‘Can’t offer a 100% guarantee’: Stanford cautiously optimistic about winter return

The University indicated plans were still very much a ‘go’ but stopped short of guaranteeing return to campus at Friday’s town hall

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Stanford administrators told students and parents they would be moving forward with plans to bring first-year and sophomore undergraduates back for winter quarter at a virtual town hall on Friday. But they stopped short of guaranteeing a return.

“We are doing everything in our power to bring our students back, we are moving ahead fully with plans and I need to say that we cannot predict the course of the pandemic,” Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole said in response to a question asking if families should make refundable travel plans. Brubaker-Cole added that state and county regulations could play a role in the decision-making process, but said the University was moving “ahead full steam” after recently reaffirming plans to bring students back for the winter.

“I understand the complexities around booking travel and I wish I could solve for that somehow but I can’t offer a 100% guarantee,” she said.

The town hall comes amid rising rates of COVID-19 nationwide and new stay-at-home orders imposed in the Bay Area that are set to expire in early January. Stanford announced on Monday that it would be shifting plans to invite students back to campus, instead welcoming most students back two weeks later than originally planned.

Brubaker-Cole told attendees that if the county’s current travel quarantine requirement is extended, students would not be able to leave their dorms for their first 14 days on campus, including to shop for necessities or exercise. Stanford’s current plans are not this restrictive but would still prevent students from gathering for the first two weeks.

Senior Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Students Mona Hicks suggested that if the prevalence of COVID-19 is low on campus, restrictions may ease and allow for some in-person activities, such as group dining that requires pre-registration.

Administrators said they remained confident in the new plan because of a “robust” testing program, plans for private sleeping space and dedicated isolation and quarantine locations on campus.

Stanford plans to test students twice the first day they arrive on campus and twice a week afterward until it is clear that there is a low prevalence of COVID-19 on campus. The University will then return to once-weekly testing as they did in the fall quarter. A new testing location will also be opened at Tresidder Union.

Vaden Health Services head James Jacobs said Stanford is also planning to send COVID-19 tests to many students to take at home before traveling to campus. He wrote in the call’s chat that the University would test for COVID-19 in campus sewage systems, as this has proven to be an early indicator of prevalence rates.

Jacobs added that Stanford may have access to a COVID-19 vaccine for students as early as March and said Stanford frontline hospital workers could receive shots starting next week.

Responding to parent questions about the cost of room and board, Senior Associate Vice Provost for Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) Shirley Everett said rates will be reduced to account for the two-week reduction in the length of many students’ stay on campus, adding that there will be “no fees” for cancelling housing contracts, even after moving in.

Faculty have been asked to avoid assigning students “high-stakes” exams or expecting them in class during the move-in time period, according to Hicks.

Everett also announced that refrigerators had been added to each dorm room.

Addressing worker safety, Everett asserted that staff has access to “free testing” and that all staff “perform health checks daily.”

Juniors and seniors are set to return to campus for the spring quarter. According to Brubaker-Cole, first-year and sophomore undergraduates will not be allowed to return in the spring as part of the University’s efforts to reduce the “densification” of students on campus.

Contact Sam Catania at samcat ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Sam Catania ’24 is a Staff Writer at The Daily. He is a Philadelphia native currently studying computer science and political science. Contact him at samcat ‘at’ stanford.edu.