Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science
January 19, 2021

First Two Weeks Will Be Remote Only; Guide for Spring Semester Planning

Dear Members of the Carnegie Mellon Community:

I write today with important information as you prepare for the start of the spring semester. CMU leadership is actively monitoring the pandemic globally and locally and this continues to inform on-campus preparations and policies. The university remains firmly committed to maintaining an environment that keeps health and wellness top of mind, while continuing to deliver our instructional and research programs in a hybrid mode. 

As part of our continuing mitigation efforts, we have decided to delay the start of in-person instruction by one additional week. This means that the first two weeks of classes for all students (both graduate and undergraduate) will be remote-only (February 1-12), and in-person classes will begin on Monday, February 15. This change from our original plan is an added precaution as we begin the semester given the elevated prevalence of the virus in the Pittsburgh region. Research activities will proceed consistent with approved return to campus plans.

Thanks to your efforts, we were able to successfully complete our fall semester by maintaining key mitigation practices like completing daily self-assessments, practicing physical distancing and wearing facial coverings. Now, as we turn our attention to the upcoming semester, it is imperative that we sustain the good behaviors and habits that heightened our safety and unlocked the privileges of in-person experiences in the face of this pandemic.

Arrival Protocols and Start of In-person Instruction

As students either return from the break or arrive in Pittsburgh for the first time, we remind everyone that Carnegie Mellon requires a 14-day self-quarantine for all students coming from anywhere outside Southwestern Pennsylvania at the start of the semester. This practice, prior to joining in-person coursework or engaging in on-campus research, helped reduce the spread of the virus in the fall and remains a critical strategy to mitigate the spread on campus in the spring. If students are unable to arrive two weeks before in-person instruction begins, the hybrid model of education is designed to enable them to seamlessly participate in their courses until their quarantine period is complete. Students returning to the residence halls will receive specific information about their return in a separate email from Student Affairs. 
Additionally, all students who intend to participate in any on-campus or CMU-related activities such as in-person instruction, research and campus life are expected to participate in Tartan Testing, CMU’s asymptomatic testing program, to kick off the spring semester. This widespread testing program is designed to detect COVID-19 and prevent community spread.

Tartan Testing

As Vice President for Research Michael McQuade shared on January 4, CMU has developed a high-volume Tartan COVID-19 Testing Laboratory increasing our asymptomatic testing capacity by a factor of 10. Once you are selected to participate, all faculty, staff and students planning to be on campus are expected to complete one asymptomatic test each weekthrough the Tartan Testing Program. If you are not coming to campus, you are not expected to participate in testing; however, the opportunity to obtain one asymptomatic test a week is available to you. This testing is being provided free of charge to all invited participants.

It is important to remember that a negative COVID-19 test result only represents a moment in time, and that anyone could become infected at any time before or after a test is administered or results are received. Therefore, ongoing adherence to all required mitigation strategies will be critical to maintain the privilege of in-person experiences on campus.

We Are Tartans, All In. Everywhere.

As a reminder, all members of the Tartan community are required to adhere to strict requirements to enable the Carnegie Mellon community to resume living, learning, working and interacting together. These include:
  • Completing the daily self-assessment tool to track symptoms.
  • Wearing facial coverings.
  • Maintaining physical distancing.
  • Regularly washing hands.
  • Following rigorous and swift contact tracing and expectations of isolation for those who are symptomatic, test positive or have been in close contact with those who have tested positive.

At the start of this semester, we will once again provide students with necessary tools to support these critical COVID mitigation behaviors. CMU will provide a free wellness kit to each Pittsburgh student living on or off campus. These kits contain two branded cloth facial coverings, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, a digital thermometer and a card summarizing A Tartan’s Responsibility

Campus Postures & Mitigation Strategies

CMU has adopted three on-campus service postures for our Pittsburgh campus — Modified, Restricted and Essential — to reflect the appropriate levels of in-person versus remote activity based on the nature of community spread of the virus on campus and in our region. These postures impact campus organizations, research, dining services, recreational facilities, libraries and other services. Currently, we remain in the restricted service posture. We encourage you to review each campus posture and what they mean for students, faculty and staff. Students will also receive a more detailed email about available in-person services prior to their return to campus.
Details of the Modified Services operational posture
Details of the Restricted Services operational posture
Details of the Essential Services Only operational posture
All of the safety measures from the fall semester remain in place for the spring. At the highest level, CMU's risk mitigation strategy follows the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s “hierarchy of controls” approach used to minimize exposure to hazards. These strategies include enhanced HVAC features in campus buildings, modified spaces (including plexiglass barriers where possible), frequent sanitizing and disinfection by our facilities staff and detailed signage throughout campus to help explain guidelines.
Hierarchy of controls graphic
In addition, we encourage you to download both the NOVID and the COVID Alert PA apps. The NOVID app alerts you to those within your community who may have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or been a close contact of a confirmed case. The COVID Alert PA app is the official mobile app developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Vaccination Plans

We are all relieved by the news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of several vaccines to protect against COVID-19 and are eager to learn when the vaccines might be available for our community in the coming weeks and months. We are working closely with county and state health officials to determine the rollout of the vaccines at CMU. We will follow all state guidelines in prioritizing who is vaccinated and in what order. CMU’s health care employees and affiliates are included in the initial vaccine distribution currently underway. More information will be shared as it becomes available. 

Thank you for your continued commitment to our community. As we begin to look toward the start of a new academic term, it is my hope that we will persevere and continue the care and support we have shown one another throughout these uniquely challenging times. 


Daryl Weinert
Chief of Staff, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives
CMU COVID-19 Coordinator