All Lehigh University athletics have been indefinitely shut down effective immediately, Athletic Director Joe Sterrett relayed in an email to certain members of the Lehigh athletics community on Tuesday.
Later on Tuesday afternoon, Lehigh’s COVID-19 Response Team alerted the campus of its first on-campus COVID-19 cases.
The email from Sterrett said the decision to pause practices and training was due to concerns following multiple positive COVID-19 cases across different teams. The decision, which Sterrett said originated out of Lehigh’s COVID-19 Response Team, came after teams began their third week of practice.
One day later, on Sept. 30, the Welch Fitness Center announced it was closing for cleaning with no reopening date announced.
Sterrett said he learned of this decision through email and does not have more information to share at this time.
“Clearly, the extent of contact tracing associated with few cases of COVID we have experienced has generated significant enough concern that the decision was made to shut us down,” Sterrett said in his email.
Over the past two days, two on-campus students tested positive after reporting symptoms, as well as four new off-campus student cases, the COVID-19 Response Team wrote in its email to the campus community. There has also been a large increase in the number of students in isolation and quarantine, according to Lehigh’s COVID-19 dashboard.
One of the on-campus cases had not been on-campus since Sept. 26 and notified the Health and Wellness Center on the evening of Sept. 28 about the positive result.
Another student living on-campus has entered isolation housing.
“Those who came into close contact — defined by the CDC as being within six feet for 15 minutes or longer — are in the process of being notified to quarantine, are being relocated if necessary, and will be tested,” the email said.
All positive cases will be investigated to determine if there is a risk of a larger campus outbreak.
“We have seen a significant increase in the number of students requiring quarantine,” the COVID-19 Response Team said. “Careful contact tracing has identified at least 60 close contacts as a result of these new COVID-19 cases, including cases connected to multiple athletics programs.”
Close contacts have been identified and contacted, directed to quarantine appropriately and have been or will be tested soon.
In a phone call earlier today, Sterrett said there were two confirmed COVID-19 cases on the football team. He said he thought those players tested positive last week, which therefore would be different cases than those Lehigh said occurred over the past two days. Sterrett said the two football cases were reported through the Health Center.
As of yesterday, Lehigh’s COVID-19 dashboard had reported only one new case for the week of Sept. 21 to Sept. 27 and one new case for the week of Sept. 28 to Oct. 4.
Sterrett said only the football players who were in direct contact groups were placed in quarantine. Non-exposed team members were not required to quarantine.
“For those of our programs that have been doing everything we have asked, and we have a number of those, I am deeply sorry,” Sterrett wrote in his email to certain members of the Lehigh athletics community.
This decision comes just two months after the Patriot League canceled fall sports in response to the pandemic. At that point, teams were still permitted to train and condition while following health and safety conditions.
Lehigh’s surveillance testing program, which tests random samplings of the non-remote student population, started this week and will continue through November.
The COVID Information hotline, 610-758-1500, has been reestablished and will be operating Sept. 29 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. EDT and Sept. 30 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. EDT.
“As a campus community, together we must take proactive measures to reduce the potential for community spread of COVID-19 on our campus and in our communities,” the COVID-19 Response Team said in its email.