As of Aug. 31, there are 118 total active cases on the COVID-19 Dashboard for students, staff and faculty, an increase from the mid-50s last week. This is in addition to 190.3 new reported cases per 100,000 people in Northampton County.
Lehigh’s COVID Response Team continues to monitor the situation and follow CDC guidelines to limit the spread of the virus and ensure student, staff and faculty safety. Decisions on mask mandates, surveillance testing and quarantine protocols are investigated daily.
According to the COVID Response Team, all students are required to be fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot, “except for students who submit medical and religious exemptions.”
For those who test positive for COVID-19, CDC guidelines recommend that the infected individual isolates themselves for five days from the onset of their symptoms or, if asymptomatic, from the day they obtain a positive test.
During this isolation period, Lehigh policies state that students can either remain in their assigned on-campus residence or leave campus through mode of private transportation.
“We’re not trying to go out on a limb and make any decisions on our own,” said Steven Bowers, medical director of the Health and Wellness Center. “(Decisions are) based off of consults with the surrounding health networks and (are) really being guided by the CDC.”
Masks on campus are required in the Health and Wellness Center and recommended on buses.
Professors and other faculty may require masks in class or at events at their discretion.
“There was a spike in cases again, I think midway or towards the end of the spring semester, and I asked students to please wear their mask again,” said Eduardo J. Gómez, associate professor of community and population health. “All of them did that with no problem.”
Bowers said due to increasing cases, he recommends individuals be cautious and, if they’re concerned for their health or are high risk individuals, wear masks. He said if the numbers continue to increase significantly, they will have to seriously consider mandatory masking.
High transmission rates are being looked at alongside hospitalization and fatality rates.
Kristen Wenrich, city of Bethlehem health director, said policies and guidance need to evolve with COVID-19.
“Individuals who are fully vaccinated (and) boosted are getting COVID, but we’re not seeing a huge increase in hospitalizations and severity of disease, so I think that these factors need to be taken into account when talking about masking.”
The FDA has recently cleared an omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccination, called a bivalent vaccine, aimed to protect individuals against new variants as well as the original strain of the virus.
“Hopefully, the new booster that’s coming out in the next few weeks is going to be a better match to what’s circulating,” Wenrich said.
In addition to COVID-19, the monkeypox virus has begun to spread. According to the CDC, this disease leaves infected individuals with symptoms similar to smallpox, including a rash that initially looks like pimples or blisters and goes through several, often painful, stages before healing. Infected persons may also experience fever, chills, exhaustion, muscle aches and more.
Though not present on campus, there were “several” confirmed cases of monkeypox in the Lehigh Valley, according to Lehigh Valley Live.
Wenrich said most people are contracting monkeypox when having sex, and it is most common among the MSM (men who have sex with men) population.
“If we get a monkeypox case, then we conduct an investigation and contact tracing, and then we’re using that vaccine for individuals who are identified through the contact tracing efforts,” Wenrich said.
Gómez said education is beneficial in limiting the spread and ensuring those infected know how to handle both monkeypox and the new variants of COVID-19.
He said COVID-19 showed us the benefits of social media and sharing new information, and it should be used to spread awareness about monkeypox, too.
“I think we should increase public knowledge about (monkeypox),” Gómez said. “We’ve seen a lot of news coverage about the infection.”