The emerging COVID-19 outbreak situation is evolving and VUMC guidance for all members of our community may change rapidly.  VUMC specific guidance is being updated regularly and can be found on the VUMC coronavirus webpage: www.vumc.org/coronavirus.  In addition, valuable advice is found on the Tennessee Department of Health website, including latest guidance from the CDC: https://www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html

If you are a Vanderbilt employee with fever, cough or shortness of breath and/or are concerned about exposure to COVID-19, it is recommended that you stay home and call (888) 312-0847 to be assessed. This line is available daily, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

March 17, 2020
Update about VUMC Research

Read the message from CEO & President Dr. Jeff Balser, and Executive Vice President for Research Dr. Jennifer Pietenpol.

The following guidelines apply to individual research labs (comprised of trainees, research staff and faculty investigators) and research core facilities. It is general good practice for core managers/directors, principal investigators and lab managers to be ready for any possible circumstances. Especially at this time of COVID-19 outbreak, all research lab and core leaders are encouraged to regularly review and update contingency plans for maintaining critical lab operations on site or via remote work from home, based on the specific needs for each lab. Some considerations for planning a partial or full disruption of lab operations are listed below. 

Reach out to Susan Meyn s.meyn@vumc.org at any time with comments, questions or concerns, and always be sure to monitor VUMC announcements and updates for the latest guidance.

All lab personnel are encouraged to adopt prudent infection control practices including use of universal precautions.  

This guide to preventative actions has been prepared by VU Basic Sciences (adapted from Yale and Berkeley websites).

This CDC poster is a helpful reminder of basic hygiene practices - print and display at lab entrances and benches.

Download the VUMC infographic for sharing and posting across your areas.

Develop a plan for communicating with your team, and advising them of changes in schedule and/or operations. 

Identify critical staff who must remain on site in an emergency, for example to ensure maintenance of cell lines, animals, or certain types of equipment.

For personnel who will remain on site, consider adopting staggered shifts or alternating day working on site or remotely, to allow for appropriate social distancing.  Spread out by using conference rooms, break rooms and lounge areas as office and dry lab space.  Review and apply the guidance found above in the Preventing Infection section.

Determine whether your team can continue to work remotely from home, if needed, including accommodations are needed to enable remote work (e.g. computing equipment, VPN and other software access, internet and/or voice call service).  VUMC IT guidance for technical requirements is found at www.vumc.org/it/vumc-it-guide-working-remotely, also linked from www.vumc.org/coronavirus.

PIs are strongly encouraged to work with their department administration for assistance in implementing work from home plans, to ensure alignment with HR and timekeeping requirements.

Until further notice, all research experiences in VUMC labs for VU and other undergraduate students, high school students, other research volunteers and interns are suspended. This includes any clinical shadowing component. For questions, contact Medical Center Relations at vumc.iso@vumc.org

VU is instituting an initial remote work period for VU research laboratories beginning Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 27.  Thus, working with VUMC Departmental chairs, all VUMC faculty PIs should be in contact with their VU graduate students and VU-employed postdocs as soon as possible to provide a plan for the initial remote work period. The faculty PIs should make sure to discuss these plans with these trainees as soon as possible. Any questions about a trainee’s responsibilities, especially of those involving research operations, should be directly addressed by the faculty PI/mentor in concert with the departmental chair.

VUMC-employed postdocs should take their guidance regarding on-campus or remote work from their VUMC employer. Any questions about a trainee’s responsibilities, especially of those involving research operations, should be directly addressed by the faculty PI/mentor in concert with the departmental chair.

Have a communication plan ready, in case services need to be suspended. This includes managing expectation of external customers, especially when a core services agreement is in place. Also keep in mind that core users may be concerned about ongoing projects, so even if you will not be suspending service, plan to send regular updates to your user groups.

