Behavioural Research COVID-19 Guidance

*July 15, 2022*

While UBC and the BC Provincial Health Officer have eased COVID-19-based restrictions, most recently with removal of the on-campus mask requirement, the UBC Behavioural Research Ethics Boards continue to prioritize research participant safety and risk reduction. Participants are volunteers and, in behavioural research, are less likely to directly benefit from the outcomes of research they contribute to. Researchers are required to continue addressing the health context in which their research is being conducted and to describe what procedures they are implementing to ensure (to the degree possible) that the research team and its activities do not increase health risks to participants nor contribute to the spread of disease.

The Behavioural REBs continue to recommend that researchers be vaccinated and use N95 or KN 95 masks for all in-person research. At minimum, masks should be three layered and have no air gaps on the face. Researchers should make masks available for participants but participants can choose not to wear them.

Guidance on this page is for community and UBC-based behavioural and social science research and does not apply to research taking place within Health Authority facilities. Guidance applies both to on-campus and off-campus research. We will continue to update this page when changes are implemented.

Behavioural Ethics Reviews

The Behavioural REBs will continue to review ethics applications with consideration of conditions in the research region, including the impacts of COVID-19 on infrastructure and pressures on health services at the research site.

Researchers should continue to consider ways they can reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and other infectious disease transmission among research team members and participants. The Safe Research Guidelines, Safe Research Plan template and the Notice of COVID-related risks during research were updated in April 2022. In all instances, researchers will need to attach an up-to-date Safe Research Plan to page 9 of their ethics application. You will need to save the Safe Research Plan to your computer in order to fill out the fields

Institutional safety protocols that do not address the safety of research participants (in addition to staff safety considerations) will not be sufficient.

Before submitting your new ethics application or amendment/annual renewal

Consultations

Consultations with BREB will be required in some situations before you submit an amendment or new application. Contact the BREB office to schedule a consultation if you are planning to conduct or resume in-person research outside Canada. BREB staff and members will review the details of your research before the meeting, so you may be asked to provide additional details or other supporting materials in advance. To schedule a consultation, please email:
maria.valente@ubc.ca (Vancouver)
lisa.shearer@ubc.ca (Okanagan).

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BREB guidance regarding vaccination status

Vaccination provides a layer of protection for researchers and participants. Researchers may decide whether they wish to disclose their vaccination status to the BREB in their Safe Research Plan and to research participants in their Consent Forms. Study team members should not be pressured to reveal their status.

You are beginning or resuming in-person research within Canada

All researchers intending to conduct in-person research will need to provide a Safe Research Plan and attach to Box 9.7. You will need to save the Safe Research Plan to your computer in order to fill out the fields.

You are welcome to contact the ethics office about COVID safety for research conducted in Canada if your questions are not answered by the guidance documents and Safe Research Plan template.

Your research is on-campus or in an institutional setting

This guidance applies if you are conducting your research in a regulated facility such as on a university or college campus, or in a school or community centre where COVID-19 safety protocols are in place. Please note, however, that safety protocols developed for departmental use at UBC or for regulated facilities may be less stringent than those required by BREB and are unlikely to have sufficient detail to account for in-person contact with research participants. Current UBC COVID safety protocols for on-campus activities are not sufficient for research purposes.

  • Follow the facility requirements.
  • Ensure that your ethics application specifies the locations where your research will be conducted in Section 4.2. Institutions and Sites for Study.
  • Indicate in Box 5.6 which safety protocols you are following, in addition to those provided in your safe research plan and attach your Safe Research Plan to Box 9.7You will need to save the Safe Research Plan to your computer in order to fill out the fields.
  • For research being conducted outside UBC (e.g. on school property), attach the facility’s safety protocol to Box 9.7, if available.
Your research is in a public setting that is off campus but within Canada

This guidance applies if you are conducting research that involves meeting participants in locations where safety protocols are unknown, such as a café, participant’s home or office.

