Research ramp down procedures

Effective July 1, Alberta is entering Stage 3 of its reopening plan. In line with this, the university will begin a phased reopening for Fall 2021. We expect to be fully reopened by January 2022.

Even when reopened, there will be a need to implement procedures to address a localised outbreak should one occur. The information below is provided to provide guidance in the event that should occur.


Continuity Planning

All on-campus research teams are required to have a continuity plan to prepare for potential outbreak scenarios. Every workspace must be able to shut down, suspend or delegate operations, including research labs and studios, within 24-48 hours. A checklist is available for research teams to ensure they are prepared to rapidly ramp down their research space should that be required.

Research Continuity Checklist   University Continuity Planning


Detailed ramp down information and procedures

If a localised outbreak should occur, please follow the guidance below. If you have any questions if your research activity should be stopped or continued, please contact your dean or vice-dean research. If you have safety concerns or questions about your research activities, please contact HSE at hse.info@ualberta.ca with a description of your activities and location.

General guidance
  • Ensure all data and files are accessible from your home computer systems so you can work from home. Please ensure all privacy regulations are respected.
  • If your unit administers resources that researchers, including trainees, may need to access to complete their studies, assess how remote access could be arranged (e.g., datasets).
  • If you have a university laptop, take it and its power supply home at the end of each working day.
  • Assess what specific applications you need to install on your personal computer in order to work from home. Arrange the installation.
  • The university provides many IT options to access shared drives from home or even remote log-in to desktop machines. However, these tools may require advanced set-up.
  • Research leaders should ensure they have up-to-date contact information including personal mobile telephone numbers for all staff. Register your research in the HSE Database (ARISE) to consolidate research group contact information.
  • Research leaders should consider opportunities to mitigate the impact of illness or self-isolation, such as sharing staff between units.
Wet labs
  • Identify procedures, processes and equipment requiring ongoing personnel attention (e.g. glove boxes, heating/cooling systems, supplies of liquid nitrogen/helium, compressed gases, etc.)
  • Be prepared for building/lab/workshop access to be reduced or removed. 
  • Be prepared for scenarios where access may only be allowed for key personnel to enable safe shutdown of experiments OR essential maintenance to critical equipment that could otherwise lead to increased risk of an incident.
  • Review/prepare lab procedures to shutdown experiments that cannot be left unattended. Ensure protocols can be initiated and completed quickly should they be required.
  • Identify and train key personnel to perform safe shutdown and essential equipment maintenance.
  • Increase the frequency of disinfection of research areas including work surfaces, benches, chairs, common equipment/ areas – especially if notified of personnel who become ill. 
  • Prioritize critical activities and identify activities that can be ramped down, curtailed, or delayed.
  • Label, secure and store hazardous materials so hazards are removed/controlled for other personnel who may need to enter at short notice.
  • Cross-train personnel or coordinate with colleagues doing similar activities to provide support.
Community research and research involving human participants

Due to COVID-19 preventative measures, the university’s Research Ethics Boards (REBs) advise investigators to:

  • Consider if research studies can be modified or delayed.
  • Limit personal contacts, lab visits or clinic and hospital trips.
  • Consider reducing in-person participant interactions or replace them with phone or online communication.
  • Revise participant consent forms or consent addendums as required (e.g., to update privacy considerations with use of different communication channels).
  • Always disinfect according to manufacturer’s standards or work with single-use accessories as possible for physical assessments and equipment (e.g., metabolic carts, facemasks, mouthpieces, nose-clips, straps, turbines, valves, tubing, cannula, treadmills, etc.).

While the Research Ethics Boards typically review and approve modifications before implementation, an exception can be made where the change is necessary to eliminate an immediate risk to participant(s) (TCPS2 Article 6.15). Such changes may be implemented but must be reported to the Research Ethics Board at the earliest opportunity (within 5 business days as a guide). The Research Ethics Boards will work to expedite these requests to minimize research disruption.

