3.1.22: Changes to Mask Policy

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

Dear Members of the Lehigh Community and Lehigh Families,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidelines for mask-wearing and introduced a new tool to help communities determine prevention steps based on the most recent local data. The COVID-19 Community Levels tool assigns to a county a level of low, medium or high, taking into account local COVID data including hospital admissions, the number of occupied hospital beds, and the total number of new cases in a given region. Communities listed as high are advised to wear a mask indoors in public.

Northampton County’s Community Level currently is listed as medium. At this level, the CDC advises residents to stay up-to-date with COVID vaccines, get tested if symptomatic, and, if at high risk for severe illness from COVID, to talk to a doctor about masking and other precautions.

Given this guidance, our continued low case counts on campus, and our high rates of vaccination and boosters among students, faculty and staff, we are making the following additional adjustments to masks on campus.

Effective immediately and continuing unless conditions change, masks will be OPTIONAL indoors and outdoors on Lehigh campuses. A few areas and activities will be exceptions to this rule. Specifically, masks will continue to be required regardless of vaccination status:

  • In the Health and Wellness Center (masks continue to be required in health care settings)

  • On Lehigh buses

  • When isolating/quarantining (masks must continue to be worn around others for 10 full days when isolating in place after a positive COVID test and after an exposure to an individual who has tested positive for COVID; please follow CDC guidance in these cases)

Masks also may be required in location- or event-specific contexts or where people who are at high risk for complications due to COVID are located. Events, meetings and registrar-scheduled classes may be areas where masking is required. Faculty members, instructors, teaching assistants, event hosts and organizers have the discretion to require masks to be worn (whether the event, meeting, or class is held in a classroom, lab, studio, or gym), especially when indoors and including situations where individuals outside of Lehigh are in attendance. In these situations, this requirement should be communicated clearly via signage and/or other means. Organizers may choose to not allow participation in events, including classes, by people who are unmasked. Please follow instructions as given and carry a mask with you at all times so that you can comply with these event-specific requirements.

Individuals who are not fully vaccinated and boosted are encouraged to continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing, especially indoors and at larger gatherings and events.

As COVID remains a fluid situation, conditions can change quickly and our policies will continue to be responsive to changing conditions and the most current health guidance. N-95 and similar (KN-95, KF-94) masks provide strong additional protection from COVID transmission, especially in settings with larger groups of people and for those who prefer to keep wearing a mask in any setting (even when not required).

Over the past two years, our students, faculty and staff have demonstrated great care for one another. As we enter this next phase, please bear in mind that members of our campus community will choose the COVID precautions appropriate for their individual circumstances. We feel fortunate to belong to a supportive community that will no doubt continue to act with empathy and respect. All members of the campus community and visitors should have a mask on hand at all times and must abide by the mask requirements of a particular location or facility if applicable, regardless of their vaccination status. If someone expresses discomfort and asks for a community member to wear a mask, we trust that these wishes would be respected, even in mask-optional contexts.

As a reminder, anyone experiencing COVID symptoms should stay home and not come to campus. If you are experiencing symptoms and cannot avoid being around others (i.e., roommates or suitemates), please wear a mask.

Please note that event organizers may make a COVID self-screening assessment a requirement on a case-by-case basis, but otherwise, as of today, this is no longer a requirement for general visitors. If self-screening is required, students, faculty, staff or visitors may be required to show evidence (e.g. via the Hawkwatch app) that they have assessed their symptoms and been cleared for access.

As we approach the spring break, we encourage students to monitor case rates in local areas if they are traveling and to take prudent precautions. After spring break, we will offer additional testing for any students, faculty and staff who would like to be tested. Monitor this page closer to spring break and register to reserve an appointment.

We recognize that some members of our community may celebrate these changes to our campus COVID protocols, while others may feel some anxiety. We ask everyone to remain respectful of the various circumstances and comfort levels of all members of the Lehigh community, and to continue to prioritize your health and the health of those around you. Thank you, as always, for your continued commitment to the safety and well-being of our campus.

-COVID Response Team