150 COVID cases lead Lehigh University to bolster testing, offer hybrid classes

With 150 coronavirus infections from students two weeks after school started, Lehigh University is stepping up testing and taking new containment measures.

Southside Bethlehem University’s COVID-19 Response Team rolled out a number of new health and safety measures in a message sent to the campus community on Thursday.

“Our goal is to start flattening the rise in new cases immediately, and we hope that these new health and safety measures – which will be implemented at least by Friday the 10th – are our goal.

Hoping for a normal school year, Lehigh was the first university or college in Lehigh Valley to require students to get a COVID-19 vaccination before school started. That summer, Lehigh expanded the mandate to include staff and faculties. Currently 94.1% of undergraduate and graduate students are vaccinated and another 1.6% of students are partially vaccinated. Around 3.4% of students have requested exemptions which are currently being examined.

“The cases we see are mostly groundbreaking cases with few or mild symptoms,” Lehigh wrote in his update. “With this surge in cases, we must take some immediate steps to contain the spread of the virus and protect our campus and community in South Bethlehem. The availability of isolation housing is critical to relocating COVID positive students.

Lehigh “significantly” increases the availability of close-contact tests for asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic students, faculty, and staff. Among other things, the university offers test appointments every 10 minutes in a tent in front of the STEPS building.

The university is expanding its indoor masking mandate to include all outdoor events and gatherings that are too crowded to allow social distancing. The university limits all indoor gatherings to 25 people and encourages outdoor gatherings.

Starting Monday, teachers will be able to choose whether they want to temporarily switch to distance or hybrid classes for the week in order to do justice to the students and to minimize disruption. The faculty has access to a dashboard that shows them the number of positive cases reported in their classes.

“This is not required and is at the discretion of the instructor,” says the update. “Based on data from Lehigh and across the country, we have no evidence that face-to-face teaching under the mask is a significant source of transmission.”

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Sara K. Satullo can be reached at [email protected]

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