9.9.21: New 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 are writing to share an update on the current campus status. As a result of an increase in positive cases in undergraduate students, last week and over the weekend, we activated additional isolation spaces, enhanced testing, and implemented further health and safety measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. 

So far this week, the number of active cases is beginning to decline and our available isolation housing has increased as students end isolation. We currently have 138 total active cases among undergraduate students, no active cases among graduate students and one active case among our faculty and staff, in which transmission most likely occurred from a family member. We have no evidence of transmission from students to faculty or faculty to students in a classroom environment. We also continue to observe that cases in vaccinated students typically result in mild symptoms. The Lehigh COVID Dashboard has been updated with the most current case information, and we remind all members of the community to be especially mindful of following the protocols in place at this time. 

We are making some updates to the health and safety measures currently in place, with a continued focus on proactively mitigating the spread of the virus in areas with a higher risk of transmission, primarily in unmasked settings indoors. As such, we have adjusted our dining protocols by providing additional outdoor eating areas and temporarily shifting to take-out-only dining as described below. This week in classrooms, faculty and instructors with a large number of students isolating or quarantining had the discretion to shift to hybrid/remote instruction if they deemed this the best way to meet the needs of a particular class. As the number of students in isolation and quarantine is declining, we will shift classes back to the mode in place at the beginning of the semester, still allowing for flexibility for those classes where a greater number of students are isolating or quarantining. 

Read additional detail regarding these and other health and safety measures below: 

  • Academic Classes- Beginning Monday, September 13, we will revert to the mode in place for academic classes to occur in person unless the instructor tests positive or more than 30% of the total number of students in the course are currently in isolation. Faculty and instructors have been provided with instructions for assessing their current course status through a classroom dashboard as described here; faculty and instructors were also instructed to update their students at least weekly with this information. Based on data from Lehigh gathered through contact tracing and from data collected at other universities and colleges across the country, we have no evidence that in-person instruction while masked is a significant source of transmission; however, we recognize that flexibility is needed if a large number of students are isolating and quarantining at any given time. All faculty have been instructed to work with students to ensure their ability to keep up with coursework if they need to quarantine or isolate. 

  • Dining- We shared that we were in the process of evaluating enhancements to some of our dining protocols. As mentioned above, we continue to focus our proactive mitigation measures on minimizing indoor, unmasked interactions. Because masks need to be removed to eat and given the recent rise in cases, beginning Saturday, September 11, and continuing through at least Friday, September 17, we will shift to take-out-only dining as we continue to monitor student COVID case counts. We will re-evaluate and provide updates next week. Mask noncompliance in the dining halls (while not eating) also has been a concern, and we take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of following masking protocols in the future to support the health and safety of everyone in these settings. We will be adding outdoor eating space under a tent near the Clayton University Center; the tents near STEPS and at the Tamerler Courtyard are also available for outdoor eating when not reserved for events. Students are encouraged to use take-out containers, which are available to all meal plan participants, at the dining halls and use the newly available space to eat outside. For retail locations such as Grind@FML, individuals are encouraged to continue to take food outside to eat. 

  • Testing- Enhanced testing remains in place. We are considering expanding testing to add random surveillance testing in populations of students in which the positivity rate is high.  

  • Masks- At this time, for both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals, masks continue to be required and must be properly worn indoors in public spaces, including in classrooms, shared offices, laboratories, meeting spaces and fitness areas. Concerns were submitted regarding some individuals not wearing a mask over their mouth and nose in these settings. We remind everyone of this expectation. Noncompliant individuals can be removed from a location. Students can be referred to the Office of Student Conduct, and faculty and staff can be referred to supervisors for violation of workplace policy. If an issue cannot be addressed in the moment, community concerns, such as mask noncompliance, can also be reported to the university through the COVID-19 Expectation Reporting Form. Outdoors, masks are not required but are strongly encouraged in settings where social distancing between individuals or family groups is not possible. Organizers of outdoor events have the latitude to require masks at their outdoor events, recognizing that venue size and density may be factors. Meetings and events with food are discouraged unless they are taking place outdoors. 

  • Fitness Centers- Taylor Gym will reopen fitness and recreational opportunities at a reduced capacity and by appointment only beginning next week—including strength training, cardio workouts, climbing wall, racquet courts and recreational swim. All areas require masks at all times. The targeted reopening date is Wednesday, September 15. Watch the website for updates, hours and additional information. The fitness facility in the Singleton, Hitch & Maida Houses remains temporarily closed, to be re-evaluated next week. 

  • Meetings/Gatherings/Events- With the exception of activities organized and supervised by faculty or staff (including classes) or otherwise approved by the CRT, gatherings will continue to be limited to no more than 25 people in attendance indoors. Large outdoor spaces may have higher attendance and we encourage outdoor gatherings over indoor gatherings whenever possible. Events and meetings should ideally only provide food if they take place outside; any activity that requires the removal of masks indoors (except when alone) is discouraged.  

The university continues to monitor case counts and available isolation space, and will adjust protocols as appropriate. All other health and safety measures remain in place as described on the Campus Status page

-COVID Response Team