1.26.21: Modified Quarantine

A message sent to Lehigh students and families. 

Dear Lehigh students and families, 

For students returning to the Bethlehem area, welcome back. As you prepare to arrive and settle in, we remind you that a university-wide modified quarantine is in place until February 7 for all undergraduate students living in Bethlehem on and off campus (including fully remote students), and for graduate students living in Lehigh housing or taking in-person classes. Students living off campus should quarantine in their off-campus residence.  

Following the university’s quarantine and arrival COVID-19 testing protocol will fulfill the Commonwealth’s requirements for entry into Pennsylvania. Please remember, however, that a negative COVID-19 test result does not eliminate the arrival quarantine requirement. The rationale for implementing a standard university-wide modified quarantine is described in further detail below. 

During modified quarantine, students may leave their residence to:

  • Pick up meals

  • Attend the limited classes occurring in person

  • Complete arrival surveillance testing 

  • Take “fresh-air breaks” or exercise outside alone or with another person where social distancing is observed (smaller groups of 2-3 total are preferable if walking with a “buddy” for safety).

  • For other emergency or health reasons, such as filling a prescription.

Otherwise, please remain in your residence. Students should not congregate in common spaces and should wear face coverings, even within your suite or in apartment settings.

Exception: Students who tested positive for COVID-19 within 12 weeks do not need to complete arrival surveillance testing and do not need to complete the modified arrival quarantine. Students who lived in on-campus housing over winter break also are exempt. 

Students who received one or two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are still required to participate in surveillance testing and complete the modified quarantine. 

Reasons for modified quarantine:

We hope to accommodate as much in-person activity as possible over the whole semester and to avoid the need to impose more significant restrictions.

To achieve this goal, we must start the semester cautiously and relax our campus restrictions gradually as conditions allow. Quarantining in the beginning of the semester will allow us to:

  1. minimize the risk of interactions where the spread of the virus is possible, particularly after travel and before full arrival testing is completed. This is particularly critical for students living in congregate settings (dorms and apartments with students sharing bathrooms and other common areas), where the risk of transmission is higher than in the general population.  

  2. address concerns about large numbers of students arriving in a region from across the country and introducing the virus (including possibly novel variants that are more transmissible) to the population of Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Health provided guidance to universities to delay the start of the semester, which we have done, and to consider holding classes fully online at the beginning of the semester. Rather than adopting the online approach, we have elected to require a modified quarantine procedure through the first week of classes. 

This modified quarantine is less restrictive than the usual, medically required, quarantine in that it allows for students to attend some classes that will remain in person, allows students to leave their residence halls to pick up meals, and also allows for students to be outside for limited exercise alone or in small groups. We hope that these accommodations will support students’ mental health, wellness and well-being during this period. Our counseling services are also available to support students feeling isolated or anxious during this time. 

Why are some students required to quarantine longer than others?

Students may enter modified quarantine during staggered times, particularly for students moving into residence halls over the next several days. For some arriving earlier this week, this may mean a slightly longer quarantine than others. The standard timeframe is meant to accommodate staggered arrivals and to provide a consistent time across the university when everyone is observing the same protocols. 

Why not a shorter quarantine?

While the CDC has described options for reducing quarantine duration when 14 days poses an undue burden, the "CDC continues to endorse quarantine for 14 days and recognizes that any quarantine shorter than 14 days balances reduced burden against a small possibility of spreading the virus." 

How is modified quarantine different from “medically required” quarantine?

Modified quarantine allows students outside for fresh air breaks and to attend classes, which would not be permitted during a medically required quarantine. A medically required quarantine is for individuals who have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus. For medically required quarantine during the semester, Lehigh is following the full 14-day guideline. The rationale for this is available on Lehigh’s isolation and quarantine protocol, and students should familiarize themselves with these requirements should they test positive for, or be exposed to, the virus. 

Why are students required to quarantine in addition to being tested?  

Our testing protocol is designed first to prevent infected students from traveling to campus (through pre-arrival testing) and second to detect positive cases that may have been acquired during travel (through two consecutive rounds of arrival testing). Because the interval between transmission and detectable infection is typically about 4-5 days, testing immediately upon arrival is unlikely to identify students who acquired COVID during their travel to campus. We also have concerns that given higher levels of testing in the region, lab turn-around times may be longer than the typical 24-48 hours. For this reason, we require students to remain in modified quarantine for several days after arrival and to take two COVID tests in a short interval after their arrival (more information about how to sign up for these tests will follow by email later this week).   

We hope this helps clarify the requirements and rationale for the university-wide modified quarantine. These requirements are, of course, in addition to our already existing health and safety guidelines—including mask-wearing, social distancing and frequent hand washing—all of which will help ensure a successful start to the spring semester. Thank you for your support and cooperation now and in the months ahead. 

Nathan Urban

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Ricardo Hall 

Vice President for Student Affairs 

David Rubenstein

Executive Director, Health and Wellness Center