Carnegie Mellon University

August 7, 2020

Following our usual procedures for research communications, this message is being sent to Associate Deans for Research (or equivalents) in each college, who are asked to forward to department heads, faculty and researchers including research-related staff and student researchers. A copy of this message is also posted on the OVPR Research Communications Page.

Dear CMU Research Community,

To date, 145 Pandemic Safety and Preparedness Plans for CMU On-Premises Research and Non-Curricular Creative Work have been submitted, of which 129 have been approved. The remainder are proceeding through the review process.

A note about future communications: With the 2020-21 academic year starting later this month, I anticipate that over the next few weeks there will be many communications from departmental, college and university leadership. Therefore, I am going to pause these regular bi-weekly communications for the next several weeks. Of course if urgent issues come up we’ll communicate as needed.

Amending or modifying an approved research pandemic safety plan

To make changes to an approved research plan, the plan owner should work with their Associate Dean for Research (ADR) and submit to the OVPR. Amendments 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 requires 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)

See the Best Practices Document for more detailed guidance on drafting and submitting revisions/amendments.

General Information and Reminders

  • Students coming to Pittsburgh for the fall semester from outside of Southwestern PA should quarantine for 14 days before coming into any lab/facility on campus. This requirement was emphasized and highlighted by Provost Garrett in his communication to faculty and staff earlier today.
  • The University has updated its travel protocols. Travel for university related business is still not permitted without exception by the cognizant member of the ULC. These protocols include a requirement for quarantine for 14 days following certain “high risk” travel, regardless of whether the travel is personal or business-related. .
  • Updated visitor protocols have also been issued. Note that the updated visitor protocols apply to service technicians who come on site to repair lab equipment, including the required 14 day self-quarantine if the repair technician is traveling from a high-risk location.
  • Email for all things facilities, PPE and supplies related. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • How to procure PPE and cleaning supplies.
    • Inquiries, questions and/or concerns related to ventilation systems in your lab or other spaces.
    • Any other space related request or concern
  • The return to research best practices Google doc contains information learned from the weekly reports for research activities that have returned on-site. Recent updates include how to keep glasses from fogging while wearing a mask.
  • Please continue to monitor the COVID-19 updates researcher resources page for the most up-to-date information, including the most recent version of the return to research plan template. If you already have an approved plan in an earlier format, you do NOT need to update and resubmit.
  • Guidance on resuming human subject research was issued on July 24. Details can be found on the researcher resources page of the COVID-19 updates site.

Survey Results from Students on Approved Plans

As referenced in my previous update, my office sent a communication to all students approved for on-site research access via an approved Research Return Pandemic Safety and Preparedness plan asking them to participate in a short survey that solicited direct feedback and information on their experiences in preparing for and executing the relevant return plan(s).

Key takeaways from this survey include:

  • Most students expressed a general level of comfort with the precautions put in place by the university and in their research groups.
  • Student concerns were largely focused on parking/transportation, ongoing compliance with requirements on masks and distancing and the potential impact of increasing the number of people on campus, particularly for the Fall semester.
  • A very small number of students expressed concerns about supervisors ignoring health and safety concerns and/or power dynamics precluding them from expressing these concerns. While not large in number, these concerns require separate, targeted messaging to students and faculty about how to navigate such issues.

As a follow-up to this survey, we have already done specific outreach to relevant offices (Facilities Management and Campus Services, Parking and Transportation etc.). In addition, the Office of the Vice Provost for Education will be sending additional communication about how students, faculty and department heads can surface and navigate health and safety concerns of students working on-site.

In addressing the overarching concerns of student researchers as we go into the fall semester, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of all researchers remaining vigilant in adhering to principles of minimizing density by limiting presence on campus, wearing facial coverings, hygiene, wellness and sanitization practices and maintaining physical distancing in both our professional and personal lives.

Thank you again for your continued efforts. Whether you are performing research remotely or on-site, it is crucial that we continue to demonstrate how the CMU community can successfully mitigate the risk of COVID-19.

Regards to all,


J. Michael McQuade
Vice President for Research