Research information

May 10, 2021 - Rapid testing protocol to support field work activities

Campus Wellness and the Safety Office have developed a rapid testing protocol to support research teams undertaking approved long-term field work trips. Repeated serial rapid testing may have value in combination with other measures to further reduce the risk of COVID-19 when groups are travelling together to undertake field research. Details of these protocols can be found below.

April 5, 2021 - Provincal shutdown: 

The Region of Waterloo will move into a provincial shutdown effective April 3, 2021, which affects teaching, research and other operations on campus.

  • Province-wide shutdown measures came into effect April 3
  • Face-to-face research with human participants to be suspended (with some exceptions)
  • New travel for off-campus research and field work outside Waterloo Region, including out-of-province travel, will be suspended
  • All other on-campus research, under approved safety plans, may continue.

See memo from vice-president, research and international for details

On this page:

Return to research information

The Office of Research and the Safety Office have implemented a phased approach to restarting research. Initially, researchers could request access to continue on-campus research if the research was deemed critical or related to COVID-19. On July 15 the Research Restart plan expanded criteria for on-campus laboratory research activities for those that cannot conduct research remotely or require access to labs or specialized facilities (Phase 2).

These criteria now include: 

  • COVID-19 related research; 
  • Research that if not continued would result in a significant loss of data or equipment; 
  • Grants and contracts with time-sensitive milestones; 
  • Graduate students nearing research degree completion; 
  • Research with needs for intermittent lab access; 
  • Early career researchers; 
  • Researchers currently hindered by restrictions due to COVID-19, where ongoing access to research laboratory and specialized facilities would be required for the continuation of their research. 

Applications for return to campus research include on-campus research labs and facilities with unique attributes such as specialized equipment or software without which the research cannot proceed. Applications for Off-Campus Research and Field Work can be submitted as well. However, anyone who can effectively continue their research and other work activities from home should continue to do so until further notice. 
Research using animals was initiated in a phased approach beginning July 29. 

If you wish to request access to campus to resume research activity based on any of the criteria listed above, you are invited to submit a request outlining how your research fits the criteria and how you will resume activities following social distancing and other public authority guidelines. All new requests must include a completed Safety Plan. 

Phase 3 update

The requirement to have an approved Safety Plan in place to access Research Laboratories is expected to continue through 2020. If you anticipate opening your laboratory to research activities during Fall 2020, you are encouraged to seek a Return to Research approval.

Face to face human participant studies with healthy/less-vulnerable individuals that were halted or were unable to begin because of COVID-19 may now apply to resume. Off-campus human participant studies may apply beginning October 5, 2020.

Requests to resume human participant research must provide a clear justification outlining why certain aspects of the study cannot be shifted to being done remotely.

All travel for research purposes requires approval. Requests for field work outside Ontario (within Canada) require a strong justification, additional permissions, and will take longer for review and approval. Travel outside of Canada remains prohibited, and will be considered only under exceptional circumstances.

Return to research process and forms

Researchers who can effectively continue their research and other work activities from home should continue to do so until further notice. 

We now have an online submission process. This must be used for new requests.

If you need to request amendments to previously approved plans (if there have been significant changes), these should be submitted online as a new request (choose “Begin a new form”).

The online submission process must be used to submit a final update of Safety Plans that were approved before mid-August. We require the submission of these approved plans to ensure we have a record of the final plan capturing any changes that were required in plan approvals, and to ensure complete and updated graduate student signatures. It is also required to support compliance. 

The online submission process must be used to submit new Return to Research requests under any of the three processes below. 

On-campus laboratory research (that does NOT involve human participants):

Off-campus research or field work (that does NOT involve human participants):

The process for “off-campus research or field work” requests described above applies to all off-campus travel for research. This includes:

  • Travel to another facility or institution to do lab work. Be aware of the restrictions and requirements at other facilities. Separate approvals of the host facility may be required; details of the safety requirements of the host facility should be included in your safety plan. 
  • Going to another institution to do non-lab work (ex. archival research).
  • Travel to consider sites for field work (even when no sampling or research is taking place).
  • Any activities for which expenses are charged to a research account.

If you are travelling to simply pick up or drop off equipment or samples (not actively sampling or doing analysis) you do not need a field work approval.

If you are unsure, please contact Claims for expenses for research travel will not be reimbursed without appropriate approvals in place.

In-person meetings to engage with research partners or discuss research proposals or activities remain prohibited. 

Research that includes face-to-face research with human participants

Faculty reviewers have the authority to approve all types of Safety Plans outlined above. Based on their review, they may work with PIs to seek clarification or ask for revisions. If necessary, they may request further review or clarification from the Safety Office (this is expected to be infrequent) and make the PI aware when the safety plan review is concluded.

Departments and Faculties must track their own list of researchers and graduate students granted approval to Return to Research. Anyone beginning research in a laboratory must review and sign the existing safety plan for the lab before starting.

The addition of individuals to existing on-campus lab safety plans no longer requires going through the research queries process.

For those granted on-campus research activities, these activities should be limited to activities that require such access. Other activities such as lab meetings, should continue to be held remotely.  

Research using animals

Animal care is an essential service; the highest level of care and husbandry within our current staffing levels will be maintained. This research may continue. 

