Classes at Stanford will be held online for the first two weeks of winter quarter, University officials announced in a Thursday email. Students will also be required to receive a booster vaccine dose by the end of January.
The quarter will still begin as scheduled on Jan. 3 for most students, and in-person instruction is expected to resume Tuesday, Jan. 18, after the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday weekend. Provost Persis Drell and Vice Provost for Environmental Health & Safety Russell Furr wrote Stanford continues to expect students and instructors to be on campus for the winter quarter.
The new precautions come as universities across the country grapple with COVID-19 surges, with some moving final exams online and others such as Cornell shutting down campus completely. Because Stanford uses the quarter system, students finished final exams earlier than many schools that use the semester system, with most undergraduates returning home for winter break before Dec. 11. While cases remained relatively low throughout the fall quarter, the University did see a small surge following Thanksgiving break.
Drell and Furr explained that the uncertainty surrounding the new Omicron variant poses logistical challenges for students returning to campus after the break, especially if they test positive at home and are unable to return in time for the start of instruction.
“We’ve all been watching in recent days as COVID-19 cases have increased in some parts of the country, and as other universities have seen surges on their campuses,” they wrote. “While there continue to be positive signs that the Omicron variant may lead to milder cases of COVID-19, its transmissibility this winter remains a concern.”
Students will also be asked to take a COVID-19 test before returning to campus, and should not travel if they test positive, Drell and Furr wrote. They strongly encouraged students to receive the booster dose of the vaccine while they are home for winter break. All eligible students will be required to provide documentation of a booster, unless they have a medical or religious accommodation, by Jan. 31. Stanford previously required all undergraduate, graduate and professional students to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning to campus in the fall.
Santa Clara County health officials reiterated a similar message at a Thursday morning press conference. They encouraged residents to get the booster and warned that the county could face a “deluge” of Omicron variant cases. The county currently has 10 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant — four in unvaccinated individuals and six in vaccinated individuals, one of whom had received a booster shot
“I commend the university administration for putting student’s health first and employing preventative measures to ensure students have equitable access to instruction amidst the ongoing public health crisis,” said Bikal Sharma, Associated Students of Stanford University vice president. He added he’s looking forward to return to in-person instruction, and encouraged students to follow best safety practices.
Other University operations will not be affected by the change.
“Our concern is not about the safety of classrooms or workplaces at Stanford, but about the logistical challenges of supporting students amid the uncertainties of Omicron,” they wrote, explaining that Stanford did not see significant transmission in classrooms or workplaces during the fall.
Students do not need to change their travel plans, according to the email, and should be able to return to on-campus housing as scheduled if they are healthy. If a student does test positive for COVID-19, they will be able to continue classes online and return to campus before in-person instruction begins.
Testing protocols will remain the same. Stanford will provide newly arriving students with a rapid test, and students should complete Color testing twice in the first week back on campus. Like in the fall, students will then be required to test for COVID-19 weekly, regardless of vaccination status. Student gatherings will also be limited for the first two weeks of the quarter.
Andrea Li, Caprielle Eden and Genessi Lizama contributed reporting.