Testing for COVID-19
What is the university’s COVID-19 testing strategy?
All students living on campus or in the Pittsburgh area who plan to attend on-campus activities, including classes and research, are required to participate in weekly asymptomatic testing. 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 will be administered to all residential students several days after their arrival on campus and to all off-campus students prior to them attending in-person classes or other on-campus activities.
Asymptomatic testing will continue throughout the semester. All Pittsburgh-based faculty, staff and students will use the Tartan COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing Program (or Tartan Testing for short) with a limit of one test per week. All members of the CMU community who intend to participate in on-campus or CMU-related activities — in-person instruction/teaching, staff duties, research and campus life, etc. — are expected to participate in weekly testing through scheduled appointments.
Until Tartan Testing reaches capacity, which is expected in early February, CMU is ramping up its program operations by inviting a limited cohort of students, faculty and staff to access testing appointments. At this time, only those who have received a testing invite via email can schedule appointments. The size of this invited cohort will expand over time until we are able to offer testing to all Pittsburgh-based students, faculty and staff.
Once you are selected to participate, all faculty, staff and students planning to be on campus are expected to complete one asymptomatic test each week through the Tartan Testing Program. If you are not coming to campus, you are not expected to participate in testing; however, the opportunity to obtain one asymptomatic test a week is available to you.
If an asymptomatic student receives a positive test result, University Health Services (UHS) will initiate a plan for care, isolation and contact tracing. Additionally, if an asymptomatic faculty or staff member receives a positive test result, UHS will initiate a plan for contact tracing and isolation, with CMU’s Community Health and Well-Being assisting with referrals to primary care providers, as needed.
Faculty or staff who are in need of symptomatic testing or close contact testing should contact their health care provider.
If students have any symptoms that suggest a COVID infection, 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.
For symptomatic students, 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 symptomatic student receives a negative result from an antigen test, a confirmatory PCR test (that will return results in approximately 2-4 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.
In addition, students who are close contacts of known positive or probable cases are given a reference lab PCR test, with results known in 2-4 days.More information about the strategy can be found on the student resources COVID-19 page.
Where can I find information about the testing plan from the fall semester?
Complete historical detail of CMU’s testing plan and actions from the fall semester are available at the university’s COVID-19 Testing page.
How did the university develop its testing strategy?
Throughout the pandemic, leadership from the Office of the Vice President for Research, as well as Community Health and Well-Being, 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, we have 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 many months, we expanded our consultation with local and national experts to include the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Allegheny Health Network (AHN). We also were fortunate to benefit from the expertise of a formal faculty committee that advised on our testing strategy, in addition to the counsel we received on a number of issues from faculty members across numerous departments.
Do faculty, staff or students have to pay for COVID-19 tests?
All asymptomatic testing provided through the Tartan Testing Program will be paid for by the university.
For our students, the university is committed to providing access to symptomatic and close contact testing with no barrier to care. For those 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.
Faculty or staff who are in need of symptomatic testing and close contact testing should contact their health care provider.
Where can I find the latest numbers on positive cases within the CMU community?
Case numbers are updated every day on the CMU Dashboard reporting page.
How is the privacy of faculty, staff and students protected?
Student privacy is protected by the university, consistent with our commitment to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Details can be found in the treatment agreement form you are asked to sign in the HealthConnect portal.
Faculty and staff privacy is protected by the university, consistent with the provisions of the consent form you are asked to sign in the HealthConnect portal.
How will positive test results be used?
Positive test results will be used in a variety of ways in addition to notifying COVID-positive individuals. CMU contact tracers will be notified in order to perform contact tracing for students, faculty and staff. Students and faculty who may have attended an in-person class or been in a research lab with the COVID-positive individual will be notified as a precautionary measure. The individual testing positive will be kept anonymous. CMU will also notify Housing Services (for isolation housing purposes), Facilities Management and Campus Services (for cleaning protocols), Student Affairs in order to provide support, and the Allegheny County Health Department. CMU’s Athletics Department will be notified if the individual is a student-athlete.
For employees, the Office of Human Resources is also informed in order to provide assistance with any needed leave or health insurance benefits as well as with the return to campus clearance process.
Tartan COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing Program
What is the Tartan COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing Program?
The Tartan COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing Program, or Tartan Testing for short, is Carnegie Mellon’s program for the diagnosis of COVID-19 in asymptomatic individuals in support of CMU’s ongoing efforts to detect and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community. It includes sample collection in the East Campus Garage and a certified testing laboratory located in the Pittsburgh Technology Center (PTC).
