Researchers must safely suspend all non-critical lab operations

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

This message was originally sent to employees by Charmaine Dean, vice-president, research and international

  • All researchers must safely suspend non-critical lab operations by 5 p.m. on Friday, March 20

  • Researchers must only maintain on-campus research if it is deemed critical research

  • If you believe you have critical on-campus research that must continue please seek approval from

  • All research with direct human participant contact (physical assessments, in-person interviews) is suspended

  • We have suspended all research-related travel – including international and domestic travel – for faculty, staff and students

  • We will prioritize review of new research proposals or amendments related to COVID-19  

Yesterday we heard from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the importance of taking every possible measure to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. The University is continuing to take steps to safeguard our people, enable employees to work from home through the delivery of alternative and online services and maintain critical on-campus functions.

We are asking that researchers only maintain research on-campus if it is deemed critical research, until further notice. Critical research includes lab activities, that if disrupted, would result in serious loss of research data, material or equipment.

Due to the rapidly changing situation, it is paramount that researchers take the necessary steps to delay or suspend research activities that rely on physical campus resources or buildings.  We need to think about what on-campus research needs to proceed and ensure the safety of our research staff and students.   

To be clear – unless critical to your research, you must make every effort to limit the research activity happening on campus. Research activity that can be done from home can continue. And you must prepare, even if your on-campus research is deemed critical, to close down on-campus research activities at short notice. 

We have a responsibility at this time to take measures that can help to slow the spread of the virus and protect more vulnerable populations that are at increased risk of more severe outcomes. 

We are keeping the University’s  COVID-19 website  up to date with important information.


Research must be conducted in a way that meets applicable standards and best practices.

All researchers must safely suspend lab operations not later than 5 p.m. on Friday, March 20, following the steps below: 

  • Shut down all processes that are vulnerable to failure due to a power outage. 
  • Store hazardous materials properly and in containment areas. Ensure that containers are closed or sealed. Empty fume hoods of hazardous materials. Remove hazardous waste to the Environmental Safety Facility. For more information call ext. 35755. 
  • Shut off compressed gases and gas supply lines to equipment. 
  • Turn off and unplug, where possible, electrical equipment such as hot plates and computers. If not containing hazardous materials, turn off fume hoods and environmental chambers.  
  • Ensure lab contact information is updated with names, phone numbers and addresses. Make sure information is accessible to emergency response personnel (e.g., posted inside of door). If applicable, include documentation on contents of sensitive freezers and refrigerators in the lab. 

If you believe you must continue on-campus research activity in order to prevent a serious loss of research data, material or equipment, you must seek approval from, noting that the following criteria must be in place: 

  • Lists of emergency contacts should be up to date and posted in a clearly visible location.  
  • Social distancing must be applied, providing a distance of at least two meters between individuals.  
  • Appropriate precautions must be in place and documented to protect employees and students.  
  • Any research must be conducted in accordance with applicable safety requirements and best practices.  
  • No operation should be carried out without adequate training and supervision. Please also reference the Working Alone guideline when considering deployment of employees in on-campus operations.

Even if your research is deemed critical, you must be prepared to safely suspend lab operations at short notice following the steps outlined above in the event of further changes due to COVID-19.

Human participant research

All research with direct human participant contact (e.g., physical assessments, in-person interviews) is suspended until further notice.

Recruitment may not continue for any study with an in-person human participant component that has received ethics clearance, and scheduled visits must be postponed or cancelled until further notice.

If an approved protocol with direct human interaction can be modified in a way that would eliminate personal contact (e.g., carry out an interview over the phone rather than in person, have participants mail in paper surveys or complete surveys online) an amendment may be submitted. Amendments to these studies will be prioritized for review. During the amendment review consideration will be given to the effects of proposed changes on data integrity and scientific validity of the research.

If you feel that your study must continue to preserve the safety and well-being of participants you must contact

Continuation of research with direct human participant contact will only be approved in extreme situations, for example, adverse events related to clinical studies that must be followed up on. Remote monitoring and video conferencing are to be used as alternatives for on-site sponsor or other monitoring visits.

