12.1.21: Update from the COVID Response Team

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

Dear Members of the Lehigh Community and Lehigh Families,

We hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving break, with plenty of time for rest and relaxation with friends and family. Upon our return to campus activity this week, we have a total of 8 active COVID cases among students living on or off campus and 4 among faculty and staff, as reported on the dashboard

In Northampton County, the 7-day average is 137 cases per day and the community transmission rate as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still high. Local hospitals are seeing a spike in COVID-related hospitalizations; St. Luke’s reported its highest hospitalization rates since the peak last December, the majority being unvaccinated cases. 

There are no changes to our campus status at this time; however, please read more below for new information about:

  • The Omicron variant;

  • Booster information;

  • Flu cases on campus;

  • Reminders regarding masking at events; and 

  • Updated COVID testing information (sign up for today and tomorrow’s optional surveillance testing here

Omicron Variant

The emergence of the Omicron variant heightens concerns about the risk of increased COVID transmissibility. At this point, there is much unknown about the variant and we are not making  any specific campus status changes as a result of its emergence at this time. The same health and safety protocols that are known to be effective against spreading COVID will likely continue to help protect against illness from new variants. Current actions we encourage you to take include getting a COVID booster shot, continuing to wear a mask indoors, following the established campus protocols in place, and practicing healthy behaviors, such as handwashing, that protect against not just COVID but also general infections and illness. We are monitoring guidance from the CDC, and any impact on our campus, as research continues to develop on this new variant.

COVID Boosters

Across the U.S., communities are seeing increased COVID cases in individuals who have been vaccinated. Vaccination reduces your risk of getting COVID five-fold and reduces your risk of hospitalization 13-fold. This week, the CDC updated its guidance on vaccination as a result of the emergence of the Omicron variant. The CDC now advises that all people 18 years and over who received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least 6 months ago, or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least 2 months ago, should receive a COVID booster. If you have been waiting to get your booster shot and are eligible, we strongly encourage you to do so. For students, the upcoming winter break also provides an opportunity to get your booster shot. For anyone planning to travel, especially internationally, we encourage you to include in your travel preparations scheduling your booster shot as soon as practicable.  If you have not yet received any COVID vaccine, we strongly encourage you to get vaccinated. The CDC offers more guidance on boosters on the CDC website and Vaccines.gov provides location information for COVID vaccines and boosters.  

Influenza

The Health and Wellness Center has been seeing several ill students who have tested positive for influenza. Symptoms of the flu and COVID can be very similar, so it’s always best to be tested for both if you are feeling sick. Please consider a flu vaccine if you have not yet received one. Staying healthy is the best way to finish the semester strong. Please also continue to practice health and safety protocols, especially mask-wearing and proper hand-washing, which protect against all types of illness. Finally, please remember that if you test positive for COVID from an outside source, it’s extremely important to report your positive result to the Health and Wellness Center (HWC) through the Patient Portal.

Guidance about Masks at Events

We have received reports of increased noncompliance around masking, particularly at campus events and in the libraries. Mask-wearing is advised by the CDC given high community transmission rates. On our campus, it protects all members of our community and enables us to hold in-person activities safely. It's critical for all individuals to remain compliant with the university’s current policy on mask-wearing. Masks are required indoors in public spaces for unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals, including in libraries, classrooms, shared offices, laboratories, meeting spaces, and fitness areas. Masks may be removed while eating at an event at which food is served, but must be worn when attendees are finished eating and when they are moving around the room (i.e., to a buffet, to the restroom, to visit other tables). To ensure compliance, event organizers should announce that attendees must put their masks back on when they are finished eating or when the dining portion of the event has ended. 

