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COVID-19 surveillance testing program for autumn quarter

Categories: Campus, Health & safety, Leadership communications, Workplace & HR

Read questions and answers about Stanford’s testing program
Read details about the testing process for faculty, staff and postdocs
Read details about the testing process for students

A letter from Persis Drell, Lloyd Minor, James Jacobs, Tim Stearns and Rich Wittman

Dear Stanford community,

Supporting the health and safety of our community is the most essential part of Stanford’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. We are writing today to let you know about the COVID-19 testing plan that has been developed for members of our university community who will be on campus during the autumn quarter.

This testing plan is for “surveillance” testing, which refers to periodic testing for individuals who are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms. The plan implements recommendations of a task force that was convened this summer by Provost Drell and chaired by Dean Minor.

Regular testing will help us confirm that the safety protocols we’ve implemented at Stanford are having the effects we wish them to. These protocols include physical distancing, the use of face coverings, enhanced cleaning and good hygiene practices. We hope that these continuing protocols and the plan for surveillance testing will, together, provide support and confidence to all of you who will be coming to campus this autumn for study and to fulfill critical work responsibilities.

Details are provided below, but in summary:

  • The plan provides regular COVID-19 surveillance testing for graduate and professional students, and for undergraduates who have been approved to live on campus this autumn due to a special circumstance.
  • The plan also offers surveillance testing for faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars who have been approved to work on campus and who use Stanford’s Health Check system to report their health status. These include workers providing essential on-campus services as well as individuals involved in research.
  • Testing will be provided at no charge to individuals. The process will be phased in beginning in late August, and those who are eligible will receive emails in the coming weeks with details about participation.

With the volume of testing we are ramping up, and with the ongoing supply-chain challenges that have resulted from the pandemic, we identified two testing systems that have FDA emergency use authorization and that utilize different supply chains. Our medical experts have reviewed the testing methodologies and are confident in their rigor.

Testing for students

Currently, through August 31, testing for students is available at Vaden Health Services. Students who have been away from the Stanford campus and are now returning should contact Vaden to schedule testing for day zero or one after their arrival, and follow-up testing on day five or six. All testing is free of charge to students, regardless of a student’s insurance plan.

Starting August 31, we will begin ongoing surveillance testing for graduate and professional students who are living in on- or off-campus Stanford student housing assigned by R&DE or are coming to campus this autumn, and for undergraduates who are approved to live on campus due to a special circumstance. Students will be required to participate in weekly testing, and students also will be able to access additional testing, up to a total of two tests per week, if they wish to have it. We will monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community in real time and may adjust the cadence of testing based on what we see.

The nasal swab testing for students will be offered at one or two sites on the main Stanford campus, at appointment times throughout each week. Students will receive an email soon with more information about how to participate. We will provide support and isolation accommodations for any student who receives a positive test result. Those who test positive through surveillance testing also will be offered a confirmatory test through Vaden processed by Stanford Health Care.

Testing for faculty, staff, postdocs

In addition, Stanford faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars who are regularly working on the main Stanford campus or at Stanford Redwood City and reporting their health status through Health Check will have access to voluntary, self-administered COVID-19 tests this autumn. Access to this testing program will be phased in over the next several weeks. Eligible faculty, staff and postdocs will receive an email when they are able to register for testing.

As testing is phased in, our plan is to initially offer each participant two testing kits for self-administration. Each time a participant turns in a kit on campus to be processed, they will receive another for subsequent use. Testing kits will be distributed and collected at several locations on the main Stanford campus and Stanford Redwood City.

This testing is voluntary for faculty, staff and postdocs, with the exception that postdocs living in Stanford housing assigned by R&DE will be required to participate on a weekly basis. We suggest that eligible individuals with a regular presence on campus (of at least one campus visit per week) participate on a weekly basis. Recommendations regarding this cadence could be changed based upon observed prevalence in the community or prevalence among different groups or work locations. Individuals who test positive through surveillance testing will have the option of receiving a confirmatory test through the university’s Occupational Health Center, processed by the Stanford Health Care labs.

Important points

While more information will be coming to you, we’d like to emphasize several final points:

  • Other COVID-19 testing also remains available for members of our community. Students who are symptomatic or have been identified to be close contacts of COVID-positive individuals will receive testing through Vaden, processed through Stanford Health Care labs. Employees and postdocs who are symptomatic or have been identified to be close contacts of COVID-positive individuals will be supported by the university’s Occupational Health Center, which can facilitate testing on-site, through Stanford Health Care, or through an individual’s care provider. The Occupational Health Center also will offer surveillance testing for employees and postdocs who are eligible for the testing described above but who face any technological or other barriers to participation. More information on testing is available on the Health Alerts website.
  • The plans we’ve described here have been developed for the autumn quarter. We will be monitoring the program over the course of the quarter and will use it to inform our planning for future quarters on campus.
  • Stanford also is updating its protocols for notifications of close contacts and others when a COVID-19 case is confirmed on campus. We know these notification protocols are important to you, and the university will be sharing more information about them soon.
  • Testing is NOT a substitute for prevention measures. Even with this new testing program, we will need you to continue physical distancing, wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, using Health Check to report your health status, and staying home if you experience COVID-like symptoms. These are all essential to our work as a community to continue fighting the spread of COVID-19.
  • Please also remember that if you obtain testing for COVID-19 at a non-Stanford location, you should follow these guidelines for mandatory reporting of COVID-19 status to Stanford. This is intended to keep the university informed of the prevalence of COVID-19 across our community.

Again, more details about these testing programs will be provided in the coming days. If you have immediate questions, you may direct them by email to  

In closing, we note that since Memorial Day, University Occupational Health has performed surveillance testing for COVID-19 in more than 1,500 asymptomatic Stanford employees. Only one confirmed COVID-positive employee was identified, indicating that the community prevalence is low. Thank you for your role in supporting one another’s health and safety as we continue working together to navigate the challenges of this pandemic. 


Persis Drell, Provost

Lloyd Minor, M.D., Dean, Stanford School of Medicine

James Jacobs, M.D., Executive Director, Vaden Health Services

Tim Stearns, Chair, Faculty Senate; Chair, Biology Department

Rich Wittman, M.D., Medical Director, Stanford University Occupational Health Center