Stanford reopening is reasonable, epidemiologists say

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Stanford’s spring quarter reopening plans are reasonable in conjunction with current public health data in Santa Clara County, according to some epidemiologists and physicians. The University reaffirmed its plans to bring juniors and seniors back to campus in a Thursday email from President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. 

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Associate Chief of the Infectious Diseases Division Monica Gandhi said the decision to reopen was “appropriate” in response “to the lowering rates of hospitalizations in our state.” The lowered rates “reflected the partial immunity in the population,” she said, calling the recent decline was “quite precipitous.”

Gandhi said she would have brought freshman and sophomores back to campus as well because “that’s how good the COVID numbers are.”

Stanford medicine professor Steve Luby told The Daily that he considered the University’s decision “reasonable,” citing lower case numbers in Santa Clara County and Stanford’s capacity for surveillance and testing as factors that would support this decision.

Medicine professor Dean Winslow has also been “very, very encouraged” by the decreasing case numbers. Stanford’s decision “balances reasonable risk with a lot of benefits,” Winslow said. 

There have been concerns over COVID-19 variants within the county. Most recently, a Stanford laboratory identified two cases of the South African variant in Santa Clara and Alameda counties, and there has been a recent influx of cases in the Bay Area due to the 452R variant.

“It is possible that one of the new virus variants will prove more transmissible and/or less affected by the vaccine, but there’s also a price to keeping everything closed,” Luby wrote. 

Gandhi did not share concerns over variants.

“We’ve seen that the vaccines work against the variants,” she said. “It’s just fearmongering, and it’s not backed up by data.”

Despite the University announcement, some students worry that the on-campus spring quarter will be canceled. Fall and winter quarter reopening plans were both reversed with short notice, with the winter reopening being canceled only three days before the start of the quarter. In a recent ASSU survey, students expressed concerns over the possibility of a last-minute spring cancellation. 

Luby, however, does not foresee this happening. 

“I do not expect the administration to cancel plans, but I also have confidence that if the situation changes, the administration will act in the best interest of the Stanford community,” he said.

As Stanford begins to reopen, there are still unanswered questions regarding when campus life will be back to “normal.” UCSF epidemiology professor George Rutherford ’75’s take? COVID-19 will “become a relatively uncommon disease by this time next year,” he predicted. 

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Victoria Hsieh '24 is a Staff Writer for The Daily looking to major in Economics and Biology. She is a Seattle native and enjoys hiking in her free time. Contact The Daily’s News section at news ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.