This page is for members of the Boston University research community looking for information related to COVID-19. We will continue to add links to this list as new information becomes available. For real-time updates you can also follow us on Twitter.
- 5/20: Ordering PPE & Cleaning Supplies
- 5/15: Timeline for Return to Campus
- 5/6: Planning for Resumption of On-campus Research
- 3/23: Labs Shift to Critical Maintenance Only
- 3/21: Preparing for Cessation of On-Campus Research
- 3/16: Minimizing Lab Activity: Charles River Campus | Medical Campus
- 3/10: COVID-19 Planning Information for Labs
Information for Researchers
Recovery Planning: Research Recovery Toolkit
Animal Research: Statement from Animal Science Center
Grants Management: Sponsor Guidance & Agency Responses
Lab Safety: Environmental Health & Safety Resources
Mentoring Remotely: Mentoring & Advising in Times of Disruption
Research Community FAQs: See below
Take Action: Donate or Volunteer
Mobilizing COVID-19 Research
Connect & Coordinate: If you have relevant research in the works, expertise to contribute, or ideas for addressing the pandemic, related policy, or aftermath, please let the University know so we can facilitate collaborations and provide support.Get Started
Funding Opportunities: Federal agencies, foundations, and industry are rolling out funding calls specifically related to COVID-19 research. This list is updated regularly, so please check back frequently.
Collaborative Resources: We’re collecting resources, tools, datasets, and other opportunities that support COVID-19 research.
Animals / Human Subjects
- CRC IRB Guidance: https://www.bu.edu/researchsupport/2020/03/11/irb-coronavirus/
- BUMC IRB Guidance: http://www.bumc.bu.edu/irb/faqs-impact-of-covid-19-on-human-subjects-research/
- Animal Science Center Guidance: https://www.bu.edu/researchsupport/2020/03/26/animal-science-center-covid/
Q: How should research labs focused on human subjects research prepare for the impact of COVID-19?
Given Boston University and State of Massachusetts public health directives, Charles River Campus researchers must make alternative plans for projects that involve in-person interactions with research participants. In-person interactions with participants should only occur at this time if it would adversely impact the safety and welfare of the participant if that interaction did not take place. Learn more in this statement from the CRC IRB. Medical Campus researchers can find the latest guidance in these FAQs.
Q: How does the IRB need to be notified of visit changes?
Visit changes must be made in a way that protects the safety and well-being of subjects, and therefore such changes would be considered minor deviations, which must be summarized at the time of continuing review or status check-in. The IRB considers that changes made in response to COVID-19 disruptions are NOT major deviations, even though there could potentially be significant damage to the overall completeness, accuracy and/or reliability of the data collected for the study.
The IRB has posted a customizable template for recording minor deviations resulting from the pause in research due to COVID-19. To download the template, click here:
If a circumstance does arise with the potential to harm a subject (for example, a crucial in-person treatment or safety visit is impossible), the study team’s focus should be on ways to mitigate the potential harm. After this occurs, the IRB should be notified by a Reportable Events and New Information (RENI) submission.
Q: How does the IRB need to be notified of other protocol changes?
Other modifications to the approved protocol, such as adding testing for COVID-19 for research purposes, must be submitted on a Change Request and Amendment form and must receive IRB approval prior to implementation, unless the testing is done to prevent apparent immediate harm to the subject, in which case the IRB should be notified by a Reportable Events and New Information (RENI) submission. Please note that modifications to research given an exempt determination by the IRB do not need to be reported to the IRB unless they change the exempt determination.
Q: My IRB/Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee IACUC oversee... is not able to process my protocol or protocol continuation. May I proceed anyway?
BU Committees are continuing operations remotely. PIs can continue to send protocols, amendments, continuations, etc.
Q: Flexibilities for Assured Institutions for Activities of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) Due to COVID-19
The NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) is deeply concerned about the impact of the expanding outbreak of the respiratory illness, COVID-19, on the ability of Assured institutions to support the well-being of animals and personnel during this public health emergency.
See NOT-OD-20-088 for flexibilities provided in the Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (Policy) that are applicable to implementing a pandemic plan for animal care and use programs
Q: Will NIH accept late progress reports and financial reports where delays are due to the effects of COVID-19?
NIH issued Guide Notice NOT -OD – 20-086 on March 12: If you are unable to complete and submit a financial and RPPR by the scheduled due date, due to the effects of COVID-19, please contact your Sponsored Programs (SP) is the coordinating office for all p... Research Administrator A sponsored programs team member w... for late progress reports and/or Post Award Financial Operations PAFO assists faculty and ... RA or PAFO Manager for late financial reports, who will contact the assigned grants management and/or program official to let them know the reports will be late.
Note in NIH Guide Notice NOT-OD-20-083, the following guidance has been issued on progress reports (subject to change and institutions are encouraged to check for any updates directly from NIH as they become available): Per NIH Grants Policy Statement sections 8.4.1 and 8.6, as well as the terms and conditions outlined in Notice of Award, NIH requires that recipients periodically submit financial and progress reports. NIH understands that some reporting delays due to the impact of coronavirus may be unavoidable. Therefore, if recipients are unable to complete and submit a progress report ((Research Performance Progress Reports (RPPR)), Financial reports (Federal Financial Report expenditure data), and/or invention report by the scheduled due date, they should promptly contact the assigned grants management and/or program official. Although NIH will accept these late reports, grant awards will be delayed until the required reports are submitted and accepted by NIH.
