Dear Stanford community,

We are writing to share two important updates about our winter quarter at Stanford: first, a phased start for in-person undergraduate classes, and second, an updated isolation strategy for undergraduates who test positive for COVID-19.

Throughout this week we have seen rising numbers of COVID-19 cases as students have been returning to campus. There have now been nearly 400 positive tests among students since last Friday, mostly among students completing their initial testing upon arriving on campus. Students who have tested positive are isolating, some in university-designated isolation spaces and some in their regular assigned housing.

We anticipate further increases in cases as more students arrive. While we have designated isolation spaces available currently, we expect our capacity to be strained in the coming days, particularly at the undergraduate level. The challenge for our staff, who are working tirelessly to keep up with the increasing numbers, also is significant and exacerbated by the nearly 300 positive tests we have seen among faculty, staff and postdocs over the last week.

University leaders from across the academic, student services and public health domains have been assessing the experiences of this week and deliberating on how to provide the smoothest possible on-ramp to in-person instruction. We have concluded it will be valuable to (a) provide an additional week for many undergraduate classes to be available remotely and (b) update our strategy for isolation.

We encourage undergraduates who have not yet returned to campus to review the updates below and consider the optimal timing for traveling back.

Phased resumption of in-person classes

Our resumption of in-person instruction will now be phased:

  • All graduate-level courses will resume in-person instruction as scheduled on Tuesday, Jan. 18, at the beginning of Week 3. This includes any graduate-level courses in which undergraduates are enrolled.
  • All graduate AND undergraduate courses that must be taught in-person (e.g. labs, design projects, art practice, performance-based) will also resume in-person as scheduled on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
  • All other undergraduate courses will resume in-person on Monday, Jan. 24, at the beginning of Week 4.

Undergraduate instructors should be in touch with students to confirm the format of their class for Week 3. Instructors should confer with their dean or chair/director if they have questions.

Classrooms at Stanford have been low-risk environments, thanks to universal masking, our community’s high level of vaccination and our robust testing program. This phased resumption will help support our isolation situation and allow undergraduates who are in isolation to access classes online for a further period, as appears necessary.

Please be aware that an individual class could still be conducted online for a short period of time after these start dates if the need arises – for instance, if an instructor tests positive, or if large numbers of students within a class test positive and need to isolate, or for other reasons.

Updated undergraduate isolation protocol

For the last several weeks, we have been identifying additional space to support the isolation of COVID-positive students. We also adjusted our protocols recently to allow students to isolate in place in residences where they have a private bedroom and access to a single-occupancy bathroom (which applies to most graduate and professional students and some undergraduates in certain residences).

Still, the increase in positive cases threatens to strain our capacity in the coming days if we stick to the approach of assigning all COVID-positive undergraduates a separate, designated isolation space. We need to further adjust our protocols to allow greater numbers of undergraduates to isolate in their regular assigned housing.

In the coming days, as we reach capacity in our designated isolation spaces and if more students test positive before isolation spaces become available, we may ask COVID-positive undergraduates to isolate in place. Meals will be provided. If we get to this point, we will provide options for their roommates who have tested negative, which may include remaining in place, if the room configuration supports it; or moving to a vacant room or common area in a student residence that has been repurposed as temporary sleeping space; or moving to a COVID-negative friend’s room temporarily; or moving to an off-campus hotel space reserved by the university, if needed and available. Multi-use shared bathrooms also will be signed to avoid overlapping use by COVID-positive and COVID-negative students.

You may ask why COVID-negative roommates in these situations would be asked to temporarily relocate, rather than COVID-positive students. A COVID-negative student has more flexibility to move about the campus, to be around others, to locate study spaces and otherwise continue their routines than a COVID-positive student who is isolating and recovering from symptoms.

More broadly, we hope you’ll understand and agree that we are in an unprecedented situation, as the virus is reaching the highest levels seen throughout this pandemic. As has been the case since the beginning, individual actions will to a large degree determine how well we navigate this new challenge. We continue to believe this will be a short-term situation as the omicron wave passes, and we deeply appreciate your flexibility and patience.

We know you will have more questions. Additional details about these adjustments to the isolation process will be available on the Student Affairs website in the coming days.

Additional pointers for students

  • Test before you travel: Returning students should take a COVID-19 test before traveling back to Stanford, and delay travel if you receive a positive result.
  • Arrive on campus early enough to get through your first Color test before your first class: We continue to have rapid tests available for arriving students, but in addition, you’ll need to return to Stanford in time to take your first Color test, and receive the result, before going to your first class. Expect turnaround times of up to 48 hours.
  • Airline tickets: For returning students who need to change any flights, many airlines are providing fairly flexible cancelation and rescheduling policies. Contact the Financial Aid Office regarding your financial aid package if travel disruptions present a financial hardship.
  • Leaves of absence: The leave of absence deadline for a full refund has been extended to Friday, Jan. 14, at 5 p.m. See the Registrar’s website for details for graduate and undergraduate students.

Appreciation for our staff

Finally, as we update our academic plans, we also want to express appreciation to our Stanford staff workforce. We’re grateful for your continued contributions, whether you are working on-site or remotely right now. School and unit leaders have provided flexibility in work settings wherever feasible for the first two weeks of January. We look forward to seeing our colleagues gradually return to campus in the second half of January, though we encourage managers to continue offering flexibility through the end of this month.

Thank you to everyone in our community – for your adaptability, for your care for our students and one another and for your continued partnership in meeting with courage and confidence the ever-evolving challenges before us.


Persis Drell

Russell Furr
Associate Vice Provost, Environmental Health & Safety