10.8.20: New Campus-wide Directive and COVID-19 Test Results

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

Dear Members of the Campus Community and Lehigh Families, 

Since we significantly scaled back campus activity last week, the combination of ongoing COVID-19 diagnostic testing of symptomatic students, diagnostic testing for students identified as close contacts, and results so far from Tuesday’s surveillance testing have resulted in a total of 147 positive COVID-19 student cases on and off campus. Two faculty and staff cases had previously been reported, with no new cases reported since September 28, and there have not been significant numbers of positive cases in our graduate student population. 

The sharp rise in positive undergraduate student cases, and the 3 percent positivity rate based on the results returned so far from the surveillance testing performed Tuesday, affirms the step of scaling back campus activity and also demonstrates the need for further action to reduce the spread of the virus among our on- and off-campus student population. 

Guided by advice from health professionals and local, state, and national best practices to curtail the spread of the virus, we are issuing new guidance and restrictions for on- and off-campus activity as described below. 

Additional changes will take effect beginning Friday, October 9. We anticipate that these changes will continue through Friday, October 23

  • NEW - Students living ON CAMPUS should not leave campus except to return home or for emergency or health-related circumstances. Taking a COVID-19 test off campus through the Health and Wellness Center’s partnership with the Lehigh Valley Health Network or picking up a prescription at the pharmacy are two such exceptions. We do not encourage or recommend leaving campus, especially if quarantining or isolating, but also recognize there may be extenuating circumstances in which returning to your home and family may be preferable. On-campus students who were not directed to isolate or quarantine may be outdoors on campus while observing social distancing, wearing face coverings, and following all health and safety protocols. Otherwise, students should remain in place and limit their interactions with others. If a student has been randomly selected for surveillance testing but is currently in isolation or quarantine, they should not sign up for a test or go to the testing tents. Those who have left campus will need to follow specific health and testing protocols before returning in the future. 

  • NEW - Students living OFF CAMPUS, including SouthSide Commons, will not be permitted to access the outdoor open spaces or facilities on campus, with the exception of the Health and Wellness Center. An exception to this rule is that students who have dining meal plans will be permitted to access campus to pick up take-out meals. Graduate students living off campus will continue to be permitted to come to campus under approved research plans and for limited graduate-level courses. 

  • NEW - For on-campus students with emergency needs and for all off-campus students, we urge you to exercise great care in visiting essential establishments in the greater Bethlehem community, such as the grocery store or pharmacy and implore you to wear a face-covering both en route to, and when visiting, another location other than your residence and to practice social distancing. This guidance is important for your safety and for the safety of others in the South Bethlehem community. On-campus students should not visit students in off-campus houses or apartments and vice versa. 

  • Further testing will be required next week for students, faculty and staff. You will receive communication in the coming days if you are required to be tested. Again, individuals who have been instructed to isolate or quarantine should NOT come to the surveillance testing tents, even if they are selected to do so. Managers and department chairs were instructed to reassess the need to have staff and faculty report to work on campus. Faculty and staff testing requirements are targeted to those with a critical need to be on campus and those with a higher level of personal interaction with others. 

The following will remain in effect until October 23:

  • The five-person limit for gatherings will remain in effect for all students during this time, and we continue to direct students to limit their interactions to those living within their immediate residence—whether that be their on-campus room or off-campus apartment. For any gathering up to five people, the appropriate social distancing of at least six feet from others must be able to be observed within the space and face coverings must be worn. Students should be especially mindful of the increased risk of spreading the virus when eating in the company of others without a face covering and should avoid doing so (take-out has been established for this purpose). The restrictions on gatherings include occupancy: for example, five roommates living together are not permitted to host visitors.

  • COVID-19 related violations continue to be strictly enforced through our code of conduct process and expedited in accordance with the urgency of reducing the infection rate of the virus. 

  • EWFM/Linderman Libraries and Taylor Gym remain closed. 

  • Building access to facilities other than residence halls and assigned buildings remains restricted.

  • Take-out dining continues.  

  • All undergraduate classes continue to be held remotely.

  • Athletic team practices and training remain suspended.

As we continue to receive the results of our ongoing testing, we have identified additional isolation space for students living on campus who test positive, are deploying timely contract tracing and following rigorous cleaning and disinfection protocols. The Lehigh COVID-19 Dashboard is now being updated daily (changed from weekly) with new case information.

The data and careful contact tracing indicate a portion of the cases can be attributed to the spread of the virus through informal social gatherings (even those small in size). The data also indicate spread occurring from interactions between on- and off-campus students. Interactions between students living on and off campus would not be a cause for concern during a regular semester. However, we recently observed and received reports of behavior that is in violation of the social contract, including unsanctioned off-campus gatherings larger than five people and inattention to wearing face coverings in public spaces. This behavior demonstrates a blatant disregard for the health and safety of others and is being addressed swiftly and strongly through the code of conduct process. 

We all must do our part to keep ourselves and one another safe. All COVID-19 related violations will be addressed through an expedited COVID-19 related conduct process.  Students may be interimly suspended for reported COVID-19 related violations, with potential for longer-term removal from campus, suspension, loss of campus access, and expulsion pending the outcome of an administrative hearing process. 

Positive diagnoses are coming from students experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms who are undergoing diagnostic testing as well as testing of asymptomatic close contacts of those cases. Our surveillance testing of 1,500 students living in the Bethlehem area (including on and off campus, fully and not fully remote) indicates that some of the positive cases can be attributed to asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic individuals. This underscores that temporarily limiting all social activity is absolutely critical to flattening the sharp rise in positive cases.  

We commend our students, faculty and staff for adapting quickly and following these temporary directives for the greater good. We recognize asking for yet another adjustment to campus life and learning requires abundant patience, flexibility and sacrifice on the part of everyone. 

With your continued patience, cooperation and responsible behavior, we can continue to deliver a top-quality education through this adjustment period and curtail the rise in infection in support of the health and safety of the campus and Bethlehem community.  

While it is our hope these swift and wide-scale shifts will result in improvement, it is too early to determine whether after this two-week period we will be able to immediately return to campus life as it was before last week. We will be sharing additional information and keeping the community informed in the coming weeks. 

Counseling services are available from University Counseling and Psychological Services for students who are experiencing stress or require additional support. Employee Assistance Program services are available from Integrated Behavioral Health for eligible employees and their dependents.

Visit the COVID-19 Information Center for additional information and answers to frequently asked questions

The COVID-19 Information hotline has also been temporarily reestablished for inquiries related to this information. Call 610-758-1500 to speak with a Lehigh staff member during the following hours:

  • Thursday, October 8, 2:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. EDT

  • Friday, October 9, between 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. EDT

Thank you for your shared commitment and cooperation. 

-COVID-19 Response Team