Carnegie Mellon University

COVID-19 Updates

Information and resources for the CMU community

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Research Status

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. Approved research activities are limited to those activities that must be done on-site and cannot be performed remotely.

Research at CMU During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Last updated August 7, 2020

The University continues to roll out a phased return of on-site research activities that must be performed on CMU premises. Over 100 unique research plans have been approved across the university. Researchers who have a need to be on-site but have not yet submitted a plan are encouraged to work with their Associate Dean for Research (ADR).

Please do not send unsolicited requests for return plans to deans or the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR).

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.

Researcher Return Details

Every individual person, lab/facility and activity that wishes to restart work on-site will 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 to the OVPR unless approved 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.

Research plans are “living documents” that may be modified or revised as circumstances require.  Revisions can include:

  • Addition/removal of personnel.
  • Addition of new spaces.
  • Additional usage of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face shields, to facilitate training or other lab activities that require individuals to be in close contact.
  • Revised processes for training new lab members.
  • Change in research projects if they affect safety (e.g. addition of animal work or resumption of human subjects studies)

 The process to revise/amend an approved return to research plan is:

  • Revise the Word document version of your currently approved to reflect the changes you would like to make. Please do the following:
    • Use “track changes” or similar approach (highlights, different colors) to make changes easy to identify.
    • Ensure that the plan is self-consistent. That is, revising one section does not create conflicting information or process with another section. 
    • Ensure that any additional rooms/spaces and/or personnel that are added to a plan are considered in the processes and procedures that are described in the document. For example: additional personnel may require enhanced scheduling tools and processes.
  • Work with your Associate Dean for Research (ADR) to review plan amendments and receive any other relevant guidance.
  • Once the amended plan is finalized, your ADR will forward to the Office of the Vice President for Research for approval.
  • Once approved, all individuals associated with the plan will receive an amendment approval email with the updated plan.

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
  • Food handling

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 31, 2020, FMCS will cover the related expenses. After August 31, 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.

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.

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.

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:

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 hours.

Use the researcher pandemic preparedness guide (a 2-page self-examination; .pdf) to help you with your plans.

As part of their pandemic safety and preparedness planning human subjects researchers must review and follow the following guidance documents:

In addition, research plans will require that human subjects researchers provide details about the frequency of studies, the typical pool of subject participants, the processes that will be put in place for administering screening as well as the process with which researchers will meet and guide participants across campus to the study location.

Human subjects researchers continuing to do studies remotely are advised to review the following guidance documents:

Graduate students are vitally important to our research activities, and when your research is returning to on-site work, you 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 continue to 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

Research communications

You can find all research communications on the OVPR website

Grant management and proposal submissions

Collaborating visitors

  • 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 to adhere to visitor protocol, 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.

Associate Deans for Research (or equivalent) by College/Unit