3.30.21: A Message from the COVID-19 Response Team

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

Dear Members of the Lehigh Community and Lehigh Families, 

We hope students had an enjoyable Wellness Week. Thank you to faculty and staff for planning many beneficial discussions and events throughout the week. We hope those who participated in the various activities and offerings appreciated the opportunity to connect with others and recharge by taking a break from their usual routines. 

As we resume regular activity this week, we wanted to share current COVID-related information and important reminders. There has been a significant increase in COVID cases in nearby counties, including Northampton County, that we are concerned we could start to see on campus. While a definitive cause of this increase is not known, the prevalence of more contagious variants could be one factor, and we encourage members of the Lehigh community to be vigilant in the days and weeks ahead.

  • COVID increase - COVID-19 cases in the Northampton and surrounding counties are continuing an upward trend. Last week, the 7-day average of new cases per day (for the week of March 22) saw more than a 30% increase from the previous week (the week of March 15). As of today, Northampton County continues to have the largest number of cases per 100,000 people in the state. Lehigh County has the second-largest. 

  • While case counts on campus continue to be low, the increase in cases locally, and also across the country, is of serious concern. Now is not the time to let your guard down, particularly around social distancing and double-masking—indoors and outdoors, on campus and off campus, and when visiting establishments in South Bethlehem and the surrounding communities. Following these practices is critical for the safety of our campus community and the greater Bethlehem community. 

  • 100% mandatory surveillance testing - For the next two weeks, we will test 100% of students in the Bethlehem area. This includes students living on and off campus and fully remote students living in the Bethlehem area and excludes students who have tested positive within the last 90 days. Faculty and staff with frequent in-person interactions are also encouraged to participate in the next available faculty/staff surveillance testing dates during the week of April 5. Signup will be available later this week. 

  • UK variant at other universities - Since our last update on variants, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh reported evidence of the “United Kingdom” (B.1.1.7) variant on their campuses. The UK variant is classified as a variant of concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and has been associated with 50% increased transmission and likely increased severity based on hospitalization and fatality rates. While we have not confirmed the presence of the UK variant at Lehigh, the presence of the UK variant nearby is of serious concern. Members of the community should operate under the assumption that if it is not here yet, it will be. Please remain vigilant in following the established health and safety protocols. 

  • Travel - With the rising number of COVID cases and increasing prevalence of variants, members of the community who must travel must also be especially vigilant before and upon returning to Lehigh for the health and safety of campus and also the greater South Bethlehem community. Read the Transportation and Travel Protocols for students and faculty/staff. 

If we see positivity rates from surveillance testing increase to rates consistently above 2%, we will consider implementing increased safety measures. We are also continuing to monitor testing for students with symptoms conducted by the Health and Wellness Center and the number of active cases for students, faculty and staff. We encourage you to double-mask, social distance, wash your hands, and continue practicing health and safety measures to keep yourself and others safe. 

Further Reading:

Resources:

-COVID-19 Response Team