COVID-19 testing and screening protocols for longer-term field work

Repeated serial rapid testing may have value in combination with other measures to further reduce the risk of COVID-19 when groups are travelling together to undertake field research. Rapid testing is now included in field-work protocols, where appropriate. These protocols are integrated in the safety plan review of all resume research requests.

Antigen Rapid Testing, or antigen point-of-care testing (antigen POCT) is used for screening purposes only. It should NOT be used for diagnosis of COVID-19 infection in symptomatic individuals or individuals with known close contact with a positive COVID-19 case. Testing does not prevent someone from getting COVID-19.

Antigen POCT does not replace public health measures such as symptom screening, physical distancing, masking and hand hygiene. Antigen POCT does not replace requirements to protect the health and safety of workers. A detailed Safety Plan must be approved (through and followed at all times. Any positive results from antigen POCT must be confirmed with laboratory-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. See instructions below for reporting and following up on positive tests.


Distancing from other workers on the site who are outside the "UWaterloo bubble" as well as from the community in general is required at all times; all activities must follow an approved Safety Plan.

Costs for PCR testing before departure may be the responsibility of the Supervisor (max estimated cost $75/PCR swab test).

For those wishing to form a UWaterloo bubble (similar to a cohabitating family unit)

  1. Each individual travelling is to contact Health Services at least one week prior to departure, using the COVID-19 assessment registration form and indicate in the notes field you are booking for research travel.
  2. Schedule a PCR test for 72 hours before departure for each individual. At the appointment, Health Services will provide a demonstration of the rapid antigen test and provide test kits (based on duration of travel). 
  3. Once the PCR test has been taken, individuals must limit exposure to only their immediate household, with no new contacts until the time of departure. If anyone in the household becomes symptomatic in this period, travel must be postponed. 
  4. A negative result from this test is required to be allowed to leave with the group.
  5. Self-administered rapid antigen test (kit provided by Health Services) is required the morning of departure from all those who have tested negative in the previous PCR test. If this test is positive, the individual may NOT travel (direction below must be followed).
  6. This will form the "UWaterloo bubble" leaving on this field trip, and they will not need to distance with each other.

Once the UWaterloo bubble is established

  1. The group must follow all requirements and protocols in the approved safety plan at all times, including masking requirements required for travel and to maintain distance.
  2. Accommodations must not be shared with others outside of this UWaterloo bubble.
  3. Distancing with the community and any other workers is required. 
  4. If activities may require short term contact of less than 2 m with other workers at the field site, these activities must be detailed with appropriate mitigation measures in the approved safety plan.
  5. Rapid antigen testing will be done by all members of the UWaterloo bubble approximately twice per week (3 days between tests is recommended).
  6. After each Antigen POCT test, the workers are to report these results. 
    1. Negative result: report to their supervisor. 
    2. Positive result: the individual must isolate from all other bubble members and report this result to the local public health group. In addition, all positive test results (including antigen rapid tests) must be reported as follows: 
      1. If an employee tests positive, they should inform University of Waterloo Occupational Health immediately at 519-888-4567 extension 40538 or 46264, or at
      2. If a student tests positive, they must contact Health Services through the COVID-19 hotline.

After hours lab access

Where possible, research in on-campus laboratories should be scheduled weekdays between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm, Monday to Friday. We understand, however, that evening or weekend hours may sometimes be required to manage lab work. This is permitted, subject to safety protocols and restrictions by departments or in some buildings or facilities, in areas where the ventilation system continues to operate. Special permission to access buildings and laboratories outside of normal work hours is no longer required, however this activity must be addressed in lab safety plans (see above).

Buildings with 24/7 ventilation include the following: 

  • Wet lab areas
  • Dry lab areas that are serviced by a HVAC unit which also services local wet labs
  • Areas with sensitive operation (clean rooms, animal care facilities, rooms with specialized equipment).

Hours of access for other dry lab areas, labs without fume hoods, and lab office areas may NOT be used outside of the hours of HVAC operation, 7 am and 11 pm workdays. If you are unsure of the classification of your research lab space, please confirm this with your Dean’s office. 

If researchers are accessing laboratories outside of normal working hours, lab safety plans must include a description of how access, safety and cleaning will be managed. Measures must be in place to ensure that Working Alone guidelines are followed at all times, including specific working alone procedures to be implemented within the lab (e.g., delineation of activities that are permitted while working alone, check-in/check-out procedures, etc.). These measures must also be described in safety plans. If the approved lab safety plan is missing any of these elements, the PI is required to update the safety plan. Please follow the process outlined above to request approval for on-campus laboratory research using the current Lab Research Safety Plan template. 

Note that during winter months, no parking is permitted between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Also, only emergency maintenance services are available outside of 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. weekdays (excluding holidays).

Changes in physical spaces 

To allow for appropriate physical distancing, changes to research spaces may be required.

Guidance for adjusting workspaces is included in the Safety Plan template. Some highlights include:

  • Occupancy limits for spaces guided by 12.5 m2 (two metre diameter) space per person   
  • Alternating schedules or staggering start and end times  
  • Virtual meetings   
  • Increased sanitization of high-touch surfaces  
  • Cleaning products available through Plant Operations for employees to clean their own equipment  
  • Physical barriers such as plexiglass screens  

Support for researchers who require assistance in adapting lab space and activities to adhere to social distancing and other health and safety guidelines is available. Contact for assistance. 

Tools for return to laboratory research planning