Q: Late applications and solicitations where coronavirus (COVID-19) will adversely affect some applicants' and recipients' ability to submit applications in a timely manner.
NIH: When delays occur because the applicant or recipient organization is officially closed or unable to submit grant applications due to the effects of COVID-19, the NIH will consider accepting applications late, on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the NIH Grants Policy Statement, Section 2.3.9, under the following circumstances:
Institutions must submit applications or reports as soon as possible after reopening or resuming operations so that grant applications can be submitted, not to exceed the number of days the institution was officially closed or unable to submit grant applications.
Institutions must submit a cover letter with the applications with enough detail about the delay so that NIH staff can make a determination whether circumstances justify accepting the application late.
Institutions need not request advance permission to submit late due to this declared emergency.
NIH will be issuing additional guidance related to this public health emergency in the near future.
DOJ: Solicitations with application due dates between March 16th and March 31st will have a 2-week extension for submission. OJP program offices are in the process of updating those due dates now. OJP will continue to monitor the situation and determine if additional adjustments to closing dates will be needed. Grants.gov and OJP’s Grants Management System remain open to continue to accept applications.
CDMRP ALSRP, ARP and OCRP: Due to impacts of COVID-19, the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Research Program (ALSRP), Autism Research Program (ARP), and Ovarian Cancer Research Program (OCRP) have extended the pre-application submission deadline. The extension is for all applicants.
Requests for further extensions to the new pre-application submission deadlines will not be accepted. The FY20 ALSRP released funding opportunities on January 17, 2020. The FY20 ARP and FY20 OCRP released funding opportunities on February 27, 2020.
Please consult the modified Program Announcements available on Grants.gov and contact the CDMRP Helpdesk with any questions (firstname.lastname@example.org)
STScI, NASA, ESA, and CSA have decided to delay the proposal deadline for JWST Cycle 1 GO proposals to no earlier than May 27th, 2020. We are continuing to monitor the situation and will provide an update on the schedule on April 15th, 2020.
Please contact the jwst helpdesk if you have any questions.
Q: Where a research project has a strict timeline, we are concerned about a possible failure to perform within the agreed-upon statement of work. This failure may be due to a slow down or gap in activities, particularly where staff may need to work from home.
Clearly, this is an extraordinary situation. If the scope of work demands a precise schedule in order to make an experiment viable, then the investigator should recognize and document instances where that schedule was unable to be met and the data resulting from that experiment may not be able to be used (or can only be used with certain cautions). If it is not the case that such precision is required for scientific reliability but rather needed for good business practices or to meet an agreed-upon sponsored project schedule, then it is anticipated that agencies will recognize the unique circumstance and be flexible if they can, including granting no-cost time extensions if needed. The investigator should reach out to the program officer as soon as a delay is anticipated.
Note that this applies to grants. For contracts requiring deliverables by a certain date, it may be possible to invoke the Excusable Delays clause. In any case, contractors should confer with their contracting officer about appropriate next steps as soon as a delay is anticipated. Council of Governmental Relations (COGR) recommends that investigators actively document their specific situations to provide a basis for any adjustments that may need to be requested when business returns to “normal” as well as the specific terms of an individual contract that may address this type of situation.
Q: Will agencies consider longer no-cost time extensions if they are needed to finish a project after disruption?
Researchers should document the actual impact of COVID-19 on the progress of their grants to provide substantiation for any future no-cost time extension request. It is not known at this time if agencies will consider longer-than-normal no-cost time extensions or multiple no-cost time extensions in this situation, but no-cost time extensions covered under expanded authorities will still be available for federal awards.
NIH: The NIH Standard Terms of Award provide the recipient the authority to extend the final budget period of a previously approved project period one time for a period of up to 12 months beyond the original completion date down in the NoA. Any additional project period extension beyond the initial extension of up to 12 months requires NIH prior approval.
NSF: grants are eligible for a one-year grantee-approved no-cost extension and then further extensions as approved by NSF. If you foresee a need for NSF-approved extensions, you should include that information in your annual report and discuss the need ahead of time with the cognizant NSF program officer for your award. See the Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG), Chapter VI.D.3, for additional information.
DOJ: In accordance with Part 200 Uniform Requirements (2 C.F.R. Part 200, as adopted by DOJ) and consistent with the DOJ Grants Financial Guide, most OJP awards may be eligible for one no-cost extension of up to 12 months. If the grant has previously received a no-cost extension and an additional extension will be requested due to the extenuating circumstances, refer to the DOJ Grants Financial Guide for additional information and consult with your grant manager as needed.
Please note that awards funded by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) (or any other OJP bureau/program office) under the provisions of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) of 1984, are available during the federal fiscal year of the award, plus the following three fiscal years. OVC and other OJP bureaus/program offices have no discretion to permit extensions of any award’s period of performance beyond the statutory period.
Q: I can’t get to my research site and my research will be severely impacted. Will the sponsor provide incremental funding and/or additional time so that I can successfully complete the aims of the award?
We expect federal agencies will recognize the difficulties inherent in this situation and work with institutions to facilitate the conduct of the project. As a reminder, Faculty should reach out to their SP RA to discuss, if appropriate the SP RA will (1) inform their program officer and grants officer that prior approval is required if the need arises for additional Federal funds to complete the project (200.308.(c)(1)(viii)) and (2) notify the federal agency as soon as “problems, delays, or adverse conditions which will materially impact the ability to meet the objective of the Federal award” (200.328.(d)(1)) are known.
