12.8.21: 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 wish everyone the best as we begin final exams and wrap up our fall semester here on campus. We currently have a total of 7 active COVID cases among students living on or off campus, and 10 among faculty and staff, as reported on the dashboard. The majority of cases reported to Lehigh continue to not be severe. Please take good care of yourselves during what can be a busy and stressful time.

Northampton County has seen an 83% increase in COVID cases from two weeks ago, which is cause for concern. The county’s 7-day average is 263 cases per day, and the community transmission rate, as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is still high. Local hospitalization rates have also increased substantially in recent weeks. 

Please be mindful of health and safety protocols when you are on campus and out in the community. These will protect you and those around you from a variety of illnesses, including COVID and the flu. This is especially important in the weeks ahead, when transmission is high, indoor gatherings and celebrations will be more common, and exams and other important “can’t miss” activities are scheduled.  

We have not made any changes to our campus status this week. We continue to encourage COVID vaccination and booster shots, indoor mask-wearing (which is still required on campus), and healthy behaviors, such as handwashing, that protect against all types of illness. Please read more below for information about:

  • The Omicron variant and its potential impact on travel and international students, faculty and staff, and study-abroad students;

  • COVID boosters;

  • Flu cases on campus;

  • Dashboard update frequency and communications schedule;

  • Updated COVID testing information (students, faculty and staff can sign up for today and tomorrow’s optional surveillance testing here)

Omicron Variant & International Travel

So far, the Omicron variant has been detected in 19 states, including Pennsylvania. Much is still unknown about the new variant, and its appearance in the U.S. and abroad has led to travel restrictions to and from certain countries. However, early indications are that it is substantially more transmissible. Vaccines may be less effective against the Omicron variant, and prior COVID infection is also likely to be less protective than it is for other variants. 

This is a dynamic and fluid situation. Travel restrictions can change quickly, and, in many cases, these circumstances will be beyond Lehigh’s control. If conditions change, some travelers who have left the U.S. may be unable to return for the start of the spring semester. Any members of our campus community who have unavoidable plans to travel internationally in the coming weeks should continue to check CDC guidance on travel, as well as the most recent travel recommendations by destination. All travelers should bear in mind that, depending on their location, they may face mandatory COVID-19 testing requirements, quarantines, travel restrictions and closed borders. 

The Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) has advised international students, faculty and staff to avoid non-essential international travel. This applies to anyone in the Lehigh community who is not a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident. OISS will continue to provide specific guidance to international and study-abroad students about travel, and provides updated information for international students, faculty and staff on its COVID-19 Travel Updates and FAQs page. The Study Abroad Office is in regular communication with students currently abroad and scheduled to travel for winter- or spring-term courses. They are closely monitoring potential impacts of Omicron and supporting related needs, including re-entry testing for return to the U.S. Guidance for study-abroad participants is available on the COVID-19 and Study Abroad in 2021-22 informational page.    

COVID Boosters

We continue to strongly encourage all members of the campus community to receive a COVID booster if they are eligible and have not yet received one. The CDC has strengthened its recommendation that individuals who are 18 years and older should receive a booster six months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or two months after their initial J&J vaccine. The CDC offers more guidance on boosters on its website. 

At this time, Lehigh is encouraging the booster and does not require one for an individual to be considered fully vaccinated. We will review this policy as more information about the effectiveness of vaccines against the Omicron variant becomes available. If this policy changes and it becomes a requirement, we will provide adequate notice to allow time for scheduling and receiving the booster. 

If you are unvaccinated, we strongly encourage you to receive a vaccine. Visit Vaccines.gov for more information about COVID vaccines and boosters, including where you can receive one.  

Flu Cases on Campus

We continue to see many symptomatic students testing positive for influenza. As a reminder, flu and COVID symptoms can be very similar. If you are feeling sick, please stay away from others to avoid spreading infection, and get tested for both flu and COVID. 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.

Dashboard Update Frequency and Communications Schedule 

The Lehigh COVID Dashboard will continue to be updated daily through the conclusion of the fall semester. Beginning Dec. 20 and continuing through Jan. 14 and the winter break, as in the past, the dashboard will be updated weekly on Mondays during the time that campus is de-densified. The dashboard will not be updated the week of Dec. 27; weekly dashboard updates will resume Jan. 3 in the new year. Daily dashboard updates will resume Jan. 17 for the spring semester. 

The campus community can expect to continue to receive weekly communication updates from the COVID Response Team through the week of Dec. 20. There will NOT be a weekly communication the week of Dec. 27. Through Jan. 17, communications will be sent as needed (not weekly). We wanted to make sure you were informed of these changes as we conclude the fall semester and prepare for the spring semester together. 

COVID Testing Information

This week and next we continue mandatory testing of 100% of unvaccinated students, faculty and staff with approved medical and religious exemptions. We have temporarily discontinued testing of 10% of vaccinated students and are offering 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, and you can sign up here

Please see below for information about surveillance testing for the remainder of the semester, winter break and the start of the spring semester. 

Thank you for your continued adherence to campus health and safety protocols. We encourage all students, faculty and staff to do everything they can to stay healthy and able to engage in campus activity in the weeks ahead. Let’s finish this semester off well, and in the best possible health.

-COVID Response Team

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Surveillance Testing Schedule 

Current plans for mandatory and optional testing are listed below. These may change if conditions warrant, so please pay attention for updated information. 

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.

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.

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. 

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.