Stanford to reinstate weekly COVID-19 testing requirement, regardless of vaccination status

Aug. 11, 2021, 3:12 p.m.

Stanford will require all students living on campus, living in University-sponsored off-campus housing, or coming to campus to be tested for COVID-19 weekly, regardless of vaccination status, starting on Aug. 15, according to a Wednesday email from Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole.

The reversal follows the University’s July elimination of the testing requirement for fully vaccinated students — a decision that was soon followed by seven fully vaccinated students testing positive for the virus. It also comes as Stanford continues to tighten on campus restrictions amid the surge in cases of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Stanford may be the first university in the Bay Area to enact such a requirement, though it is in good company — East Coast peer institutions like Harvard, Princeton and Brown are also requiring weekly testing for vaccinated students.

Brubaker-Cole’s email also announced that vaccinated students are not required to complete a daily Health Check, though they must should they experience COVID-19 symptoms, test positive for the virus or are exposed to household members who test positive.

Stanford’s reinstatement of the weekly testing requirement, in addition to other on-campus precautions, will help stifle the spread of COVID-19 at Stanford, according to two medical experts at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), though a third worried that the testing regimen could produce an excess of false positives.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine at UCSF who specializes in infectious diseases, described Stanford’s weekly testing policy as one layer in a stack of many strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19. While Chin-Hong said that twice weekly testing is arguably the most effective testing strategy, when combined with other precautions like vaccination, mask-wearing and physical distancing, once weekly testing will help prevent outbreaks by putting in motion a “domino effect.” 

“What testing leads to is contact tracing and testing of the people in contact with those people who do get positive tests,” Chin-Hong said. He added that while Stanford’s reinstatement of the weekly testing requirement will “not eliminate the risk” it “will probably soften the blow, with the blow being the rise in dominance of delta right now circulating at a high level where we haven’t reached the peak.”

Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at UCSF, echoed Chin-Hong’s view, writing in an email to The Daily that the weekly testing requirement “will add an extra layer of protection over the formidable protection that vaccination provides.” 

“With the delta variant surging throughout the nation and northern California, I think requiring weekly testing for at least a while is a prudent additional measure to take on at a large residential campus like Stanford’s,” Rutherford wrote. 

But according to Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of clinical medicine at UCSF, Stanford’s new policy does not align with CDC recommendations for fully vaccinated, asymptomatic individuals. She said that testing this cohort can lead to false positive results. 

“The CDC does not recommend testing fully vaccinated people who are asymptomatic with our current tests since PCR tests can amplify up very small amounts of even dead virus and the rapid antigen tests can give false positives,” Gandhi wrote in an email to The Daily. Gandhi added that instead, Stanford should focus on testing fully vaccinated individuals who are symptomatic and conducting vaccinations and tests for the unvaccinated.

The results of Stanford’s new testing policy may quickly become evident as students living in University housing are also now required to complete entry testing on days zero and five following their arrival, even if they are fully vaccinated. The entry testing requirement additionally applies to students “coming to campus frequently, except those who have been living on campus or have been living in the area and coming to campus frequently this summer,” Brubaker-Cole wrote.

Unvaccinated international students and unvaccinated students traveling to Stanford from international areas must arrive on campus seven days before the start of in-person activities for “entry testing, vaccination, and a period of restricted activity.” According to Brubaker-Cole, these students will receive additional information from the University.

Georgia Rosenberg is the Vol. 261 executive editor for print. She was previously a Vol. 260 news managing editor and a Vol. 258/259 desk editor for university news. Contact her at grosenberg 'at' stanforddaily.com!

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