Lehigh records highest number of COVID-19 cases, transitions to fully remote learning for second time after latest spike

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Lehigh announced all classes will move to remote learning and all libraries and gyms will close after a surge in COVID-19 cases among students as Thanksgiving break approaches.

The new restrictions come after the university is reporting a “marked increase” in the number of students reporting COVID-like symptoms and testing positive, according to an email to the campus community on Nov. 19.

As of Nov. 19, Lehigh’s COVID-19 dashboard is updated to show 186 active COVID-19 cases, including a 9.99 percent positivity rate based on this week’s asymptomatic exit surveillance testing. One day ago, Lehigh was reporting 91 active cases, leading to a 24-hour increase of nearly 100 active cases.

On Nov. 9, there were just seven active COVID-19 cases among students.

At the peak of the campus outbreak in October, Lehigh reported 177 cumulative positive COVID-19 cases. This latest case count, which is based on active cases, marks the most cases ever recorded on campus at any one point.

Students remaining on campus are advised to not interact with others outside their residence hall and off-campus students are advised not to interact with students outside their residence. Lehigh is discouraging “unnecessary outings,” including trips to the store or dining in restaurants.

For on-campus students who require isolation or quarantine during the Thanksgiving break, Lehigh will provide accommodations including meals and isolation housing. Students awaiting test results, those who have tested positive and those quarantining from contact tracing can complete their isolation on campus even after residence halls close. 

“Lehigh strongly urges students not to travel after receiving a positive test result or being identified as a close contact,” the email said. “If required, students who test positive or are identified as a close contact may travel if they are able to do so by private vehicle, but they should not use public transportation, which includes plane, train, bus, or rideshare.”

Given a rise in Pennsylvania cases, travel restrictions will take effect on Nov. 20, requiring anyone who visits Pennsylvania coming from another state to have a negative test 72 hours prior to entering the state or to quarantine for 14 days. This does not apply to those who commute from a different state for work or for medical treatment.   

Northampton and Lehigh counties are both reporting positivity rates above five percent, the state Health Department said. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are also rising in Pennsylvania, with 2,737 individuals hospitalized due to the coronavirus as of Nov. 18, an increase of more than 150 from the day before. 

All in-person activities at Lehigh were scheduled to end at Thanksgiving break this semester to avoid students travelling home and then returning for the final weeks of classes and final exams.

This latest transition to fully remote learning marks the second time Lehigh has had to close campus in this fashion this semester after a spike in cases. That campus closure resulted in more than 200 first-year students vacating their campus housing

The first campus closure came after several weeks of the university not conducting regular surveillance testing, which they have since expanded.

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