2.12.21: Urgent Campus Status Changes

A message sent to Members of the Lehigh Community and Lehigh Families. 

Dear Members of the Lehigh Community and Lehigh Families,

Over the past two weeks, we have rapidly gone from a positivity rate in our undergraduates of less than 2% in our pre-arrival COVID testing to increasing daily rates, reaching a high of 10.2% this past Monday. The cumulative positivity rate from when we started surveillance testing on February 3 to date is currently 5.3%. Careful contact tracing is occurring and individuals who came into close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 are notified. Read the communications process on the dashboard.  

We urgently need to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our campus community. If we do not, we may need to require all undergraduate students to quarantine on and off campus, as has similarly occurred recently at several universities, including the University of Michigan and Berkeley. Positivity rates this high impact our campus operations, including isolation and quarantine capacity, Health and Wellness Center capacity, and continued contact tracing efforts, as well as our ability to protect the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities. In addition, the continuation and expansion of in-person activity this spring will not be possible unless we reverse this trend. 

Case rates started increasing with the off-campus undergraduate population, and we are now seeing comparable rates in the on-campus undergraduate population. We received reports of unsanctioned indoor gatherings last week and weekend, at which students gathered without face coverings, and we believe this has contributed to this increase in cases.

The steps we all must take to limit the spread of COVID are clear: limit your contacts, social distance, and follow the health and safety protocols in place. Effective Monday, February 15, we will also change several aspects of our operations: 

  1. Testing- We will continue to test 100% of the designated undergraduate student population next week. Students who are required to be tested will receive an email today with instructions for reserving an appointment. Faculty and staff with frequent campus interactions, including TAs, also have been offered the opportunity to be tested. Additionally, we will extend testing to graduate students who are regularly coming to campus as research assistants (RAs) and to graduate students who are living in the same residence as undergraduate students. More information will follow. 

  2. Classes- We will reduce the number of classes involving in-person instruction beginning Monday 2/15. While we believe that classrooms are a low-risk environment, in-person classes are less effective when many enrolled students are in isolation or quarantine and unable to attend. Details of which classes will remain in person will be available on the RAS website.  

  3. Libraries- Library hours will remain the same. Be sure to wear your mask properly at all times or you will be asked to leave the library. No dining will be permitted anywhere in the library buildings (including in the Grind @ FML seating area).  

  4. Double-masking- We strongly recommend double-masking whenever you are near others. This is now recommended by the CDC, and evidence shows that well-fitting double masks (such as a surgical mask worn under a cloth face covering) offer more protection against the virus than a single covering. We will be making additional disposable masks available at the surveillance testing center in Zoellner and other key areas on campus. 

  5. Enforcement and reporting- We have clarified enforcement policies and the options for students, staff and faculty to report violations of our COVID policies. We encourage all members of the community to report concerns before or while events are occurring.

  6. Quarantine- Following our revised protocol, students living within 150 miles of campus who can safely travel home by private vehicle should do so and will need to be cleared to end quarantine by the Health and Wellness Center before returning.

  7. Close Contacts- Everyone should restrict their activity and limit their close contacts. The positivity rate and the number of contacts are key factors in your risk. Given a 5% positivity rate, if you gather with a group of 50, for instance, you have a 92% chance that you have contacted someone with COVID. 

The campus status page has been updated with the changes to campus. These are in addition to the actions previously communicated, including the cancelation of in-person Greek recruitment activities and the shift to takeout dining. 

Students with symptoms should contact the Health and Wellness Center (610-758-3870) or call the Lehigh Valley Health Network 24/7 nurse triage line at 1-888-402-LVHN to arrange to be tested and to get additional guidance. Faculty and staff should contact Terri Latvis, RN, the university’s Employee Health Nurse Case Manager from Lehigh Valley Health Network, at 610-861-8080 ext. 21237 or Teresa.Latvis@lvhn.org.

Counseling services are available from University Counseling and Psychological Services for students who may be feeling isolated or are experiencing stress or require additional support. Employee Assistance Program services are available from Integrated Behavioral Health for eligible employees and their dependents. You can also find a trove of wellness and wellbeing resources on our resource page, Coping with COVID-19

The COVID-19 Information Hotline has been temporarily reestablished for questions about this information. Call 610-758-1500 to speak with a Lehigh staff member today, Friday, February 12 until 5:00 p.m. and tomorrow, Saturday, February 13, 9:00 a.m.- noon.

-COVID-19 Response Team