Stanford releases COVID-19 testing plan for fall quarter

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Stanford has released its plan for on-campus COVID-19 testing. The University’s strategy, sent out via email on Aug. 20, relies on periodically testing on-campus students and staff who are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

“Starting August 31, we will begin ongoing surveillance testing,” wrote Provost Persis Drell and other Stanford leaders. “Students will be required to participate in weekly testing, and students also will be able to access additional testing, up to a total of two tests per week, if they wish to have it. We will monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community in real time and may adjust the cadence of testing based on what we see.”

Stanford’s plan includes regular COVID-19 testing, provided at no charge, for graduate and professional students, undergraduates who have been approved to live on campus, and faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars regularly working on campus. Students living on campus are required to get tested, and testing is voluntary for staff, faculty and postdocs. The University is strongly encouraging faculty and staff to get tested weekly. 

The plan includes recommendations from a task force convened by Drell and chaired by School of Medicine Dean Lloyd Minor.

Minor wrote, responding through Stanford Medicine spokesperson Julie Greicius, that they prioritized “the operational feasibility of the tests, the sensitivity and specificity of the testing methodologies, the turnaround times for results and the capacity for high-volume testing” when designing the University’s testing strategy.

Stanford is relying on two testing methodologies — loop-mediated isothermal amplification diagnostic assay (LAMP) and real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Both testing methodologies have FDA emergency-use authorization.

Yvonne Maldonado described the PCR test developed by Stanford Medicine, one of the first SARS-CoV-2 tests approved by the FDA, as “state-of-the-art.”

Maldonado, one of Stanford’s leading coronavirus researchers and a professor of pediatrics and of health and research policy, is conducting research on the testing, transmission and treatment of COVID-19. She believes Stanford’s testing plan “reflects an extremely thoughtful and evidence-based approach.”

The two methodologies also utilize different supply chains, a factor considered by the task force.

“Given the supply chain issues that we’ve seen nationally, we wanted to diversify to have access to two highly reliable methods,” Minor wrote.

For students who receive a positive test result, Stanford will provide isolation accommodations, as well as a confirmatory test through Vaden Health Services. Stanford is also working on updating its notification system for those who have come into close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.

According to Minor, Vaden will conduct exposure notification for students, while the Occupational Health Center will conduct exposure notification for faculty, staff and post-docs.

Radiology professor and COVID-19 researcher Lawrence Hofmann expressed satisfaction with Stanford’s overall handling of COVID-19, as well as its newly released testing procedures, praising Stanford leadership.

“I have been involved in a number of discussions on how to handle the crisis, and I believe the decision to not have undergraduates return to campus is the correct one,” Hofmann wrote to The Daily. “In addition, the testing strategy that Dean Minor constructed for those that have to return to campus is prudent and should be modeled at other universities.”

For Hofmann, the strength of Stanford’s plan lies in its ability to adapt to changing conditions on campus.

“I think that one of the key components in the released testing guidelines is the flexibility to change them as things change with the pandemic,” he wrote. “It will be important that we are all flexible to adjust to the changes with COVID-19, in particular as we enter colder weather and the flu season.” 

This article has been corrected to clarify that Maldonado specifically described a PCR test developed by Stanford Medicine as “state-of-the-art.”

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