As the first few weeks on campus saw a spike in student COVID-19 cases, some students had difficulties obtaining COVID-19 tests from the Health and Wellness Center.
“I would say that we’ve had more cases early on than perhaps we were anticipating, although that rate is certainly now seeming to be on the decline,” said Provost Nathan Urban.
Urban said the university has scaled up the testing capacity.
Lori Friedman, director of media relations for the university, said approximately 30 tests can be run per day at the HWC on the Cepheid machine, which gives same day results, and has been used for symptomatic students.
Friedman said the university did not anticipate the significant number of cases among vaccinated students.
Since Sept. 1 the HWC expanded its capacity to test close contacts. Now the HWC has the capacity to run 500 tests per day, Friedman said. These tests take 24-36 hours to deliver results.
“We’re prepared to meet that increased demand,” Urban said. “We needed a day or so to scale up.”
Lehigh offers a few different types of testing for students. At the STEPS tent, Vault Health PCR-based saliva tests are administered to unvaccinated students and close contacts with mild or no symptoms. At Johnson Hall, the HWC administers PCR tests for symptomatic students with nasal swabs.
Testing at Johnson Hall is not available to faculty and staff Friedman said, but testing in the STEPS tent is.
Some students have said they have had difficulty getting tested for COVID-19.
Zach Michael, ‘23, recently contracted COVID-19; Michael is fully vaccinated.
He said since students who are fully vaccinated do not have to get tested regularly, he would have never known he had COVID-19 if his friends had not convinced him to get a test, just as a precaution.
“Personally I don’t think Lehigh is doing enough,” Michael said. “There needs to be stricter testing.”
Michael said a friend of his had to call the HWC seven times before being able to get through to someone.
Last year, all students with campus access had to undergo surveillance testing, which occurred every few weeks depending on the number of cases among the student body. Students also had to fill out a symptom-checker in the HawkWatch app each day before gaining access to campus buildings.
Now regular surveillance testing is only required for those who are unvaccinated.
Andrew Schachter, ‘23, also recently tested positive for COVID-19, and has been disappointed in the resources offered by Lehigh.
“I put my roommates’ names down for the contact tracing form and they didn’t get any sort of communication from the Health and Wellness Center for a week,” Schachter said.
Urban said it is a rule for students who test positive at sites outside of Lehigh to report that result to the HWC, and if a professor goes to check the reason for the absence, it will be unexcused unless it has been reported to the HWC.
He said ideally a student’s incentive to report a COVID-19 positive test should come from the moral side of wanting to keep others safe.
Both Michael and Schachter said they initially had trouble getting a COVID-19 test through Lehigh, but eventually were able to obtain tests as close contacts.
“Offering more rapid tests for not just those who are symptomatic could drastically slow down the spread of COVID on our campus,” Michael said. “The close contact testing is great in theory, but takes up to two days to get a result, at which point someone may have spread it to dozens of others.”
The university has partnered with Lehigh Valley Health Network to supplement the HWC services. LVHN is providing students, faculty and staff access to telehealth, COVID-19 testing, assessment and treatment, Friedman said.