Today the Office of the Provost announced new measures to protect the health and safety of Penn’s research community as well as to maintain the capability of Penn’s Health System. As of tomorrow, access to labs will be limited to essential personnel who perform critical procedures or processes that require regular attention to maintain the long-term viability of laboratories, reagents, animals, and equipment. All researchers should discontinue all nonessential on-campus research activities by today. Research efforts to combat COVID-19 will continue.
“The impact of COVID-19 on the community is unprecedented,” says Dawn Bonnell, vice provost for research. “What is clear is that social distancing is critical for lessening the impact of this global pandemic. It saves lives. As scientists, scholars, and physicians, we must not simply follow guidance but lead by example. Restricting the research enterprise to essential research activities will further depopulate the Penn campus and help protect our community. World-class research is at the heart of Penn’s mission and much planning for research and research itself will continue remotely during this period. We will get back to normal as soon as it is safe for our community.”
This decision was made in consultation with the deans of the schools, who understand the diversity of activities that constitute Penn’s research enterprise and the impact this decision has on many of the ongoing activities on campus. This decision recognizes the importance of minimizing the spread of COVID-19 while safeguarding the Penn community as well as patients and staff at Penn Medicine.
“In order to maximize our chance of slowing the spread of this virus, we felt it was important to depopulate our research buildings and our campus and prioritize patient care and urgent research on COVID-19,” says Jonathan Epstein, executive vice dean and chief scientific officer at Penn Medicine, who emphasized the importance of striking a balance between maximizing social distancing measures while still participating in finding a cure. “There’s a whole series of exciting research initiatives that have been initiated in the last few days, such as making better detection kits that patients can use at home, finding small-molecule drugs to treat the disease, and making vaccines. A lot of investigators have switched their entire effort to this emergent problem, and I think that there’s an important role that we play as a great research institution in helping to find those cures.”
Staff members in Environmental Health and Radiation Safety and University Laboratory Animal Resources, who are defined as essential personnel, have continuity programs to support campus research activities during this time. In addition, research-support units within the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, including the Institutional Review Board and the Office of Research Services, will continue to operate using remote protocols.
“We understand how disruptive these events are for your scholarly work and training activities,” said the email sent by Provost Wendell Pritchett; J. Larry Jameson, executive vice president for the Health System; and Bonnell to research faculty, staff, and students. “We encourage you to use this time creatively to network remotely, analyze data, write research papers and reviews, and prepare grants. We also recognize the stress caused by this disruption, and we are prepared to work with the academic affairs and human resources groups in your schools to minimize the impact on professional advancement.”
Those impacted can find more information on research continuity, research-related announcements, support for animal research, and updates from Environmental Health and Radiation, at https://research.upenn.edu/resources/coronavirus/.