Stanford University has become the second major U.S. university to cancel in-person classes to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The university also announced Friday that two undergraduate students who possibly were exposed to the virus are in self-isolation and that a School of Medicine faculty member has tested positive for COVID-19.
Beginning Monday, March 9, all classes will move online "to the extent feasible" for the last two weeks of the winter quarter, Provost Persis Drell wrote to students on Friday.
Stanford's response to the coronavirus has escalated rapidly this week. Just yesterday, the university said it expected regularly scheduled classes to continue through the remainder of the quarter.
Students will now take winter quarter finals at home. The university made this decision after "thoughtful consideration," Drell said.
"The public health guidance we are receiving continues to emphasize not only good personal hygiene practices, but also minimizing close contact among groups of people, as means of restraining the spread of COVID-19," she wrote. "We recently placed constraints on large public events at Stanford, and now, in order both to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to ease anxiety in our community as winter finals approach, we are taking new steps regarding course instruction."
Dean Lloyd Minor and Stanford Health Care leadership notified the School of Medicine on Friday of the faculty member, who they said has not been in the work environment since experiencing symptoms. Stanford has followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines in this case, they wrote, including notifying people who might have been exposed to the person and requesting that they self-isolate to prevent potential spread of the coronavirus. The clinic where the person worked has been closed for cleaning and is expected to reopen on Monday, they wrote.
Drell separately said Friday that the two undergraduates in self-isolation are not displaying any symptoms of COVID-19 and have been tested at Stanford Health Care; results are expected within 24 hours. Both students have moved out of their undergraduate housing, she said.
"I know that this development will be a source of anxiety and concern. We continue to be guided in our actions by medical professionals and public health guidance, and our team of university leaders is prepared to take additional steps to safeguard the health of our community as they become necessary," Drell wrote. "Out of respect for the students involved in this immediate matter, I want to encourage you not to engage in rumors or speculation that will not be helpful to the situation."
Stanford enrolls about 7,000 undergraduate students and nearly 8,000 graduate students.
Drell encouraged students to take the same precautions that public health and school officials have been urging: stay home when sick; wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds; cough and sneeze into your elbow; and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
On Friday, Drell also announced that admit weekend, a major April event for students who have or will be accepted to Stanford, has been canceled. Group campus tours and information sessions for prospective students will also no longer take place.
A slew of university events have been canceled to stem the potential spread the new coronavirus. Stanford has also suspended all international study abroad programs for the spring and has increased its travel restrictions to include university-sponsored travel to any country.
The University of Washington was reportedly the first major university to cancel in-person classes earlier Friday amidst an outbreak in Seattle and with a university staff member who tested positive for the coronavirus.
The number of cases of the new coronavirus in Santa Clara County increased to 24 on Friday, when four new cases were announced by the Public Health Department. The county has the most cases of any in California, accounting for more than a quarter statewide.
On Thursday, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced that a "few" patients who tested positive for COVID-19 are being treated at Stanford Medicine.
"With the increased availability of testing, we can expect that confirmed cases of COVID-19 will continue to grow in our region and perhaps in our university community," Drell wrote.
Drell encouraged faculty with classes scheduled on Monday to cancel them and use the time instead to shift their courses online. As much is feasible, faculty will be expected to make their course content, including class materials, available via online education platform Canvas or other online options.
Stanford as a whole will remain open but is encouraging employees and managers to work remotely if possible.
"Many people are understandably anxious about COVID-19 and the unknowns that it poses. And yet, our community is doing a remarkable job rising to the challenge: from our food service workers who are continuing to serve our students, to the custodians performing more frequent cleanings; from the faculty and staff rescheduling events and projects, to the dedicated teams who have been working exhausting hours coordinating the university’s response," Drell wrote.
Read our latest updates on local coronavirus cases here.