At Lehigh, COVID Cases Prompt Changes Early in Fall Semester

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Lehigh University

Founded in 1865, Lehigh University in Bethlehem has a current undergraduate enrollment of 5,178 students. The school’s three campuses extend across nearly 2,400 acres.

For Lehigh University students, faculty and staff looking to have a normal fall semester, thanks to COVID-19, it has been anything but that so far.

As of Sept. 9, there were a total of 138 active cases among students, with 111 of them among students living in on-campus housing and 27 cases among off-campus students living in the Bethlehem area. That number reflected a decline from nearly a week earlier, on Sept. 3, when there were 207 active cases, with 159 of them among students living in residence halls and 48  cases among those who live off-campus.

Cumulatively, over the past month, the school reported a total of 253 on-campus cases and 82 off-campus cases, for a total to date of 335 cases among all students.

As of Thursday, there was one active case of COVID among the university’s faculty and staff, and there had been a total of seven cases since Aug. 9. On Sept. 3, there were no active cases among faculty and staff members.

Lehigh has reported that a majority of the cases it has seen so far have been breakthrough cases. With 94.1 percent of the school’s student population fully vaccinated and 1.6 percent partially vaccinated, there are relatively few individuals who would be at greater risk of developing severe symptoms or dying from COVID. According to the university, 0.9 percent of students had submitted vaccination exemption requests for review.

Among faculty at Lehigh, 91.5 percent are fully vaccinated, 4.5 percent are partially vaccinated and 2 percent have been exempted from being vaccinated.

A Sept. 2 email from the school’s COVID-19 Response Team said that most of the students who have tested positive to date have had few or mild symptoms. However, new steps were being taken to prevent a further rise in active cases.

“Our goal is to immediately flatten the rise in new cases and our hope that these new health and safety measures–which will continue through at least Friday, Sept. 10–will be temporary,” the response team said.

Due to the increase in cases, the school has increased the availability of close contact testing for asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic students, faculty and staff. Masks are now required to be worn at “all outdoor events and gatherings where social distancing between individuals or family groups is not possible,” in addition to inside all academic buildings on campus.

Teachers were given the option to shift their classes to fully remote or hybrid instruction for the week of Sept. 6-10, with more information to be sent out about classes beyond this week. Faculty were also supposed to receive access to a dashboard that would inform them about the number of positive cases in their classes.

The COVID-19 Response Team has temporarily limited all indoor gatherings not supervised by faculty or staff to no more than 25 people and continues to encourage students to hold outdoor gathering.

Lehigh COVID

Lehigh occupies a large, leafy campus, which means that there is typically plenty of room for gatherings to be held outside.

Dining locations remain open, but the team was in the process of updating the protocols.

Another concern for the school early in the fall semester is the availability of isolation housing for students who test positive for COVID.

Provost Nathan Urban said at a faculty senate meeting on Sept. 3 said the university was at risk of running out of isolation housing for those students.

Urban said the school had 200 beds available for students on campus and other isolation housing options were being explored such as renting local hotel rooms. Two former fraternity houses that were empty were also being used for isolation housing.

Students can either get tested at a tent located next to the STEPS building or through Lehigh Valley Health Network.

“Nationally, regionally, locally and on our campus, there is a current surge in cases, requiring increased vigilance by all of us,” the response team said. “The Lehigh community has continually taken the actions we’ve needed to support the health and safety of our campus and South Bethlehem communities. We can support one another now by taking these steps to help us preserve all the good things that Lehigh has to offer in this new academic year.”

For additional information about COVID cases at Lehigh as well as the university’s response to the ongoing pandemic, visit the Coronavirus Information Center at Lehigh.edu.

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