The Tartan Testing Program is not available to symptomatic students, faculty and staff or those that are in quarantine due to being close contacts of a COVID-19 positive individual. Individuals should complete any isolation or quarantine period as instructed by CMU contact tracers prior to resuming participation in Tartan Testing.
How does Tartan Testing work?
Tartan Testing employs a COVID-19 asymptomatic test based on the SalivaDirect open-access protocol developed by the Yale School of Public Health. This test uses saliva samples to detect the presence of RNA from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.
CMU community members invited to participate in testing will check in for their appointments at Danforth Lounge in the Cohon University Center (CUC) and follow a designated path to the East Campus Garage where they will provide a saliva sample in the presence of trained personnel. Sealed samples will be transported to the PTC building multiple times a day and will remain sealed until the laboratory is ready to analyze them.
Test results will indicate if the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, was detected (positive) or not detected (negative).
Who is eligible for Tartan Testing?
Once Tartan Testing is at full capacity, which is expected in early February, we expect to offer asymptomatic testing to all CMU faculty, staff and students in the Pittsburgh region during the spring 2021 semester. However, individuals who have symptoms or have been close contacts to someone with COVID-19 should not access Tartan Testing until they have completed the necessary isolation or quarantine period.
The university plans to provide asymptomatic testing to individuals affiliated with the university who are active on campus (e.g., employees of university contractors who are regularly on campus and interacting with members of the campus community, collaborating visitors, etc.). We are currently working with the leadership of those groups to determine the details of the testing process for these community members. Additional communications will be forthcoming.
Is asymptomatic testing required?
Once Tartan Testing is at full capacity, anyone who intends to participate in on-campus or CMU-related activities — in-person instruction/teaching, staff duties, research and campus life, etc. — is expected to participate in asymptomatic testing by scheduling a weekly appointment through HealthConnect.
I am not coming to campus for in-person activities. Should I come specifically to get a test?
Members of the CMU community who do not come to campus are not expected to participate in testing. However, the opportunity to obtain one asymptomatic test a week is available to you.
Who should not participate in Tartan Testing?
Even if you are invited to participate, there are several reasons why one should NOT schedule an appointment to be tested in Tartan Testing:
- Currently sick and/or unable to come to campus
- In quarantine/isolation under instruction from University Health Services and CMU contact tracers or the County Health Department
- Tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days (after 90 days window, you are expected to participate in weekly testing if you come to campus)
- Those restricted from being on campus
- Those with religious belief against this kind of practice
- A disability that physically precludes them from being tested
Should I be tested if I’ve previously had COVID-19 or received the vaccine?
You should not participate in Tartan Testing within 90 days of testing positive for the virus. Following 90 days, you are expected to participate in weekly testing if you come to campus.
Being vaccinated does not exempt you from testing if you plan to participate in on-campus activities. You are still expected to complete one asymptomatic test each week. We will continue to reevaluate this position as more is known about the impact and effects of the vaccine.
Those who have received the vaccination but do not come to campus are not expected to participate in testing. However, the opportunity to obtain one asymptomatic test a week is available to you.
What if I’m quarantining after arriving in Pittsburgh from outside the area? Can I be tested prior to the end of the 14-day period?
If you have recently arrived in the Pittsburgh region from outside of Southwestern Pennsylvania, you are expected to quarantine. During this time, you may get an asymptomatic COVID-19 test; however, you should not get tested until at least 4 days after you have traveled to the Pittsburgh region.
If you receive an invitation to be tested prior to that time, wait to schedule your appointment until the week when you will be at least 4 days into your quarantine. If you get tested and receive a negative result, you are still expected to finish your quarantine and cannot come to campus until the quarantine period is completed in full.
Can I make an appointment for Tartan Testing now?
Until Tartan Testing reaches capacity, CMU is ramping up its program operations by inviting a limited cohort of students, faculty and staff to access testing appointments. At this time, only those who have received a testing invite via email can schedule appointments. The size of this invited cohort will expand over time until we are able to offer testing to all Pittsburgh-based students, faculty and staff.
How often can I be tested, and how can I eventually make an appointment?
Once you are invited to join the testing program, there is a limit of one test per week. Appointments can be scheduled through HealthConnect.
You will receive a confirmation email from University Health Services on the day of your appointment. If you are making an appointment for the same day, you will not receive a confirmation email.
What is a QR Code? Can I use the same QR code for multiple appointments?
