Stanford contingency plans evolve as COVID-19 cases surge nationwide

Sarah Church, vice provost for undergraduate education, and Susie Brubaker-Cole,

Sarah Church, vice provost for undergraduate education, and Susie Brubaker-Cole, vice provost for student affairs, report on Stanford’s ongoing contingency plans for undergraduate housing and study on campus. (Image credit: Stacy H. Geiken & L.A. Cicero)

Mandates imposed by the county and state based on the evolving COVID-19 pandemic may prompt changes in the university’s fall undergraduate academic and housing plans. Final decisions about fall plans are targeted for mid-August.

Contingency plans for undergraduate housing and study on campus are being created by Stanford administrators to account for any expansion in restrictions mandated by the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases.

The university’s need to remain flexible in planning for the fall was communicated to undergraduate students and their families by Sarah Church, vice provost for undergraduate education, and Susie Brubaker-Cole, vice provost for student affairs, in the Wednesday Re-Approaching Stanford newsletter.

"State and county orders may prohibit our on-site activities if case numbers locally do not improve," they wrote. "For these reasons, we may need to change plans, and we will reach a decision in mid to late August."

Church will also be communicating directly with Stanford faculty and instructors with more details about the fall contingency planning process. Similarly, staff communications are being prepared by University Human Resources.

Government restrictions

Specifically, Church and Brubaker-Cole tell undergraduate students and their families that a worsening of the pandemic may cause the governments with jurisdiction over the Stanford campus to impose restrictions, including shelter-in-place orders, that would affect the in-person classes and living circumstances currently planned for fall. Plans for graduate students, however, are - at this point - expected to remain much the same as planned.

The state has already mandated remote learning in elementary, middle and high schools in counties - including Santa Clara County - with indications of increases in COVID-19 cases. Such counties are placed on a state "watch list." On Wednesday, higher education officials throughout California were awaiting more specific directions from California Gov. Gavin Newsom for colleges and universities.

As they await further government guidance, Stanford administrators are working with medical experts on such issues as predicting how many cases might be expected on campus in light of COVID-19 case increases nationally.

If the university needs to cancel or alter on-site fall quarter classes and housing, Brubaker-Cole and Church said the university will reconfigure plans previously announced for first-year students and sophomores with the objective that they will not have to wait until summer to reside on campus.

Some practices, regardless of the circumstances in the fall, will have to change. For instance, families and guests will not be able to enter residential or dining facilities during move-in and will be asked to leave immediately after dropping off their undergraduate students.

Other safeguards are also being considered as the pandemic evolves. Face coverings, testing, contact tracing and quarantine/isolation, for instance, will become a part of student life for graduate students and undergraduates alike.áStudents will be asked to sign a campus compact - similar to those being created at peer institutions - that outlines the university’s expectations and accountability processes.

COVID-19 testing

Brubaker-Cole and Church said that all undergraduates will be tested twice during their first week on campus. Students also will be asked to minimize contact with each other during that first week. Students who test positive will be isolated in housing that limits exposure to other community members. The university plans to continue to test students periodically throughout their 10-week stay on campus, and before they return to their homes. Similar testing and isolation plans are in the works for graduate students, whose arrival schedules differ from those of undergraduates.

For contact tracing, Vaden Health Service will perform exposure notification and care management for students, in accordance with county standards. Those who come in close contact with a student who tests positive or who may have been exposed to COVID-19 will be asked to quarantine and undergo testing.

The university’s objective will be to prevent the spread of disease and ensure students feel safe and supported.

Back-up plans

Undergraduate students and their families are being encouraged to create back-up plans for fall housing, to purchase refundable tickets for travel and to bring to campus no more than two suitcases and a backpack - in other words, what a student can reasonably carry.

At this point, Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) Student Housing Assignments will begin reaching out to undergraduate students with information about the housing assignment process for fall quarter, based on previously announced plans. Under those plans, the university will accommodate first-year students and sophomores during fall and summer quarter and juniors and seniors during winter and spring.

The university is forgoing the Draw, the system that has typically been used to assist undergraduates in applying for housing, in favor of a new Autumn Housing Allocation process that emphasizes ensuring friend groups can live in the same residence.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it may not be possible for students to visit other residence halls. Additionally, students may only be able to eat in one designated dining hall based on their housing assignment. Some undergraduate students will be housed in one of the new Escondido Village Graduate Residences that are anticipated to open this fall.

Student life

Student Affairs has established a Student Organizations Working Group to help students remain engaged when they’re not on campus, set up organizations for success while complying with evolving COVID-19 expectations and develop best practices. Students’ ability to gather as organizations while on campus will depend on California’s phased re-opening process and related Santa Clara County public health orders. At this point, it is highly unlikely that campus events and parties will be allowed, and even smaller gatherings could be limited.

The application process for students with special circumstances requesting to live on campus for additional quarters launched July 6 . The application and review processes have ended, and students have been notified of the status of their application.áThe university was able to accommodate 73 percent of the 1,204 students applying.

The R&DE Stanford Dining management team and staff have been implementing new procedures to provide a safe dining hall environment for students and for the staff working there. R&DE Stanford Dining developed the CleanDining program, which builds upon the already high standards of food safety and sanitation followed in the dining halls.

At mealtime, for instance, students will have their temperature checked and will wash their hands as they enter. Students must wear face coverings and maintain a six-foot physical separation. Meals will be pre-packed and provided for take-out service only, including those for students with special dietary needs.

In addition, R&DE Stanford Dining has put new procedures in place to keep the dining staff and the food served safe. Staff must wear face coverings and gloves and wash their hands frequently. Dining halls will continue to receive enhanced cleaning and disinfecting using a hospital-grade electrostatic fogger, which disinfects all objects and surfaces.

R&DE’s custodial and maintenance teams have also modified operations to protect students and workers. All R&DE staff are required to complete both university and department COVID-19 safety training. Staff wear face coverings and possibly gloves and other forms of personal protective equipment, depending on the work being done. Common spaces, such as hallways and bathrooms, and high-touch areas, like doorknobs and elevator buttons, receive enhanced cleaning and disinfecting twice daily, seven days a week.

Stress and uncertainty

Church and Brubaker-Cole acknowledge in their letter to students and families the stress and uncertainty COVID-19 planning has caused.

"We know many of you are struggling with the health and economic impacts of this pandemic," they wrote. "We remain committed to providing information as quickly as we are able to help ensure students and families have what they need to make decisions."


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