Many of the new COVID-19 cases on campus have been reported to be breakthrough cases. A total of 94.4% of students and faculty are fully vaccinated. (Sharon Jo/B&W Staff)

The not-so-rare breakthrough: Vaccinated students are testing positive for COVID-19

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Despite an added layer of protection against COVID-19 offered by the vaccine, Lehigh students are still testing positive for the virus. 

As of Sept. 8 Lehigh’s COVID-19 dashboard is reporting 180 active cases of COVID-19 among students. 145 of the cases are among students living in residence halls and 35 are among students living off campus. 

Peter Ender, MD, chairman of the Infectious Disease Department at Saint Luke’s University Health Network, spoke with The Brown and White over email about the recent outbreak. 

He said the size and severity of the outbreak will be determined by collective vaccination rates as well as students’ ability to appropriately use masks and social distance. The impact of the Delta variant and other emerging variants will also be factors, he said. 

Dave Jha, ’22, caught a breakthrough case of COVID-19. He has been vaccinated since April but tested positive at Lehigh. 

After noticing a sore throat and runny nose, he decided to get tested and was sent by the university to the STEPS tent. 

At first, Jha said he thought his symptoms were allergies, but he eventually lost his sense of smell.  

“I was considering going to get a rapid test somewhere else like at CVS, but they didn’t have any more for that day, so I was stuck just waiting,” he said. 

Jha was tested on a Friday and got his results back Saturday afternoon. He said he started to isolate while waiting for his results just to be safe. 

Jha lives off campus with four friends who all were tested as well. He said his friends were staying in their house until they received a negative result. 

Jha was frustrated that the university only provides isolation housing to those who live on campus. 

“It doesn’t really matter if you live on campus or not, you should get access to isolation housing if you want to,” he said. “I’m lucky that I have a private bedroom that I can isolate in, but I know others that are in a more difficult situation of having to share a bedroom, for instance.” 

When he got the positive result, it was sent to him via email. Jha said he has not received any further communication from the Health and Wellness Center other than a Google form to identify his close contacts.

Jha said if he didn’t text those who were close to him about his positive result, they may not have found out until it was too late. 

Jha said he was surprised he contracted COVID-19. 

 “I haven’t been as cautious as I was before I was vaccinated, but I feel like I haven’t done anything crazy, either,” Jha said. 

As students test positive, some have felt as though professors were not ready to accommodate those in quarantine. 

Gabby Rub, ‘24, moved from Greek housing to the isolation housing at Trembly Park last week. She said that Lehigh might not have been ready for hybrid learning. 

“Some of (my professors) said that they weren’t prepared for this because they were told by administration that it is the year we were all supposed to be back and that we weren’t going back to online learning,” Rub said. 

Emma Hartmann, ‘23, lives off campus, and also tested positive last week. She has been concerned about falling behind in classes due to her isolation. 

“It’s been kind of frustrating, because I emailed all of my professors saying that I was concerned I would fall behind just by doing the readings and getting notes from classmates,” Hartmann said. “I was hoping some of them would be able to let me make up for what I would miss in other ways. They basically all said ‘no.’”

Lehigh’s COVID-19 Response Team said in an email that professors have the option to switch to remote or hybrid learning for the week of Sept. 6 in response to the rising number of cases.

Hartmann was relieved when one of her classes moved to Zoom. 

“I feel like this year Lehigh feels we just need to be in-person and not even consider the fact that you can still be vaccinated and still get COVID,” Hartmann said. 

Jha said a few of his professors have made class temporarily virtual following this announcement, though not all of his classes have been moved remotely. He said he is still concerned about his classes that are still in person and discussion-based. 

Ender said for those who are not vaccinated, it is not too late. 

“The COVID vaccines available in this country have been rigorously tested and are remarkably safe,” Ender said. “COVID, on the other hand, can be debilitating and even deadly, even for young, otherwise healthy people. Do what’s good for yourself and for the well-being of your family, friends and everyone else at the university—get vaccinated.” 

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