directive take effect?

Researchers should begin the process of shutting down their labs to ensure the deadline – Tuesday, March 24 at 5 p.m. – is met.  Please refer to our Laboratory Shut Down guide and other resources on the Research & Innovation website to help you through this process.

Why is this directive being made?

It is critical to preserve the health and safety of McMaster researchers, employees and students and research participants. it is important to move forward with research related to the COVID-19 pandemic and research that impacts the health and safety of patients. This new directive was made to address these priorities.

I’m in the middle of an animal experiment.  Can I continue this?

Current, ongoing animal experiments can continue to meet the minimal outcomes of the study. Please confer with your supervisor and ADR on determining minimal outcomes.  All animal work will need to abide by directives set out by the University Veterinarian and Central Animal Facility.

How long will this directive be in effect?

This directive is in effect until further notice.

I am not sure if this directive applies to the work I am doing, or the work I have planned. How can I find out?

Please contact your supervisor or ADR. If your work is taking place in a hospital setting, you will also need to contact the VPRs at the university and hospital site.

My research takes place in a hospital setting. What should I do? 

For those whose labs and facilities are physically located in hospital settings, hospitals will be restricting personnel to those deemed essential.

Hamilton Health Sciences and St. Joseph’s Healthcare are screening at the entrances of all their sites. McMaster identification will be required to gain entry. In addition to the directives above, researchers must also follow hospital directives.

Maintenance of current essential research studies and initiation of new essential research is only at the approval of the appropriate VPRs — (McMaster University, Dr. Karen Mossman and the respective hospital VPR – Hamilton Health Sciences, Dr. Ted Scott; St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Dr. Jack Gauldie).

Will the University’s core facilities remain open?

Only those facilities that support essential research and the maintenance of essential research as identified above will remain open.

My work does not involve laboratories or research facilities. Does this apply to me?

Research that does not require face-to-face contact may continue, and new projects may be commenced, as long as they comply with current social distancing and other Public Health or government specified directions. Current government directives are to stay home and limit trips from home to only those that are essential. If you are not certain about proceeding, please contact your ADR.

My research involves in-person interactions and interviews. Do I have to stop?

Research involving direct contact with the community is not to take place, with limited exceptions such as research involving clinical research trials. Please consider alternative methods of gathering and exchanging information, including telephone meetings and online meetings. If you are not sure, please contact your ADR.

My research involves clinical trials. What should I do?

Active accrual should be interrupted until further notice. No new studies should be started.

Persons already entered into trials with scheduled interventions should be allowed to continue if they pass the active screening that will be in effect at host hospitals until further notice. For further information and instruction, please contact your ADR and/or VPR.

These restrictions may keep me from meeting the timelines associated with my funding. What will that mean?

Research sponsors, including the Tri-Agencies, are aware that the COVID-19 pandemic can and will affect funded research projects, including your ability to prepare and submit publications, grant and scholarship applications, and delays in financial reporting. The Tri-Agencies will continue to monitor and evaluate adjustments to program application deadlines and reporting due date, as needed.  Read their most current statement.  Please consult the CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC websites regularly for updates.

If my own travel or that of a member my research team has been cancelled due to COVID-19, will this be an eligible expense?

The Tri-agencies recognize that you must cancel or postpone travel or events paid through agency funds and will consider the costs associated with the changes as allowable project expenses, provided they align with agency policies.  If your research is funded from another source, please contact Research Finance to determine.  Further information on university-related travel is available here.

My research involves animals. What will happen to them during this period of restriction?

The University is committed to the welfare of all animals in its care and will maintain the same standard of care during these times. To ensure the CAF is able to meet the needs of the McMaster community and CCAC legislation, some modifications in activity and resourcing will be required. The University Veterinarian will make this information available to all researchers working with animals.  Please consult with CAF staff about your particular animal needs.

What if I need to revise my interactions with participants/patients?

Researchers need to consider their in-person interactions with participants/patients, and must follow their institutional/public health policies for participant/patient management.  Should your current protocol or study design require revision to now include alternate forms of interaction with participants/patients (whether consent or study visits), you will still need to submit an amendment to the Hamilton Integrated Research Ethics Board (HiREB) or the McMaster Research Ethics Board (MREB) as appropriate. If you need to implement changes to eliminate immediate hazards for staff or participants, then such a change would be reported to us as a protocol deviation. HiREB and MREB will process these amendments as priority.

Are the MREB and HiREB operating as usual?

Ethics office staff are working remotely and will continue to respond to your questions by email (MREB:; HiREB: and are able to meet with you by phone or email. Review of new applications and other forms will continue as usual. HiREB will continue to review all applications, but recognize that due to the current situation, no new clinical trials will be initiated.  HiREB will continue to approve all Retrospective Chart Reviews, and this work can continue, remotely.

My work involves non-medical research with human participants.  What if I need to change study procedures due to COVID-19 and/or social distancing guidelines?

McMaster’s directive is to cease all face-to-face research, which may also affect other parts of your approved protocol, such as how team members are accessing study data. To change your recruitment, data collection, informed consent, data security, or other study procedures, please submit an Amendment form to MREB for review. The change must be reviewed by the MREB or HiREB before implementation. The REB Chairs will prioritize review of amendments for studies requiring changes due to COVID-19.

Examples of changes that could require an Amendment include:

  • Poster or in-person recruitment to email/social media recruitment
  • In-person interviews to telephone or online interviews
  • In-person/lab-based studies to online studies
  • Focus groups held in-person to an online or teleconference format
  • Written Consent to Verbal or Electronic Consent
  • Changes to incentives or how they will be given to participants

If you need to make changes to a recently submitted application that is still in the review process, please send an email to; for the HiREB, to

What if I am only changing the study dates due to COVID-19 or making a similar minor administrative change?

If you are only delaying your study or making a minor change that does not substantively change the protocol or documents, please submit a For Information Only form instead of an Amendment. This form is used to update the file with new information that does not require REB review. Email if you’re unsure if your work meets these criteria. For HiREB research, please contact the

What if I need to modify the study procedures immediately in order to protect participants from COVID-19 transmission?

MREB: The TCPS2 does allow an exception where a change is necessary to eliminate an immediate risk to participants and there is no time for an amendment review (TCPS2, Art. 6.15). Such changes may be implemented but must be reported to the REB at the earliest opportunity (ideally within 5 business days). To report this type of protocol deviation to MREB use the Reportable Event form (a sub-form within MacREM, accessed the same way as an Amendment or Annual Report).

HiREB: Alteration of a study protocol to eliminate an immediate hazard to a participant is allowed. This would be filed as a protocol deviation. Please see the HiREB guidelines for protocol deviation reporting on the website, under ‘Forms and Templates’.

What if I have COVID-19 related research that is time sensitive and requires MREB approval?

Please contact at the time of submission to advise of the need for a prioritized review. The ethics office staff will make every effort to find reviewers who can do a timely review of the protocol and the MREB Chairs will prioritize the application when providing MREB feedback.

Are there any other actions I should take due to COVID-19 and the social distancing guidelines?

Please continue to monitor the University’s COVID-19 site, McMaster’s Daily News and the University’s Research & Innovation site for the most current directives.

Are there any templates or checklists available to help me in preparing my lab for closure, in the event the University must shut down its research labs?

Yes, please refer to the following documents: