Research Re-start and Recovery Process

(Updated October 15, 2021)

The following updates have been made to the Arts & Science Research Restart & Recovery guidelines and process. For the most up to date institutional information about research & COVID-19, researchers are encouraged to visit the VPRI website

Academic Research Laboratories as Instructional Spaces

Effective October 15th, academic research laboratories that meet the definition of ‘in-person instructional space’ (outlined on page 17 of the recently updated COVID-19 General Workplace Guidelines and excerpted below [1]) are permitted to operate at full capacity without 2 meter physical distancing, provided that the following requirements are observed:

  • All researchers must have completed their vaccine attestation, including visitors (download off-line paper-based form).
  • Each day, researchers must complete a daily health screening before entering the lab using UCheck.
  • Wearing a non-medical mask or personal protective equipment as required by the Joint Provostial and Human Resources Guidelines on Face Masks (details here).

Arts & Science researchers should be in touch with their academic unit Chair, Director, CAO, or Manager for full details on the practices and protocols to be followed locally. There is no requirement for research laboratories to be at full capacity immediately following October 15 if the expansion of laboratory capacity is not congruent with the local contexts or an academic unit is not ready.

Factors that inform decisions to operate research laboratory spaces at full capacity, include: 

  • General building operations to best mitigate congestion.
  • Ventilation within laboratories - questions about ventilation within specific research laboratories should be directed to the building Property Manager, who will work with Utilities & Building Operations, Facilities & Services and Environmental Health & Safety to address them. 
  • Ensuring a safe research environment for all trainees and staff, and other relevant laboratory space considerations, e.g., practising hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, continuing with enhanced cleaning and providing disinfection supplies for high touch areas, and ensuring schedules are recorded to facilitate contact tracing.
  • Where feasible, laboratories may wish to consider scheduling cohorts. 
  • The memo from School of Graduate Studies provides guidance for Principal Investigators (PIs) when deciding whether their academic research laboratory should move to full occupancy, with useful guidelines on communicating with research trainees. 

According to the updated COVID-19 General Workplace Guidelines, non-laboratory spaces within units that are specifically used as instructional spaces can also operate at full capacity without physical distancing provided that non-medical masks are worn at all times and the teaching spaces are included in the COVID-19 HVAC Assessment inventory

All non-instructional activities continue to adhere to maximum occupancy limits and physical distancing regardless of the room they are using.

Face-to-Face Human Subjects Research

The process for Human Subjects research remains in place, albeit with a revised and simplified Face-to-Face Human Participant COVID-19 Assessment Form, which focuses primarily on participant health and safety. For details on the mandatory two-step review process, please visit the VPRI website.

Off-Campus Research (Including International)

Off-campus research requests no longer require review by the Face-to-Face COVID-19 Review Committee.  Instead, researchers who wish to conduct research at an off-campus site or conduct on-site field research (e.g. Koffler Scientific Reserve, Hart House Farm, Gull Lake) that does not involve any human participant face-to-face (F2F) research components are encouraged to review the University’s Guidance on Research and Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic and plan using the Off-Campus Safety Planning Record.

International Travel for Non-Research Purposes (i.e., Conferences)

Anyone travelling internationally for the purposes of University business is encouraged to review the University’s Guidance on Research and Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic. There is no longer a requirement to complete the Face-to-Face and Off-Campus (F2FOC) form. 

Relevant to Off-Campus Research (Including International) and International Travel for Non-Research Purposes (i.e., Conferences): there continues to be a general suspension of international student travel until December 31, 2021 (in place since May 21, 2021). PhD students may be granted an exception if the completion of their research/dissertation will be significantly impacted. PhD students must contact the Safety Abroad Office (safety.abroad@utoronto.ca) to discuss if this exception applies. Some students have successfully completed this process over the past few months. 

Revised Arts & Science Research Re-start Process (effective October 15)

With the health and safety of our faculty, staff and students front of mind, we have streamlined the A&S research restart process. Currently approved PI research restart plans remain valid, including student and postdoctoral attestations that were included in those approved plans. 

The following will be put into effect to support an efficient transition: 

  • UCheck will continue to be required for every person coming onto the campus.
  • PIs will continue to be responsible for securing and submitting to their home academic units signed attestation forms from all non-employee trainees conducting in person research activities (on and off campus): 
  • New and amended PI research restart plans will no longer be required for the following three groups: 
    • academic research laboratories. Note, however, that laboratories that have moved to full capacity need to be ready to pivot back to adjusting occupancy through scheduling and capacity limits with 2m physical distancing should there be a need to do so based on new public health guidance or guidance from the University.
    • PIs conducting research at an off-campus site (including international) or on-site field research (e.g. Koffler Scientific Reserve, Hart House Farm, Gull Lake). 
    • In both of the above contexts, this will include faculty members engaging in REB and Face-to-Face COVID-19 Review Committee approved face-to-face human subjects research.
  • In the event that we are required to return to a more restricted research capacity, we will use existing approved PI research restart plans currently archived by the Dean’s office and continue using our existing A&S research restart process (access platform here) for any amendments as per usual. 
  • Researchers who are accessing core research facilities, for example, the Biological Sciences Facility, are required to follow local COVID-19 safety practices and protocols and should be in touch directly with the relevant Facility manager(s) with questions and to seek guidance.

Questions

Questions, concerns and notifications regarding plans for proceeding with research laboratories should be directed to me at vicedeanresearch.artsci@utoronto.ca with cc: to Lisa Rumiel, Director, Research Services (lisa.rumiel@utoronto.ca).

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[1] The definition of in-person instruction also applies to academic research laboratories that involve a learner or group of learners (graduate students, undergraduate students, postdocs and other research staff) conducting research under the guidance and instruction of a faculty supervisor, where the learners are being trained on scientific/research methods, receiving technical training, and/or performing experiments and the like.

These spaces must also meet:

  1. The activity in the space is directly related to an academic program of study; and
  2. There are dedicated resources, equipment and/or teaching staff supporting a specific academic course/program of study that is not available elsewhere.