3.23.21: In-Person Dining and Variants

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

Dear Members of the Lehigh Community and Lehigh Families, 

With overall positivity rates from surveillance testing continuing to be less than 1%, in-person dining in the University Center, Brodhead, and Rathbone will resume tomorrow, Wednesday, March 24, and continue unless positivity rates in the residential student population begin to consistently be above 2%. 

We are exploring expanding in-person dining to other campus locations if positivity rates remain low.  Students should remember the safety guidelines such as social distancing, double-masking unless eating and avoiding congregating and socializing in groups, especially after finishing eating.

Case counts have been rising steadily over the past couple of weeks in Northampton County and surrounding counties, as well as across the country. While we have not seen evidence of increased transmission rates impacting campus, we are also continuing to monitor this data and will adjust operations if needed. 

For the next several weeks, we will be enhancing testing and continuing to monitor positivity rates for Lehigh surveillance testing and testing conducted by the Health and Wellness Center. Refer to the current campus status page

Data on COVID-19 Variants

Information on new COVID-19 variants continues to evolve. Vault Health, Lehigh’s surveillance testing partner, recently tested a small number of samples (less than 30) from COVID-positive specimens collected at Lehigh. About half of these samples were identified as the “New York” variant (B.1.526) of the COVID virus and the other half were identified as the “California” (B.1.429) variant of the virus. No other variants were found. The sample size is too small to be representative or to indicate this percentage would be indicative of the breakdown for all positive cases; however, it does indicate that variants are present in our area and on campus.  

Currently, the New York variant is classified as a “variant of interest” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the California variant is classified as a “variant of concern” and has been associated with characteristics such as 20% increased transmissibility. 

What this means:

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Health and Bethlehem Health Bureau recommend that close contacts of patients in whom a variant is identified should quarantine for the full 14 days. Given our congregate setting and based on our data related to transmission among close contacts, we have already been following this practice for all infections. 

  • Finding evidence of a more contagious variant underscores the continued importance of social distancing, double-masking, limiting close contacts (especially indoors), and following health and safety protocols. We encourage community members to use this new awareness as a reminder to continue being vigilant.

  • The ability to test for new variants is limited and involves significant turnaround time; we will continue to monitor and share any new data on these variants that we receive throughout the semester, especially if positivity rates increase. 

Further Reading:

Resources:

-COVID-19 Response Team