10.22.20: Campus restrictions update

A message sent to members of the campus community and Lehigh families

Dear Members of the Campus Community and Lehigh Families, 

At the beginning of the semester, we advised students and families that campus access and activity may change throughout the fall given evolving conditions. About three weeks ago, we began to see an increase in cases. In response, we implemented restrictions on campus activity and expanded surveillance testing. The adjustments made by our community in response to an increase in positive cases demonstrate incredible responsibility and flexibility, as well as care for the health and safety of one another. 

The data show that we have reduced the spread of the virus: 

  • Rates of positive tests in asymptomatic individuals have declined from 4% to about 1% over the last three weeks. 

  • The numbers of positive tests in symptomatic students and close contacts have also fallen in that time period. Visit the dashboard for active case information, reported daily

  • The number of students in isolation and quarantine has also decreased during this time.

This is a great testament to the critical efforts of our community. In recent weeks we have seen a marked improvement in terms of attention to wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing. These have been key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and thereby mitigating the risk of spreading the virus further. 

Campus Restrictions

As a result, beginning Monday, October 26, we are able to begin cautiously reversing some of the restrictions put into place

We will not immediately return to “normal.” Activities will resume in a phased approach, beginning with those that data suggest qualify as lower-risk for transmission. 

Evidence of Spread

The majority of cases observed in the initial spike were tied to informal settings and primarily in our off-campus undergraduate student population. They were also tied to interactions occurring between students living on and off campus. Contacts occurred mostly in social or informal gatherings, including those with as few as two people, and primarily in settings where face coverings were not worn and social distancing was not observed. Given these concerns, restrictions on gatherings will continue, and we continue to emphasize the importance of wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing. 

Lehigh case data (for students, faculty and staff) show no clear evidence of spread in classes or to graduate students, faculty and staff. This supports the effectiveness of mitigation protocols in place in classrooms and formal settings.

Approach for Remainder of Semester

We recognize that students who are accessing campus want to take advantage of the resources available to them as much as possible before leaving for Thanksgiving break and finishing fall courses remotely as planned. If conditions continue to improve, restrictions may be further reversed in the coming weeks. The results of ongoing surveillance and diagnostic testing of students living on and off campus will help to inform our overall analysis of conditions. 

What Activities May Resume?

Restrictions currently in place will continue today as well as Friday, October 23, and through the weekend. The following activities may resume for on- and off-campus students beginning Monday, October 26:

  • Libraries - EWFM/Linderman Libraries will open with capacity limits. There will be a zero-tolerance policy in place for failure to wear face coverings. If a staff member observes anyone who is not wearing a face covering at any time, they will be asked to leave.

  • Outdoor activity - Outdoor access to campus for off-campus students will be restored. Outdoor activity in which the wearing of face coverings and social distancing is observed is lower-risk for transmission of the virus.  We encourage students to take advantage of the health and associated wellness benefits being outdoors can provide, especially as we approach colder temperatures and anticipate spending more time indoors through the winter.  

  • Classes - Some in-person undergraduate research and course activity will resume. Information about specific classes will be provided to students in those classes by the instructors. 

  • Undergraduate research - Undergraduates working in research labs may return to research labs. Students should contact their faculty supervisor who will request approval from their dean.  

  • Building access - Access to classrooms and facilities will be reactivated during regular instructional hours (between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.). 

Health Protocols

In every setting, from studying in the library to walking around campus or visiting a local pharmacy or establishment, we cannot stress enough the importance of wearing face coverings. In addition, you must remain vigilant in completing required COVID-19 testing, practicing social distancing, completing your daily COVID-19 self-assessment via Hawkwatch, washing your hands, and taking responsible action in terms of your health such as staying home when sick and reporting your symptoms. COVID-19 related violations continue to be expedited and strictly enforced through our code of conduct process.

What Activities Remain Restricted?

  • Gatherings - The five-person limit for gatherings will remain in effect. For students, we encourage limiting off-campus social activity. This is in direct response to the data indicating evidence of transmission occurring off campus and among students living on and off campus. Given no evidence of transmission in classroom and formal settings, in-person courses may exceed this five-person limit in accordance with the established course format. 

  • Travel - We continue to ask all students who are accessing campus or living on campus to limit travel and stay in the Bethlehem area except to return home for emergency or health-related circumstances. Further clarification regarding the return to campus protocol for those who must leave campus was provided to students by email earlier this week and is also addressed and provided to families below. 

  • Dining - All dining will continue to be take-out. Given the particular concern of transmission occurring when face coverings are not worn (as when eating), we will be reviewing what mitigation protocols can be implemented to resume some dine-in options as practicable.

  • Recreation - Taylor Gym remains closed.

  • Athletics - Athletic team practices and training remain suspended. 

While not a restriction, we continue to encourage managers and department chairs to allow employees to work remotely if practicable and feasible.  

Conditions Warranting Further Campus Restriction

In deciding to restrict campus activity, we take numerous factors into account. While the number of positive cases and positivity rate are pertinent, they are not the only important measure. It is possible that these or another combination of factors—including isolation housing capacity, the rates of new COVID infections in Northampton County as well as the national and global landscape, hospital and healthcare capacity, and the number of close contacts identified as a result of confirmed positive cases that have the potential to strain contact tracing efforts—could inform decisions to further restrict campus activity in the future. 

Ongoing Testing

We will be closely monitoring the results of ongoing surveillance and diagnostic testing. If we again start to see an upward trend in positive cases, campus access may be further limited. Surveillance testing continues October 26-27 and November 9-10. For those required to be tested, respond promptly and sign up for an appointment through a link in the email you received. Any further testing dates or requirements will be communicated by email.

Travel and Return to Campus Protocol

We remind students of the importance of limiting travel to only extenuating or emergency circumstances until leaving for Thanksgiving break. Those who left campus during this time are responsible for following the required protocols in place before returning this semester, including demonstrating two negative PCR tests 5-7 days apart. These requirements apply to any student who has left the Bethlehem area for an extended period of time (such as overnight) and who either lives on campus or plans to access campus. Students must upload their lab reports to the health portal (including all required information such as student name, date of specimen collection, type of test and result). The Health and Wellness Center support team will review all lab reports and notify Housing Services about clearance for return. The HWC support team will notify students through the health portal if additional information is required. If you have left campus, do not return to campus before receiving clearance by Housing Services.  

In some instances, we clarified pieces of this protocol after students had already left campus. We apologize for the frustration families may have experienced in making adjustments. We continue to emphasize the importance of limiting travel and staying on campus if possible and appreciate students’ diligence in following these necessary health and safety measures before returning. If you have questions regarding the Travel and Return to Campus protocol, please contact the Health and Wellness Center support team at intravel@lehigh.edu.

End-of-Semester Protocols

In the coming weeks, we will share further information regarding the planned transition to fully remote instruction after Thanksgiving break and related information.

Thank you for your continued support as we all work together to support a safe and healthy living, learning and working environment. 

-COVID-19 Response Team