  • Ensure that your ethics application specifies the locations where your research will be conducted in Section 4.2. Institutions and Sites for Study.
  • Attach your Safe Research Plan to Box 9.7You will need to save the Safe Research Plan to your computer in order to fill out the fields.
You want to remove previous requirements from your Safe Research Plan
  • Add a dated sub-heading at the bottom of any boxes that need to be amended, e.g. “April 2022: Updating COVID Safety protocols.” Do not overwrite previously approved content in the ethics application.
  • Describe any procedural changes being proposed in Box 5.6 and attach your updated Safe Research Plan to Box 9.7. You will need to save the Safe Research Plan to your computer in order to fill out the fields.
  • Attach updated consent forms and/or letters of invitation if amendments are needed. Do not remove earlier versions if they were put into use.
You are beginning or resuming in-person research outside Canada

This guidance applies if you are conducting research outside Canada. Before submitting your ethics application, please contact the BREB office to schedule a consultation; this will ensure that your study can be considered for review. See the Consultations section above for details​​​​​.

The BREB will consider current circumstances in the region where the research is being undertaken. Provide as much detail as possible in your Safe Research Plan about current public health directives, vaccination rates, rates of COVID-19 infection, and rates of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in the region/s where you will be conducting research.

  • Specify the locations where your research will be conducted in Section 4.2. Institutions and Sites for Study. Indicate if you are travelling to multiple sites within a country.
  • Include a note in Box 5.6 that a COVID Health Check will be used for all participants at the start of each interaction.
  • Complete a Safe Research Plan and attach to Box 9.7You will need to save the Safe Research Plan to your computer in order to fill out the fields.
  • The most recent health orders from the region where you are conducting the research will need to be reflected in your Safe Research Plan, including how vaccination and mask-wearing protocols will be managed. For reference, see  https://www.internationalsos.com/.
Additional requirements for students conducting research outside Canada

Students planning to conduct research outside Canada are required to complete the Student Safety Abroad Registry and consult with BREB regarding their Safe Research Plans.

  1. Before proceeding to submit an ethics application, review the current requirements provided at https://safetyabroad.ubc.ca/ and contact safety.abroad@ubc.ca if you need more information. The steps for Safety Abroad and research ethics review can be carried out in parallel.
  2. Upload your approved Safety Abroad application (for high risk travel) or a screen shot/PDF of your registration screen (for non-high risk travel) to Box 9.7.
  3. Review the BREB Safe Research Guidelines for ethics requirements and complete a BREB Safe Research PlanYou will need to save the Safe Research Plan to your computer in order to fill out the fields.
  4. Contact the BREB office to schedule a consultation before submitting your ethics application or amendment. See the Consultations section above.
  5. When seeking travel insurance, pay attention to Covid-19 related exemptions that may affect coverage. See https://www.internationalsos.com/ for most current status.
You are beginning or resuming research in-community* (includes rural and Indigenous research)

 *"In community” in this context refers to sustained in-person engagement with research populations over a period of time, beginning prior to the onset of formal data collection. In all cases, the BREB will be looking for demonstrated community support for the researchers being present and carrying out in-person research activity.

To the extent that you are able, determine whether the community has the capacity to engage and their preferred method of engagement. Although such engagement could be facilitated through video-conferencing and virtual town halls using UBC (or other) resources, communities or individuals within a community may not have the means (such as robust WIFI) to connect. Researchers should become familiar with any limitations in the community prior to engagement. Work with the local community to determine whether shared access to computer technology is available for those who may not have access in their homes, while ensuring that a protocol for maintaining public health guidelines can be implemented. Consider the extent to which you and your team may be able to support remote and Indigenous communities by providing surplus medical supplies, protective equipment, and other resources as part of a commitment to reciprocity.

Research in non-Indigenous communities

Research will be allowed at the discretion of the community.

  • Submit a Safe Research Plan co-created with the community and attach to Box 9.7You will need to save the Safe Research Plan to your computer in order to fill out the fields.
  • Include a note in Box 5.6 that a COVID Health Check will be used for all participants at the start of each interaction.

If you are conducting community research outside Canada:

  • See the Consultation section above for details.
  • Prepare a translation of the COVID Health Check document into the language in which the research is being conducted.
Research in Indigenous communities

The guidance provided here was drafted for the Canadian context. However, there may be relevant content for research conducted in other Indigenous communities. You are advised to review the guidance, Culturally Safe and Trauma-Informed Practices for Researchers during COVID-19 before finalizing your research logistics.

