12.18.20: Update on Spring Planning

A message sent to Lehigh students and families and shared with faculty and staff

Dear Lehigh Students and Families,

As we are completing the fall semester, we wanted to provide an update on the plans for spring.

We know the fall semester was extremely challenging for our students and families. The changes necessitated in moving to largely remote learning, the constraints on much of the social and co-curricular activity that is a part of life and learning at Lehigh, changing guidance from health authorities, and the challenges in keeping the Lehigh community and the nearby Bethlehem community as safe as possible were new to all of us. In addition, we realize many families were dealing with issues related to COVID.

While we as a university and as a country have learned much about COVID over the past months, with the surge anticipated over the next few months, the change and uncertainty it has brought will largely continue through the spring semester. The rollout of the vaccine is a sign of hope and optimism about the future. For this semester, please be assured we will do everything we can to make the Lehigh experience as fulfilling as it can be under these circumstances.

During the fall, we know some students struggled. We also saw students demonstrate flexibility, determination, adaptability and grit—qualities that will serve them well at Lehigh and beyond. We are writing to you today to describe some lessons learned from the fall, to update you on the progress on implementing the plans for spring and to provide information on some changes we are implementing for the spring. 

COVID Lessons from the Fall Semester

Through conducting a thorough assessment of academics, housing, dining and student affairs, we have identified changes to implement as well as practices to keep and reinforce. We have learned:

  • COVID was mostly restricted to our undergraduate students. We saw only small numbers of cases in graduate students, faculty and staff. 

  • Even within our undergraduate population, some groups (international students, undergraduate students in the Rossin College, students living in the residence halls) saw much lower positivity rates. This suggests that individual students can influence their risk through their own choices, especially choices of how and with how many people they interact. 

  • Consistent with what has been reported for other campuses, we see little or no evidence for transmission in classrooms and similar environments. This is likely due to the reductions in classroom density (up to a 70% reduction in capacity of classrooms) and requirements for mask-wearing that were implemented in the fall. 

These and other findings are guiding our planning for the spring.

Update on Housing and Health Plans for Spring

Our approach continues to be guided by advice from health experts and the best available data on our region and campus. Thus far, the plans for spring that have been announced have outlined a later start of the semester, a targeted increase in in-person classes and an expansion of the population of students living on campus. 

We previously identified some groups of undergraduates for whom we have prioritized housing on campus. Under our current plan, we believe that we will be able to fulfill all of the approved applications for on-campus housing that were received by the (November 30) deadline. We also continue to assess possible approaches to increasing the occupancy of the residence halls in an attempt to accommodate more students on campus for part or all of the spring semester. 

The plans for academic and on-campus activities for the spring semester in many respects mirror those for fall, but several key changes are being planned. 

  • Increased surveillance testing frequency. After the initial arrival testing, we plan to test 50% of all students in Bethlehem each week. This fraction may be adjusted as conditions change. 

  • Required surveillance testing for students living on campus and students living locally off campus. This includes students living in Bethlehem who have elected “fully remote” status this spring. To protect all students and to protect the larger Bethlehem community, we will be expanding our surveillance testing requirement to all students. Failure to comply with testing and contact tracing efforts result in conduct violations. 

  • Spring arrival testing protocol. We plan that all residential students will be tested for COVID-19 before arrival on campus. In addition, all students will be tested in the first week of the semester. 

  • Quarantine requirements for arriving students. We will be monitoring Pennsylvania-required procedures for entering the Commonwealth. Students from outside of Pennsylvania likely will be required to undergo a modified quarantine process in the residence halls or in their off-campus apartments at the beginning of the semester. We will update students and families on the return to campus plan in early January after we have better information on state requirements that may be in place at that time.

  • COVIDAlert PA App. All students will be expected to install and use the state of PA COVIDAlert PA mobile device app to facilitate contact tracing. 

  • New COVID training and Code of Conduct. Based on the lessons of the past semester we are modifying our expectations under our COVID Code of Conduct and will require students to complete a short training module on these new expectations. 

  • Revised quarantine process for students identified as close contacts. As in the fall, students who are determined to be asymptomatic close contacts of known positive cases will be required to quarantine. Some quarantine space is available on campus, but based on our experience in the fall, quarantine space may become limited. Therefore, if a student is quarantined and asymptomatic, we may encourage them to quarantine at home if possible. 

Planned January Update

As case counts and hospitalizations across the country rise, we are paying close attention to data on the spread of the coronavirus. We are also monitoring the changing guidance and restrictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PA Department of Health and other agencies. Guidance from the PA Departments of Health and Education on the start of the spring semester continue to evolve. These factors may require that we update or change aspects of our approach to spring. We plan to update the campus community in early January—but likely after January 4 when the current PA restrictions are scheduled to expire—with information about plans for pre-arrival testing, move-in to the residence halls and campus operations. 

As mentioned, while advances in COVID-19 vaccines continue at a rapid pace and provide great optimism for the late summer and fall, we are not anticipating that the rollout of the vaccine will have a significant effect on our campus operations this spring. Most students and faculty are unlikely to be eligible to start the vaccination process until the end of the semester or later. 

Once again we thank our entire Lehigh community for the resiliency that you have shown through these unprecedented times. 


John D. Simon ’19P


Nathan Urban

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Pat Johnson

Vice President for Finance and Administration