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Coronavirus: Get complete details about the university's response to COVID-19.

My School of Medicine

School of Medicine Columbia: COVID-19 FAQs

The leadership of the School of Medicine Columbia hosted a Virtual Town Hall for faculty and staff on April 22. A number of questions were submitted for discussion. Responses to those questions are provided below. 

For efficiency, if several questions addressing the same topic were submitted, a response has only been provided for one representative question.

Responses posted on 4/24/20, unless otherwise specified.

We have ensured first and foremost that our vital core facilities (animal housing, cryogenics, incubators) have been maintained during this closure.

Essential research has been defined by the Vice President of Research and accommodations have been made at the department level. Specifically in coordination with the department chair and PI/mentor, staggered laboratory work is proceeding. As the city and UofSC closures lighten, it will still be necessary to maintain the rigor of social distancing and careful attention to wiping down shared instrumentation, etc.

In terms of grant productivity, my conversations with NIH leadership, within the NHLBI for example, is that an extension of progress reports and no cost extensions will be provided. If you are a funded investigator, you are encouraged to reach out to the administrative contact for your specific funding agency. This is usually the contact for progress reports and expenditure reports.

With respect to students, we have been in communication with the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program to ensure that students can complete research necessary for graduation. We also encouraged researchers to use this closure and “down time” for background research, data analysis and writing with students and post-doctoral fellows. We realize that at some point data generation will be necessary for these students and the graded introduction of students into the research environment will be required. We will be following main campus guidance and with a focus on student safety being our top priority.

The Instrumentation Research Facility will be a critical resource for all of us as we begin to reactivate our research programs. We have been in constant communication with Dr. Price, and the IRF can provide essential services now in terms of existing samples. The IRF personnel will need to maintain social distancing and proper cleaning of instrumentation. It is likely that these additional precautions will become a standard practice for all core facilities and it may reduce the number of appointments that can be managed due to the need for cleaning and preparation. The top priority of the IRF will be to provide a safe environment for faculty and staff and continue to provide access to state of the art instrumentation. It is hoped that as the School of Medicine overall begins to have learners and faculty return to the campus, that careful scheduling of the IRF will also occur.

It also is recognized that revenue in terms of user fees to the IRF has been severely compromised. We remain committed to support the IRF and our other essential core facilities during this difficult period, as this is the most effective and efficient means to support our medical research mission.

The entire university will face financial challenges, and our SOM budget will certainly be affected. The indirect cost revenue relates to the share of funds that are received by the SOM due to direct research expenditures. As such, with research activity limited, this source of revenue will be greatly diminished. This indirect cost revenue is used in its entirety, to support critical research infrastructure such as our core facilities. We will make every effort to protect these vital infrastructure cores and recognize the importance of properly utilizing our scarce SOM financial resources to support these core elements of our medical research enterprise.

While we can’t predict the future, we are not in any current discussions about reduction in force.

I know you have many questions about this area, but as President Caslen has stated several times, unfortunately we are on the virus’ timeline instead of our own. Each day the health and scientific community are building a better understanding of this virus and how to combat or mitigate its impact. The truth is that there are no definitive answers right now, and much depends upon how the pandemic plays out the next few weeks.

Although we do not have a perfect picture of the future, the University has taken a proactive stance by engaging teams of individuals across the campus from public health, the schools of medicine, nursing, student affairs, administration, etc. to develop and review the facts to map out the University’s future; this group is called the Future Planning Group. Our benchmarks and guidance will be based upon information from the SC DHEC, CDC, OSHA, and many other regulatory and/or expert resources.

The Future Planning Group, has been examining how we may best prepare for and adapt to the impact of the coronavirus past our summer sessions. As previously stated, this group includes representatives from all facets of university operations and will receive continual guidance from public health experts. Central questions the group will address include:

  • What does the coronavirus modeling look like, and what does that mean for campus/community safety;
  • When will acceptable risk occur to bring students back on campus;
  • What potential changes will we need to make for the fall semester;
  • What impact do decisions have on future university operations (academics and research, budgeting and staffing, student support, athletics, and enrollment management)

Importantly, key findings and recommendations of the group are made available to you on the website. You also are able to provide input and suggestions for consideration on the site. Initial recommendations about the fall semester are expected by late May. The UofSC webpage for COVID-19 is here: https://sc.edu/safety/coronavirus/.

Yes, we will continue to take direction from the University on closure of facilities. While some faculty and staff have continued to work on-site in essential functions necessary for the ongoing operations of the School, we are all anxious to return to a more normal routine and environment. The University is working closely with government and healthcare leaders to make decisions about when it will be safe to reopen our offices and return to work. There are teams in place that are making plans for when and how to return to work in the safest way possible. We will share that information on the School of Medicine website as soon as it is available.

The School has and will continue to work closely with the main campus to secure cleaning and sanitization supplies and equipment. We have already begun looking at needs for personal protective equipment and will be coordinating that with the Purchasing Department and others on the main campus.

In mid-March we received notification from the AAMC that we needed to pull our students from their clinical rotations, which we did. They still remain off of their rotations. Most of the students are doing case-based modules. They are also interacting with the clerkship directors through various video-conferencing and web-conferencing tools to be able to continue learning content.

The schedule for students to return to the clinical learning environment will depend on when the university, the AAMC and our various affiliate hospital systems are comfortable with students returning to the clinical learning environment. We are making plans for a June, July or August start date. It is still up in the air right now in terms of when we can comfortably and safely get our students back in the clinical learning environment, but we will communicate with all involved parties when a decision is made.

Current guidance from the AAMC is available on their website.


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