In the latter case, the notification must include a statement of the action taken or contemplated and any assistance needed to resolve the situation. It is possible that there will not be an immediate answer on what is needed to resolve the situation; in that case, recipients should simply indicate that they will report back when more is known.
Per NIH FAQs on NOT-OD-20-086: NIH understands that travel restriction may continue to occur through the remainder of the public health emergency and will likely affect the progress of NIH-funded research. Recipients must contact the funding IC to alert them of the delays. NIH is committed to working with its applicants and recipients during this public health emergency.
Remote Work Environments
Q: How should research labs prepare for the impact of COVID-19?
According to a 3/23 memo from Provost Morrison: “Boston University research laboratories should stop normal operations and shift to basic maintenance only, ensuring safety and preserving future capabilities, other than COVID-19 research and essential biomedical research that cannot be stopped at this time. Only critical maintenance procedures that require regular attention in order to maintain laboratory viability should continue. For example, cell, plant, or animal colony maintenance, shared computational equipment maintenance, and maintenance of equipment that requires gas or cryogen monitoring/service, such as freezers, electron microscopes, mass spectrometers, and incubators can be performed. Any research operations that are deemed critical to continue, such as those listed above, must obtain proper approvals using this form and as previously outlined by Gloria Waters, Vice President and Associate Provost for Research. Access to labs will be limited to personnel approved to perform these essential procedures and processes. The Animal Science Center will continue to provide daily animal maintenance (feed, water, ensure clean/dry caging, etc.) and Environmental Health & Safety staff will continue to be on-site.”
Q: What happens if local, state, and/or federal government employees are unavailable to perform their duties (e.g., issue prior approvals or process awards)?
We expect that funding agencies will issue guidance in the event these circumstances become likely.
Q: If a student or a researcher needs to access a data set from home in order to keep working on a project, how do we address privacy requirements, if the data set contains sensitive or private information?
If BU cannot provide secure access to the data set (e.g., remote access via VPN or other means), then the data set should not be accessed, or analysis of risk should be considered. Researchers should work with their IT departments to explore whether a secure remote access option is viable for their project as well as the type of data that may be subject to a potential breach. Researchers should document the period of time they were unable to work on the data set for determining if they later need to request a no-cost time extension.
You should use the BU SecureMail email service (free to use) unless the patient or research subject has agreed – ideally in writing – to use non-secure communications via email or text.
If your patients or research subjects are leaving you voicemail messages, it is a best practice to include language in your voicemail message discouraging them from including sensitive information. Likewise, when you are leaving voicemail messages, remember to avoid disclosing any sensitive information.
What about BU Teams and Zoom?
When using BU Teams on your computer or phone, calls, video meetings, and chat communications are automatically encrypted. And, like most BU Office365 apps (SharePoint, OneDrive, PowerBI), it is HIPAA compliant and meetings can be setup with patients or subjects.
Likewise, Zoom meetings are generally secure but you need to know that there are two types of Zoom accounts: Zoom and “Zoom Meetings for HIPAA.” Zoom Meetings for HIPAA is compliant but disables your ability to record a conversation as the recordings cannot be securely stored. If you need to record a conversation and it does not contain HIPAA information you can switch between Zoom and Zoom Meetings for HIPAA.
Go here to switch your account from regular Zoom to Zoom Meetings for HIPAA: https://www.bu.edu/tech/services/cccs/conf/online/zoom/zoom-hipaa/
Using best practices when communicating and leveraging the tools at your disposal will help keep your patient’s or research subject’s privacy intact and protected.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me or Information Security at email@example.com
Research Recovery Planning (NEW)
Planning Process & Approvals
Please visit the Recovery Toolkit for full details.
What if I can't submit my plan yet?
We will continue accepting submissions on a rolling basis after the initial deadline.
Do I need to submit a plan to continue my work remotely?
While eventually we will be looking for recovery plans from all faculty PIs, at this early stage we only need plans from PIs who are actively seeking permission to return to campus. We do encourage PIs to begin planning as soon as possible to allow for a slow and thoughtful ramp up.
Do Boston Medical Center faculty have to submit plans?
Yes – if their lab is in a Boston University space.
Do faculty who do human subjects research need to submit plans?
Yes, eventually we will be looking for recovery plans from all faculty PIs. However, it is fine to delay submission of your plan if you are not yet looking for permission to resume on-campus research.
May I hold off on submitting my plan for now (e.g., until there's more guidance on human subjects research)?
As long as you're not looking for permission to return to campus as soon as possible, it is fine to delay submission of your plan until there is more guidance available.
Should PhD students conducting on-campus research fill out recovery plans?
No. Only faculty PIs should submit recovery plans.
What will the process for plan revisions look like?
If you'd like to submit a revised plan at any time, you may submit your revised plan electronically using the appropriate submission form in the Research Recovery Toolkit. If the only changes are to your attachments (recovery plan in Word or research personnel list in Excel) you may enter your name, upload the attachment(s), and skip the other questions on the form. Otherwise you may fill in the form in full to have your new submission replace your original submission.
Timeline & Approvals
Can my research group return to campus on [date]?
