Carnegie Mellon University

COVID-19 Updates

Information and resources for the CMU community

Scotty with mask and vaccination bandaid

COVID-19 Testing

Testing is an important tactic that the university is utilizing, along with numerous mitigation strategies, to combat the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

We are closely tracking the course of the pandemic and continue to study the best options to serve our community, regularly incorporating new information into our strategy and plans as the evidence base grows on best-in-class standards of testing and new options become available to us.

Tartan COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing Program

The Tartan COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing Program, or Tartan Testing for short, is Carnegie Mellon University’s program for the diagnosis of COVID-19 in asymptomatic individuals and is an important element of CMU’s ongoing strategy to detect and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

Who Must Participate Weekly in Tartan Testing

  • Students who are in progress with becoming fully vaccinated or those students who have been exempted from the COVID-19 vaccine requirement
  • Faculty/staff who have not uploaded their vaccination information to the university’s Vaccine Database or who have been exempted from the COVID-19 vaccine requirement

Tartan Testing Process

During the week of January 4, 2021, CMU began rolling out our Tartan Testing Program by offering asymptomatic COVID-19 testing to a limited number of the faculty, staff and students who were required to be on campus to perform their work. (Those invited to participate in Tartan Testing received a separate email with detailed directions for their participation.)

CMU then began offering testing to all Pittsburgh-based students, faculty and staff. We also worked with certain affiliated service providers on campus, such as our dining and custodial vendors, to provide Tartan Testing to these contracted employees who provide essential support to the CMU community.

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, the cause of COVID-19 and is simpler to administer than nasal swab testing methods while providing comparable accuracy.

Symptomatic students and unvaccinated students who were in close contact of known positive or probable cases should receive COVID-19 tests from University Health Services. Students, faculty and staff who have been fully vaccinated with no symptoms, but were in close contact of known positive or probable cases may participate in Tartan Testing and should notify if they have not already done so. Symptomatic faculty and staff should consult their health care provider. Read more information on symptomatic testing.

Fall 2021 Baseline Testing
August 1 - September 24, 2021
In connection with the launch of the fall 2021 semester, the university required every student to complete two baseline tests through the Tartan Testing program. The first of these tests was ideally completed within five days after arrival to the Pittsburgh area, while the second had to be completed by September 24, 2021. Students already living in the Pittsburgh area were requested to complete their testing within the two weeks prior to their engagement with campus activities, research, orientation or classes.

Fall 2020 Arrival Testing
August 19 - September 18, 2020
The university offered asymptomatic testing to all students, both in CMU housing and those living around the Pittsburgh area. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests were 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. 

Ongoing Asymptomatic Testing
September 16 - November 6; December 1-2, 2020
During the fall semester, random samples of students located on campus and in Pittsburgh who were engaging in any on-campus or CMU-related activities such as in-person instruction, research and campus life, were invited to participate in asymptomatic testing.

Pre-Thanksgiving and Winter Break Asymptomatic Testing
November 9-13 and 16-18; December 7-11, 14-18 and 21, 2020
Prior to both the Thanksgiving and winter breaks, the university offered asymptomatic testing to all Pittsburgh-based students to support their travel plans and, along with other mitigation tactics, to minimize the risk of COVID-19 virus spread.

View the results of CMU's past asymptomatic testing

Symptomatic Testing


University Health Services (UHS) staff routinely processes clinical tests in their on-site laboratory and are trained and certified by the federal government through CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) to conduct in-house COVID-19 testing for students. 

For students with any symptoms that suggest a COVID infection or unvaccinated students who are close contacts of known positive or probable cases, CMU's testing strategy calls for three types of tests to quickly assess students and provide rapid resultsBased on clinical guidelines and testing supplies, UHS will administer a rapid PCR test or a rapid antigen test so we can take swift action for confirmed positive cases (residential students will be administered a rapid PCR test so that appropriate housing accommodations can be made). For negative antigen test results, we will administer a confirmatory PCR test (with results in 2-4 days). 

All students with positive test results, as well as those waiting for confirmatory results, will be provided care, guidance and contact tracing as appropriate. 

  • 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 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.

Carnegie Mellon is committed to providing access to symptomatic and close contact testing with no barrier to care. The cost for UHS COVID-19 symptomatic testing is $105, and is fully covered for students enrolled in CMU’s Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). For students on other health plans who are not able to secure reimbursement through their insurance plan, the university will cover the cost of testing.

Faculty & Staff 
Faculty or staff who are in need of symptomatic testing should contact their health care provider. Additional info for faculty/staff with symptoms