All research plans must be re-assessed against current university, Alberta Health Services (AHS), provincial and federal health advisories and travel restrictions.

Clinical research

In addition to university regulations, it is essential to adhere to the directives, policies, procedures and advice of relevant partner or collaborating organizations (e.g. AHS, Covenant Health etc), including infection prevention and control practices and workplace health and safety rules.

  • Refer to AHS guidance as a priority because facility access could change rapidly.

Active Studies

  • Limit personal contacts, lab visits or clinic and hospital trips.
  • Minimize or avoid in-person interactions, consider which study visits could be cancelled, delayed or held virtually. 
  • Minimize the operational impacts and/or requests for research-related assistance from care teams working hard to manage their clinical workloads.
  • If not already doing so, screen participants who require in-person visits for COVID-19 risk factors before those visits.
  • Consider if revised participant consent or consent addendums, or protocol deviations related are required (e.g. to update privacy considerations with use of different communication channels), and report to the appropriate Research Ethics Board.
  • The Health Research Ethics Board may require notification of protocol changes as a result of efforts to reduce person-to-person contact.
  • Maintain Investigators’ duty to provide care and ensure access to study drugs for participants already enrolled in clinical trials.
  • If you anticipate the need for ongoing study visits to administer study drugs or facilitate study assessments, consider alternating attendance of your study staff at study visits to maximize contingencies around possible infection or exposure.
  • If study staff are exposed to a patient, study monitor, or employee who is later found to have been infected with or exposed to COVID-19, the study staff member must self-isolate for 14 days.
  • Investigators should work with study sponsors of industry-sponsored clinical trials to confirm their expectations and implement any changes. This includes how protocol violations should be handled and any special reporting requirements.
Research involving animals

Due to COVID-19, the university’s Animal Care and Use Committees (ACUC) advise investigators to:

  • consider if work involving animals can be modified, delayed or postponed; and,
  • assess plans to provide animal care if research team members become ill or staff are advised to stay home.

Campus animal services units have operational emergency continuity plans, including animal care and use, procurement, and oversight of alternate animal housing locations. Senior staff from the Animal Care and Use Program are discussing operational continuity in the event the university has to modify day-to-day operations.

Detailed information is available in ARISE - login to view. 

Review procedures are all online and the ACUCs will continue to operate normally, subject to reviewer and staff availability. The Research Ethics Office will be hosting online ACUC meetings. 

The ACUCs typically review and approve modifications to approved animal work before they are implemented. If you have questions or concerns about exceptional circumstances, please contact:

  • Craig Wilkinson, University Veterinarian
  • Frances Plane, Chair Health Sciences ACUC I & II
  • Donna Taylor, ACUC Consultant
Dry labs and other forms of research

Much of our research and creative activity does not involve a wet lab or extensive social interaction as it is conducted in an office or an off-campus setting for example. As such, these activities can continue at the discretion of individual researchers, who will provide guidance to their trainees and research staff. If this involves field work, please refer to current field research restrictions

Computational-based research conducted on Compute Canada resources can continue. IST Research Computing staff are working remotely and providing researcher support, supporting Compute Canada services, and Compute Canada systems administration. Technical support and documentation are available.    

If your unit administers resources that researchers, including trainees, may need to access in order to complete their studies, give thought to how remote access could be arranged (for example, to datasets).

Research area inspection/maintenance

Lab equipment and supplies may need to be monitored during a shutdown. Research groups should develop an appropriate inspection schedule, inform the respective dean and/or associate/vice dean research and register that schedule with HSE through Inspection/Maintenance During Ramp down. Items to consider include:

  • Equipment maintenance (NMR, MRI and other equipment requiring regular cryogen refills)
  • Supply of gases (CO2/nitrogen/argon etc.) to incubators, glove boxes and similar types of equipment
  • Freezer and fridge operations to ensure equipment is operating, and conduct periodic inspections afterwards
  • Emission management
  • Working conditions of alarms in storage areas with hazardous materials
  • Periodic checks of facilities and equipment with restricted access