The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on many animals, and laboratory animals are no exception. The US Department of Agriculture’s routine unannounced inspections of research facilities (and suppliers of animals for experimentation) has been severely curtailed, and currently the department is prioritizing inspections based on need and safety. The USDA has stated that it is “available to discuss individual situations within facilities.”
With respect to internal oversight by the facility, The Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (which governs research conducted with federal funds) allows various “flexibilities” during a pandemic. These include (1) extending the usual interval between mandatory inspections or waiving the inspection requirement altogether, (2) conducting virtual rather than in-person site visits, and (3) having one Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee member act on behalf of the entire committee in performing a complete review/re-approval of current protocols coming up on their required three-year renewal.