Research activity ramps up on campus as public health restrictions relax

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(Illustration by Abigail Compton | Collegian Media Group)

Research has started increasing on-campus research activity in a phased approach, as public health and personal safety restrictions relax.

Since Kansas State has progressed to the second phases of its reopening plan, on-campus research is permitted, but labs and groups are only allowed to operate at 50 to 70 percent total personnel capacity, with social distancing. All research that can be done remotely should continue to be, including all seminars and group meetings.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Peter Dorhout, vice president for research, asked each research leader to develop and implement lab shutdowns and continuity plans.

“Maintaining the health and safety of our faculty, staff and students has been the highest priority,” Dorhout said. “There were, however, essential, mission-critical and time-sensitive/seasonal activities that have had to continue, in order to preserve life and safety for our researchers and to meet federal guidelines on activities involving human and animal/plant subjects.”

Additionally, new research projects related to the virus that causes COVID-19 were given priority and access to campus and labs as needed, with appropriate reviews, Dorhout said.

Now that social distancing restrictions have become less stringent, most research projects have been able to resume with certain precautions. For field research, this potentially means travel restrictions depending on local conditions/restrictions at field sites and the ability to travel safely and social distance at sites, according to K-State’s Framework for Restarting Research Activity on Campus.

For labs, it is dependent on the standard operating procedures in the return-to-work plan, with limited numbers of personnel to operate safely.

Phase 3, which will begin no sooner than June 8, will expand some operations further.

Social distancing will still be required, and labs/groups will then be allowed to operate at 70 to 90 percent total personnel capacity. All research that can be done remotely should continue, but on-site research activity will return to 70 to 85 percent of normal operations.

Halting normal operations and closing down on-campus research activities has not come without consequences for the department. Disruption can impede the ability of researchers to meet deadlines and for students to complete studies necessary for their degrees, Dorhout said.

“This pandemic has brought challenging times that have required all of us to be vigilant and to look out for each other,” Dorhout said. “I am proud of how K-State faculty have adapted to the fast-changing environment this spring and look forward to a reviviscence of the remainder of our campus and the research enterprise.”

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