Stanford Medicine leadership offers updates, assurances on COVID-19

Leaders of the Stanford School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care and Stanford Children’s Health answered questions about COVID-19 and discussed how Stanford Medicine is addressing the outbreak.

- By Amy Jeter Hansen

Stanford Medicine leaders offered updates about local testing for COVID-19, as well as information about transmission and treatment of the respiratory disease, during a virtual town hall on March 12. 

In addition, they provided details about safety precautions and the ongoing response from Stanford Medicine, which comprises the School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care and Stanford Children’s Health. More than 7,000 people watched the event live online. 

The speakers on the town hall panel included the leadership of Stanford Medicine: Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine; David Entwistle, Stanford Health Care president and CEO; and Paul King, Stanford Children’s Health president and CEO. Yvonne Maldonado, MD, a senior associate dean and professor of pediatric infectious diseases and of health research and policy, also joined the panel. The moderator was Andra Blomkalns, MD, professor and chair of the emergency medicine.

“Let me express to you how proud we are of you and the great work that you do every day on behalf of our Stanford Medicine community, our community in our region, and the nation and the world,” Minor said.

The panelists addressed questions from the Stanford Medicine community about COVID-19 and the virus that causes the disease. They described the health system’s approach to identifying patients with the illness and ensuring that exposure is minimal for other patients and employees.

Diagnostic test, drive-through appointments

Stanford Health Care has set up a drive-through testing service, by appointment, for people with symptoms who have been referred by a primary care provider, Entwistle said. 

The Food and Drug Administration-approved test was developed by a team led by Benjamin Pinsky, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology and infectious diseases. It typically yields results within 24 hours. So far, it has been used to test hundreds of patients in the Bay Area, including at Stanford Health Care and other local health providers, Minor said. “We hope to double that in the not-too-distant future,” he added.

At-risk patients who arrive at Stanford Hospital are greeted by health care providers outfitted in protective gear, including masks, gowns and gloves, Blomkalns said. She added that a triage area has been set up outside the Marc and Laura Andreessen Emergency Department to quickly identify patients who may have the virus and then provide care for them away from highly-trafficked spaces.

Inside Stanford Hospital and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford — both upgraded in the past two years — negative pressure rooms prevent the spread of airborne contaminants, Minor said. “We’re therefore prepared to protect our health care workforce from the spread of this virus,” he said.

 ‘We have been working very hard’

Maldonado, who specializes in infectious diseases, provided details and context about COVID-19, which was first identified in Wuhan, China, in January, as well as information about the national and global response to the pandemic. 

“We have been working very hard, not just at Stanford but around the country and around the world, to understand this epidemic,” she said. “We don’t see any major surprises happening right now.”

Maldonado said experts had predicted that cases would increase globally, but they do not believe the United States will experience a sudden spike. Instead, lower levels of disease are likely, differing by community. “We have to really depend on our public health responses locally to be able to contain what’s happening at the local level,” she said.

The fatality rate for COVID-19 remains unclear because the epidemic is ongoing and the number of asymptomatic people is unknown, Maldonado said. However, she said, the rate is likely slightly higher than that of influenza.

Generally, people older than 60 are at the highest risk, and a diagnosis of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or a respiratory condition makes them 2 to 5 times more vulnerable, she said.

Both the government and private sector are working on a vaccine, and the hope is that one will be available in the next year, Maldonado said. Additionally, an antiviral drug is being tested, and may be used for treatment for patients with cases that could be terminal.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include a cough, sore throat and fever as low as 100, progressing to shortness of breath in the most severe cases, Maldonado said.

She acknowledged a number of factors that remain unknown: whether the disease will taper off with warmer weather; whether it will return as a seasonal illness; and why children seem to be less susceptible to severe symptoms.

“I am cautiously optimistic about the situation that we are facing right now, because I have a lot of faith in our population here,” she said.

Guidance for employees

The leaders also provided guidance for employees on how to remain safe.

“If you have fever or cough or any symptoms that you would suspect might be related to this virus, first of all, stay at home,” King said. “Second of all, we’d ask you to seek out care from your personal physician, and to find out from that individual what is the best next step you should take in terms of caring for yourself.”

Information technology teams are available to help employees with telecommuting, King said. He and Entwistle encouraged workers to speak with their supervisors about their needs for working remotely.

Minor said he was in close contact with other Stanford leaders and that the medical school would follow the university’s lead. Classes for pre-clinical students have been moved online, and guidelines are in place to protect medical students doing clinical rotations, he said. Laboratories continued to operate.

Minor encouraged the Stanford Medicine community to remain prudent in the face of the virus, and he and his colleagues praised the community’s determination and professionalism.

“It’s times like these that bring us together,” King said, “The only thing we know for sure, with 100% certainty, is that we don’t know everything, and that what we do know will change in the next minute, in the next hour. The best thing that we can do is continue to lean on each other — to move forward in terms of having a smart response to this virus.”

More information about the novel coronavirus can be found on Stanford Medicine’s COVID-19 webpage.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit

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