COVID-19 Research Recovery Plan


Guiding Principles

  • Safety of our students, trainees, faculty, staff and others remains our first priority
  • We will use a four-phase plan of recovery
  • Public health and provincial government guidelines will determine our actions/timing for shifting phases
  • Deans, in partnership with Human Resources and Facilities Management, will dictate the schedule of return and activities in each phase
  • Screen yourself regularly using Western’s health screening questionnaire:

Western is currently in a modified Phase 3 of its Research Recovery Plan.

Operations continue at 40 per cent capacity, with no off-campus research participants

unless an exemption is provided by the Dean.

General Guidelines For Research Recovery

Phased-In Approach to Research Recovery

Phase 1: Phased Opening of Buildings

  • Estimated duration: 2-3 weeks
  • Some buildings reopen
  • Ongoing prioritized research continues
  • No research areas closed in response to COVID-19 will open during this period
  • Develop plans for research space operations with department/Dean
  • Decisions made by Human Resources and Facilities Management as part of global re-entry plan
  • Determine critical supplies for next 2-3 months and prioritize early activities, considering potential return to essential services model
  • Refresh or obtain online training in safe use of PPE, cleaning and safety of research space

Phase 2: Begin Recovering Research Activities | Effective July 2, 2020

  • Estimated duration: 2-3 weeks
  • Building reopening continues with staggered return of faculty members invited by Dean/Department Chair
  • Work remotely if possible
  • Limit occupancy to ~20% (consider rotational model for investigators, trainees) and work remotely if possible
  • Priority given to COVID-related research projects
  • Consideration for projects with deadlines for publication, deadlines for student graduation, extensive longitudinal studies and grants or contracts with specific time-sensitive milestones
  • Physical distancing (2 metres) and hand washing must be maintained in research and social areas
  • Wear non-medical face masks/face coverings in the presence of others and in common and shared spaces on campus.
  • Research teams support cleaning of surfaces and use PPE as per supervisor instructions
  • Faculty members develop plans for research space operations with department/Dean
  • Prioritize early activities, considering potential return to essential services model
  • Organize access to cleaning supplies and PPE for research areas per discussions with supervisor
  • Existing moratoriums on in-person seminars, conferences and international travel remain in place
  • Face-to-face research models will be among the last to re-start

Phase 3: Expand Research Activities

  • Estimated duration: 3-4 weeks
  • Phased-in return to activity based on approvals of research group plans by unit-specific oversight teams
  • Limit occupancy to ~30% (consider rotational model for investigators, trainees) and work remotely if possible *Updated July 30, 2020*
  • Physical distancing (2 metres) and hand washing must be maintained in research and social areas
  • Research teams support cleaning of surfaces and uses PPE as per supervisor instructions
  • Consider longer-term studies, while anticipating potential return to essential services model
  • If maintaining physical distance is not an issue, some research activities will be able to move straight to Phase 4

Phase 4: Further Expansion of Research Activities

  • Estimated duration: while COVID-19 remains a community risk
  • Limit occupancy to ~40% -- the anticipated maximum -- (consider rotational model for investigators, trainees) and work remotely if possible *Updated July 30, 2020*
  • Physical distancing (2 metres) and hand washing must be maintained in research and social areas
  • Research teams support cleaning of surfaces and uses PPE as per supervisor instructions
  • Ramp-up entire research program (consult Dean/Chair if uncertain)
  • Establish lines of responsibility and accountability between trainees, research staff, investigators, departmental/school administration and the Dean’s office.

General Parameters and Concerns Affecting Recovery Plans

  1. Research spaces, offices, work areas and other resources cannot open until Western deems they are ready for occupancy and the Dean/designated department Chair or school director provide approval.
  2. Research recovery must occur in concert with recovery of other University activities and in adherence to public health and provincial guidelines. This will result in a gradual scale-up of research spaces and activity.
  3. Prior to returning to work, all employees must complete a Health Assessment Questionnaire found at under My Human Resources/Return To Work Questionnaire.
  4. Physical distancing remains the fundamental defence against infection. In your plan, consider the following to determine how physical distancing can be achieved, or not, in your research areas:
    1. Capacity of the research area or office to accommodate seated trainees and their movements within the space. Consider pinch points and how to avoid them.
    2. Lunch/coffee/social spaces and movement in larger buildings (e.g., transit from research spaces to lunch/administrative areas).
  5. Work remotely when possible.
  6. Support services personnel will be brought back first to open buildings, ensure their safety and security, and to achieve cleanliness.
  7. Be flexible as conditions are expected to be variable, particularly in the early phases of return. Not all research team members may be able to return, want to return or need to return.
  8. Plan your group-specific recovery model by anticipating supply chain delays and a potential return to an essential services model.
  9. Plan the safe practices for your research space.
  10. If you conduct community-based research, library research or other types of off-campus research, ensure you can adhere to social distancing guidelines, public health policies and policies in place where you are working.
  11. Be prepared for the rebound effect and retain options to return to an essential services model and remote work if needed.
  12. Look for, recognize and act upon structural and other inequities and health vulnerabilities unique to different groups and research settings. Maximize equitable treatment for all trainees, staff and faculty and develop an accommodation strategy with your ADR and Department oversight personnel.

