All US research programmes funded by Public Health Solutions in New York City or accredited by the non-profit organization AAALAC International are required to have a care plan in place for laboratory animals in the event of a disaster. The COVID-19 pandemic could constitute such a disaster if it creates severe shortages in staffing and in supply chains.

As someone who helped labs to retool after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, I advise research groups to build up substantial reserves of crucial animal-care and laboratory supplies. These include personal protective equipment as well as food, water and bedding for the animals. Individually ventilated cages can be brought in to cut back on cage-cleaning requirements. Back-up for services such as animal care and health checks will be necessary.

And if there are no longer enough staff members to provide basic animal care, depopulation might be the only option. In that case, researchers should follow the American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines (see Important cell lines and tissues should be cryopreserved.