Vanderbilt Environmental Health and Safety (VEHS) Biosafety has issued specific guidance for researchers planning to work with COVID-19 clinical specimens or SARS-CoV-2 associated materials. Importantly, researchers must work with VEHS Biosafety on a risk assessment before finalizing research plans or submitting a grant proposal. 

Visit the VEHS Biosafety website to learn more and submit an intake form for research with COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 materials, and to review the COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 material biosafety action grid to determine actions that will likely apply to your research plans. 

Contact Robin Trundy or Bettye Ridley for assistance or more information. 

Monitor the ACUP COVID-19 Response website for updates and status for animal facilities.

Confirm procedures for rapid shutdown of equipment, securing and storage of valuable samples, reagents and supplies.  Considerations: Are computer workstations and data back-ups secured?  Are there automated processes that can continue with remote monitoring? 

Employ “just-in-time” supply principles, to avoid loss of labile reagents and potential unrecoverable expenses in the event of a shutdown.

If equipment cannot be shut down immediately or for a longer time, put procedures in place for remote monitoring or limited onsite supervision as needed, including freezers and cold rooms.

At this time, delivery companies, vendors and instrument service engineers are allowed on site for essential, non-sales related, purposes. Visitors will be asked pre-questions, be temperature screened and given a sticker/badge noting they have been authorized to be on site. If the visitor is bringing equipment, it is recommended they enter at the main VUMC dock. If carrying a gear bag, they can enter through the PRB Cancer Center main entrance (facing the Children's Hospital). Screening stations are at both locations. 

Before scheduling service visits, lab personnel are encouraged to check for updated guidance on visitor policies on the VUMC COVID-19 information site: https://www.vumc.org/coronavirus/information-vumc-employees-and-patients 

Are you interested in partaking in a cool, useful and epic "Research Matching" communication network?!

The Vanderbilt Center for Immunobiology has set up a new workspace for researchers to connect and share virtual expertise. "Research Matching" is the title of the Slack workspace established as a communication and networking platform for researchers. This page will have an internal channel titled "needsomeonewho" where researchers will post projects that they need assistance with. Then, someone who has experience or knows how to complete the needed task mentioned in the channel can respond to that comment. The researcher can then reach out to the responder and foster an amazing work collaboration! Research Matched!

To be part of this virtual matchmaking network, follow these directions

1) Click here to join the "Research Matching" workspace. Slack will verify your email address. If you do not have a Slack account you will be prompted to create one. If you do have a Slack account please log in as usual. 

2) Type "researchmatching" into the workspace box.

3) You will be in the "general" public channel and will have access to the "needsomeonewho" channel to see how you can assist or post.

If you have any questions please contact Summer Brown at summer.brown@vumc.org 

In response to the rapidly developing COVID-19 situation, NIH recently published a number of resources related to policy modifications and administrative flexibilities for funding applicants and recipients. OSP has assembled a list of these resources on its blog, available here.

For questions or concerns, please reach out to your OSP specialist or directly contact Clint Brown by cell at 615-414-1473.

In case of delayed grant submission due to self-isolation, quarantine or sickness, you are strongly encouraged to discuss your specific situation with your agency Program Official and VUMC OSP administrator. More information on sponsor-specific policies for disasters and emergencies:  

Sick leave and other paid absences that are permitted under VUMC policy may be charged to a grant, per VUMC indirect cost rate agreement with the federal government.

If the PI or Key Personnel named in an award will be absent from the project for greater than 90 days, Federal agencies require notification. While this is not expected, be mindful of this prior approval requirement and notify OSP sponsoredprograms@vumc.org for guidance.

VICTR has provided a set of FAQs containing information about COVID-19 as it relates to the conduct of clinical investigation, operations, and sponsored projects.  Learn more here.

Updated guidance from the Human Research Protection Program is found here: www.vumc.org/irb/covid-19-updates-research

Make a plan for returning to normal operations, including roles and responsibilities for each of your team.

Reschedule or cancel events, including group meetings, unless they can be done virtually.