On-Campus Research

The following guidelines have been compiled from information received through MLHU, St. Joseph’s Medicine Lab, PIDAC, Ontario Ministry of Health, Veterinary Services, Human Resources, Western’s Health and Safety Office, discussions with other institutions across Ontario, and documents obtained from other sources throughout North America. These guidelines apply only to asymptomatic individuals. Consult with your department or school Chair and Associate Dean (Research) on all matters of implementation and follow-up.


Faculty, staff and students must complete Western’s Health Assessment Questionnaire under My Human Resources/Return To Work Questionnaire.

  • If student or participant answers “yes” to any question, they will not be allowed into the building and will be directed to Telehealth, Western Student Health and Wellness or MLHU Website for additional guidance.
  • Any student or participant with a positive screening test may report back in two weeks after symptoms have ceased to undergo another screening.
  • Screening occurs every day during the initial phases of return.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Primary defences against spreading the COVID-19 infection include physical distancing, frequent hand washing and not touching your face. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the final line of defense in protecting asymptomatic students, researchers and participants against occupational exposure. PPE cannot be used to minimize physical distancing guidelines; rather, PPE is used when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

There are several levels of protection to be considered first before considering the need for PPE.

  1. Eliminate risk by limiting the number of people attending the workplace. Western’s phased return does this, allowing units/faculties to permit employees who must return to campus to have a gradual, rotational, and periodic presence on campus.
  2. If physical distancing isn’t always possible, engineering controls like installing barriers such as plexiglass to separate people are an important second level of protection. Western is reviewing several areas of campus where installing plexiglass will help prevent the spread of the virus.
  3. Administrative controls, such as rules and guidelines to keep people physically separated. Western is working with a global architectural and space planning firm to inform our guidelines, signage, and wayfinding. Signage and posters are being installed across campus for elevators, dining areas, shared spaces and washrooms, to name a few examples.
  4. When the first three levels of protection aren’t enough to control people’s risk, the fourth and final level of protection is PPE. Non-medical masks, when worn properly, can reduce the spread of one’s own respiratory droplets.

Guidelines for Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):

  • Non-medical masks/face coverings: We highly recommend the use of non-medical masks/ face coverings in the workplace. These act as a personal hygiene measure to protect others from potential infectious droplets. Tips for wearing non-medical masks.
  • Surgical masks: We require those working in ‘wet’ research labs and teaching labs to wear surgical masks due to physical distancing challenges that may exist in these environments. It is recommended that those working in a shared lab environment should take breaks every 50 minutes, leaving the lab and preferably getting some fresh air outdoors. Two surgical masks per person per shift is recommended, and the mask should be changed if it becomes wet.
  • N-95 respirators: Only those working in a clinical setting or in labs where N-95 respirators are normally required should wear them.
  • PPE in labs: Any PPE normally required in your lab should be worn at all times. These items could include: face shields, N-95 respirators, surgical masks, safety glasses, gloves, gowns, booties, etc.

Ordering Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Pandemic Supplies:

It’s important to remember that PPE is the final line of defense in protecting employees against occupational exposure. Employees who feel they require PPE should speak with their supervisor. Any personal protective equipment (PPE) or pandemic supplies must be ordered through the individual identified as designated requisitioner for your faculty/ unit via Mustang Market. This process will enable Procurement Services to properly manage inventory during this critical time.

Researchers can buy supplies from research accounts. Students should buy their own personal masks outside of research lab use. Procurement Services has outlined helpful information for ordering important pandemic supplies, including:

Any other office or lab supplies not on this list can be ordered through normal channels. For the full list of pandemic supplies, please visit Western's Health and Safety Measures website.


  • Facilities Management (FM) caretaking staff will continue cleaning floors using a hydrogen peroxide-based cleaner (ES65H) on a weekly basis.
  • Caretakers will empty garbage receptacles at that time or as requested.
  • FM caretakers will focus on cleaning high-touch surfaces such as door handles and light switches at least daily using disinfectant cleaner. The disinfectant is dispensed through spray bottles or an electrostatic sprayer containing ES65H.
  • Caretakers do not clean workbenches, countertops or desks to ensure they do not adversely affect any research equipment or specimens.
  • Research labs should procure cleaning supplies from Mustang Market, through their ‘designated requisitioner’ as outlined in the following document: Ordering non-commercial cleaning products.

