Research Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Page last updated 9/7/2021.

Effective Monday, August 9, 2021

With the announcement that Pitt will no longer be using the Operational Postures and Activity Area Plans established as components of the Resilience Framework, the following guidance is in effect as of Monday, August 9, 2021.

What has changed from the resilience framework?

Conduct of Research Plans:  These are no longer required.

Sanitizing lab and equipment surfaces:  Surface-mediated (fomite) transmission is not a significant source of SARS-CoV-2 infection. No special cleaning, sanitizing or disinfection of lab or equipment surfaces is required.  Your continued attention to personal hand hygiene remains important.

Shared spaces:  Pitt is not placing COVID-19-related limits on gatherings, occupancy or physical distancing. The University will continue to comply with any local, Commonwealth and federal gathering guidelines.

Face coverings and PPE for special use cases:  All individuals, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a face covering inside campus buildings. EH&S’s PPE and Face Coverings Guidance remains in effect as best practices for special use cases that arise in research and scholarly work, including research protocols taking place with research participants in community settings.

Undergraduates in research labs:  Undergraduates may participate in lab research as trainees, hourly student workers, or as recipients of a fixed fellowship stipend.

On-campus visitors and guests:  Registered guests, including Category 1 Academic Visitors, continue to be permitted on campus. You must register guests in advance of their visit here. The move out of the Resilience Framework does not affect Category 2 or 3 Academic Visitors. Academic Visitor Categories:

  • Category 1 visitors are those who are on-campus for less than 14 days and do not actively participate in laboratory or clinical activities. 
  • Category 2 visitors are longer term visitors who will be on-campus more than 14 days.
  • Category 3 visitors are those who will actively participate in laboratory or clinical activities regardless of length of stay. 

For more information, please visit the Academic Visitors page.

Meetings, conferences and events:  Researchers may host research-related meetings, conferences, and events on campus as long as attendees are registered in advance as described above.

Travel, including fieldwork:  All University-related travel is permitted with pandemic conditions and rules for your destination informing the advisability of any trip. Fieldwork requiring international travel should adhere to the CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination.

Must research participants be registered guests?

No. Since research participants’ presence on campus is necessarily recorded by the labs they are working with, they do not need to be separately registered as guests using the new Guest Registration Form.

Can PIs require that research participants be vaccinated against COVID-19?

No.

Can PIs disclose staff or trainee vaccination status to research participants?

Yes, but only when staff and trainees have voluntarily disclosed their vaccination status and have given explicit permission to share that information further with research participants.

Any individual Pitt employee may disclose their vaccination status to supervisors or research participants voluntarily. No supervisor or principal investigator can demand disclosure, and employees are not required to disclose their vaccination status to research participants. University policy states that university members who have not provided proof of vaccination via a web app are required to participate in regular COVID-19 testing, as directed by the CMRO. 

If the PI knows the vaccination status of their staff, they cannot disclose anyone’s vaccinated or unvaccinated status without the staff person’s explicit permission. When staff or trainees voluntarily tell the supervisor their status and those staff or trainees also given explicit permission for the supervisor to share their vaccination status with research participants, only then are supervisors permitted to communicate this information to research participants who request such information.

The vaccination status of staff and trainees should not be preemptively disclosed, even when permission to share has been granted.

What if research participants say they will only participate in protocols if they know that the staff or trainees are vaccinated?

Supervisors can only disclose the vaccination status of their staff and trainees with research participants when staff and trainees have voluntarily disclosed their vaccination status and have given explicit permission to share information with research participants.  See the response in the previous expander for more detail.

If some of your staff or trainees have been vaccinated and given you explicit permission to share their status and you have other staff who are either not vaccinated or their vaccination status is unknown to you as their supervisor, you are still able to use that information for scheduling interactions with research participants either on campus or off campus. If you need to schedule those interactions or produce other documentation matching staff who’ve given you permission to disclose with participants who are making that knowledge conditional on their participation, be sure that the calendar or additional documentation does not inadvertently disclose vaccination status unwittingly.  As an example appropriate for a large research group, you can have a BLUE team and a GOLD team, but not a VAXed and an UNVAXed team.

And remember as a supervisor, you cannot compel disclosure of vaccination status by any staff or trainee to you or to research participants, nor discriminate or retaliate against anyone for failing to reveal their vaccine status.

Are there situations where I can require my staff and trainees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19?

In limited, well-justified cases, yes. 

University policy is that university members who have not provided proof of vaccination are required to participate in regular COVID-19 testing, as directed by the COVID-19 Medical Response Office (CMRO). Supervisors may not unilaterally impose a vaccination requirement, even in cases where they believe their research protocol poses risk to staff and trainees who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. For such cases, supervisors may submit a request to covidehs@pitt.edu to make full vaccination of staff and trainees a job requirement for specific research protocol(s). The two-stage review will be conducted as described below.

An ad hoc review committee, consisting of one representative from Environmental Health & Safety, the Institutional Review Board, and an infectious disease medical expert selected by the CMRO and unaffiliated with the protocol, will make an assessment of the risk exposure to unvaccinated staff and trainees posed by the specific research protocol(s). Additional PPE beyond those defined in the PPE and Face Coverings Guidance should be ruled out before a job-specific vaccination requirement is recommended.

The ad hoc review committee will convey their risk analysis to the Senior Leadership Team for a policy review and determination.

Please note that potential or actual demands by research participants that research staff or trainees they interact with be vaccinated, even for in-home visits, is not sufficient justification for making vaccination a job requirement.

Have reciprocal borrowing privileges returned between Pitt’s and CMU’s libraries?

Before COVID, Pitt and CMU had a “reciprocal borrowing agreement” that allowed users physically to go into the libraries at the other institution to check out materials (e.g., a CMU faculty member could come to Hillman). This agreement is on hold until each university’s libraries re-open to non-campus affiliates.

Faculty, staff and students at either institution can still request items from the other institution’s collections through the regular Interlibrary Loan process, and the material will be shipped to them at their home institution.

If a researcher is looking for access to special collections that are only available in one of the reading rooms, they are welcome to reach out to Pitt’s Archives and Special Collections or the CMU Libraries’ Ask Us page to arrange an appointment. 

Pandemic Communications and News