Like so much of the world, the University of Florida suffered significant disruptions when the COVID-19 pandemic reached our shores in March 2020. Earlier memos on this page are a reminder of how quickly the situation changed. We went from “there are currently no restrictions or limitations on research activities,” on March 12th to “perform situational planning in the event that access to your research space is restricted,” on March 16th to “research activities that can be accomplished remotely should move to that modality now,” on March 23rd. For the next six weeks, most research on campus was halted.
But as the stories in this Sustaining Science compilation illustrate, the pursuit of knowledge continued. Faculty, staff and students did whatever they could to keep science moving forward. Some focused on the disease itself, from understanding it to preventing it to treating it. Others used their expertise to address shortages of personal protective equipment and medical devices.
And still others focused on the countless research projects under way. They brought samples home, they wrote new software, they published papers, and they applied for grants. They also sewed masks for health care workers and mixed hand sanitizer in vacant chemistry labs.
Almost as soon as the shutdown began, we started thinking about how to reopen. We established a task force of research leaders from throughout the university with a goal of securing a fully reconstituted research enterprise, akin to that which existed prior to the onset of the pandemic, while minimizing the risks of coronavirus transmission in the workplace through the deployment of PPE, social distancing, screening and other workplace practices.
The result of their efforts was a Research Resumption Plan with a phased reentry strategy that balances the need to resume research activities, the type of research environment and the density of research personnel, while keeping the health and safety of faculty and staff paramount.
We entered Stage 1 of that plan on May 18 and began the process of clearing faculty, staff and students to return to their research facilities. Since then we have authorized more than 7,000 people to return, as we moved to Stage 2 on June 1 and Stage 3 on June 18.
Much has changed in the world and at our university, but COVID-19 did not change the need for solutions to medical, environmental, social and other challenges that are immune to the demands of the coronavirus. Faculty are returning to their research labs because they know that science delayed is opportunity lost for people who could benefit from their discoveries, whether it’s a new medical treatment or a breakthrough technology.
The pace of change documented on this page has slowed, but whenever there is new information to share, this is where you will find it.
David Norton, Vice President for Research, University of Florida.