The expanding shutdown of University of Missouri operations because of the coronavirus pandemic includes halting most lab experiments.
Some experiments will be continued, particularly those that have required a lot of time and money and are close to being completed, Mark McIntosh, Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development said Friday.
In a directive to researchers, McIntosh laid out rules for access to labs, directing that any employees continued as essential should stagger the times they are in facilities.
Animals will be fed and provided veterinary care but no new animal experiments will be initiated, McIntosh wrote
"Operations will be restricted to husbandry and veterinary care and (Office of Animal Research) staff will not perform research tasks nor will they transport animals,“ he wrote.
The university on March 11 directed students to stay away from classes and planned for online learning until after spring break, which began Friday. That directive was expanded to end classroom instruction for the remainder of the year in favor of online coursework.
On Thursday, the university sent all employees home except for people deemed essential to operations, offered students a partial refund on room and board and asked that all students leave campuses, if possible, by early April.
On Friday, the university reported that two employees have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes the disease called COVID-19. University facilities are being thoroughly disinfected, including the user of foggers, to control sources of infection.
The research that will continue will primarily be immunology and virology experiments using live cells, McIntosh said.
Unlike chemistry experiments, which generally last only hours, experiments in immunology and virology can take weeks or months and are part of projects that sometimes take years to finish.
If one of those projects is near an endpoint and has received a lot of university time, attention and funding, experiments will be continued at the labs, especially if the knowledge to be gained through the project is highly important to the scientific community, McIntosh said.
But most students are being instructed to work from home on background research, data analysis and grant proposals.
“If you really think about it, those activities are going on all the time,” McIntosh said. “They’re spending their evening hours doing these other things relating to research.”
There are two types of experiments, McIntosh said: those that use live tissue, and those that don’t. If an experiment doesn’t use live tissue, it can be put on hold and picked back up in the future without harm to the project.
If it does use live tissue, it’s harder to put down and pick back up again, he said, which is why some experiments are being continued despite the University shutdown.
Federal grants won’t be withdrawn as a result of the hold — lots of research can be done at home, so students are still working and maintaining grant requirements.
They also have the ability to apply for extensions in funding if needed, according to the university’s Office of Research and Economic Development website.
MU isn’t conducting any coronavirus-related research, but plans are in the works, McIntosh said.
The office is advising those researchers to minimize the number of people entering facilities where large amounts of PPE are required in order to enter to preserve the gear as the nation faces widespread shortages.
McIntosh said if they receive knowledge that local hospitals are experiencing shortages of PPE, they will “without any question” provide any available supplies they have to help.
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