Research Lab Update

March 16, 2020

Research Update from David Roth, Chair & Warren Pear, Vice Chair for Research

Dear Research Faculty,

If you don't have time to read all of this, the essential message is ramp down your lab to a minimal level of activity. That is the official message from PSOM leadership.

Rationale for research lab ramp down:  It is essential to depopulate our research labs.  Data shared by Dean Jameson this morning with research leadership group: asymptomatic carriers shed virus and are a major source of infection.

This information drives our social distancing strategy, which can also be thought of as physical distancing.

We MUST DEPOPULATE the labs to reduce transmission, in conjunction with robust social distancing practices of the lab members.  Please remind all your lab personnel to practice robust social distancing at home. This is not a vacation or an opportunity to get together with friends and family.   We know as an institution that we will take a research and financial hit.  Think of this as closing down your operations (temporarily), not just reducing the intensity of your work.

Specific comments on research ramp down:
As we learned from Sunday’s email from the Provost, UPenn’s response to COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. We realize that this is extremely disruptive and distressing, it is our responsibility as a community to do everything that we can to slow the progression of this pandemic. The email from the Provost outlined specific procedures that will be implemented on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. We have now received clarification on several aspects of this email from both the Dean of the School of Medicine and the Chief Scientific Officer. This is discussed below. 

1. Overall, research will NOT continue as usual. We are in a crisis and need to take appropriate measures to depopulate the labs. This is critical. There is ONE exception and that is research focused on COVID-19.
2. What is considered essential research? This is research that if discontinued would lead to the loss of critical data and samples, in particular long-term studies and or research that if discontinued would create a safety hazard (for example, patient studies). Research that is directly related to COVID-19 is considered essential research and will be allowed and even encouraged (as long as it is justified in writing). There will likely be SOM/University-wide discussions on how research can be ramped up in THIS PARTICULAR AREA.
3. What is NOT considered essential research? Obtaining additional results for papers and/or grants in progress, even resubmissions. These will just have to wait and is non-negotiable. Everyone is in this situation! Keeping things going so that the lab can easily ramp up to speed or maintain their momentum when the pandemic ends. NO, this is also non-negotiable.
4. Who are essential personnel that are allowed to enter the lab during this period? Lab operations should be kept at a minimum. This means maintaining equipment and maintaining pared down mouse colonies. NO NEW RESEARCH! This should be limited to 1-2 individuals. If multiple individuals take care of animals, it is important that this be given to a single individual (2 people max). Again, animal colonies should be pared down! Only 2 individuals per lab can be designated as essential. If you absolutely require more, this must be petitioned in writing and will be reviewed by Warren Pear and David Roth, and it is possible the Jon Epstein may need to signoff as well. Note that it is possible to change the essential personnel; however, this should not be used as a workaround to continue or start new non-essential experiments.
5. CORES: Some cores will be available; however, it is likely that operations will be curtailed.
6. Faculty promotions: Obviously this is a very stressful situation for everyone but especially so for those faculty that are still up for promotion. FAPD is aware of this and there is a move afoot to provide an additional year for everyone. This will be announced at a later date; however, be assured that this discussion is happening.
7. Package Deliveries (IMPORTANT): There has been a surge in orders, which is coinciding with depopulating the labs. The plan is to continue with package deliveries; HOWEVER, it is very important that each of you have signs on your doors indicating where the packages should be left if no one is there to receive them. The sign should include a contact name (or 2) with cell phone #’s so that the delivery person can personally notify you that the package is being delivered. They will also take a photo of the package. If they do not receive a verbal or text response, they will take the package back to the loading dock and attempt to redeliver. Although you can also go to the loading dock, it is preferred that you have the package delivered to decrease potential viral spread. It is anticipated that the # of deliveries will decrease. Obviously, orders should be decreased to a minimum.
8. What about salaries on grants?  NIH has clarified that NIH salary can continue to be charged to grants while people work from home.
9. Mouse colony: As the pandemic escalates, there is a concern that there may be a decrease in ULAR personnel. Thus, 1-2 individuals (probably the essential personnel) should be designated to take care of the colony in the event of staff shortages. They may need to change cages, etc. This is another reason to pare down your animal colony.
10. Graduate students: This is a moving target. In some cases, senior graduate students may be essential personnel. However, early stage and rotating students should not be continuing their lab work.
11. Parking: The university has loosened their restrictions on temporary parking spaces and more information will be forthcoming. At present, this does not include postdocs, but this is under discussion.
12. When will the restrictions end? This is not clear; however, given the situation in Wuhan and Italy, it may extend for several months NOT weeks, so plan accordingly.
13. How can labs stay productive? Obviously, this is a challenge and we all will likely take a hit; however, we MUST come together as a community to alleviate the pandemic. There are thousands of lives at risk. Nevertheless, there are things that you can do to maintain some level of productivity and lab morale. These include using BlueJeans to hold regular lab meetings, journal clubs, etc. Make sure to keep contact with your people! They are looking to you for leadership and guidance. This is a good time for lab members and you to write drafts of papers and grants, write review articles, take online courses, etc. Some people have mentioned that SLACK or similar communication programs are effective for maintaining contact. BlueJeans-based lab meetings have been held successfully. We will also continue our recruiting efforts with online interviews. It is very likely that there will be virtual seminar series as well.


These plans will continue to evolve. It is important that we keep in touch on issues, share ideas, and support each other. The overarching strength of UPenn is its sense of community and collaboration. We are confident that this strength will continue to serve us well through these challenging times.

Please watch our website for additional updates  Please also direct your lab personnel to the department’s website for updates.

Finally, try to stay healthy, avoid crowds and wash your hands often!

David & Warren