A QR code contains information about your appointment and is used to connect you with your sample for laboratory analysis. It can only be used for the scheduled appointment. A new QR code is generated each time you schedule a weekly test.
I don’t have a parking permit for campus. Where can I park for testing appointments?
Parking is available in the East Campus Garage and is free for 30 minutes or less.
What if I cannot schedule an appointment time because it conflicts with my work schedule?
Employees should work with their supervisors to make arrangements to schedule their weekly appointment. To provide convenience for employees that work an overnight shift, early morning appointment times are being established.
Can I walk up for testing without an appointment?
No. Even if you have received an invitation for testing, we ask that you please make an appointment before coming on-site for testing. Using scheduled appointment slots helps ensure that the density of persons at the testing site is controlled.
How will I be notified of my result?
Results will be processed by the Tartan COVID-19 Testing Lab and are estimated to be returned 2-3 business days after providing your saliva sample. You will receive an email from University Health Services and/or the Tartan Testing Lab directing you to log in to HealthConnect and view your test results when they are available.
Are the saliva samples being used to test/screen for other viruses?
No. Test samples are only being tested for the virus that causes COVID-19.
How are samples used/disposed of and who can access the results?
Samples are used only to perform COVID-19 testing. Testing materials are deactivated and disposed of by Environmental Health and Safety in compliance with established safety protocols and regulations.
Student privacy is protected by the university, consistent with our community to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Details can be found in the treatment agreement students are asked to sign in the HealthConnect portal. Faculty and staff privacy is protected by the university, consistent with the provisions of the consent form signed in the HealthConnect portal.
Will this asymptomatic test pick up the new variant of COVID-19?
Yes, the methods the lab uses to identify COVID-19 are able to detect a new variant, B.1.1.7, as efficiently as the initial strain of the virus. We are actively working on adding new ways to be able to distinguish which of the variants positive individuals have and will continue to evaluate for additional strains.
Why can't I eat, drink, smoke, brush my teeth or chew gum within 30 minutes prior to spitting in the tube?
Eating food, drinking something other than water, smoking, nasal sprays, teeth cleaning and chewing gum should be avoided for at least 30 minutes before sample collection. Avoiding these activities prior to the test gives the best chance in detecting the virus in your saliva sample.
However, to be well hydrated prior to testing and able to produce enough saliva for the test tube, please drink a small amount of water 10 minutes prior to the appointment.
Please also do not wear lipstick, lip gloss or lip balm to your appointment, as these can impact the accuracy of the results.
What safety precautions are being followed to ensure the well-being of those in the vicinities of the sample collection and the testing laboratory?
The safety and well-being of the CMU community, including our neighbors, continues to be our top priority.
Sample collection will be performed in the East Campus Garage, where there is a high volume of air circulation. In addition, appointment times will be scheduled to control participant density, and all individuals will be required to physically distance and wear facial coverings. Samples will be sealed immediately and will remain sealed in sample tubes and secondary containers until the laboratory prepares them for testing using certified procedures.
A number of safety measures are being taken in the testing lab to ensure the well-being of all those who work in the PTC building. The lab meets all federal, state and local safety requirements; airflow is controlled in the lab so that air flows into the lab when doors open and air from the lab is exhausted above the roofline outside the building; all personnel involved in handling, transporting and testing samples are required to complete training, follow special procedures to disinfect surfaces and equipment and dispose of waste safely.
Why are there separate locations for check-in and sample collection?
In order to provide as much space for physical distancing as you wait to check-in, registration is located inside the Cohon University Center at the Danforth Lounge. This also provides a warmer area than queuing in the East Campus Garage. Once you are checked in, you will walk to the garage to provide your sample.
The garage was chosen for the collection site because of a high volume of air circulation. Appointment times are scheduled to control participant density, and all individuals are required to wear facial coverings.
How do I learn more about asymptomatic testing?
If you have immediate questions or concerns, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The most up-to-date information on COVID-19 is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
If I’m symptomatic, do I schedule a test through the new Tartan Testing Program?
No. Symptomatic students receive COVID-19 tests through University Health Services. Symptomatic faculty and staff should consult their health care provider.
What should I do if I am experiencing COVID-19 symptoms?
If you have COVID-19 symptoms, or if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 over the past 14 days, please stay home. Students should notify Community Health and Well-Being. Faculty and staff should contact their health care provider. Individuals who have symptoms or have been close contacts to someone with COVID-19 should not access Tartan Testing.
Individuals should complete any isolation or quarantine period as instructed by CMU contact tracers prior to resuming participation in Tartan Testing.