At this time, the only research-related activities permitted on CMU premises are those approved by each college’s dean, the Vice President for Research and the university COVID-19 coordinator.
Research at CMU During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Last updated June 25, 2020, 5:00 p.m.
The university is in the process of rolling out a phased return of on-site research activities that must be performed on CMU premises. Starting in early June, this process began with pilot projects selected by the deans of each college or school. Researchers submitted a plan for restarting on-site work (.docx) while adhering to university-wide requirements.
Please do not send unsolicited requests for return plans to deans or the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR). Project leaders who are tapped to participate in the pilot phase will be advised on the details of the submission and approval process.
Note: All researchers must continue to operate remotely until authorized to return to CMU premises.
As research projects return to CMU premises, the OVPR is requiring weekly reporting in order to confirm the ability of researchers to adhere to their approved plans and/or make adjustments to continue to meet the university’s minimum requirements. These reports have also identified gaps in processes and procedures that we have worked quickly to resolve. We are aggregating some of the information gleaned from these reports and throughout this process into a best practices document for researchers to reference as they formulate and execute their own return to research plans upon request.
We are continuing to approve activities to return on-site, working across the University as academic and administrative units also begin to return. Together, we are approving activities on a rolling basis, ensuring a balanced and coordinated approach.
Researcher Return Details
Return to on-site research plan submission
Every individual person, lab/facility and activity that wishes to restart work on-site will eventually be required to be covered by an approved work plan. Faculty PIs and facility directors are encouraged to review the current plan template (.docx) so that they are familiar with the requirements. However, please note the following:
- Do not submit a plan for consideration unless asked to do so by your dean’s office.
- The plan template content and structure will likely change over time. Check periodically for new versions/updates before completing your own plan when requested to do so.
Pilot phase prioritization considerations
Research activities selected for inclusion in the initial pilot phase include those that must be performed on CMU premises. The selected activities will test our processes and compliance across a variety of use cases to help refine the processes that will be implemented as we gradually expand our return.
Health and safety compliance requirements
All return to campus research plans will, at minimum, need to address the following health and safety compliance considerations as outlined by university policy:
- Physical distancing
- Anyone who is sick must stay home
- On-site personnel must undergo temperature checks when required
- Cloth facial coverings
- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Hand washing
Cleaning and maintaining research spaces
All projects/facilities seeking to return to on-site operations must hold a consultation with CMU Facilities Management and Campus Services (FMCS) to be advised on proper cleaning protocols as well as the roles and responsibilities of lab personnel and/or others (including FMCS) in ensuring regular cleaning and disinfecting of active spaces. Details on these consults can be found in this back to work cleaning guidance (.PDF).
In most cases, while FMCS can assist with an initial cleaning, it will be most appropriate for a lab to continue to oversee its own routine (daily) cleaning.
FMCS will facilitate the procurement of cleaning supplies and make them available to labs/facilities. Through August 1, 2020, FMCS will cover the related expenses. After August 1, the lab or department may incur a charge for cleaning supplies.
In all circumstances, FMCS will continue an expanded cleaning and disinfection regimen for common areas daily, based on scheduled occupancy.
Facility entrance/exit logging practices
As part of the return to on-site operations, every lab/facility must have a process to track the date, time and duration that personnel spend in a space. This information may be used to facilitate response processes such as contact tracing and cleaning in the event there is a positive COVID-19 case in a lab or building. An electronic tracking system is recommended. See the Best Practices for Planning to Return to On-Site Research document for guidance/recommendations for setting up an electronic log system if your lab/facility does not have one in place.
Regular reporting requirements
All approved projects/facilities will be required to provide a regular report (initially weekly) on plan execution and compliance issues. Details related to structure and content of weekly reports will be provided to plan owners once the plan submission review and approval process is complete.
