Southern Lehigh School District Again Affected by COVID-19

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It was announced over the weekend that an individual associated with a Southern Lehigh School District cross country team recently tested positive for COVID-19, marking the second time a Spartan team has been implicated in a case of the disease this year.

In a letter to parents Saturday, Administrator on Special Assignment Thomas Ruhf did not disclose whether the individual is a student or coach, or which school the team is associated with.

“I am writing to communicate that on Oct. 10, the Southern Lehigh School District was notified that an individual associated with the Southern Lehigh School District Cross Country Team has tested positive for COVID-19,” Ruhf said. “The Southern Lehigh School District continues to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Health in all matters related to COVID-19 and all students or staff who have been deemed a ‘close contact’ (PA Department of Health definition) will receive an additional phone correspondence from both the Southern Lehigh School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Health with further guidance on what to do next.”

Ruhf said students and staff members determined to have had “close contact” with the individual would be required to quarantine for at least 14 days from their last date of contact, which he said was Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Individuals who are now quarantined “are not permitted on school grounds for any reason until Wednesday, Oct. 21.”

It was not clear from the letter how many close contacts exist as a result of the confirmed new case, however less than 24 hours before Ruhf’s letter went out, the Saucon Valley football team played Southern Lehigh at their stadium in Center Valley with at least some fans present. (A seven-school cross country meet held at the Saucon Valley School District Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 6 did not include athletes from Southern Lehigh.)

Southern Lehigh Football

Credit: Chris Christian

Southern Lehigh band members sat distanced in the stands at the district stadium Friday for a football game featuring the Spartans vs. the Saucon Valley Panthers. The Panthers narrowly won a hard-fought victory over Southern Lehigh, 34-33.

Fans partially filled the bleachers at the Southern Lehigh vs. Saucon Valley football game Friday night. In the week prior to Oct. 9, the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf changed the guidelines for attendance limits at both indoor and outdoor events, such as football games. Under the new guidelines, which are calculated based on a percentage of the venue’s maximum seating capacity, more people may attend these events. (Credit: Chris Christian)

Both teams have already been affected by cases this season, which in Saucon Valley’s case did not begin until Oct. 3 as a result of various COVID-related delays.

The Southern Lehigh School District has also been criticized by some parents who believe its use of remote learning is harmful to their children’s education. The parents’ group recently held a rally demanding a return to the classroom for their children in the district.

Saucon Valley adopted an in-class learning plan which approximately 80 percent of families agreed to follow at the start of the school year. Recently, however, the high school was closed for five days after a student and a teacher tested positive for COVID-19 within a week’s time.

Both Northampton and Lehigh counties are seeing increases in some of the key COVID-19 metrics which state officials continue to monitor to help reduce the disease’s spread.

As of Monday, Lehigh County’s infection rate was 1.15, Northampton’s infection rate was the fifth highest in the state at 1.28 and the state’s overall infection rate was 1.12. Rates higher than 1.10 are considered to be high by some health experts, and a signal that the virus isn’t being contained.

The number of patients hospitalized and on ventilators because of COVID-19 has also been rising statewide for the past two weeks.

Ruhf in his letter said “Southern Lehigh School District students and staff must continue to closely monitor themselves for any sign of illness related to COVID-19 and seek medical guidance as needed.”

Individuals with questions were instructed to call the PA Department of Health at 1-877-PA-HEALTH or state health department representatives from Lehigh County at 610-821-6770 or to schedule virtual visits with St. Luke’s University Health Network (1-866-STLUKES, option 7) or Lehigh Valley Health Network (1-888-402-LVHN).

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