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November VPR Update

VPR Update

November 16, 2020

VPR Update is a monthly email produced by the Office of the Vice President for Research that aims to increase awareness around important research and scholarship items that affect our community. VPR Update is sent to all active investigators, including those engaged in human research, and research administrators across the three U-M campuses.


Rebecca Cunningham

Dear Colleagues,

The new emergency order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services does not address our research enterprise, but as we experience highly concerning increases in the incidence of COVID-19 locally and statewide, research leadership has adjusted human research policies to ensure the health and safety of our researchers and participants. Please refer to our Research Re-engagement webpage, which includes new and updated FAQs, for more information.

A subset of Tier 2 human research studies (Tier 2 that are observational) to pause

  • Given the increased level of coronavirus transmission in our local community and a rise in COVID-related hospitalizations, a subset of Tier 2 human research studies (those specifically classified as an observational study or Benefit Level 4 on the human research activation checklist) should prepare to pause in-person activity with research participants by Friday, November 20 at the latest.

  • Tier 2 observational studies that can be done or converted to remote work should continue.

  • Observational studies classified as Tier 0 and Tier 1 do not need to pause.

  • An exact timeframe for how long this pause will last is not yet determined. To aid in research study planning efforts, we anticipate observational Tier 2 human research studies will not be reactivated before 2021.

  • To support researchers as they ramp down their studies, please refer to the U-M research ramp down checklist. It is prudent for all Tier 2 study teams to refresh their ramp down plan. We will continue to monitor virus transmission rates and update research teams as needed.

  • This tier stratification cannot account for all local settings and so we recognize that some human research studies not classified as Tier 2 observational may also need to temporarily pause activity. The decision to pause activity could stem from multiple factors that are beyond the university’s control, including the transition of K-12 schools to virtual education or clinics whose activity is adjusted because of COVID-related care.

    • In these settings, principal investigators have discretion as they always do to pause in-person activity due to such feasibility issues. PIs do not, however, have discretion to continue in-person activity if their study is classified as Tier 2 observational.

  • If you are uncertain as to whether your Tier 2 observational study should pause, please contact the U-M Human Research Reactivation Committee.

COVID-19 research metrics

  • Researchers to date who have been working on campus and tested positive for COVID-19 (May 21 - November 13): 44 (42 Ann Arbor, 2 Dearborn)

    • 12 researchers who have been working in person have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past seven days.

    • Environment, Health and Safety is managing contact tracing when needed to protect the health and safety of our research community, and over the past six months, there have been no instances of virus transmission between laboratory or research coworkers (which includes testing of asymptomatic close contact coworkers) when proper safety precautions were followed.

Laboratory density to remain at 60 percent

Undergraduate research activity may continue

  • At this time, all undergraduate students across our three campuses are eligible to participate in in-person research and scholarship at the discretion of their principal investigator.

Returning to research following the holiday

  • It is important that we all take time to celebrate the holidays and connect with others while being safe and following public health guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The university has published safe travel guidelines, University Human Resources has posted guidance for faculty and staff, and the state has a guide on Holiday Safety for Colleges and Universities. These are important measures we can all use to protect our families, coworkers and communities.


We will continue to manage and adjust our work amid this rapidly changing pandemic. Over the past nine months, we have learned a lot together about the virus and how to maintain health and safety at work. I want to acknowledge and commend the tremendous effort and planning by our university community to safely resume research and scholarship in this novel way.

Those efforts, including the preparation of laboratory environments and the labor-intensive risk stratification of human research by tiers, are what now allows our community to be more precise in how we manage an uptick in COVID-19 cases. And because of the elevated safety protocols in place throughout our research enterprise, along with close monitoring of virus transmission across our settings, the research enterprise is prepared to make nuanced adjustments in the months ahead as the pandemic dictates.

I encourage our research community to remain vigilant, practice social distancing and wear face coverings in order to reduce COVID-19 transmission in and out of the workplace. These are indeed challenging times, but your ongoing efforts play a critical role in advancing our vision to serve the world through research and scholarship.


Stay safe and healthy, and research onward.


Rebecca Cunningham, M.D.
Vice President for Research
William G. Barsan Collegiate Professor of Emergency Medicine