Dear Students and Lehigh Families,
As we look forward to the return of students to campus in less than two weeks, we want to provide students and families some information about the return to campus and update them regarding changes to our isolation and quarantine protocols that will apply to students living in the residence halls.
Over the last two years, we have gained a better understanding of COVID and its impact on our community. Vaccines, as well as new testing and treatment options, also have allowed us to adjust our response to the disease. COVID cases among students on our campus have typically been mild. Vaccination and boosters continue to reduce the severity of COVID, especially for those without other risk factors.
As we begin this semester, we are preparing for the likelihood that because of the highly contagious Omicron variant, and given our extensive testing of students as they arrive on campus, record numbers of students will test positive. Many campuses across the country are seeing 10-12% positivity rates for returning students. At Lehigh, this would translate to more than 700 positive cases, including more than 250 cases among students in the residence halls. Fortunately, we anticipate that in the vast majority of these cases, fully vaccinated and boosted students will experience mild to moderate symptoms. With this context, our focus this semester will shift towards mitigation efforts that are focused on protecting the most vulnerable from serious illness.
Therefore, as the semester starts, we plan to use student isolation housing principally for COVID-positive residential students who have COVID-negative roommates who are immunocompromised or who have other factors that place them at high risk for serious complications because of a COVID infection. In these cases, residential students who have tested positive will be moved to isolation housing (away from their COVID-negative, high-risk roommate). To preserve isolation housing capacity for these higher-risk situations, most vaccinated residential students who test positive for COVID will remain in their assigned on-campus residence for the duration of their required isolation period, unless their roommate (or suitemate) indicates that they are at high risk for severe COVID through the process described in an FAQ on the COVID Information website. Updated 1.22.22: COVID-positive and close contact residential unvaccinated students or students eligible for a booster who have not yet received a booster should follow the instructions provided by the Relocation teams and Health and Wellness Center. (During the vaccine exemption approval process, students were notified of the possibility of identifying alternative housing for isolation/quarantine.)
We recognize that this change may cause concern for some who are worried about contracting COVID and that it may be welcomed by others who would prefer to avoid the disruption of moving to isolation housing. Our Health and Wellness Center (HWC) will continue to provide support to all students who are symptomatic and require care, and we see this change as also ensuring that we will be able to meet the needs of our highest-risk students.
Students isolating in their residence will be required to follow CDC guidelines and rules that reduce their exposure to their roommates and others. This includes wearing a high-quality and well-fitted mask (such as KN-95 or similar, or a surgical mask covered by a cloth mask). COVID-positive students also may choose to complete their isolation period elsewhere if they are able to travel by private vehicle. Highly symptomatic students—as determined by Health and Wellness Center professionals—may be required to isolate away from their residence hall and for longer than five days.
COVID-negative roommates who are vaccinated and boosted and are not exhibiting any COVID symptoms do not need to quarantine but should wear a mask for 10 days, closely monitor for symptoms and get tested on day five following their first known exposure. Sign up for a testing appointment here. If symptoms develop, get tested immediately by contacting the Health and Wellness Center at 610-758-3870 (via separate testing) and isolate using the isolation instructions.
We encourage all students and their families to discuss and prepare a plan for if they or their roommate contract COVID and to have an “isolation kit” prepared in advance that includes cleaning materials, medicine and other necessities. More information regarding food arrangements and other specific guidance for those isolating are described in further detail on the COVID Information website.
Given that the transmission of Omicron is highly efficient and rapid, we also are changing our contact tracing protocols by providing guidance directly to students and instructing them how to notify close contacts as soon as possible. If students have questions about their health and/or development of symptoms, they can reach out to the Health & Wellness Center (HWC) via secure message through the Patient Portal.
The COVID Response Team is continuing to discuss how our campus safety protocols can provide greater flexibility in areas where it makes sense while continuing to focus our mitigation efforts in areas that protect vulnerable populations, especially in required work and educational contexts.
Again, we encourage students and families to review and discuss this information together. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, we are continuing to monitor the emergence of new information and follow the best available guidance, and will make adjustments to our protocols as necessary to support health and safety. For additional information and questions, please visit the COVID Information Center and Frequently Asked Questions.
-COVID Response Team