Responding to illness, exposure and/or a positive COVID-19 diagnosis
As part of the plan to return to on-site operations, researchers are required to acknowledge their awareness of the university policies and procedures on the following:
Lab continuity and ramp-down plans
- All research faculty should have already developed continuity plans for their lab groups in preparation for a ramp down of research. A return of on-site research will require you to summarize these plans in the event that public health circumstances require another suspension or remote migration of research activities within 24 hrs.
- Use the researcher pandemic preparedness guide (a 2-page self-examination; .PDF) to help you with your plans.
Human subjects considerations
Studies involving human subjects are not explicitly excluded from consideration during the pilot and subsequent expansion of on-site research activities. However, some human subject studies represent unique challenges with maintaining physical distancing and/or they are more likely to involve vulnerable populations such as the elderly. Thus, it may be prudent for some studies to continue to remain in remote operation until processes are more mature. Find more information below.
A special note to graduate students
Graduate students are vitally important to our research activities and when their research is returning to on-site work they can and should be included in the plans submitted for authorization to return. These plans are designed to ensure that all lab participants, including graduate students, are aware of and are able to meet the safety measures CMU is requiring for resumption of on-site activities. As we learn from our pilots and expand on-site research, graduate student program timing will be one factor that deans will be considering as they prioritize the order and pace at which activities return.
Students who have questions and concerns about their work or returning should discuss with their faculty advisor, their department and college, and as always can reach out to Amy Burkert, Vice Provost for Education, for additional guidance and support.
More Information for Researchers
You can find all research communications on the OVPR website.
Sponsored research questions
If you have questions related to the implications of remote work on your sponsored agreements, and those questions are not addressed through resources on our webpage of Coronavirus Related Guidance from Government Agencies and Professional Societies, please reach out to your research administrator, the Office of Sponsored Programs or Sponsored Projects Accounting.
COVID-19 funding and research challenge opportunities
Public and private entities have announced several funding and challenge opportunities to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grant management and proposal submissions
- If your ability to meet sponsor deadlines or deliverables is, or may be, impacted by COVID-19, researchers should determine whether a no-cost extension should be requested, or contact OSP.
- Consistent with current guidance from federal agencies, effort can generally only be charged to federal grants and cooperative agreements consistent with CMU’s current compensation guidelines (i.e., remote work related to the award and/or any of the HR approved alternate or leave activities). Researchers should contact OSP and Export Control prior to charging any remote work done outside of the U.S. to a federal award. Researchers should direct any questions regarding specific situations to SPA and/or OSP.
- In the event an individual working on an existing sponsored award requests to work remotely from a foreign country, please contact OSP.
Remote human subjects studies
- Human subjects researchers continuing to do studies remotely are advised to review the following guidance documents:
- Collaborating visitors may only be on-site if they are included as part of an approved research return plan and have gone through the collaborating visitor process. This process will require a signed document (to be provided by the Office of General Counsel (OGC) acknowledging their obligations and circumstances surrounding their presence and participation in on-site research during the COVID-19 pandemic. Visitors who were approved prior to availability of this document from OGC will be required to sign this document as part of the lab plan review and approval process.
- Collaborating visitors participating in on-site work may be required to self-isolate for a period of time prior to coming on-site, depending on the timing and details of their travel.
- New visitor requests will be accepted and previously approved visits to Pittsburgh may move forward as planned. However, these collaborations may have to happen “remotely” as no work on-site may be performed without being part of an approved plan.
Deliveries of lab supplies during remote work
Liquid nitrogen and lab gases:
- Matheson, CMU’s supplier of liquid nitrogen, carbon dioxide and other lab gases and liquids, has continued and will continue normal deliveries twice per week. Orders can continue to be placed through the Mellon Storeroom.
- Labs who are not approved for returning to on-site operations can continue to work with EHS (412-268-8182 or firstname.lastname@example.org) and building managers to ensure that lab deliveries can be accommodated.
See the Postal Services and Deliveries FAQ for information about postal services and other delivery processes.