Starting Oct. 26, the university will begin a phased reopening of campus resources such as the libraries, outdoor activities and classes. (Patrece Savino/B&W Staff)

Lehigh to loosen restrictions starting Oct. 26 in response to decline in COVID-19 positivity rate

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Lehigh announced in an email today that the university will start to reverse some of the restrictions put in place back on Oct. 9.

The email said the rate of positive tests in asymptomatic students have decreased from four percent to one percent over the last three weeks and so has the number of students in isolation and quarantine. Lehigh’s dashboard is currently showing 33 active COVID-19 cases among students in Bethlehem compared to over 80 just a week ago.

“This is a great testament to the critical efforts of our community,” the email said. “In recent weeks we have seen a marked improvement in terms of attention to wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing. These have been key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and thereby mitigating the risk of spreading the virus further.”

The email said starting Oct. 26, both libraries will reopen with capacity limits, outdoor access to off-campus students will be reinstated, some in-person classes and undergraduate research may resume and students can access classrooms and facilities from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

The five-person limit for gatherings will remain in effect, dining will continue to be takeout, Taylor Gym will remain closed and athletic team practices will remain suspended, the email said. 

The email said students should remain on or off campus and only return home for emergency or health-related circumstances. 

Lehigh said in its email to the campus that the loosening of certain restrictions comes in response to the data behind the recent COVID-19 outbreak. Lehigh said “the majority” of cases are a result of informal social settings “primarily” from off-campus students. There is “no clear evidence,” the email said, of COVID-19 spread in a classroom setting.

Surveillance testing will continue into November.

Further restrictions of campus could be necessary before all instruction shifts online at Thanksgiving break and on campus housing ends. The email cited positive case counts among Lehigh students, isolation housing capacity, COVID-19 infection rates in Northampton County, hospital capacity and the number of close contacts identified from positive cases as factors that could influence the decision to further restrict campus life.

Lehigh said in the email that students who have already left campus in response to the outbreak must not return until receiving permission from Housing Services. The student must demonstrate two negative tests five to seven days apart. 

“In some instances, we clarified pieces of this protocol after students had already left campus,” the email said. “We apologize for the frustration families may have experienced in making adjustments.”

The school said in the email that they will send more information out in the next few weeks about transitioning to remote learning after Thanksgiving break and any more related information. 

Conduct violations will continue to be strictly enforced through the Code of Conduct process, and students must continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and complete the daily self-assessment through Hawkwatch, the email said. 

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