Updates from the Research Task Force: Nov. 23-27

News for Researchers

Posted November 23, 2020 by Dan Moser

During the fall semester, the Research Task Force will continue sending updates about campus operations that affect research and creative activities during the pandemic. This message addresses topics for the week of Nov. 23-27.

New this week

With the Thanksgiving break this week, please remain mindful of the recommended public health guidelines and safety protocols. Be aware how your activities during the break could impact campus health and safety in the weeks ahead. Visit the campus COVID-19 website for information on travel, on-campus testing resources, and the latest evidence-based health and safety protocols.

Also, communicate with your lab staff and students just how critical it is to follow public health guidelines and safety protocols during the break and what your expectations are for them returning to the lab or creative activity space in the week(s) following the holiday break. 

Disruptions to holiday plans and cherished traditions are enormously difficult, but we cannot afford to relax our behaviors. As you’re aware, Lincoln and many other communities across the country are experiencing uncontrollable spread of COVID-19. We all must do our part to protect our campus and broader community.


Risk dial remains at red
As of Friday, Nov. 20, the City of Lincoln/Lancaster County COVID-19 risk dial remained at the red level for the third consecutive week, indicating there is severe and uncontrollable community spread. No changes in UNL operations are expected at this time; however employees are encouraged to continue working from home whenever feasible to decrease density in campus buildings.

Review your reopening plans
The reopening plan and checklist is required through December. Investigators who have already implemented their plans are encouraged review them again to ensure they meet local and state directed health measures. Investigators can modify existing reopening plans by clicking on the link embedded within the original approval e-mail. Anyone who has not yet submitted a reopening plan should become familiar with the reopening guidelines before submitting a plan for approval.

Preparing facilities for reduced activity
Changes to the academic calendar may result in reduced activity in research laboratories from late November through mid-January. Personnel are urged to cycle water through the plumbing fixtures in their laboratories and research spaces at least weekly to prevent bacterial buildup in the pipes.

Conserving energy during periods of reduced activity
Most academic buildings have automated infrared occupancy sensors for energy conservation. When the sensors do not detect anyone’s presence, a signal is triggered to turn off lights and slightly curtail ventilation. In research labs, where experiments often continue after personnel have left the area, the infrared occupancy sensors do not automatically shift into energy-conservation mode.

Lab personnel should be aware that each research space has a manual occupancy switch. Facilities Maintenance and Operations advises the last person to leave the area to activate the manual switch. Be certain that no active research activity requiring fume hoods is occurring. To resume normal operation, the switch must be triggered again.

Update on compensation for teaching assistants
Due to the adjusted 2020-21 academic calendar, graduate teaching assistants who have completed their fall duties as of Nov. 25 can work as research assistants during December and January. Departments should use the regular appointment dates for the fall term to ensure tuition and health benefits are applied to the student’s account. 

The research appointment for December and January cannot be combined with the regular fall teaching appointment. Any work outside the regular appointment for the fall and spring is considered additional work, and the student should be reasonably compensated. Departments should pay students a prorated amount based on their experience and regular term contract. Departments must provide an offer letter to the student. A one-time payment Personnel Action Form, or PAF, must be submitted to Payroll Services and accompanied by the signed offer letter. Departments are encouraged to submit the one-time payment PAF by Dec. 7 to ensure payment is included in the December paycheck. 

Please note that any effort under this circumstance charged on 24*, 25*, and 26* WBS accounts are allowable only if all the following additional steps are followed (over and above the guidance above).

  1. As these payments are supplemental pay, prior written approval from the funding agency for these expenses is required, to comply with 2 CFR § 200.430(h)1ii. Work with your Office of Sponsored Programs project specialist to secure such approval from the sponsor(s).
  2. Individual, separate PAFs must be submitted for both December and January. A single-time payment for both months will create incorrect PVS statements.
  3. The PAF must run through Payroll Services under a 51* G/L (and not a 56* G/L as non-taxable stipend), which will allow the charge(s) to be picked up by Project Verification Statement reporting.

For questions, contact David Doty, director of sponsored programs.

Campus data posted on COVID-19 dashboard
The campus COVID-19 dashboard contains up-to-date information on daily positive cases and total number of tests; results from the past 14 days, as well as total tests given during that time period; and the current positivity rate and how it compares to the previous week. Cumulative data also is available. Information is provided by the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department and includes results from Test Nebraska, University Health Center and other testing sources.

Flu shots for employees available at UHC
UNL employees and students are encouraged to get their annual flu shot. Although the vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, it reduces the likelihood of getting another potentially serious illness. The Health Center offers flu shots for university employees during regular business hours. Schedule an appointment in advance by calling 402-472-5000. The cost of a flu shot may be submitted through insurance, and employees who have completed the Health Risk Assessment may have no out-of-pocket costs. Read more in Nebraska Today.

On-campus testing resources
The university, in partnership with Test Nebraska, offers a free COVID-19 testing site for faculty, staff and students. The test site is located on the ground floor of the 17th and R streets parking garage. The site has increased the number of tests available and is offering weekend appointments. Same-day appointments are available weekdays from 3-6 p.m. and on Sundays from 1-4 p.m. Visit the COVID-19 on-campus testing webpage for details about using this resource. The University Health Center also offers testing Monday through Saturday based on a telehealth consultation. Insurance coverage is required to use Health Center services. To request an appointment, call 402-472-5000.

Guidelines for positive case reporting, contact tracing
Faculty, staff and students should be familiar with university procedures on positive case reporting and contact tracing. Anyone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 should promptly notify the UNL Public Health Advocacy Team at covid19@unl.edu or via text message at 402-266-6865. They also should promptly notify their direct supervisor and/or instructors. Supervisors may contact the Public Health Advocacy Team about a positive case but should NOT notify anyone else. Contact tracing is conducted by LLCHD with support from the UNL Public Health Advocacy Team. The two work together to notify contacts who may have been exposed.

Resources for leaders, supervisors
Guides are available for unit leaders and supervisors, including a screening guide; a response guide for having conversations with faculty, staff and students who notify them about COVID-19 symptoms, exposure and/or a confirmed case; and a supervisor FAQ guide that answers important questions about how to appropriately communicate with employees about COVID-19.

Understanding quarantine vsisolation
The Centers for Disease Control has a helpful video that explains the difference between quarantine and isolation, and when each approach is appropriate.

This communication is distributed to principal investigators with approved research and creative activity re-opening plans as well as the associate deans for research. Please share this guidance with members of your research team as appropriate.

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