When it comes to testing, Lehigh’s administration has been taking a page out of the playbook of the White House.
During the first two weeks of the fall semester, Lehigh University administered thousands of COVID-19 tests to gauge the health of the campus community. Within those first two weeks, there were fewer than 15 positive cases, as indicated by the Lehigh COVID-19 dashboard.
After the first two weeks of surveillance testing, no more tests were administered on a routine basis. Students who felt sick were administered a test from the Health and Wellness Center, and were sent on their way.
Six weeks later, throughout the last week of September and first of October, case numbers rose exponentially to 100, as of Oct. 7. The number of students in quarantine between on and off-campus is at 269.
On Oct. 2, the university implemented a two week “scale back” of campus activities, which involved a number of campus facilities and academic buildings closing as well as a halt to in-person instruction.
The scale-back also involved a serious order for 2,000 COVID-19 tests to be conducted on Oct. 6 in order to assess the positivity rate among students.
During the week of the initial spike in cases, more students learned of possible exposure to positive cases and attempted to receive testing from the Health and Wellness Center, further spotlighting the struggle for students to gain access to a test. This forced students to find off-campus facilities to administer tests, some of which have turnaround times as long as seven days.
Indeed, the numbers don’t lie: 40 of the 100 positive cases were reported to the university after having been identified through tests administered by locations unaffiliated with Lehigh.
While it is on both the student’s and the administration’s hands to emphasize the importance and practice of COVID-19 safe behaviors, it is a team effort that stems from the top. When the school no longer preaches the importance of testing and staying on case numbers, the apathetic mentality trickles down throughout the student body.
It feels as though after having relatively low numbers during the initial testing phase, Lehigh administrators wiped their hands, said “that’s good enough,” and left the student body to handle the risks of the pandemic on their own.
But that isn’t what played out throughout September.
First of all, any plan to include further surveillance testing after the first two weeks of the semester was never communicated to students. So the argument of “we were always going to do more” is made in bad faith.
The COVID-19 dashboard is not entirely accurate. It does not include the number of “recovered” cases. And until recently, it was not updated in a timely manner.
This increasing spike could’ve been mitigated by transparent and consistent communication. We have said this time and time again when it came to discussing reopening plans, which while frustrating, did not cause any imminent threat.
But this time, it does.
COVID-19 is believed to have less severe impacts on people in their late-teens and early 20s but still has the potential to get this demographic and others sick. These students are interacting with not only professors and university staff, but also members of the greater Bethlehem community. It is quite literally to no one’s advantage to leave the campus community in the dark.
There are a plethora of rumors flying around the campus as to what changes may take place in the coming weeks, and we hope the administration addresses its thinking and shares it in a responsible manner.
How does a school expect its students to act responsibly, honestly and openly if they do not model that same behavior themselves?
While we are frustrated with how the administration has handled the pandemic since our return to campus — and before — we understand that the responsibility also lies on us. There is a social contract that all students returning to Bethlehem signed, agreeing to take part in socially responsible behaviors amidst a very difficult time.
But at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be the university’s newspaper to serve as the only bridge between the administration and the student body.
The inability for the administration to hold themselves accountable during a time when its community is the most reliant on them it has ever been is disheartening to say the least.
Be open with us. Keep us informed. Let us know where the administration’s head is at. It can only go to assist student and staff decision-making to make our campus healthier as a whole.