Field Research

  • Ensure you do not impose risk or burden on the community into which you are moving (e.g., bring your own food, proactively ensure the site is accessible and open, and learn its requirements and guidelines).
  • Maintain a minimum of two metres of physical distance.
  • Arrange travel to ensure physical distance is maintained (e.g., potentially take multiple vehicles).
  • Keep windows open and sanitize door handles, steering wheel and other common touch areas at start and finish.
  • No overnight trips are to occur and the minimum field party is two persons.
  • Every effort must be made to have designated food and equipment allocated for individuals for the entirety of the work.
  • Sharing equipment must be limited and if it is shared, it must be sanitized before and after use.
  • No work on boats is permitted until Phase 4. Shore-based work may be considered during Phase 3, including diving and snorkelling; however, diving and snorkelling plans must be approved by your supervisor.
  • The plan must include communication methods, logging of the plan with your unit’s administration and a defined check-in schedule.

Community Research and Artistry

  • Some research spaces may be too confined to accommodate more than one person and maintain two metres of physical distancing. Consider limiting the number of trainees occupying these spaces and how they move about them.
  • Be aware of  guidelines and risk levels of the various groups with which you work. Physical distancing remains the primary means of infection mitigation. Prioritize online methods and avoid face-to-face studies in the early phases of recovery.
  • Remote contact with research participants is encouraged if feasible and does not compromise research quality.
  • When/if in-person contact is allowed by public health officials and the relevant setting (e.g., public spaces, participant homes, community agencies, archive facilities) the following applies:
  • Screening – anyone engaged in research in community settings should self-screen using Western’s Health Assessment Questionnaire and follow guidelines as listed for on-campus research. Researchers should screen potential participants with the same criteria and avoid in-person contact as needed.
  • Conducting research:
    • PPE: in-person meetings may occur when both the researcher(s) and participant (s) are symptom-free and they follow applicable public health guidelines for protective equipment and physical distancing.
    • Having contact with the same materials should be avoided. If parties do need to touch the same materials, they should be cleaned before and after each use.

Considerations for Building Your Research Workplace Plan

We highly recommend each PI, in collaboration with the local administration, develop re-entry plans specific to their research situation with the mindset of safety. These plans should consider the following:

  • The ability to adhere to safety guidelines (e.g., research space, community engagement conditions or other research models in use, and the number of students/trainees).
  • Evaluate your research area's workflow to establish pinch points where two or more people may be forced to come within two metres of each other. You may have to reorganize to mitigate these risks.
  • Consider plexiglass shields between work stations and the direction of air flow within the room (avoid people sitting downwind from others).
  • Varying types of studies and research settings will require varying applications of the guidelines:
    • Non-human single investigator research - Consider guidelines for travel or accessibility of library/facility use and their restrictions.
    • Bench top settings – Single or multiple students per bench.
    • Bench top settings – More than one student in lab.
    • Move interviews or other contact involving human participants online/phone where possible. Consider delaying/discussing options with your supervisor if face-to-face contact is necessary.
    • Risk level and PPE/cleaning requirements will vary depending on how many researchers are required to conduct the study, the level of contact required for the study, biohazard collections (blood, saliva, biopsy), etc.
    • Group training studies - Group sizes and social distancing rules apply as per public health guidelines.
    • Consider pinch points in work areas and work-flow schemes.

List of Specific Issues to Consider

  1. Review updated health guidelines from the public health agencies.
  2. Review Human Resources Health and Safety guidelines for safe return to campus and research spaces.
  3. Direct faculty, staff, students to complete Western’s Health Assessment Questionnaire
  4. Obtain screening report from students and participants – at least weekly.
  5. Consult with your ADR, Department/School Chair or Director about your plan.
  6. Ensure the general safety of research spaces that have been left untouched for several weeks: electrical cables, biohazard/sharps containers, cleanliness, air flow, running water, etc.
  7. Change footwear and don PPE upon entry, and remove at exit.
  8. Determine trainee and staff workflow through the research areas or community site in which they work. Create a flow of traffic to minimize pinch points and contact. You may need to re-arrange furniture or equipment to facilitate this goal. Draw a map of the traffic flow and mount it in clearly visible places.
  9. Provide hand sanitizer and other regularly needed items along the workflow pathway for frequent use and to prevent reversal along that pathway.
  10. Have face masks, shields, gloves and appropriate garments organized and available while minimizing risk of viral transfer (e.g., each student could have their own supply of masks and gloves to prevent cross-contamination).
  11. Have appropriate sterilant or wipes available without having to move through a high-risk area.
  12. Have a plan for cleaning counters, other surfaces and high-touch areas.
  13. Consider plexiglass barriers between workstations or counter-current walkways to minimize viral transfer.
  14. Plan experiments to minimize personnel and work flow challenges.
  15. Prioritize studies according to University and provincial guidelines (critical, longitudinal, risk for careers, etc.).
  16. Schedule presence in the research area to minimize the number of students on campus.
  17. Establish your needs for face masks, latex gloves, face shields, footwear and clothing and ensure these are ordered in advance.
  18. Viral exposure can occur anywhere; therefore, sanitize hands upon entry and exiting the research area(s).

Additional Resources