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New COVID-19 actions; letter from University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne

Categories: Leadership communications, President

To our Stanford community,

I am writing to share some further changes we need to make in our university operations as a result of further developments regarding the spread of COVID-19. Included are significant changes for our undergraduates who currently remain on campus, most of whom now will not be able to stay on campus for spring break and spring quarter.

I know how very difficult and deeply disappointing these steps will be for many students. We profoundly regret having to arrive at this place, which will mean further disruption for you. We are taking these new actions to support your health and safety, and to align our operations with quickly changing developments.

To bring you up to date:

  • We learned late today of the first positive COVID-19 test for an undergraduate student in our community. This student is now self-isolating. Our teams are currently doing contact tracing and are working to inform and provide guidance to all close contacts of the individual as soon as possible.
  • Along with the federal declaration of a national emergency today, Santa Clara County issued an order enacting new restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our area. In addition to closing local public schools, the order prohibits gatherings of more than 100 people and includes new restrictions on smaller gatherings. These new restrictions, which apply to cafeterias as well as other spaces, will make it very difficult to sustain our undergraduate dining operations at scale for an extended period of time.
  • As I noted earlier this week, the highly communal nature of our undergraduate residential and dining spaces makes them fundamentally incompatible with the concept of social distancing. The confirmed cases in our area are accelerating: Santa Clara County this morning reported 79 COVID-19 cases in the county, 43 of them occurring through community transmission, with 37 patients hospitalized. “We know that the outbreak of COVID-19 in our county will continue to accelerate, and we anticipate many, many more cases in the days and weeks to come,” the county’s public health officer stated at a press conference today.

We had hoped our intermediate steps would be sufficient, but it is clear that we need to take a next wave of actions to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. These are very difficult actions to take, but we are asking individuals to make deep sacrifices for the good of those in our community who are most vulnerable to the threat of infection.

FINAL EXAMS: The provost is asking instructors to make winter quarter final exams optional for undergraduate students. If a student chooses not to take a final exam, their grade should be calculated on work they have done in the course to date. It will be important for instructors to provide students with clear information about the choice that should be made, the deadline by which they have to choose, and how the final grade will be calculated if they choose not to take the exam. This guidance applies only to undergraduate students.

UNDERGRADUATE DINING BEGINNING SATURDAY: Due to the new county restrictions, beginning Saturday we will need to move to significantly modified meal service for undergraduates who are on campus. All students who are on a meal plan will need to come to their own dining hall. There, they will be given pre-filled to-go containers and bottled or canned drinks. Students will then need to leave the dining hall and eat outdoors, in their dorm room or elsewhere. There will be limitations on the numbers of students allowed in the serving area at any one time.

Graduate students who are on a meal plan will go through the same process, but we are strongly encouraging graduate students to prepare their own meals, in their own kitchens, to support social distancing. We do not expect changes to graduate housing availability.

SPRING UNDERGRADUATE HOUSING: For spring break and spring quarter, we will only be able to provide on-campus undergraduate housing and dining for a very limited number of students – those who have no other option than to be here. We will be prioritizing international students who cannot go home; students who have known severe health or safety risks; and students who are homeless. We are also planning to allow a small number of our residential staff who do not meet the previous criteria to remain on campus.

Using these criteria, we are currently evaluating the requests students submitted and expect to inform you by email by noon Saturday to confirm your on-campus housing. 

Please know that for those who remain on campus, there will be a number of actions taken to further reduce the risk of infection spread. For example, there will be no programming for students, including no social events or parties; dining options will be limited; you may be asked to change residences; gyms and recreational centers will be closed; and students staying will be expected to remain on campus and not bring guests from off-campus.

If you are NOT in one of the above prioritized categories, we unfortunately need you to make plans to leave the campus as soon as possible but at the latest by Wednesday, March 18, at 5 p.m. We encourage you to make your plans quickly, as the external environment is changing quickly and we do not know if or when additional restrictions may be imposed. Financial support is available through the Financial Aid Office for both travel and living expenses for students receiving financial aid. We will schedule a time later in the spring when you can come back to retrieve your belongings, if in-person classes do not resume during spring quarter.

REMOTE WORK: While we do not mandate telecommuting, we do want to increase the number of employees who are working remotely to the greatest extent possible, while doing so in a way that still supports the necessary operations of the university.

This also applies to graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in the research environment. We expect to provide further guidance on steps to be taken in the research environment in coming days.

Decisions about who can telecommute should be made in consultation with each Dean, Vice Provost, or Vice President (or their delegate) at the school or unit level. If an employee has been permitted to telecommute and chooses to work on campus instead, either intermittently or daily, that is currently acceptable.

UNIVERSITY EVENTS: Following today’s county directive, Stanford is now prohibiting gatherings of 35 people or more. However, if a group feels that their gathering of over 35 people is essential, it will require registration and approval by Stanford Environmental Health & Safety. There is a link to initiate an inquiry on Stanford’s Health Alerts website.

I recognize, deeply, the anxiety and uncertainty that this entire situation is creating for the members of our community. I greatly appreciate your understanding, your care for others, and your willingness to navigate these many disruptions to protect the health and safety of our community.


Marc Tessier-Lavigne