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Updated: March 19, 2020

The Division of Comparative Medicine (DCM) is closely monitoring the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Now that the University has moved to reduced operations with many employees asked not to come to campus, we want to share information on steps DCM is taking to manage during this period. DCM has plans in place to ensure operational resilience in the event the pandemic worsens or university operations become further restricted.

The University remains open but has reduced operations and limited access to campus. Laboratories and cores engaged in experiments that have been approved as “critical research activities” are to remain in operation for the purpose of conducting a limited number of experiments. This designation is explained on the UNC Research COVID-19 website. Procedures are in place for ramp-down for the majority of other labs and cores.

Many labs and cores not engaged in “critical research activities” will nonetheless still require critical services to be maintained. Such facilities must designate at least one individual as a Mandatory Employee (as defined under the current UNC guidance) to be periodically onsite if needed for such purposes. Any lab-based research or core activity that is not approved as “critical research activity” is expected to be ramped down, curtailed, suspended, or delayed as soon as possible and no later than Wednesday, March 25.

DCM’s top priorities during this time are supporting approved critical research activities and ensuring the humane treatment and management of the animals under our care.

 

Status of DCM Employees

The majority of DCM employees are classified as mandatory employees who must report to work and may be present on campus in the event the University reduces operations. We are encouraging employees and animal users to remain home if they are sick to prevent any further spread of coronavirus or other communicable diseases. If schools are closed, if staff attendance is severely reduced, or if public transportation is severely impacted, we may shift or stagger employee schedules or shifts to ensure animal care is appropriately maintained.

 

Current Measures All UNC Labs Should Take

Contact with DCM:  Faculty, labs or cores that use research animals should consult DCM for current animal care recommendations, including the coordination of all PI-managed daily care. DCM offices are open and labs should maintain continuous communication with DCM contacts to ensure your lab and DCM have a common understanding of how your animal populations are to be managed.

Designation of Your Emergency Contact Information and “Mandatory Employees”:  Each lab and core should ensure the emergency contact information it has listed for its animal facilities is up to date for each facility in which animals are housed. Specifically, labs should ensure that they have designated appropriate Mandatory Employees and that DCM has the current and correct contact information for each of these.

Note: Mandatory Employees are NOT the same personnel as your employees for a weather incident (although an employee may be designated as both). Information on designating Mandatory Employees may be found in this UNC COVID-19 guidance to campus.

Please update emergency contact sheets located in each animal room by marking “MANDATORY” next to the name of the contact person(s) who has been designated. If your current contact sheet does not include your Mandatory Employees, add the name and contact information for the person(s) and prominently display their designation as “MANDATORY.”

If you have any concerns about managing ongoing animal work within animal facilities, please contact DCM immediately so that coordination can begin prior to an emergent need arising.

Restriction on Ordering New Animals:  All labs should halt ordering of new animals unless required for approved critical research activity.

 

Restriction on Breeding Animals:  Breeding should be halted for all commercially available species/strains/stocks, except animals required for approved critical research activity.

 

Restriction on New Experiments

 

  • DO NOT begin any animal experiments unless required for approved critical research activities.
  • Cancel or postpone all large animal experimental procedures or surgeries unless required for approved critical research activities.
  • All research experiments requiring post-procedural monitoring and/or medications should be delayed unless they are approved critical research activities.

Special Direction for Rodent Populations Only

  • At this time, it is essential that labs with rodents halt the ordering of new animals.
  • Humane care of UNC’s animal populations is critical, and DCM will continue to provide basic animal care services for our rodent population to fullest extent possible, for as long as possible.
  • All researchers should indicate which of their rodent cages are priority and are critical to maintain. This should be done by writing ‘PRIORITY’ in red ink on the DCM RFID card (the RFID card is not the lab card).
  • DCM will make every effort to sustain our large rodent population. If, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, DCM becomes unable to maintain sufficient staffing levels to continue providing basic care to all animals, DCM will provide further guidance and updates to the animal care community.
  • Trio breeding should be limited to only those strains for which it is required for maintenance of the strain.
  • If you have rodents requiring daily treatment or daily vet visits, confer with DCM as soon as possible regarding a plan for those animals. DCM’s ability to support animals requiring daily treatment is extremely limited.

Animal Transfers:  Animal transfer services are available only for approved critical research activities and are dependent on the availability of transport services.

Supplies and Food:  Labs with animals under their care should purchase essential supplies to maintain animal welfare (e.g. non-DCM provided food, medicines, etc.) as the availability of these supplies could be disrupted. If your lab purchases its own special supplies, you should be taking steps now to ensure you have sufficient quantities in the event supplies are disrupted.

DCM has purchased additional supplies of animal bedding, food, PPE and other supplies for care of its research animals. The issuance of PPE is currently being controlled to assure adequate supplies are available for animal research-related activities.

  • PPE is secured in locked rooms and donning stations monitored by camera.
  • Misappropriation or theft of state property is illegal and will be reported to law enforcement.

DCM Services During Periods of Reduced Operations or Campus Access: DCM may curtail many services such as the ordering and receiving of additional animals, transfers and the taking of inventory. Our billing is likely be delayed. All efforts will be focused on maintaining the welfare and health of the animals under our care.

Training:  Hands-on rodent training will only be offered where it is deemed essential, and only for those who do not have another means of accessing training from a member of the lab (i.e. PI or LAC). Contact iacuc@med.unc.edu with questions or requests for training.