Research will be reviewed once there is agreement from the community, as demonstrated through a research agreement, MOU or other proof of approval attached to your ethics application. If you have a pre-COVID-19 pandemic MOU with a community, it will need to be re-affirmed.

Attach your Safe Research Plan, co-created with the community to Box 9.7You will need to save the Safe Research Plan to your computer in order to fill out the fields.

Include a note in Box 5.6 that a COVID Health Check will be used for all participants at the start of each interaction.

You are submitting or amending an ethics application for course-based research projects

This guidance applies to initial applications as well as to renewals/amendments for course-based research projects where the instructor/PI is submitting one ethics application for all students in the course. If a student will be submitting an ethics application for a personal research project, these instructions do not apply. 

Please be aware that some campus safety protocols may not be sufficiently detailed to address considerations for interaction between a student and their research participants. In addition to following the facility requirements, use the Safe Research Guidelines and the Safe Research Plan template to develop a plan that addresses research participant safety in particular. You will need to save the Safe Research Plan to your computer in order to fill out the fields.

  • Please also see Course-Based Research Project Guidelines.
  • If the course will continue to use exclusively online methods for the research projects, an amendment is not needed.
  • All previously approved ethics applications for course-based research that use in-person methods will require an amendment.
  • Students will need to conduct a COVID Health Check with their participants, including with their family members if applicable.

What amendments are required?

  • Amendments for previously approved applications must be submitted before any in-person research starts.
  • The instructor will need to include details of the safety measures that students will be instructed to follow in Box D.3.A (methodology).
  • As applicable, supporting templates/documents (consent form, introductory emails, etc.) will need to be modified and uploaded to page 9.
  • Do not remove earlier versions of documents if they were used in previous years.
Forms and resources

Safe Research Guidelines | Designed to provide detailed requirements for completing a Safe Research Plan. Updated in April 2022.

Safe Research Plan | Template for developing your Safe Research Plan. Updated in April 2022. Please review the updated guidelines before creating your plan. You will need to save the Safe Research Plan to your computer in order to fill out the fields. Safety protocols developed for facility and departmental use at UBC are unlikely to have sufficient detail to account for the conduct of in-person interaction with research participants.

COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool | This tool should be used by researchers and participants to screen themselves before research interactions. Use of the tool (and a link to the tool) should be described in the consent form.

Notice of COVID-Related Risks during Research | Attach to the information package sent to participants or invitees.

Culturally Safe and Trauma-Informed Practices for Researchers during COVID-19 | Published by the First Nations Health Authority in collaboration with Research Ethics BC (REBC) and offered here as a resource for all researchers who wish to conduct research with First Nations people or communities. The document provides extensive resources and additional readings.

Zoom Conferencing in Research | BREB resource to assist researchers using conferencing platforms for research data collection. This document is designed for researchers; relevant details from it should be shared by the researcher with invitees and participants (i.e. do not provide a link to this document in your consent forms or other participant materials).

Documentation guidelines for COVID-related research

While questions related to COVID-19 have become more common for researchers and research participants alike, the BREB continues to recommend that special care be taken when introducing COVID-related questions into behavioural research. The following applies to new studies and amendments. Please include in recruitment materials (ads, posters, letters of invitation, etc.) and in consent forms and scripts:

  • A clear statement that the research involves discussion/consideration of topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If questions about the pandemic are not optional, make this clear in recruitment materials so invitees can choose to opt out.
Registries of COVID-related research in BC

In order to have an accurate listing of COVID-19 related research in BC, UBC has joined with other research institutions and agencies in compiling these studies in a publicly available registry. The collaborators include BC Academic Health Sciences Network (including Clinical Trials BC and Research Ethics BC), the Ministry of Health, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the BC Centre for Disease Control.

In support of this initiative, the BREB will be providing information about your study for publication in the inventory, including: Principal Investigator, study title and description. For more information please go to: https://www.bcahsn.ca/initiatives/covid-19-response.

A separate registry of COVID-related studies is also being compiled by UBC and is meant to assist researchers in connecting with other researchers working in similar areas. for more information, please go to: https://COVID19.research.ubc.ca/research-projects. If you have any objections to your research information being listed, please let us know during the ethics application review process. The BREB encourages researchers to review both registries for potential collaborations.