July 17, 2020 – Updates on phased approach to ramping up on-campus research activities
I’m writing to you today with updates on our phased approach to ramping up on-campus research activities that cannot be performed remotely. If you recall, we transitioned to Phase 1 on May 18 and approved 1,755 personnel for on-campus research activities during that phase. On June 11 we transitioned to Phase 2. Across both phases, over 2,570 research faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students from across our colleges and schools have been approved to take part in on-campus research activities.
Over the past eight weeks of phased ramp-up, our research community has adapted to this new normal of limited occupancy in research spaces and additional COVID-19 safety measures including wearing masks and maintaining six-feet physical distancing. Thanks to the new safety protocols that you have implemented responsibly, positive COVID-19 cases among the Vanderbilt community have remained low, with fewer than 10 cases confirmed since the onset of research ramp-up* (see footnote below). These data demonstrate that the steps we have taken are effective at stemming the spread of COVID-19 within research spaces on campus. Nevertheless, as positive COVID-19 cases surge worldwide and in the Southeastern U.S. specifically it is more important than ever to increase our vigilance to contain the spread.
With this in mind, our Ad-hoc Research Ramp-up Working Group has partnered with the Division of Administration and the School of Nursing contact tracing team to create new Guidance for Managing Positive Cases of COVID-19 in Research Spaces to support and protect our community in the event of a confirmed or suspected positive COVID-19 case. This guidance outlines the process for managing a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 in a research space at Vanderbilt University, focusing on effective communication to protect research community members when a positive case is detected and enable them to resume research operations as quickly and safely as possible after the case is contained. Lead researchers who have already been approved to engage in on-campus research activities in Phase 1 or 2 will receive a separate personalized email with this guidance as well.
Additionally, as we are One Vanderbilt with many research projects spanning VU and VUMC, I would like to suggest that you please review the VUMC COVID-19 Exposure Guidelines for VUMC Workforce Members and VUMC’s general COVID-19 Information for Employees and Patients. I encourage all our research community members to familiarize themselves with both the VU and VUMC guidance to ensure you know what to do to protect yourself and others in the event of a positive COVID-19 case.
To be clear, this guidance applies only to research. Other guidance pertaining to different on-campus activities such as classrooms and residence halls will be rolled out shortly. As we move forward, we will continuously review and update this guidance as appropriate.
The Ad-hoc Research Ramp-up Working Group has been active every week over the past several months in facilitating your research and scholarly activities, and we remain committed to this mission in the months to come. For more information about research ramp-up and management of COVID-19 in research including resources like disinfection protocols in the event of a positive COVID-19 case, the Phase 2 Intake Form, and more, please visit the VU Research website.
As one of the first activities to return to campus, research has been the model for many of the university’s next steps. As on-campus activities expand, let us continue to lead the Vanderbilt community with the same sense of responsibility to protect our community from COVID-19.
Vice Provost for Research
Professor of Computer Science & Computer Engineering
*It should be noted that these cases were community acquired off campus and not due to on campus exposure that we know of.