Labs and centers will be permitted to reopen only after they receive formal, written approval from the Office of Research. As faculty submit plans, they will be shared with department chairs, directors of University-wide centers, and Associate Deans for Research for review, and then submitted to the Office of Research for approval.
How do I know if I my plan will be reviewed by my Associate Dean or my center director?
Your plan will be reviewed by a director of a University-wide center if your space is located within that center.
When will human subjects research be permitted to restart?
Plans will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, we are asking PIs to make a plan for how they will conduct their research while maintaining social distancing. In cases where that's impossible, we need a plan for how you will use PPE to mitigate the risk of transmission. We are turning our attention first to essential research and research that can be done under social distancing guidelines. In cases of human subjects research where safe-guarding the best interest of the human subject is less straightforward, projects may need to wait a bit longer to resume.
Guidance for Returning Researchers
Please visit the Recovery Guidance page for full details.
What are the requirements before returning to campus?
We have compiled a list of requirements for approved labs and returning researchers to review and complete. As lab groups receive approval to resume on-campus research, researchers are required to take steps to minimize infection risk, including daily health screenings, physical distancing, use of required face masks, frequent disinfection of lab space, and working with assigned building coordinators for the management of shared spaces.
Are there plans in place for community testing or other University-wide public health practices?
BU lab personnel are required to conduct a daily health screen to ensure they are not exhibiting any symptoms before returning to campus each day. The University is also planning to stand up its own COVID-19 testing program this fall for faculty, staff, and students, a critical step—along with contact tracing, social distancing, hygiene, and isolation and treatment for those infected. You can find initial guidance for faculty and staff about public health practices in this PDF, and the University will continue to share details as they become available.
Will parking be provided to researchers returning to campus?
Visit Parking Services to learn more about the discounted rate available to community members during the pandemic.
Lab Spaces, Buildings & Facilities
How will I know if a core facility I need to use will be operational?
Directors of core facilities will also be developing recovery plans, and will need to communicate and coordinate directly with PIs about their plans once approved. If you have questions about a specific facility, we encourage you to reach out to facility director directly.
Who is responsible for cleaning common spaces?
Facilities is responsible for cleaning common spaces. Labs are responsible for cleaning within the lab.
Will common spaces be cleaned over the weekend?
Building coordinators may work with facilities to coordinate a process in cases where weekend work is required.
Are there rules about using office space alongside labs?
In this first phase we are looking for any work that can be done remotely to continue remotely, and are discouraging people from working in their offices as much as possible.
Should we ensure there are at least two researchers in the lab at any given time for safety reasons?
Some labs do have a "buddy system" in place, necessitated by the nature of the research being conducted, and we encourage you to consider in your plan as needed. There is no University-wide policy on working alone.
How should labs handle lunch breaks?
We recommend that you make a plan for lunch breaks in advance. Lunch breaks should be staggered, and physical distancing of at least six feet is required when eating with masks off. Encourage individuals to eat outside at least six feet apart when the weather is nice.
Please visit the BU Libraries' Ask a Librarian tool for additional questions.
When will humanities and social science researchers regain access to library holdings?
According to BU Libraries as of mid-May, access to the bound, print collection will center on some form of delivery service, similar to an Amazon Locker type approach. That will eliminate certain access to the stacks. The goal is to safely provide some access to our bound, print collections when no digital option is available.
What is going to happen to library books that are already checked out?
BU Libraries will figure out due dates in a way that is not a burden to the faculty member, including any coordinating with partner libraries in the interlibrary loan system that may be required.
Will researchers paid from sponsored funds continue to be paid if they don't yet have approval to return to campus at full The term Effort is used for persons charged to Sponsored Res... More?
As long as work can be done remotely, researchers can continue to be paid by their grants. According to the Office of Management and Budget, we are no longer able to use sponsored funding to pay personnel for idle time beginning in June.
What about staff who are not ready to return to campus?
If a staff member has disabilities or an underlying health condition, or lives with someone with an underlying health condition, and believes they are at risk coming to campus, they may reach out to the University’s COVID-19 Employee Support Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-358-4990.
PPE & Supplies
Is there a central process in place for ordering personal protective equipment?
Sourcing & Procurement strongly encourages you to leverage BU’s preferred supplier channels for ongoing PPE and cleaning/disinfectant needs. The following suppliers can be used, all of which have e-catalogs in the Terrier Marketplace:
- Fisher Scientific: Kathryn McLean
- Henry Schein: James Gonsalves
- WB Mason: Michael Khoury
- McMaster Carr: Carr
- Grainger: Marc Dunn
If you continue to have difficulty sourcing product, please email email@example.com and Sourcing & Procurement will assist you. They also encourage you to leverage other BU approved spending programs, including Amazon Business and Fairmarkit, to meet your needs.
When and where are face coverings required?
Facial coverings need to be worn indoors at all times while in BU buildings, as well as outdoors when six feet of physical distancing can't be maintained at all times. The only exceptions to these rules are as follows:
- If you are outside and can maintain six feet of physical distance at all times, you do not need a face covering.
- If you are inside a private office alone, with floor-to-ceiling walls and a door, you may temporarily remove your face covering. The same does not go for cubicles, where face coverings are required.
Can I wear the same mask in the lab as I wear outdoors?
If you come off the street wearing a cloth mask, you need to take the cloth mask off and put a surgical/medical mask on for work in a lab setting – even if you haven’t worn masks in your lab space before.
