FAQ's for Research during COVID-19

Can I pay my research staff during this time?

As long as there is benefit to the project, then regardless of the location where those duties are performed, salaries can be charged.  Some allowable activities may include data analysis, preparation of articles and papers based on the analysis of the research findings, monitoring subrecipients, updating protocols, etc. Our primary federal guidance at 200.430(h)(I) states: “…writing reports and articles, developing and maintaining protocols (human, animals, etc.), managing substances/chemicals, managing and securing project-specific data, coordinating research subjects, participating in appropriate seminars, consulting with colleagues and graduate students, and attending meetings and conferences.”   


Do I still need prior approval for changes in scope, rebudgeting, and other changes?  

Yes. While agencies will grant flexibility, don’t assume the process. Email ufawards@ufl.edu with your project id, impact and questions. 

See UF-wide guidance regarding accessing UF locations, travel and more.

See Clinical Research guidance.


When and what do I report to sponsors regarding impacts of COVID-19 on my project?

If the adaptations were so significant that it did not simply delay or change methods, it may represent a change in scope. Before work is undertaken outside of the existing scope, prior approval is required.  It may be that a preliminary discussion with a program official helps to solidify the best direction should a change be necessary.  If indeed a change will occur, a UFIRST Award Modification should be created with a letter that documents the new scope and any budget, milestone or timeline changes proposed.  The UFIRST Award Modification must be routed to DSP for review before submission to the sponsor. 

If the project adaptations do not represent a change in scope, any COVID related impacts including delays should be documented in the upcoming progress report. 

If there is the potential that a deliverable or milestone will not be met, reach out to DSP at ufawards@ufl.edu as quickly as possible.


Should I document the work my group has been doing since the University restricted lab access?  Can I continue to charge my lab group to my grants?

It is always a good idea to document work being done. In some cases, this can be done with lab notebooks, in other cases it can be done through electronic means. This documentation can help track activities and will assist with effort certification at the end of each semester. While the pace of the project may fluctuate or productivity may decline, this does not mean that the effort is not allocable.  So long as you and your team are working on activities related to the project, you may continue to charge the effort.  Allowable activities are outlined in section 3.1 of:  UF Effort Reporting Directives and Procedures.


Does DSP have any template documents or language to use for No Cost Extensions (NCEs) necessary because of COVID impacts?

While DSP has a standard NCE template available on the UF Research website, COVID has not uniformly affected each project. In some cases, work can be moved offsite, in others planned objectives may need to be put on hold or delayed. We recommend briefly summarizing the project impacts in support of the NCE request.  Please be mindful that the University did not uniformly “shut down” during this time.  We ask that you take caution in describing what did proceed under telework and what work was impacted.  DSP will ask for revisions if the statements broadly indicate University closure.


What do you recommend if my project is financially impacted because of COVID?

First step is to document.  We cannot be certain of all possible funding avenues but documenting impacts such as regeneration of biologicals, replacement PPE, extended staffing costs due to reduced productivity will prepare you for whatever options might arise. In some cases, a supplement may be requested from the sponsor. NIH is one sponsor that has posted information.  See: NIH COVID-19 Information for NIH Applicants and Recipients of NIH Funding.


Do you have a list of items that require sponsor notification?

While federal and private sponsors have been emphasizing flexibility around prior approval requirements, you must still obtain approval for most items listed in the Prior Approval Matrix, including 1st and 2nd No Cost Extensions, Non-SNAP carryover requests, or disengagement of the PI for more than three months, to name a few. Please contact ufawards@ufl.edu or submit a modification in UFIRST Awards for any of these requests.


The UF Research website indicates that I must submit my NCE request no later than 30 days before the award’s current expiration date. If COVID related impacts delayed the request such that I no longer meet the deadline, do I have any options?

Yes. UF Sponsored Programs realizes that project impacts come in all shapes and sizes. Please submit a UFIRST Award Modification as soon as possible so we can work with you to ensure that the request is submitted as timely as possible.


Can I buy PPE on my grant?

Yes, unless a sponsor prohibits it.  However, PPE like many other common use lab items is often difficult to allocate across all funding sources which benefit so it is important to document the method of allocation utilized in cases where these items are being direct charged.


How do I document COVID specific expenses?

When assigning a chartfield please add COVID19 flex code to any line items that are COVID specific expenses.  This allows the university to track these costs and potentially be reimbursed for such costs if an opportunity presents itself.

