Testing for COVID-19
What is the university's COVID-19 testing strategy for students?
Asymptomatic arrival and ongoing testing
All residential students were required to be tested upon arrival to campus. This asymptomatic testing approach is one that universities can deploy to identify outbreaks and inform control measures. In order to minimize the risk associated with a large population of students living in a congregate setting with some shared spaces, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests were administered to all residential students several days after their arrival on campus.
Asymptomatic arrival testing of all off-campus undergraduate and graduate students living in the Pittsburgh area began the first week of the semester and concluded on September 11. Tests for off-campus students in the Pittsburgh area were self-administered using approved at-home saliva test kits and paid for by CMU. Results were received within approximately 3–5 business days after tests were returned. Find more information about the off-campus student testing process.
If any student received a positive test result University Health Services (UHS) initiated a plan for care, isolation and contact tracing.
Ongoing asymptomatic testing is taking place throughout the semester in an effort to monitor for the occurrence of COVID-19 in our campus community. This is being accomplished by testing a random sample of students located in the Pittsburgh area who intend to participate in any on-campus or CMU-related activities such as in-person instruction, research and campus life.
Early on, we conducted COVID-19 PCR tests on a representative sample of invited students each week. We are also simultaneously studying the possibility of a surveillance strategy using an on-campus lab to administer and process saliva-based tests for all community members on a regular and ongoing basis.
If students present with any symptoms that suggest a COVID infection or are close contacts of known positive or probable cases, CMU’s testing strategy calls for two types of tests to quickly assess students and provide rapid results. The benefit of this approach is to minimize the time students spend waiting for results and to accelerate our ability to initiate care and contact tracing when required.
University Health Services (UHS) will administer an antigen test that returns rapid results within 15 minutes so we can take immediate action for confirmed positive cases. If a student receives a positive result from an antigen test, a plan for care, isolation and contact tracing will be initiated.
If a student receives a negative result from an antigen test, a confirmatory PCR test (that will return results in approximately one to two days) will be performed to validate the results of the initial test. Students will be provided care and guidance until results of the second test are received.
We have thoughtfully planned for multiple contingencies to ensure we have adequate supply to execute our testing protocol. We have also added staff at UHS who are trained in both testing and contact tracing to support our efforts.
More information about the strategy can be found on the student resources COVID-19 page.
How did the university develop its testing strategy?
Throughout the pandemic, our expert University Health Services (UHS) medical team and Community Health and Well-Being (CHWB) leadership have conducted rigorous research to understand the evolving science of the disease, as well as steps we can take to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our community.
In developing these protocols, UHS has worked closely with the Allegheny County Health Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College Health Association and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to inform the university’s response to the coronavirus. Over the summer months, we expanded our consultation with local and national experts to include the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Allegheny Health Network (AHN). In July, we engaged AHN’s physician consultant program to support our ongoing planning.
We also were fortunate to benefit from the expertise of a formal faculty committee who advised on our testing strategy, in addition to the counsel we received on a number of issues from faculty members across numerous departments.
Do students have to pay for COVID-19 tests?
Carnegie Mellon is committed to providing access to symptomatic and close contact testing with no barrier to care. For students enrolled in CMU’s Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), the cost of symptomatic testing will be automatically covered.
For any student who is not able to secure coverage through their insurance, the university will cover the cost of symptomatic testing.
All asymptomatic testing required or requested by CMU will be paid for by the university.
Is testing mandatory?
All students who intend to participate in any on-campus or CMU-related activities, such as in-person instruction, research and campus life, are expected to participate when selected for random testing. This testing is provided at no cost to students.
If you are unable to participate the week you are selected, you can opt out of that round of testing by e-mailing Shari Zingle and you will be considered for a future random sample.
Students planning to solely engage through remote means for the semester are not required to participate in our testing protocol.
How are my privacy and data protected?
Your privacy is protected by the university consistent with our commitment to HIPAA and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Details can be found in the Treatment Agreement 2020 form you are asked to sign in the HealthConnect portal.
How will positive test results be used?
Positive test results will be used to:
- Notify COVID-positive individuals
- Conduct contact tracing
- Notify the Allegheny County Health Department report, in the aggregate, on our overall occurrence in the community
Where can I find the latest numbers on positive cases within the CMU community?
CMU case numbers are updated every day on this Dashboard reporting page.