Research Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Page last updated 1/18/2022.

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.

Can students participate in research during the shelter-in-place period?

Yes, the CMRO guidance allows for in-person research activities during shelter-in-place periods, and students (who meet the vaccination or testing requirements) can participate.

Are Academic Visitors required to be vaccinated?

Category 2 and 3 visitors, and those Category 1 visitors who are considered federal contractors, are subject to the University’s vaccine requirement. They must show proof of vaccination or exemption as a condition of their visit. Category 1 visitors who are not considered federal contractors may be admitted to campus under the University’s current COVID-19 related protocols for guests. Category 1 Academic Visitors must be registered online as a guest before entering a building. Please see the Academic Visitors website for more information.

Category 1 academic visitors will be considered federal contractors for vaccination purposes if the specific academic or research purpose for which they are being invited to campus is supported by or related to a federal grant or contract.

For more information, contact Allen DiPalma, director of Office of Trade Compliance, at dipalma@pitt.edu.

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 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. 

 

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.

For more information, please visit the Academic Visitors page.

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 tested for COVID-19, or be vaccinated against COVID-19?

In both cases, the answer is no. 

COVID-19 testing of research participants is only permitted when protocols require them to be engaged in aerosol generating procedures where they cannot wear masks – or where knowledge of the subject’s COVID-19 infection status is essential to the research being conducted.

COVID-19 vaccination of research participants is only permitted when knowledge of the subject’s COVID-19 vaccination status is essential to the research being conducted.

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.

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