Carnegie Mellon University

COVID-19 Updates

Information and resources for the CMU community

Scotty with mask and vaccination bandaid
May 22, 2020

Strategy to Return Research Activity in CMU Pittsburgh Facilities

Dear CMU Faculty and Researchers:

President Jahanian’s email last Thursday announced the beginning of CMU’s return to the Pittsburgh campus following Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s move to “yellow” in Allegheny County as of May 15. Research is one of the primary missions of the university, and we have heard from many faculty and researchers who are eager to re-engage activities in CMU facilities. Today, I am pleased to provide information about our initial plans to bring research activities back to our Pittsburgh facilities in a phased fashion. We are committed to returning to on-site research operations as soon as safely possible.

Our plan, developed by a working group comprised of representatives from across our Pittsburgh research operations and with input from the broader CMU community, will begin by piloting the return of selected research that cannot be done remotely. The safety, health and well-being of our community remains our highest priority. We know that there will be some in our community who will not be able to return to campus as quickly as others due to medical or personal issues. Please be assured that in preparing for the return of research to campus (as, indeed, the return to campus overall), we have those individuals in mind and the university is developing processes to address their circumstances in a thoughtful and compassionate manner. The process for returning research to campus will be guided by continual assessment of the most up-to-date information available in order to minimize the risks posed by the pandemic. As with all on-site activities, it is essential that everyone adhere to the COVID safety requirements the university has established.

In the first phase, beginning now, the deans are selecting a small set of research activities from among those that must be done in a CMU facility and which represent a variety of use cases. These pilots will allow us to test and improve our processes and safety requirements and our ability to adhere to them. For now, all researchers must continue to operate remotely until authorized to return to our facilities.

Each research activity wishing to return to a CMU facility — an individual researcher, a large group lab, a research support facility, a creative studio, etc. — must submit a plan using the template found on the COVID researcher resources webpage, describing the research activity it is proposing to do on campus, why it can’t be done remotely and how the activity will be conducted in a manner that will meet safety requirements required by the university, as well as by those specific to the needs of the project. Initial pilots selected by the deans have been, or will be, notified shortly to prepare and submit their plans. Plans must be approved by the respective deans and me before work can begin in a CMU facility.

As we learn from and see success in our pilot projects, we will gradually expand access for additional research activities that have approved plans. We will approve research activities in a rolling manner until all activities that must be done in a CMU facility can return and operate safely. Throughout the process, deans and ADRs will communicate details for submitting plans to those desiring to return to our facilities.

Two additional realities impact the return of on-site research. First, other campus activities (such as education and administrative functions) may also be restarting, and we need to ensure that we can collectively meet our low density and other COVID-related safety protocols. Second, while we hope it will not be the case, we must plan for the possibility that a local resurgence of the COVID-19 virus may force us to once again move research out of our facilities. For this reason, all returning activities must detail emergency and rapid ramp down procedures as part of their plans.

Research is a vital part of CMU’s mission and we are excited to now be able to begin to restart research in our facilities. Please remain flexible during this important pilot phase. I will continue to keep you informed as we progress. Thank you again for your patience and for all your efforts.


J. Michael McQuade
Vice President for Research