Stanford establishes zones on its main campus to facilitate the return of research and teaching

To conform to recent guidance from the State of California, effective Sept. 1 the university is creating a temporary campus zones program designed to maintain a safer and healthier academic environment, while preserving opportunities for the public to interact with campus lands.

Stanford is establishing zones that define access to different areas of its main campus as autumn quarter begins. The new temporary zones, which will identify areas of the campus open to approved students, faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars as well as areas accessible to the broader community, are designed to support the resumption of research and teaching operations curbed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A map of Stanford’s main campus showing the locations of, and current restrictions in, different campus zones. Click map to enlarge. (Image credit: Land, Buildings and Real Estate)

The implementation of zones on the main campus is required by higher education guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health on Aug. 7, which Stanford has endorsed as a thoughtful and responsible approach. The guidance reflects the challenges of increasing on-campus activity while there is persistent, widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the community.

Importantly, the state guidance requires that all institutions of higher education “limit, to the greatest extent permitted by law, external community members from entering the site [campus grounds] and using campus resources, as the number of additional people onsite and/or intermixing with students, faculty and staff increases the risk of virus transmission.” It also prohibits most indoor classes at Stanford as long as Santa Clara County remains on the state’s watch list and prohibits the use of indoor common areas, creating a greater need for outdoor classroom and meeting spaces where students and faculty can interact while maintaining appropriate physical distance.

The campus zones program seeks to balance the various needs created by the state guidance. In keeping with that guidance, a primary goal for the university in designing the program was to ease the adjustment back to campus for students, faculty, staff and postdocs. At the same time, the university wished to ensure that the local community could continue to enjoy some campus lands, which it is doing by creating multiple zones for continued public use at the periphery of campus. As the zones program is rolled out, the university is inviting suggestions for how it can be refined and improved.

Since the start of the pandemic, Stanford has focused on reducing the density of the on-campus population to support physical distancing. Most staff members and some faculty will continue working remotely to provide additional space for those who need to be on campus.

Stanford recently announced that almost all undergraduate students will not be residing on campus during the autumn quarter. The university is still moving forward with the campus zones at this time because research activities and graduate education are resuming as planned. In addition to graduate students, a reduced number of undergraduates with special circumstances are also living on campus.

Adjusting to the campus zones

The changes become effective Sept. 1. New STAY SAFE program signage that promotes physical distancing and indicates what activities are allowed is being installed throughout campus with information to help the campus community and visitors navigate the adjustments. The zones do not extend to the Stanford Redwood City campus.

STAY SAFE signage is being installed across the main campus with information about the new campus zones. Click image to enlarge. (Image credit: Land, Buildings and Real Estate)

Different areas of the main campus where almost all academic, residential, cultural and athletic facilities are located, with the exception of the Stanford Medical Center and the faculty subdivision, will be designated as one of five types of zones:

  • The Academic Campus Zone, generally bounded by Campus Drive and Roth Way in the center of campus and including many academic buildings, the Main Quad and the Oval, will be reserved for teaching, research activities, and student residences and dining. Stanford is restricting members of the public, alumni, and faculty and staff working remotely and their families from entering this zone so that approved students and essential faculty, staff and postdocs can resume educational activities. Access to student residences and dining halls in both the Academic Campus Zones and the Campus Zones is limited to students living in on- and off-campus university housing, and staff that provide direct student support and services in these locations.
  • The Campus Zones on the east and west sides of campus, where student housing and academic facilities are located, will be limited to faculty and staff working on campus as essential personnel, and students, residential faculty, staff and families and other affiliates living in the zones.
  • The Athletics Zone includes varsity athletic facilities and will be reserved for students and essential faculty and staff approved to be on campus.
  • The Campus Arts Zone covers the Arts District, including the Cantor Arts Center, Rodin Sculpture Garden, the Anderson Collection, Frost Amphitheater and Bing Concert Hall. Similar to the other restricted zones, access is currently limited to approved students, faculty and staff.
  • The Community Zones encompassing the Arboretum, the Dish area, Stanford Golf Course and Stanford Golf Learning Center & Driving Range, and the Sand Hill Fields will remain open to the public.

While the current restrictions for the first four zones are similar, the university is maintaining the distinct designations to preserve greater flexibility to adjust restrictions in different parts of campus as public health conditions improve. For example, the university hopes that the Campus Arts Zone may be opened to visitors sooner than might be possible in other areas.

“As we continue working toward the beginning of autumn quarter and the gradual resumption of teaching and research on campus, the rapidly evolving nature of the pandemic requires unprecedented steps to safeguard the health of all who live, learn and work here,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “We want to emphasize that these changes will be temporary, and while we have regretfully had to restrict the general public’s access to a smaller portion of our campus spaces at this time, we look forward to expanding the areas available to them as public health conditions permit.”

The creation of the campus zones program will not impact public access to Stanford Health Care facilities.

Anyone coming to campus is required to observe COVID-19 protocol, including:

  • If presenting COVID-19 symptoms, please do not come to campus.
  • Maintain 6 feet of distance at all times from people not in your immediate household.
  • Wear face coverings inside (except in individual offices and residential units), and outside when appropriate physical distancing isn’t possible. Employees working outside are required to wear face coverings at all times.
  • Avoid gathering in groups.

Stanford has created a mandatory Health Check tool that enables those approved to work on campus to report their health status before arriving, and a required COVID-19-specific training on hygiene best practices developed by Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S).