What if I have a medical condition that prevents me from wearing a mask?
If you have a medical condition that prevents you from wearing a mask you must obtain a note from your primary care physician and contact ROHP or the BU Occupational Health Center via its COVID Hotline at 617-358-4990 prior to being cleared to enter a BU lab or facility. You will then be referred to the appropriate departments for further review of your situation.
Will the University provide guidance on the appropriate PPE required for various situations?
Will the University be providing PPE and cleaning supplies for labs?
The University will continue to be responsible for cleaning common spaces. Labs will continue to pay for supplies used within their laboratories, including both PPE and cleaning supplies.
Is field work permitted?
Field work is permitted if it is possible under the public health advisories currently in place (i.e., it can be conducted with social distancing measures in place). Avoid leaving the state or you will be required to self-quarantine for two weeks upon your return, per state advisory (still in place as of early May 2020).
Q: What do I need to know about COVID disruptions to work and "idle time"?
Refer to this May 11, 2020 Memo about idle time documentation and funding.
Q: How do I submit Personnel Activity Reports (PARs) while working remotely?
The Personnel Activity Report You can find details about Per... deadline is Friday, April 10th. We always accept electronic signatures but starting Thursday, March 12th through Friday, April 10th, we will also accept approval via email from the BU Employee directly or from the Principal Investigator View Boston University's policy on.../Supervisor on behalf of any non-faculty or Student BU employee. This will assist individuals who work remotely and do not have access to scanners and/or electronic signatures. Please note that the percentages on the PAR must be filled out and total to 100%.
Please ensure all PARs are sent to us via our email box: firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: What do we do if Research Staff are unable to work in the Lab and are paid from Sponsored Funds?
Decisions on salary allocation on Sponsored Funds for individuals unable to work is ultimately up to the awarding agency. BU is monitoring and communicating with Sponsors and while we have heard from our most prominent Sponsors, we have not heard from every Agency. The below information is provided as guidance with specific sponsor information.
Per Boston University policy, if an employee is paid from Sponsored Funds, regardless of on or off site, and is either using sick, vacation, or FMLA time during this period of COVID-19, the Sponsored Project should continue to be charged.
If a BU employee (staff, faculty, or PhD track student) is healthy but is considered non-essential personnel and therefore, due to reductions in research in response to COVID-19, is unable to perform their job duties in BU Labs/space or off-site, their salary should continue to be allocated to the Sponsored Award at the same effort distribution work was assigned. We are continuing to reach out to specific sponsors to determine their approach during this crisis and will continue to update this FAQ. Please see below for links to guidance from our largest Awarding Agencies and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Please contact your PAFO Research Administrator for specific questions.
For BU undergraduate and graduate students (not including PhD track students) that are unable to work due to restrictions in research activity due to COVID-19 (including an inability to work remotely), the Student Employment Office has released guidance that students will be furloughed and paid either two weeks of continuation pay or, if you are a Work Study student, the balance of their Work-Study award in one lump sum.
Notice M-20-17 entitled “Administrative Relief for Recipients and Applicants of Federal Financial Assistance Directly Impacted by the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) due to Loss of Operations.” The memo noted “Awarding agencies may allow recipients to continue to charge salaries and benefits to currently active Federal awards consistent with the recipients' policy of paying salaries (under unexpected or extraordinary circumstances) from all funding sources, Federal and non-Federal. Awarding agencies may allow other costs to be charged to Federal awards necessary to resume activities supported by the award, consistent with applicable Federal cost principles and the benefit to the project.”
Individual sponsor guidance is being maintained at Research Support’s website at https://www.bu.edu/researchsupport/2020/03/24/sponsor-guidance-and-agency-responses-to-covid-19/
Q: On March 15, the State Department issued a travel advisory raising all countries outside of the U.S. to a Level - 3 “Reconsider Travel” status. If researchers choose to travel abroad (e.g., to fulfill a grant responsibility such as present a paper or attend a meeting to discuss research) although their institution has advised against travel to that country, can salary still be charged to the award – even if they need to stay in the country longer than originally anticipated?
Q: Can salary continue to be charged if a researcher is on multi-day self-isolation period? Does it matter if the researcher is able to continue to work on the project from the self-isolation site (e.g. home or designated facility) or is unable to work (e.g., because the work must be done in a wet lab or field site?). Does it matter whether the self-isolation is self-imposed, institution-imposed, or government-imposed?
If the traveler is following BU-imposed or government-imposed self-isolation requirements, salary support will be continued as allowed under BU’s policy. Federal agencies have not yet issued guidance on this particular topic so you must be able to identify these transactions if federal guidance determines such costs are unallowable. Sick time, vacation time and/or paid administrative leave may be taken if permitted by BU’s policy. If the researcher is able to work from home, Q.1 under Remote Work Environments should apply.
Q: If schools or elder-care facilities close, can award-funded employees stay at home to do child-care and eldercare and still charge their salary to a grant?
If an award-funded employee stays home due to a school or facility closure for child or elder care needs, the employee’s salary would be charged in accordance with BU leave policy. As provided for in 2 CFR 200.431 Compensation – Fringe Benefits (a), the costs of fringe benefits are allowable provided that the benefits are reasonable and are required by law, non-Federal entity-employee agreement, or an established policy of the non-Federal entity.
Please note that this may not be allowed under all Sponsors.
