The past few weeks have been an unsettling time for all of us. The rapidly evolving public health emergency associated with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has upended our lives. Universities and schools have closed, organizations have suspended activities, and some cities have instituted shelter-in-place orders. There is also a great deal of anxiety about the number of lives that are at stake and for the safety of health care professionals working on the front lines. I urge you to read NIH Director Francis Collins’s blog on remaining healthy and helping to slow down the spread of the virus. I want to reassure you that NINDS will strive to work with our grantees and resolve issues within our purview.
NIH is working to help you through this situation and has released guidance and resources for applicants and recipients whose work is affected by COVID-19. Because of the rapidly evolving nature of this situation, this guidance will change to meet the needs of the community. Please check back often to the NIH Office of Extramural Research web page, which will be updated regularly. Please let your program directors know of NIH-related problems as they come up.
As we navigate this pandemic, we recognize that delays and disruptions are inevitable. NIH will provide as many flexibilities as possible to support our applicants and grantees throughout this crisis. Currently, late NIH applications can be submitted without pre-approval, as long as you include a brief cover letter explaining why the application is coming in late. * We are also allowing for administrative flexibilities to accommodate for other delays, such as reporting and budgeting issues. Finally, peer review of applications is continuing at this time, but conducted virtually. The NIH peer review system is the cornerstone of our Nation’s biomedical research enterprise. NINDS has been conducting remote peer review for a while, so we were lucky to be ahead of the curve. But pivoting to entirely remote reviews is not easy, and I want to take a moment to acknowledge the dedication of the reviewers and our review staff for ensuring the continued excellence of this process. This is just one example of the inspiring efforts going on in labs and clinics around the country, in addition to here at NIH.
Money to support research and staff is likely on the forefront of many minds. NIH can honor charging salaries to grants, even for those unable to maintain their planned effort because of disruptions associated with COVID-19. Importantly, this is also true for trainee stipends, which can be paid even if the trainee is unable to work in their normal way for a period of time. Finally, fees incurred from travel cancellations can be charged to NIH grants.
Importantly, we also want to ensure that human and animal research participants as well as research personnel are safe. There will be opportunities to apply for administrative supplements to cover delays in progress and unanticipated costs associated with NIH-funded clinical trials and human subjects research. Further, the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) has issued flexibilities associated with implementing a pandemic plan for animal care and use programs, as well as held a recent webinar on pandemic contingency planning and its impact on animal care.
This outbreak is not only professionally challenging but stressful at every level. I encourage you to visit the CDC Coronavirus webpage, which includes information and resources for managing and coping with stress, fear, and anxiety that may be helpful to you, your colleagues, and your families and friends. As a neurologist I have witnessed the courage and fortitude of those affected with neurological disorders who deal with serious health problems and uncertainty every day. There is probably a great deal we as scientists can now learn from those we strive to help through neuroscience.
Our scientific community is tenacious, resilient, and collaborative – and must continue to tap into these tremendous strengths now more than ever. Please know that we at NINDS are with you, not only as this situation evolves but also as we emerge together, stronger in recovery. Stay safe and be well.
* On March 26, 2020 OER issued an updated notice indicating that all grant applications submitted late for due dates between March 9, 2020, and May 1, 2020, will be accepted through May 1, 2020, with no cover letter needed to justify the late submission.