Carnegie Mellon University

July 16, 2020

This message is being sent to all CMU faculty and staff who are currently listed on an approved return to on-site research plan.

Dear Colleagues,

We are approximately one month into our return to on-site research activities in Pittsburgh and have approved nearly 100 independent plans for labs, creative work and shared facilities to ramp up their activities with appropriate pandemic safety protocols.

Combined with approved education and administrative return plans, there are approximately 1,100 unique individuals approved for some level of activity on-site in Pittsburgh, representing a significant increase in campus activity compared to two weeks ago.

I am writing today for two reasons.  The first is to thank you for your work in keeping the research enterprise going while helping keep our community safe and healthy. As we continue to return research that must be done on CMU premises, I want to re-emphasize that this approach is necessary in order to keep campus density low and minimize risk to everyone whose work cannot be done remotely.

The second is to remind you, as faculty and PI’s who have primary responsibility for overseeing the day to day activities of the research enterprise, to remain vigilant and engaged in the oversight of your research group. This includes adherence to your group’s pandemic safety plan and the university’s return to campus minimum requirements.  Specific areas to which I want to draw your attention include:

  • Remain vigilant in using scheduling tools and/or adhering to pre-defined schedules: There should be no ambiguity in your group about who should be in a specific facility or space at any given time. Similarly, PI’s and/or senior lab personnel need to ensure that colleagues do not linger or “hover” around the facility when they do not have an approved time to be working on-site.
  • Be disciplined about the use of access/entry logs: Every lab/plan is required to have a mechanism for logging the actual times that an individual is in a space. These logs are crucial tools in executing contact tracing and identifying which, if any, facilities need to be temporarily closed, cleaned and/or subject to temperature screening if there is a positive test for a member of your group.  We recommend the use of semi-automated electronic systems that leverage QR codes posted on doors.  Details on implementing this type of logging system can be found in our best practices document
  • Maintain a (more than) adequate supply of cleaning and disinfecting supplies. Facilities Management and Campus Services (FMCS), Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) and Procurement Services are coordinating in centrally procuring some PPE and cleaning supplies to support the return to campus planning efforts. Contact with any questions and requests to procure materials.
  • Adjust previous (pre-pandemic) protocols for training to accommodate distancing, disinfecting and enhanced PPE: The fall will bring a wave of new researchers that need to be trained.  Training frequently involves two or more persons huddled around an instrument in close proximity.  Do everything you can to avoid these situations.  When unavoidable, limit the amount of time spent within 6 feet and add enhanced PPE – face shields and gloves on top of the minimum cloth facial covering are recommended. Note about glove usage: even while wearing gloves, it is necessary to wash your hands frequently.
  • Maintain an accurate roster of personnel in your approved plan: everyone who accesses your facilities should be reflected in your approved plan and conversely, all facilities/labs accessed by your personnel should be noted on your plan, even if you do not oversee them.
  • Set and post occupancy limits: If you have not specified occupancy/capacity limits for specific rooms or “zones” in your lab we strongly advise you do so and clearly communicate those zones (mark them with tape if needed) and post the capacity limit for that “zone” or room with clear signage. Maximum occupancy and other signage can be found in CMU’s COVID-19 signage catalog.
  • Consider the impact of your choices and activities on others: Adhering to your plans and the university minimum requirements is crucial to protecting the safety and wellness of the campus community. This will ensure that the research and education mission of the university can continue. The activities you and members of your research group choose to participate, whether on personal or professional time, have the potential to impact more than just your individual research progress.  I strongly encourage you to remind your students and colleagues of this reality.

I also want to remind you that university EHS will be conducting annual fire evacuation drills for Academic and Administrative facilities starting July 20th through July 30th. During these drills, all stairwells should be used for evacuation purposes regardless of the indicated direction of travel. Reach out to with any questions or concerns.

The fall semester will bring a new set of changes and challenges for the university as many new and returning students come to campus under some of the most unique and uncertain circumstances in its history.  Activities on campus will not go back to what they were prior to last March for some time. The ability of CMU to move forward under this “new normal” depends on the collective actions of the individual members of our community.   Members of the research community who have been on-site for several weeks prior to the beginning of the fall semester play an important role in providing an example of how individual and group behavior creates a safe environment for the entire CMU community.

Lastly, you and your students have a unique opportunity to provide feedback and input that will aid your research and education colleagues as they navigate the Fall semester.  To that end, tomorrow I will be sending a direct message to students currently approved for on-site research related activities, soliciting their input and feedback on their experiences thus far and recommendations moving forward.  A summary of that feedback will be provided to the ADRs.   Please continue to provide your own feedback via your weekly reports and conversations with your department heads and ADRs. In addition, you are welcome to email my office at

Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do with supporting and leading our community through these unusual circumstances.

Warm regards,


J. Michael McQuade
Vice President for Research
Carnegie Mellon University