Q: If the agency program officer or grants officer is unavailable (or if the agency is closed) due to COVID-19, can grant personnel continue to work and charge salary to the project?
Grantees should be able to continue work until their period of performance and funding is exhausted. If prior approvals are required, Sponsored Programs will continue to submit their request to the funding agency electronically. If approval is not forthcoming, Sponsored Programs will consult with the PI on whether to proceed with the action for which approval was requested, understanding that any costs associated with that change may need to be absorbed by the department if approval is not subsequently granted.
For cooperative agreements and contracts that require agreement or contracting officer approval, the risk is likely to be higher. If some projects may not be able to proceed fully or at all, document the situation where work needed to slowdown or stop to help guide agency approval requests (time extensions, supplemental funding) once work resumes.
DOJ: Grantees (and subrecipients/subgrantees) should review the DOJ Grants Financial Guide and the Part 200 Uniform Requirements (2 C.F.R. Part 200, as adopted by DOJ) (see, for example, 2 CFR 200.430 and 2 C.F.R. 200.431, under Subpart E – Cost Principles), and BU (or subrecipient’s/subgrantee’s) established policies, to help determine how the grantee’s personnel costs may be treated during any interruptions to the work under the award. Direct any questions about allowable costs to your OJP grant manager, or to OJP’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer by calling the Customer Service Center at 1-800-458-0786 (TTY: 202-616-3867), or via email at email@example.com.
See also: FAQs on business travel (including links to BU preferred travel agencies, current travel advisories, airlines, etc.)
Q: Are travel cancellation costs due to COVID-19 allowable as direct charges to sponsored projects?
Through the release of NOT-OD-20-86, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has stated nonrefundable costs associated with grant-related travel that has been canceled due to COVID-19 may be charged to the NIH award if they would have otherwise been allowable.
For all other federal agencies, guidance has not yet been released. Boston University’s policy (including policies established for COVID-19 or other emergencies) allows for travel cancellation costs to be charged to institutional fund sources, therefore we recommend that you also charge those same costs to sponsored projects to ensure consistent charging practices. To be allowable, it is reasonable to assume that the traveler has requested and been denied a refund, and that documentation of such a request is stored with the award files. We recommend that you document such transactions to allow for corrections if funding agencies issue guidance that is contrary to this practice. It should be noted that several airlines are waiving travel cancellation fees for at least the immediate future.
Q: How should credits from canceled travel costs be handled on sponsored projects?
If a traveler has charged (e.g., through prepayment or a travel advance) an airline ticket or other travel cost to a sponsored project, and then that trip is later canceled, the credit must accrue to the sponsored project (see 2 CFR 200.406). Some airlines are offering full refunds for trips that need to be canceled due to COVID-19; in these instances, the refund should accrue to the grant, either directly through the institution’s travel system or via reimbursement from the traveler. If a traveler cancels a trip and accrues a credit on their personal account, the traveler should follow BU policy for how to track and manage the credit.
Per NIH FAQs on NOT-OD-20-086: If vouchers have been granted for any of the travel expenses affected by COVID-19, recipients are required to use the vouchers and may not request additional support. BU Departments must document that costs charged to a grant are non-refundable and maintain documentation, following record retention requirements, and make them available to NIH upon request.
Procedure for e-credit
Flight charges may remain on the original account until the travel occurs. If charged to a university account, departments will track the e-credits. Preference is for the faculty members to use the e-credit for the same project before the airline deadline. If the traveler is unable to use the e-credit for the original project, the individual may potentially use the e-credit for other university travel. In cases when e-credits are used for a different project, the institution does internal cost transfer paperwork to the correct account. Documentation about the traveler’s inability to use the e-credit on the original project, and documented communication with program officers and/or vendors must be kept with cost transfer documentation. If a PI has already charged the airline ticket to their own credit card, the university will reimburse via a discretionary fund tagged for COVID-19-related costs.
- The travelers are encouraged to use the e-credit for the same project within the airline deadline to use e-credits.
- If the traveler is unable to charge the original grant project, internal cost transfer paperwork is done to transfer to the correct account.
- Reason(s) stated for using this method: reduction of journal paperwork upfront with emphasis on documenting communication.
Q: What do you know about accommodations airlines are making because of COVID-19?
Various airlines have announced special accommodations, including waiving all or certain change fees. This list is not comprehensive, and policies are subject to change at any time. Travelers should consult the airline’s website directly for the most up to date information:
Delta (updated 3/10/20) – Waiving change fees for all flights from March 1 – April 30, no change fees for all tickets purchased between March 1 – 31 and certain other international flights beyond that time. See https://www.delta.com/us/en/advisories/other-alerts/coronavirus-travel-updates
United (3/12/20) – Waiving change fees for all flights between March 3-31 and for tickets purchased before March 3 for flights from March 9-April 30. A comprehensive table of waived change fees for specific airports/periods of travel is available at https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/notices.html
American (3/15/20) – Waiving change fees for all new non-refundable tickets purchased before March 15, 2020, or are scheduled to travel March 11- May 31. See https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/travel-alerts.jsp for more details.
Q: If a traveler can return home from travel (domestic or foreign) but at a much greater cost than usual, is the additional cost allowable on the grant?
The traveler should follow BU’s policy for emergencies. BU Travel Policy can be found here: http://www.bu.edu/policies/6-4-1-travel-and-business-expense-policy/
BU’s policy or practice related to the criteria for evaluating the status and extent of the emergency and the level of relief that is considered appropriate to those circumstances should be followed.
