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Research and COVID-19

Image by the CDC

The Common Rule and relevant guidance do not generally anticipate global health emergencies or specific measures associated with diminishing risk of community transmission of COVID-19. That means that IRB staff and members must be cautious, but also creative, in adapting to this new and ever-changing normality of a pandemic. 

While Swarthmore College continues operations, effective immediately and until further notice, all research activities involving in-person interactions are suspended, and planned visits of research participants to campus must be postponed.  

For many current and potential human subjects of research in the US and abroad, the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort has changed, and continues to change, from the probability and magnitude of harm that prevailed at the time when active research protocols were reviewed.  

Researchers should work with college IRB staff  ( to discuss specific arrangements/modifications to approved protocols involving human subjects, and implement remote/online procedures to reduce risk. 

The management of risks has become subject to new public policies and constantly evolving CDC guidelines/advisories to which the Office of Human Research Protections (and most every organization) is directing its constituents’ attention.  Staff, students and all research personnel should observe social distancing, respiratory etiquette, and frequent handwashing, per current CDC guidance. Researchers who are, themselves, at higher risk (older adults, people with chronic, serious medical conditions) are advised to follow current CDC guidance to reduce their risk of illness.  For shared research equipment (e.g. keyboards, table tops, laboratory tools), please wipe down with disinfectant prior to and after all use.

Procedures and processes may need to change with little notice, due to the dynamic nature of the situation.  Please continue to monitor along with additional resources, below, for current information. Our aim is to best protect study participants and staff while continuing research as possible under conditions of the COVID-19 virus outbreak. 

Your understanding and flexibility is appreciated.