Research with human cell lines and tissues under the jurisdiction of the ethics committees is also suspended.  No new experiments with human cells or tissues can be launched, and only current experiments that would result in serious data loss may continue to completion. 

Human participant research review priorities

New research projects that are related to the current situation (e.g., learning about the type of support or resources required, assessing the effectiveness of current planning processes or gathering physiological or other data which is only available during the COVID-19 pandemic) will be given priority over other new submissions.

Amendments to ongoing studies to adapt protocols to eliminate personal contact will also be prioritized.  If you are submitting an amendment or new study related to COVID-19, please email to identify the study so that the submission can be appropriately triaged.

Prior to submitting an amendment, please consider what modifications may be required to participant materials and the application.  Elements that may require updating include recruitment materials, and the informed consent process and materials (e.g., verbal consent scripts developed, updates to information letters or addendums to discuss privacy risks related to online data collection and changes in data storage).  Please review the entire protocol, with special attention paid to the methods, data security and storage sections, and participant number/statistics.  A well-prepared amendment will speed up the process for all involved. Consultations by research ethics advisors with researchers about amendments and new studies related to COVID-19 will also take priority over consultations and meetings about other issues. For questions and concerns about this process, please email  The Office of Research Ethics and Research Ethics Committees have provisions in place to work remotely and review of new studies will continue, however review periods may lengthen in response to volume or staffing changes.

Research using animals

We have implemented a management protocol for ongoing animal care considering the current situation. The University of Waterloo has on hand enough food, bedding, and other supplies to ensure the daily needs of each animal is being met. Animal care is an essential service which means the highest level of care and husbandry within our current staffing levels will be maintained.

Researchers who work with animals are being informed of the following: 

  • Suspend the conduct of all studies unless if disrupted, would result in serious loss of research data, material or equipment 
  • Postpone initiating new studies
  • Animal breeding will be kept to a maintenance level only 
  • Transport of animals to satellite facilities will cease 
  • Incoming animal shipments will cease 
  • Research with animal tissue is also suspended 
  • Hands-on animal care-and-use training is suspended. Online training courses will continue. 

The Animal Care Committee will continue to meet but will do so remotely as recommended by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. Amendments to existing protocols that are related to the current situation will be given priority which may include extensions to studies that had to be suspended or postponed. If you are submitting an amendment as a result of the current situation, email to identify the study so the submission can be appropriately triaged. 

Emails, phone calls and other queries about amendments related to the current situation will take priority over other requests.

Research-related travel

All research-related travel – including international and domestic travel – for faculty, staff and students is suspended, until further notice.

Should research-related domestic travel (e.g. student fieldwork) be perceived by a researcher to be critical, the researcher should contact

The Office of Research and, in the case of graduate student inquiries, the Office of the Associate Vice-President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs will assess the risk versus benefit of travel on a case by case basis. This assessment will be in accordance with Provincial and Federal guidelines, which are subject to rapid change.

Research Funding

Research sponsors, including the Tri-Agencies, are well aware that the COVID-19 pandemic can affect funded research projects in myriad ways. In addition to existing mechanisms for addressing exceptional circumstances, the Tri-Agencies are actively assessing the issues and will be sharing further information.

Non-refundable costs related to travel or event arrangements for funded research activities will be reimbursed. The Tri-agencies (CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC including New Frontiers in Research Fund – Exploration funding) have confirmed that the reimbursement of non-refundable travel fees from granted agency funds is acceptable considering the impacts of COVID-19.  Researchers should continue to work with the Office of Research to determine eligibility on other external funding sources and can also refer to the latest information on the Finance Stakeholder section of the Coronavirus website.

For new applications, the Office of Research will communicate any extensions to deadlines as we are informed of them by the sponsors via the ADRs or applicant listserves as appropriate.  For the time being, we will accept emailed Office of Research Coversheets for Sponsored Research with whatever electronic signatures you can manage, for example scanned, jpg or digital signatures.