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Stanford reports spike in COVID-19 cases as state tightens restrictions

10 positive tests in students reported, with 6 from business school; University prohibits indoor gatherings

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Stanford reported a spike in COVID-19 cases among students and staff on Monday as the state imposed more severe COVID-19 restrictions on most of California’s population, including Santa Clara County. Stanford will be required to move most indoor activities outside since the county is now in the purple “widespread” tier. The new restrictions and worsening public health outlook could impact the University’s plan to bring first-years and sophomores to campus in the winter.

While Stanford has managed to keep the number of students and staff testing positive relatively low, last week a record-high number of 10 students tested positive for COVID-19. Four cases among faculty, staff and postdocs, believed to be unrelated, have also “been added” to the cumulative total for that cohort, the University said, without specifying when the newly added positive tests occurred.

Six out of the 10 student cases are at the Graduate School of Business (GSB), which enrolled 1,050 students last year. The GSB is coordinating support for infected students and those who are quarantining as a result of exposure, according to the University. 

5,738 student tests were conducted last week, a new high and an increase from the previous week’s 5,346 administered tests. As of Nov. 16, Stanford reports a COVID-19 student positivity rate of 0.10% with a cumulative total of 60 positive tests among students since late June. Stanford, which is conducting expansive surveillance testing, has a positivity rate lower than Santa Clara County’s 2.5% positivity rate and the state’s 5.2% positivity rate.

County restrictions require restaurants, places of worship, gyms and family entertainment centers to operate outdoors only. Non-essential offices will be required to move to remote work while retail stores can remain open indoors at 25% capacity. All Bay Area counties, with the exception of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin, fall under these new restrictions.

While the lessening of restrictions had allowed for small gatherings and meetings, starting on Tuesday, indoor lectures and other academic-related meetings will be required to move outdoors or be held remotely, according to Associate Vice Provost for Environmental Health and Safety Russell Furr. 

In-person research and socially distanced instruction in labs and studios can continue, but the University is prohibiting all indoor events and gatherings to comply with the restrictions. Essential shared spaces, such as bathrooms and laundry rooms, will be required to limit capacity to 25% and cannot exceed 10 people, Furr wrote. 

All indoor activities at the Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation Center, which includes the fitness center, climbing wall and basketball courts, will be suspended in order to comply with the restrictions, according to an alert sent by Stanford Recreation and Wellness. Gyms and fitness centers will be moved outdoors with some modifications. 

Furr reminded community members to take necessary measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, including wearing face masks, social distancing and reducing contact with individuals outside one’s household pod. “This latest news about the continued spread of COVID-19 is not what any of us had hoped to hear,” Furr wrote. “But we can, together, continue to take steps that will make a meaningful difference in the battle against the virus.”

Despite rising cases and hospitalizations in the county and state, Stanford has said it will proceed with plans to provide on-campus housing to first-years, sophomores and transfer students for the winter quarter. Provost Persis Drell’s Nov. 9 message to the community cited low prevalence rates of COVID-19 at Stanford and extensive surveillance testing. 

The provost wrote that if conditions worsen and prevent Stanford from hosting first-years and sophomores, the University will notify students before Stanford’s winter close on Dec. 14. Drell added that regardless of the health conditions, students with special circumstances approved to live on campus will be accommodated.

“California is pulling an emergency brake,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a Monday news conference, adding that the new measures were necessary after the state’s COVID-19 cases doubled in the previous 10 days, the largest increase California has seen since the start of the pandemic in March. Hospitalizations in the state have also risen since late October, with 4,559 Californians currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Forty-one California counties have been placed in the “purple” widespread tier.

Tammer Bagdasarian and Sam Catania contributed to reporting.

Contact Cameron Ehsan at cehsan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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