A significant change for faculty, staff, postdocs and students approved to be on campus is a requirement to visibly display their Stanford IDs when in any of the restricted zones. The new rule becomes effective Sept. 8 and coincides with a significant increase in the number of students on campus, which is expected to reach approximately 6,300 for the autumn quarter. The intention is to allow everyone in the Stanford community to similarly and visibly identify their university affiliation, with the goal of avoiding potentially uncomfortable interactions about whether an individual or group is approved to be on campus during the temporary period when the campus zones are in effect.

The university is providing lanyards to those who need them to make displaying IDs easier. Approved vendors and subcontracted workers without a Stanford ID are asked to wear an appropriate uniform or to have a university-issued authorization letter readily available.

Clearly identified Stanford safety personnel will maintain a presence in popular gathering places located in restricted zones, such as the Oval, Meyer Green, Wilbur Field, Roble Field, Cobb Field, the athletic fields along El Camino Real and Lake Lagunita. The safety personnel will educate members of the public about the campus zones program and its role in maintaining a healthier campus environment. Individuals not displaying a Stanford ID and unable to otherwise demonstrate that they are approved to be in the restricted zone will be asked to relocate to a Community Zone or leave campus.

Last week, Stanford announced a plan to provide surveillance testing for all students, postdocs, faculty and staff coming to campus to quickly identify new cases of COVID-19 and monitor the spread of the virus in the Stanford community in real time.

The university also recently unveiled Campus Compacts for undergraduate and graduate students outlining preventive measures expected of students and postdoctoral scholars living in university housing, and graduate students coming to campus, that contribute to a safer campus environment. Like the campus zones program, the compacts align with state and local health orders and evidence-based best practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Gradual return of teaching and research

The new zones are a necessary adjustment to Stanford’s traditionally open campus as autumn quarter begins in mid-September, and the university brings additional people back to campus.

“Keeping the academic and student residential portions of campus separate from open community areas is an important component of limiting in-person interactions during this critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Russell Furr, associate vice provost for EH&S. “We want to enable everyone involved in the academic mission of the university to remain focused on teaching and research as we welcome new and returning students to campus, along with additional faculty and staff.”

Reducing the density of people in various parts of campus has a variety of benefits, including:

  • Facilitating adherence to public health orders;
  • Responding to concerns about health and safety;
  • Creating more opportunities for outdoor teaching and recreation;
  • Reducing disruptions of outdoor classes and meetings;
  • Aiding research recovery; and
  • Making it easier and safer for students and others to eat and socialize together outside while maintaining physical distancing.

All in-person public events in the Academic Campus Zone have been canceled through the end of 2020, with many being converted to virtual experiences, including Continuing Studies.

Students and essential researchers, faculty and staff approved to be on campus are not allowed to host visitors in the Academic Campus Zone at this time. Stanford is seeking additional guidance from Santa Clara County public health officials regarding whether students can host visitors in the Campus Zones, which is currently prohibited.

The Visitor Center is currently closed and encouraging prospective visitors to explore its virtual programming instead. The Alumni Center, which is repurposing some of its spaces for teaching, will not host in-person events during the autumn quarter. The Office of Undergraduate Admission has also moved to entirely virtual visits.

Public still welcome in Community Zones

Stanford recognizes that access to its campus is important to neighboring residents and continues to welcome the public to the parts of campus where visitors can be accommodated: the Dish area, the Arboretum, the Sand Hill Fields, and the Stanford Golf Course and Stanford Golf Learning Center & Driving Range.

The university is highlighting the lesser-known Sand Hill Fields, at the intersection of Sand Hill Road and Pasteur Drive, as a good option for the public to enjoy campus lands. The complex includes areas suitable for recreation and relaxation.

Members of the public are still allowed to walk, bike and drive along Campus Drive, and to access the Dish loop and the Campus Perimeter Trail for outdoor exercise.

“We appreciate the understanding and cooperation of our neighbors and the campus community as Stanford implements these changes,” said Megan Swezey Fogarty, associate vice president for community engagement. “As we all continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic, the collaboration of our entire community is essential.”

Stanford Health Care continues to operate a drive-through COVID-19 testing site at the Galvez Lot in the Arboretum that remains open to anyone with an appointment, and the university is advising everyone who is not seeking testing to avoid that location.

Parking and transportation

Some modifications to campus parking availability and enforcement are accompanying the creation of the campus zones.

Most noticeable is the elimination of visitor parking in the Academic Campus Zone, which will be enforced seven days a week. Parking policies for the Dish area and the Stanford Golf Course and Stanford Golf Learning Center & Driving Range remain unchanged. Visitor parking in the vicinity of the Sand Hill Fields and all other campus visitor lots requires a permit purchased through the ParkMobile app.

In an effort to reduce large groups coming to campus, all organized campus tours have been canceled through 2020 and tour buses are not permitted to enter the campus at this time. There is no authorized parking for tour buses.

A sign is also being installed at the Palo Alto Transit Center to alert passengers using the Marguerite shuttle of the new rules governing access to different areas of campus.

Inviting feedback

Stanford is seeking input from internal and external stakeholders as it fine-tunes the campus zones program.

“We want suggestions for how the campus zones can be improved as we all learn together over the coming weeks how best to implement this program that was necessitated by the state guidance,” said President Tessier-Lavigne. “We are committed to a collaborative effort that complies with county and state public health orders, while also striving to meet the needs of the Stanford community and allow our neighbors to enjoy parts of campus.”

Answers to frequently asked questions about the program are available here. Ideas for program refinements and additions to the FAQ should be sent to

More information about Stanford’s phased recovery process is available on the Cardinal Recovery website. It details the university’s plan for returning people to campus and covers a range of topics, from general guidance to health information to building management tools. Important COVID-19 updates for the campus community continue to be provided through the Health Alerts website, and campus community members should submit concerns to the Ethics and Compliance Helpline.