Additionally, the following GL account codes should be used: 738000Miscellaneous Other Supplies for masks and 735200 – Sanitation and Sterilization Supplies for cleaning products. 


Are charges related to the cancelling or rescheduling of trips due to COVID-19 allowable?

Travel costs that would otherwise have met allowability criteria for a sponsored project will continue to be an allowable charge provided:

  • Every attempt is made to minimize costs by cancelling/rescheduling travel arrangements and negotiating refunds.
  • These efforts along with the reason for cancelling/rescheduling the travel must be documented.
  • Documentation should be added to the expense report and can include published cancellation/refund policies, summary of conversations, event cancellation notices, travel restriction notices, e-mails from travelers expressing their concerns and desire to cancel travel as a result etc.

In the event credits for future use are issued in lieu of a refund, charges should be moved to a non-sponsored project source if they will not be used for immediate future travel on the award they were originally purchased from.


Is there a central university contract(s)/stores for PPE?

Information regarding sourcing of PPE is located on Procurement’s site: https://procurement.ufl.edu/covid19ppe/


Are there known supply chain issues/problems?  

Other than some of items of PPE such as disinfectant wipes and commercial hand sanitizer there are not currently known supply chain issues.  Procurement continues to monitor this. 


What can I do if I am having difficulty sourcing product(s)?

If you need additional help sourcing product please email Procurement@ufl.edu and include how many and what kind of item is needed.


If someone cannot deliver on contract, who facilitates for University?

Please contact Procurement at Procurement@ufl.edu or 392-1335.


Is future travel allowable?  If so, is there anything additional I need to do?

As UF reopens and reengages with other universities, industries, research and instructional initiatives, and governmental agencies, it is to be expected that members of the community will engage in additional travel closely tied to these activities. Consequently, essential travel directly connected to assigned university duties will be approved by the Dean of a College (or analogous Director in certain units), a Senior Vice President, or Vice President. At this time and until further notice, Deans and Directors may not delegate this responsibility to Department Chairs. No travel reimbursements will be issued without that approval. 

Employees are still strongly encouraged to minimize personal travel. Employees who do travel should inform themselves about restrictions and quarantines either in the areas to which they travel or requirements of the State of Florida and the University of Florida in returning from certain locations. UF may require returning employees to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning from certain destinations. 

Employees are reminded that any international travel must be pre-approved by a Dean (or SVP or VP) and must be registered on the International Center International Travel Registration website. Employees are further reminded that they could find their movements severely restricted in international travel, including re-entry into the United States.


A distance-learning fee was added to student fees for summer courses.  Can I pay these from sponsored projects?

Student fees are not currently allowable charges to sponsored projects.  Further, you will note when comparing previous fee schedules that while a distance-learning fee was added as a result of the moving of all courses to on-line modalities fees related to on-site services were removed. 


Are undergraduates allowed to conduct research?

Since May 15, 2020, the University of Florida has been implementing a Research Resumption Plan that is successfully returning faculty, staff and graduate students to their on-site research activities.  The process for Undergraduate Research Resumption will be very similar to that used to date for faculty, staff, and graduate students seeking to return to on-site research activities.
 
The specific procedure will be as follows:
  1. UF faculty members who oversee on-campus laboratories or other on-site activities are the gatekeepers for vetting undergraduate students interested in participating in research and for accepting them into research programs.
  2. To request approval to bring undergraduates into on-site research facilities:
    1. Faculty members will submit undergraduate names, UFIDs and contact information through the Research Activity Request Portal.
    2. As part of the submission, the faculty member will describe the safety protocols that will be shared with the students as part their training.
    3. Upon approval by the chair, dean and VPR, undergraduates will be cleared to come into research programs through the HR Screen Test Protect process, just as staff, faculty and graduate students have been.
  3. UF faculty are responsible for instructing undergraduates about new safety protocols and the research culture in the COVID-19 context, including proper social distancing and mask wearing according to the UF Research Resumption Plan and the local laboratory/on-site environment.
  4. The overall restrictions for research activities remains at Stage 3 within the Research Resumption Plan as described in the attachment and described at https://research.ufl.edu/covid-19-updates.html.
  5. All undergraduate students will be reviewed for participation in research in the same manner, whether the student is paid, unpaid, fulfilling scholarship requirements or taking course credit.