Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science
August 18, 2020

Important Information Regarding the Fall Semester

Source: Important Information Regarding the Fall Semester

Dear Carnegie Mellon University Students and Families:

During this pandemic and especially throughout our fall planning, two priorities have been driving all of our decisions: protecting community health and well-being, and maintaining our ability to deliver excellence across our education and research missions. With this in mind, we are writing to inform you of our decision to adopt a phased approach to resuming in-person instruction and to share our plans for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on campus. Due to the recent rise of COVID-19 cases across the country, we believe that taking a staggered approach to starting in-person coursework will afford us the best opportunity for long-term success in these fluid conditions.

After consultation with the deans and the university’s leadership team, we have decided that, while all classes will begin as planned on August 31, all undergraduates will now be required to start the fall semester remotely for the first week of classes. All undergraduate students who have completed their mandatory 14 day modified arrival quarantine (as described below) will be permitted to join in-person instruction beginning September 8. (Undergraduates enrolled in courses at or above the 600-level will be permitted to attend those specific courses in the first week if they have completed their mandatory 14 day arrival quarantine.) Graduate students who have completed the modified arrival quarantine period will be able to join on-campus instruction in courses at the 600-level and above on August 31, the first day of classes. All other courses will be taught in remote-only mode for all students (undergraduate and graduate) for the first week of classes from August 31 to September 6.

We want you to know that we are dedicated to our goal of providing all CMU students — regardless of location — an outstanding CMU experience this fall. We estimate about 45% of all CMU students will not be in Pittsburgh this semester. Whether in Pittsburgh or not, our commitment to you will never falter. Our confidence in the hybrid model remains strong, and we believe that this adjustment will only enhance our comprehensive approach to the fall semester. We also wish to affirm that this adjustment only applies to in-person instruction for undergraduate courses. Remote courses, access to on-campus housing, approved access to research labs, advising and other campus services will resume as planned.

As we emphasized before, this pandemic is constantly evolving, and we are closely tracking the situation and incorporating new information into our planning on a daily basis. Using data is the Carnegie Mellon way: this phased approach will allow us to learn from the experience in the first week of instruction to support continued smooth operations for the semester.

Health and Safety Protocols for Returning to Campus

Our strategy for the fall semester is carefully tailored to support the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and neighbors. Throughout the pandemic, our expert University Health Services (UHS) medical team and Community Health and Well-being leadership have conducted rigorous research to understand the evolving science of the disease as well as steps we can take to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our community. Today, we announce our protocols for the quarantine period required upon arrival, as well as for testing, contact tracing and isolation/quarantine.

In developing these protocols, UHS has worked closely with the Allegheny County Health Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College Health Association (ACHA), and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to inform the university’s response to the coronavirus. Over the summer months we expanded our consultation with local and national experts to include the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Allegheny Health Network (AHN). In July, we engaged AHN’s physician consultant program to support our ongoing planning and are pleased to share they have reviewed and endorsed our plans detailed here.

We also were fortunate to benefit from the expertise of a formal faculty committee that advised on our testing strategy, in addition to the counsel we received on a number of issues from faculty members across numerous departments.

Modified Arrival Quarantine Period

As part of our arrival process, and as outlined in A Tartan’s Responsibility, the university is requiring every student coming from outside Southwestern Pennsylvania to complete a 14-day modified quarantine period in a residence hall or in the Pittsburgh area prior to joining in-person coursework or engaging in other on-campus experiences. Our modified quarantine approach permits specific types of in-person interactions and outdoor activities to support social and emotional connections that maintain positive mental health and well-being. Specific information and tips on how to manage the expectations for the modified quarantine are available on the COVID-19 website.

We wish to emphasize the importance of this 14 day arrival quarantine period for all students arriving from outside the region — whether on-campus or off. We urge you to please take this commitment seriously and to re-read A Tartan’s Responsibility to ensure you understand all of the expectations to which you are agreeing before you arrive on campus.

If you cannot arrive to the area 14 days prior to your first permitted in-person instruction date, the hybrid model of education is intended to allow you to participate fully in your education until your quarantine period is completed. Faculty and advisors are aware that students must abide by this expectation, which in a number of cases will mean that students begin the semester learning remotely.

This modified arrival quarantine provides students the opportunity to self-monitor their health after travel and if students find they are experiencing symptoms during this period, they can seek COVID-19 testing and support from UHS. Guidance from both our county and state suggests that this period will help reduce the spread of the coronavirus on campus and in the broader community.

COVID-19 Testing Strategy

Our strategy for COVID-19 testing begins with asymptomatic testing of all residential students upon arrival, an approach identified by the CDC as one that universities can deploy to identify outbreaks and inform control measures. In order to minimize the risk associated with a large population of students living in a congregate setting with some shared spaces, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests will be administered to all residential students several days after arrival on campus. The university will pay for these tests.

After arrival and throughout the fall semester, if students present with any symptoms that suggest a COVID infection or are close contacts of known positive cases, our testing strategy calls for two types of tests to quickly assess students and provide rapid results. The benefit of this approach is to minimize the time students spend waiting for results and to accelerate our ability to initiate care and contact tracing when required.

UHS staff routinely process clinical tests in their on-site laboratory and are trained and certified by the federal government through CLIA (The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) to conduct in-house COVID-19 testing for students. UHS will administer an antigen test that returns rapid results within 15 minutes so we can take immediate action for confirmed positive cases.

