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Welcome to winter quarter

As we begin the new quarter, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne shares some context around the university’s decision-making regarding the omicron variant and expresses gratitude for our community’s adaptability, partnership and perseverance.

Dear Stanford community,

At the start of each academic quarter, I like to share my reflections with our community as I welcome everyone back. In normal times, there is much to be energized and excited about. And while that remains true, over the past week the attention of our community has understandably been drawn to the current surge in COVID infections, and I have received many inquiries about how we are viewing the current situation. So today, I’d like to share some details about how we are thinking about the Omicron variant and provide additional context around what is guiding our decision-making in this moment.

As you know, the transmissibility of the Omicron variant is driving a surge in COVID cases around the world, and at Stanford we are now seeing the highest case numbers of the entire pandemic. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that we are in a very different place than we were last winter, amid another surge in cases. We remain concerned and prepared for severe cases, especially among the unvaccinated and those with other medical conditions. But because of the apparently milder disease caused by this variant for those who are vaccinated, and given our high degree of vaccination, the risk of severe illness and hospitalization is much lower for the vast majority of our community at this moment than it was a year ago.

Instead, many of the challenges we are grappling with at this time are primarily logistical. Public health guidance continues to call for an isolation period for individuals who test positive for COVID-19, in order to limit further transmission. Therefore, a major focus for us has been providing isolation space for students who test positive while also helping those students keep up with their studies, and supporting a full return to in-person academic activities later this month. This is especially logistically complex at the undergraduate level, due to the congregate living setting for most undergraduates.

These goals informed our decision to introduce several new measures in the past week, including a phased start to in-person instruction, changes to our isolation strategy, and short-term limitations on campus events and gatherings. I deeply appreciate the willingness of our community members to adapt to these changes, which require some sacrifice. I’m grateful to both students and instructors for their flexibility as we begin the quarter with a period of online instruction. I also want to offer a special thank you to our staff members, who have worked tirelessly to support a challenging and evolving student return process, as well as those working in our health care system, who are managing rising cases from our region.

I also want to acknowledge that the pandemic continues to affect all of us in different ways, as it has from the very beginning. I have heard from members of our community who are eager to get back to in-person activities more rapidly than we have planned, as well as others who would prefer to see remote learning extended even longer. Some are concerned about the toll that renewed isolation is taking on some students; others are concerned about the safety of vulnerable loved ones or are juggling additional family responsibilities amid the new surge; and yet others are navigating staff shortages – all concerns that we recognize and share. We are doing our best to account for the many varied situations that our community members find themselves in, and I encourage you to be understanding and flexible with one another, as you have been throughout the pandemic.

After nearly two years of contending with the pandemic, this surge is disappointing, and the next weeks will continue to challenge us. But I’m also hopeful that Omicron infections will peak soon – as models suggest they will – and that we will return to a more normal campus experience before long. Like previous surges, this demanding period will pass, and being together in person will energize and rejuvenate us. Our experiences over the past two years have given us the knowledge, the tools, and the resolve to face this moment.

As we begin the new quarter, I am more grateful than ever for our community. Thank you for all you are doing to support one another and sustain our mission through this challenging time. I’m deeply grateful for your adaptability, your partnership, and your perseverance as we deal with the current surge.

Thank you, and I wish you the best for a new quarter and a new year.

Best regards,

Marc Tessier-Lavigne