Per NIH FAQs on NOT-OD-20-086: As outlined in the NIH GPS 7.9.1, travel costs are limited to those allowed by formally established organizational policy, and in the case of air travel, the lowest reasonable commercial airfares must be used. Recipients should continue to comply with their institutional travel policies to determine the allowability of these costs in cases of unforeseen or emergency circumstances.
Q: Can travel insurance be charged to grants?
The traveler should follow BU’s policy for emergency situations. BU does not permit people to buy insurance (nor charge to grants) as we are covered under BU’s insurance coverage for employees and vehicles.
Q: I am a PI on a very large Program Project Grant, which includes hosting a conference in Atlanta with hundreds of collaborators participating from around the world. I have already incurred $35,000 of expense for the rental space at the convention center and hotel. I am working with the venue to get a credit but there will be a sizeable cancellation or penalty fee. Can I charge this to my award? And can I pay the travel fees and any associated costs for the hundreds of collaborations that were planning on attending?
- Does it matter if I elected to cancel it because it was prudent to do so?
- Does it matter if it was in a CDC level 3 location?
- Does it matter if my institution is not allowing it?
Federal agencies share institutional concerns about the safety of researchers. If the PI (organizer) believes it would be unwise to hold the conference, the organizer should confer with the program officer and grants management specialist to decide whether to cancel the meeting, postpone the meeting, or convert the meeting to an on-line format. This request for input is consistent with 2 CFR 200.407 which says in part: “the non-Federal entity may seek the prior written approval of … the Federal awarding agency in advance of the incurrence of special or unusual costs.” Note that if the request is made orally, written documentation of the decision should follow (an email from the agency to the PI should be sufficient). Note that for many federal agencies, the program officer cannot independently make this type of decision, and grants office concurrence is required. PIs should follow the requirements for their specific agency. In the course of the discussion with the funding agency, it would be appropriate to discuss the basis for the proposed cancellation (prudent circumstances, CDC level 3 location, or institutional determination that travel will not allow the organizer to attend.) Organizers may wish to make a firm decision about keeping or canceling the meeting early enough to enable their participants to take advantage of discounts offered by airlines or hotels related to COVID-19 changes or early cancellation deadlines (particularly for hotels). Also, a decision by the organizer to cancel the conference may assist some participants in convincing their institution to pay their cancellation costs.
If a conference is canceled with the concurrence of the federal funding agency, the non-refundable costs for the venue may be an allowable charge to the project (if the project was scheduled to incur those costs in the first place). In general, the costs for participants should follow the funding stream intended to pay for their attendance; if the conference grant was reimbursing all or part of the participation costs for all attendees, it may be appropriate to also charge some or all of their cancellation fees. If participants were covering their own attendance costs (from sponsored or non-sponsored sources), then the cancellation costs should follow the sponsor funding their participation or the participant’s employer.
Per NIH Guide Notice NOT-OD-20-086: Scientific meetings, conferences, and workshops supported by NIH funding may be delayed or canceled due to COVID-19. Non-refundable costs associated with NIH supported meetings and conferences affected by COVID-19 are allowable and may be requested as an administrative supplement to the appropriate funding IC. Recipients should contact their assigned grants management specialist and program official to provide documentation demonstrating the effect of COVID-19. The funding institute or center will work with the recipient to address the impact on the NIH Grant.
Q: I am a PI on a sponsor-funded Conference or Travel award, but the meeting has been canceled. Who do I contact regarding the impact to the award?
National Science Foundation (NSF): You should contact the cognizant NSF program officer about this situation. In light of the public health threat, you may wish to consider alternate plans, such as providing or using options for virtual participation. Also, NSF program officers will be open to rescheduling the conference or using the funds for a future meeting that is consistent with the original scope and objectives of the award.
Department of Defense (DOD): You should contact the cognizant USAMRAA grants official named in the award document to alert them to the situation. Also, copy the program official to ensure all appropriate federal staff is aware of the circumstances. In light of the public health threat, you may wish to consider alternate plans, such as providing or using options for virtual participation. Additionally, it may be possible to attend if the meeting/conference is rescheduled within a year. See the question above regarding one-time no-cost extensions.
For meetings that are specified directly in the application or award notice, or that have been required by the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) (e.g. Milestone Meetings, In-Progress Reviews, etc.), we will be open to rescheduling the meeting or setting up a virtual presentation.
Q: A conference has been canceled, but I have nonrefundable travel and/or hotel costs. Can these costs be charged to a Conference or Travel grant?
Please follow all BU Relevant Policies and Procedures, including the BU Travel Policy here: http://www.bu.edu/policies/6-4-1-travel-and-business-expense-policy/
Q: I am considering submitting a Conference or Travel proposal for a future meeting. The site of the meeting has not yet been selected; should I take into account COVID-19 in conference planning and site selection?
Travel logistics, accessibility, and health and safety considerations of the participants should always be a foremost consideration in any Conference proposal. Since the COVID-19 threat is still evolving, it is important to consider flexibility and alternative plans in a proposal to support travel or a conference. For foreign travel, you should consult the State Department Travel Advisories website.
Q: What should we do about the Department of Justice (DOJ) related conferences, events, and other gatherings?