  • If a student receives a positive result from an antigen test, a plan for care, isolation and contract tracing will be initiated.
  • If a student receives a negative result from an antigen test, a confirmatory PCR test (that will return results in approximately one day) will be performed to validate the results of the initial test. Students will be provided care and guidance until results of the second test are received.

Carnegie Mellon is committed to providing access to symptomatic and close contact testing with no barrier to care. For students enrolled in CMU’s Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), the cost of testing will be automatically covered. For any student who is not able to secure coverage through their insurance, the university will cover the cost of testing. We have thoughtfully planned for multiple contingencies to ensure we have adequate supply to execute our testing protocol. We are also adding staff at UHS who are trained in both testing and contact tracing to support our efforts.

We studied the potential benefits of ongoing, community-wide asymptomatic testing as part of our strategy. Current guidance from public health and medical experts, including our AHN physician consultants, does not recommend widespread asymptomatic testing given the testing options available to us at this time. We continue to monitor the guidance in this area, as well as the development of new tests that may support ongoing asymptomatic testing in the future.

We also recognize that the science of testing is rapidly evolving, with new options regularly being authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and supply chain and production capacity growing over time. We continue to study the best options to serve our community and will evolve our strategy as new options become available to us and as the evidence base grows on best-in-class standards of testing/care.

Contact Tracing Protocol

Contact tracing is key to our strategy for preventing community spread of the virus, which is critical to protecting your health and to maintaining the privilege of an in-person educational experience. The Allegheny County Health Department has authorized the university to conduct contact tracing on behalf of university community members. Under the direction of University Health Services, staff are trained on proper protocols and systems that are consistent with those used by the county in order to integrate seamlessly with the broader community.

For all COVID-positive reports, the university will initiate a contact tracing process including plans for UHS to test students identified as close contacts. Under the direction of UHS, staff will interview individuals who have been determined to be a confirmed positive COVID-19 case and notify anyone who came in close contact (6 feet or 2 meters apart for 15 minutes or more) with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 while they were believed to be infectious. Those individuals identified through contact tracing will be provided direction, resources and support.

All contact tracers are obligated to maintain confidentiality. If you test positive for COVID-19, your identity will not be disclosed to those identified through contact tracing. However, you may elect to give permission for your college liaison to disclose your status to your faculty members or others on campus who can provide individualized support or accommodation.

If you are contacted by the university to participate in the contact tracing process, we expect you to respond immediately and follow all guidance and direction provided. This is a critical role you must play to support your own and the community’s health and well-being, as expected in A Tartan’s Responsibility. All official CMU contact tracing phone calls will come from a Carnegie Mellon area code and prefix (i.e., 412-268-XXXX).

COVID-19 Isolation and Quarantine Plans

We will use a combination of isolation and quarantine plans to help protect our community by preventing exposure to people who have or may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Isolation separates people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as well as people who are close contacts of someone with a positive diagnosis and are symptomatic (probable cases) from people who are not sick. Students with a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 and probable cases will be directed to isolate until cleared by a health care provider to return to any campus or community activity.

  • Residential students who test positive for COVID-19 or who have a probable COVID-19 diagnosis will be provided isolation housing. We have reserved private bedrooms and bathrooms in campus residences, and will organize meal delivery and laundry service for these students to reduce spread of infection.
  • Off-campus students will be given instructions on how best to isolate in their residence, including how to isolate with family/roommates when necessary.
  • All students diagnosed with COVID-19 will be actively supported by university staff throughout their isolation period to ensure their physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who are asymptomatic but need to be monitored due to close contact with a COVID-19 individual. Students will be directed to quarantine when appropriate and given instructions on how to meet their basic needs and receive support from the university while ensuring they do not contribute to community spread.

  • During quarantine, we expect students to monitor their health and follow the guidance of a health care provider. They must remain in quarantine until cleared by a health care provider to return to any campus or community activities.
  • This type of quarantine is more restrictive than the modified quarantine approach students must complete prior to joining in-person coursework or engaging in other on-campus experiences at the beginning of the semester.
  • If students in quarantine receive a positive diagnosis of COVID-19, they will be directed to isolate until cleared by a health care provider.


We are grateful for the expertise and data-driven research that have informed our approach and for the flexibility afforded to us by the hybrid model, which allows us to update our guidelines and strategy as the pandemic shifts. But regardless of any adjustments, we are committed to creating an environment in which the health and well-being of all Tartans are prioritized, and the entire campus community can thrive.

The novel coronavirus knows no boundaries and does not distinguish between campus borders, beloved traditions or types of activity. As outlined in A Tartan’s Responsibility, the individual choices we all make — including physical distancing, wearing facial coverings and handwashing — both on campus and off, have the potential to impact the entire CMU community and our surrounding neighbors.

Our COVID-19 website is routinely updated to provide resources, policies and practices that support our collective efforts to return to campus. In addition, you will soon receive information for how to begin daily symptom monitoring using our recently developed self-assessment tool. This tool is already being utilized by faculty and staff, and it will be important for all students to embrace this in their daily routine in order to foster trust and promote shared responsibility among our entire community.

We are looking forward to the new academic year learning from and with one another, and we wish you a safe and healthy start to your semester from wherever you will be studying.


Farnam Jahanian, President
Jim Garrett, Provost
Gina Casalegno, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students