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COVID-19 update and new protocols

Categories: Fall quarter, Health & safety, Policies

Dear Stanford community,

This message provides an update on COVID-19 and our preparations for the fall.

As you’ve read before, vaccination and face coverings together offer a high degree of protection against COVID-19. Such an environment – highly vaccinated, with mask wearing in many settings – is what we expect to have at Stanford this fall.

With the Delta variant, we continue to see some COVID-positive cases among vaccinated individuals. Typically the symptoms range from nonexistent to mild to moderate, and do not involve hospitalization.

We remain prepared to manage our on-site environment in a way that supports your health and wellbeing – and we want to continue answering questions that may be on your minds.

The information below covers three topics:

  • some points about our on-site environment at Stanford;
  • two new protocols regarding face coverings, and student parties on a short-term basis, that we are introducing to further inhibit transmission of the virus;
  • and information on how positive cases will be managed when they occur.

I hope you find this information useful. We’ll continue to provide updates.

Russell Furr
Associate Vice Provost
Environmental Health & Safety

Key points about our environment

  • The risk of COVID-19 transmission is very low in masked settings among vaccinated individuals. A recent study found that unvaccinated individuals experienced 5 times more COVID infections and 29 times more COVID hospitalizations than fully vaccinated individuals. And, modeling conducted by Cornell University and assessed by colleagues here at Stanford found that in classrooms at full capacity, the risk of transmission from one masked, vaccinated person to another is estimated to be 99.5% lower than the risk between unvaccinated occupants not wearing masks.
  • The positive cases we are seeing among students so far are most commonly tied to arrival from travel and social gatherings. We have a robust arrival testing protocol to detect positive cases and rapidly isolate those testing positive. Last academic year, we utilized a very similar arrival protocol, and it was highly effective based on the virtually non-existent secondary transmission we saw on campus. We’ve also spread undergraduate arrivals across a full week, supporting our ability to work with a larger on-campus student population than we had last year.
  • As you know, we recently adopted expanded surveillance testing requirements for our community. Under these requirements, fully vaccinated on-site faculty, staff, students and postdocs will test weekly. Those who are unvaccinated will test twice weekly.

New protocols now taking effect

As we prepare for the fall, we’re watching the COVID-19 situation and also working to learn from the experiences of peer institutions that started their fall semesters in August.

To further limit the possibility of virus spread in this period when large numbers of people will be returning on-site, we are adopting two new measures:

  • In addition to the indoor mask requirement already in place, we are strongly recommending masking outdoors in crowded settings when 6 feet of distance from others cannot consistently be maintained. This does not limit your ability to hold outdoor meetings or gatherings; we want our community to take advantage of our outdoor spaces. We do want to work to limit the potential for spread in crowded settings as our community returns in-person. Outdoor events with food are still allowed, and you can lower a face covering to eat – but use good judgment and maintain distance from others when doing so.
  • Indoor student parties will be prohibited until October 8, the end of the third week of the fall quarter for most students, to help limit the potential for virus transmission in this period when we are returning on-site. Indoor events such as residence hall meetings will still be allowed, as will private gatherings in a student’s room, suite or apartment with no more than four times the occupancy in attendance. Further guidance on private student residential gatherings and student parties will be provided next week on this website. (Note: Generally, university events that include food service should be held outdoors to the maximum extent possible. Face coverings are required in our dining halls and cafes, except when actively eating or drinking; seating capacity has been reduced in dining halls, and to-go meals will be available.)

Managing positive cases

From last academic year, we have experience managing positive COVID-19 cases among students living on campus and providing isolation space for those positive cases. What’s new this fall is the re-introduction of in-person classes. This has prompted questions from many of you about the management of positive cases in instructional settings.

A brief summary of the steps we’ll be taking this fall in such cases is below, and I want to point you to two additional resources that have been developed: An overview for classroom instructors has been posted on Cardinal Recovery. And, a more detailed set of Frequently Asked Questions has been posted to the Teach Anywhere website.

  • When an individual in a course tests positive, the Registrar’s Office will (without using the individual’s name) notify all members of that individual’s course and provide follow-up instructions. Because face coverings are required and vaccination rates are high, students and instructors in a class are NOT considered high-risk contacts and will NOT be asked to take special measures unless they have been identified as a high-risk contact in an additional setting outside the classroom. They WILL be encouraged to continue testing, monitor for symptoms, and if they get sick, stay home and get a COVID-19 test.
  • When someone HAS had a high-risk contact with a COVID-positive individual – typically as a result of having prolonged indoor, unmasked contact with the individual – Vaden Health Services or the Occupational Health Center will reach out and provide guidance. The steps to follow generally will include remaining offsite or in one’s residence until being cleared by medical staff, performing a COVID-19 test, and reporting the exposure in Health Check.
  • When students are required to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19, instructors can refer to the Teach Anywhere website for guidance on how to support students. In brief, short-term COVID-19 illness should be approached in the same way as any other short-term illness. On the first day of class, instructors should discuss the course attendance policy and how students can obtain course materials if they are not able to attend class due to illness. Instructors are not required to record their courses for absent students. Instructors are encouraged to design course materials so that they can be shared easily with students. The Center for Teaching and Learning and Learning Technologies & Spaces have resources and consultants to support instructors.

For employees working in offices and other non-classroom settings, our positive case notification procedures are available on Health Alerts. For student residences, we will continue to follow the notifications we have used over the last year: If there is a positive case on a student’s floor with a shared bathroom, the students on the floor will be notified of the positive case via email; if there are multiple positive cases in a dorm/building within 14 days, all dorm/building residents will be notified via email.

Please remember that the steps YOU take make an important difference! Stay home if you’re sick. Avoid crowded settings where people may be unmasked. Minimize travel. Practice good hand hygiene. And, please continue caring for yourselves, and one another.