We expect all students, faculty, staff and visitors to wear masks properly over the mouth and nose wherever masks are required. If a student refuses to wear a mask or fails to wear one properly during in-person classroom instruction, faculty and instructors are responsible for enforcing this critical policy. Faculty should ask students to leave class if they violate masking guidelines. Supervisors are also expected to enforce mask-wearing in workspaces. Any member of the campus community can and should report violations of the masking policy and other health and safety protocols. Please make every effort to keep our campus safe.

COVID Testing Information

This week, we continue mandatory surveillance testing of 100% of unvaccinated students, faculty and staff with approved medical and religious exemptions, and resume testing of 10% of vaccinated students. For additional peace of mind after the holiday break, we encourage vaccinated students, faculty and staff who traveled and spent time with extended family to take advantage of this week’s opportunity to participate in optional surveillance testing

Additionally, see below for the surveillance testing schedule through December and the winter break. Pre-arrival testing for students will NOT be required prior to arrival on campus for the spring semester; however, all students are encouraged to get a COVID test before traveling back to campus in January, especially if they have been in contact with others in large groups indoors or subject to potential exposure. We anticipate conducting mandatory surveillance testing for all undergraduate and graduate students (fully vaccinated and unvaccinated) at the start of the spring semester. Students participating in activities with registered clubs and organizations may be selected for coordinated surveillance testing in groups. More information will be shared closer to the start of the spring semester.

-COVID Response Team

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Surveillance Testing Schedule 

SAVE/BOOKMARK this link to sign up for SURVEILLANCE testing. Appointments are added as they become available closer to the offered testing dates. Remember: Symptomatic and close contact testing are separate from surveillance testing, and you should contact the Health and Wellness Center (students) or your personal healthcare provider (faculty and staff) if you are experiencing COVID-like symptoms. For other types of testing, including symptomatic and close contact testing, reminders for how to make an appointment can be found here.

NOV. 29-DEC. 2: Mandatory testing of 100% of unvaccinated students, faculty and staff with approved medical and religious exemptions continues. We will resume testing of 10% of vaccinated students for this week and offer optional testing for students who have not been randomly selected and wish to be tested. This opportunity is open to all students, faculty and staff. 

DEC. 6-9 and DEC. 13-15: Mandatory testing of 100% of unvaccinated students, faculty and staff with approved medical and religious exemptions continues. We will temporarily discontinue testing of 10% of vaccinated students and offer one-time optional testing for any student who would like to be tested prior to traveling home. This opportunity is open to all students, faculty and staff.

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WEEK OF DEC. 20: Mandatory testing of 100% of unvaccinated students remaining on campus and faculty and staff with approved medical and religious exemptions continues on Tuesday only. Testing of 10% of vaccinated students is temporarily discontinued.  

WEEK OF DEC. 27: Mandatory testing of 100% of unvaccinated students remaining on campus and faculty and staff with approved medical and religious exemptions continues on Tuesday only. Testing of 10% of vaccinated students is temporarily discontinued. 

WEEK OF JAN. 3: Mandatory testing of 100% of unvaccinated students remaining on campus and faculty and staff with approved medical and religious exemptions continues on Monday and Thursday only. Close contact testing also will be offered on these days only (subject to need). Testing of 10% of vaccinated students is temporarily discontinued.

WEEK OF JAN. 10: Mandatory testing of 100% of unvaccinated students remaining on campus and faculty and staff with approved medical and religious exemptions continues on Monday and Thursday only. Close contact testing also will be offered on these days only (subject to need). Testing of 10% of vaccinated students is temporarily discontinued. 

WEEK OF JAN. 17: Mandatory testing of 100% of unvaccinated students remaining on campus and faculty and staff with approved medical and religious exemptions continues on Monday and Thursday only. Close contact testing also will be offered on these days only (subject to need). Testing of 10% of vaccinated students is temporarily discontinued. 

As mentioned above, pre-arrival testing for students will NOT be required prior to arrival on campus for the spring semester; however, all students are encouraged to get a COVID test before traveling back to campus in January. We anticipate conducting mandatory surveillance testing at the start of the spring semester.