For Office of Justice Programs (OJP)-sponsored conferences, meetings, training, and other gatherings that are scheduled in the near term, cooperative agreement recipients should work with their OJP program or grant managers to set up meetings as virtual events or postpone or cancel meetings. For events planned farther out, please work on a case-by-case basis with your grant manager.
Grantees should contact their OJP grant managers to address issues resulting from postponed or canceled meetings, such as using grant funds to cover hotel or travel-related cancellation fees and penalties.
Grantees should try to have the airline reimburse the canceled ticket(s) in cash. However, if the airline will only refund the cancellation as a credit:
- The grantee should apply the credit to a future trip for the same OJP grant or project.
- If that is not possible, the grantee should use the credit for another OJP program or project and reimburse the original OJP grant or project with the equivalent dollar amount.
- If neither of those options is possible, then the grantee should process the trip as a cancellation, which OJP approves to be charged to the grant due to this mitigating circumstance.
Grantees should provide similar guidance to sub-recipients (that is, subgrantees). Please document these such changes via a Program Office Approval Grant Adjustment Notice (GAN) in OJP’s Grant Management System (GMS) for record-keeping purposes.
Working with Sponsored Programs and PAFO
Are Sponsored Programs and Post Award Financial Operations staff working?
Yes. Sponsored Programs (SP) and Post Award Financial Operations (PAFO) staff are all working remotely. They are receiving emails and calls to their office phones are being forwarded to their cell phones. Proposals are being submitted daily and are the priority of SP. Mail is being checked periodically but wherever possible we ask that communication be sent electronically. Given the situation, it is increasingly important that you adhere to BU’s proposal submission policy by submitting your complete and final proposal at least 3 business days in advance of the sponsor deadline as we may need to coordinate across our teams. We are already experiencing system submission issues. Late proposals will be addressed in the order they are received. If you call the main SP (353-4365) and PAFO phones (353-4555) you will be able to leave a message for the Administrative Coordinators or you can use the phone tree and type in the first three letters of the persons last name you are trying to reach. These calls will go directly to our cell phones.
Q: How can I order equipment or supplies to my home address while working remotely?
Refer to Sourcing & Procurement guidance: https://www.bu.edu/sourcing/covid-19-updates
Shoppers should continue to follow IS&T and BU Sourcing & Procurement guidelines and order from one of our contracted IT suppliers for computers and peripherals. We encourage the use of the Terrier Marketplace where IS&T standards (configured machines) are available to order.
During this remote work situation, we are allowing ship-to-home with a financial administrator’s approval. Add a note to shopping carts that the delivery address is not the usual address.
Audit will be running reports against home delivery addresses to ensure the assets are returned to campus.
Q: Where to send checks?
A: Payments to Boston University for reimbursement of sponsored research awards should still be sent to our lockbox address below:
Boston University Grants Receivables
P.O. Box 28763
New York, NY 10087-8763
Additionally, ACH payments can be made for payers within the U.S. Please contact Missy Downs, Director of Research Finance at 617-358-5114 for ACH instructions.
Q: Research studies with a lab component already purchased gloves. Who would pay for other supplies (masks, wipes, etc.), if needed?
Please reach out to your PAFO RA to discuss. Subject to your institutional policies, personal protection equipment needed to perform the grant may be a direct charge. Supplies needed for general cleaning should be covered by a non-grant or departmental account.
Q: If staff would need to work from home, we are considering cell phones for use when contacting human subjects since some people are uncomfortable with using their personal phones when calling human subjects or research study participants. Depending on the research study, it could be from one to three to several cell phones needed. What alternatives do they have?
Please reach out to your PAFO RA to discuss. Inexpensive cell phones used solely for the purposes of the grant would appear to be a defensible charge to the grant in these circumstances. The PI/department authorizing the charges would need to oversee the purchases and use of the phones to ensure that they were used exclusively for the project; if used for multiple projects, cost allocations must reflect relative usage. Obtain prior approval from your institution if its policy prohibits the reimbursement of cell phone charges. Documentation should be retained in the department’s grant file. In addition, the department may want to consider alternative technologies that allow users to shield their personal number when using their own cell phone for business purposes. For example, see Google Voice:
How it works: https://www.lifewire.com/how-google-voice-works-3426682
Link to the app: https://voice.google.com/u/0/about
Important Note: In the context of human subjects research, we want to remind the research community that Google Voice for consumers is not HIPAA compliant and should not be used for research projects subject to HIPAA requirements.
Q: Reminder calls to research study participants to stay home if they are sick are already taking place. Some of our research study participants are older and more vulnerable. Emails from my institution have reminded employees to stay home if sick. Can I charge unexpected costs that may arise to the grant? (For example, additional labor charges for time spent calling study participants).
Costs to projects related to contact with study participants (to guide their participation or to make arrangements for alternate plans) are allowable costs to the project. If the volume of such work involves a significant amount of additional labor charges, investigators can consider requesting supplements from their funding agency. It will be important to document the actual additional cost in these circumstances to guide requests for supplemental funding or additional time.
Q: DOJ - Will programmatic and financial monitoring continue?
Until otherwise notified, all planned on-site monitoring will be conducted as remote monitoring or postponed for a later date. You will be contacted by your OJP grant manager and/or financial staff of OJP’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer to make alternative arrangements. If your organization is unable to participate in remote monitoring due to operational limitations, you may request postponement until a later date.