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Over 1,500 petition for University action against coronavirus amid rising cases in Santa Clara County

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As more than 1,500 people signed a petition demanding that Stanford act more forcefully to prevent a potential coronavirus outbreak on campus, the University released a statement on Tuesday afternoon updating its guidelines on the virus, including calling for the cancellation or postponement of large events and encouraging use of phone or video conferencing for meetings. 

Russell Furr, the vice provost for environmental health and safety, wrote that Stanford “has activated an emergency operations organization” to coordinate measures against the virus.

“We are strongly encouraging university units to cancel or postpone events they are hosting between March 4 and April 15 that involve more than 150 participants,” Furr wrote. 

Regular courses, however, are not subject to this suggestion. 

In addition, Furr announced that student dining halls will be open to serve only Stanford community members. The University will also conduct more frequent cleaning in common areas and encourage community members to take personal precautions by adhering to basic hygienic practices such as hand-washing. 

The email reaffirmed the University’s commitment to maintaining active communication and assured the public that “contingency planning is actively underway.” 

But the petition, started by the student group Stanford Against Coronavirus, requests that the University go further, asking it to work with Vaden Health Center, Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE), ASSU and academic departments to coordinate a comprehensive strategy that protects all Stanford affiliates. 

“If Stanford University hesitates to take immediate and appropriate actions to protect its 16,520 students and 14,060 faculty and staff members, COVID-19 will have a great potential to spread throughout the campus, jeopardizing the lives of us all,” the petition reads. 

Stanford Against Coronavirus drafted a detailed contingency plan that recommends preventative steps the University can take to address the outbreak, including suspending large gatherings, preparing student dorms with disinfectants and providing dining hall staff with medical masks. 

The contingency plan also encourages course instructors to conduct classes digitally, offer take-home final exams and remove attendance requirements for all courses with more than 50 students. 

The University did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.

Yulou Zhou ’20, who has written for The Daily, started the petition with 14 other students on Monday afternoon. It began circulating on Tuesday morning, garnering over 1,500 signatures by Tuesday night.

Zhou said he is “disappointed that many people still don’t see it as a domestic issue.”

“First, I acknowledge that I could be overly cautious given the unclear situation,” he said. “However, making alternative arrangements for classes is such a low-cost thing to prevent a highly harmful risk.”

Meanwhile, the possible threat of COVID-19 has resulted in the cancellation of events and classes across campus.

Wednesday’s event with author Obi Kaufmann has been postponed to an unknown later date due to a “Stanford University communique regarding large public events in light of the unfolding Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation,” according to an email from the Planet Earth Arts & New Play Festival at Stanford, which is sponsoring the event.

Additionally, Social Dance I and II instructor Richard Powers wrote in an email that he would conduct class through written descriptions of dance steps and figures and videos posted online due to concerns of the possible spread of COVID-19 in his classes. Powers also revealed that these preventive measures will affect his spring courses.

“For next quarter, I also want to play it safe, with students returning from spring break all over the world,” Powers wrote. “I’ll probably replace SD1 and SD2 with small lecture courses.”

CS 230: “Deep Learning” has also canceled its poster session planned on March 18. 

Director of Athletics Bernard Muir also sent out an email Tuesday evening to all Stanford athletes and stated that despite curtailing public attendance “to an extent,” the University has confirmed that competitions may continue as scheduled.

“The purpose of this curtailment is to help combat the spread of the virus on campus and in the community,” Muir wrote. “While the university has restricted travel to the most heavily-impacted countries and suggests limiting non-essential travel within the U.S., you may continue to compete in your team’s scheduled off-campus competitions.”

To date, 11 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Santa Clara County. The county’s public health department announced the two most recent cases in a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, saying that it is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to monitor the situation. 

“We ask for the public’s help in sharing new [hygienic] recommendations, staying calm, and following prior guidance issued by the CDC,” said the county’s health officer Sara Cody.

The recommendations include canceling mass gatherings, taking necessary measures to ensure all people who experience symptoms of illness stay home and avoid contact with others and enhancing the screening of persons for respiratory illness. 

Cody also reassured concerned individuals that the disease will be mild for about 80% of the population and the vast majority of patients will recover. However, the public should remain alert and prepare for a developing situation, Cody said. 

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Stanford Against Coronavirus as Stanford for Coronavirus in a caption. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Daniel Yang at danieljhyang ‘at’ stanford.edu and Camryn Pak at cpak23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Daniel Yang is a staff writer interested in studying History. Contact him at danieljy 'at' stanford.edu.
Camryn Pak '23 is a desk editor for news. She is majoring in American Studies with a focus on Inequality, Media and the Law. Contact her at cpak23 'at' stanford.edu.