By Erin Woo
More than 800 people have signed a petition calling for University transparency and separate facilities for students exposed to COVID-19, as graduate students worry that self-quarantining students may have been moved into the Escondido Village (EV) studio residences.
Some students exposed to coronavirus who have not been diagnosed with the virus have been moved into EV studios, multiple graduate students said they were told by Graduate Life Office deans.
“All the students we’ve placed in guest spaces are self-isolating for preventative reasons and are not symptomatic,” wrote Graduate Life Office associate director Laurette Beeson on March 16, in an emailed response to an EV Studio 2 resident who asked for more information on “unsubstantiated claims that the administration is considering using studio housing for quarantine spaces.”
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, isolation “separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick,” while quarantine “separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.”
On Tuesday evening, Vice Provost for Graduate Education & Postdoctoral Affairs Stacey Bent and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole wrote in an email to graduate students that “a very limited number of students have needed to self-isolate on campus, either because they are awaiting or have received a COVID-19 test result, or because they have returned from or traveled through a CDC Level 3 country.”
“Following CDC guidelines, our protocol is for self-isolation to occur in a single room with a private bathroom, with no interaction with nearby residents and no use of building common areas such as lounges or laundry rooms,” Bent and Brubaker-Cole wrote. “This may occur in a stand-alone structure or in a multi-unit complex that houses other people.”
The email does not clarify where the self-isolating students are being housed, but notes that “none of these complexes has air circulating between units, and all common spaces and common areas are receiving enhanced cleaning and disinfection daily.”
As of March 16, no students had been assigned to self-isolate in Studio 1, according to an email Beeson sent to Studio 1 residents.
“As you know things are changing very quickly,” Beeson wrote. “We have not assigned any students to self-isolate in your building. We have heard, loud and clear, that many of you want to know if that changes. We will continue to consult with medical professionals on best practices for your health and safety.”
The public uncertainty surrounding the situation and the balance between safety and privacy have sparked heated debate among graduate students, who have clashed in statements on an 8,000-word shared Google Doc that is serving as their de facto public forum.
Emma Wang J.D. ’20, one of the students who drafted the petition, told The Daily that the purpose of the petition was not to pitch a “grad student v. Administration” battle or to single out self-quarantining students.
“We are simply raising issues that the administration might have understandably overlooked given the overwhelming nature of this COVID-19 outbreak,” Wang wrote. “The university might be working around the clock, but lack of capacity should not be an excuse to not exercise their responsibility.”
Multiple graduate students have argued that knowing whether self-quarantining students are being housed in their building could help inform the level of precautions they need to take when using common spaces like lounges and laundry facilities. All EV studio apartments have their own kitchens and bathrooms.
Other graduate students have written against the petition on the Google Doc, arguing that despite the petition’s intentions, it could serve to stigmatize students in self-quarantine.
“We already know students on campus have been infected,” wrote Chris Hughes, a biosciences Ph.D. candidate with a research background in viral epidemiology. “We already know faculty members have been infected. We already know that thousands of people are exposed for every confirmed case we have. It should be patently obvious that some of your neighbors are currently infected or have been exposed. Allowing these individuals to use unoccupied studio rooms facilitates greater isolation from other communal living spaces and serves to curb the spread of infection.”
The petition asks for the University to house “identified individuals with close contact to the COVID-19 virus … in centralized facilities separate from ordinary student living quarters,” to “warn students that they might be occupying the same or nearby residential building with someone who has been in close contact with the COVID-19 virus” and to “adequately inform the Stanford community about the risk of the virus, especially the risk for young people and the risk of contracting the virus from persons not showing any symptoms.”
University spokesperson E.J. Miranda declined to answer specific questions from The Daily, referring instead to a March 18 message to graduate student residents from Associate Vice Provost for Environmental Health and Safety Russell Furr.
The message does not address whether students are, have been or will be self-quarantined in graduate residences.
“From the beginning of our current health crisis, Stanford administrators and medical staff have worked in close collaboration with local, state, and federal agencies to guide our response to the coronavirus,” Furr wrote. “This includes putting in place a protocol for self-isolation for students who travelled overseas, were potentially exposed to COVID-19, or are awaiting test results.”
Microbiology and immunology professor Robert Siegel ’76 M.A. ’77 M.D. ’90 told The Daily that if self-quarantining students were to be housed in graduate residences, residents “should be well protected if they follow the recommended guidelines,” including maintaining 6 foot separation in social contacts and avoiding touching surfaces in common areas that might be contaminated.
“We do think it’s important for us to understand that any of us could be carriers and with the brand new shelter-in-place restrictions, we hope you will continue to stay home, minimize time spent in communal areas, wash your hands regularly and sanitize your own spaces,” Beeson wrote in her March 16 email.
March 25, 9:06 a.m. PT: This article has been updated to reflect that the number of signees on the petition has exceeded 800.