Pa. weekly COVID update: Lehigh Valley cases spike with Omicron; schools go on defense ahead of holiday | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools


A policy enacted last month that made it optional to mask indoors at Nazareth Area School District facilities didn’t last long.

The district abandoned it this week in favor of a return to mandatory masking at the high school, a move that illustrates how rapidly COVID is once again spreading in the Lehigh Valley and statewide as the more contagious Omicron variant becomes the dominant strain. Nazareth Area wasn’t the only local institution changing course to mitigate the spread in the days ahead of Christmas on Saturday.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 10,548 new cases on Thursday, marking only the seventh time in 2021 the daily case count has surpassed 10,000. Four of those seven days have occurred this month. The daily count of news cases on average over the last week is now at 8,467, about 100 shy of its monthly peak of 8,574 on Dec. 13, a lehighvalleylive.com analysis shows.

Response to case spike

In addition to reinstating its mask mandate, Nazareth Area School District also opted to have high schoolers finish 2021 virtually. It switched the high school to online instruction for Thursday, the last day of classes before winter break.

A letter to parents from Principal Alan Davis says the decision to go to online instruction conforms with recommendations from the Pennsylvania health and education departments for large schools with 45 or more positive cases of COVID-19 within a 10-day rolling period.

Other Lehigh Valley schools took their own measures to curb the rising case numbers. Bethlehem Catholic High School, citing 25 student and staff coronavirus cases since the start of last week, switched to remote learning in the full-day and half-day prior to winter break this week.

And in higher education, both Lehigh University and Lafayette College announced that students returning to campus for the spring semester will be required to show proof of receiving COVID-19 vaccine boosters unless they have previous medical or religious exemptions.

St. Luke’s University Health Network is also turning to proof of vaccination as a tool to mitigate transmission within its facilities. The local health network on Tuesday said it will be restricting visitors to those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Lehigh Valley Health Network announced Thursday night it is requesting all visitors be vaccinated against COVID-19, or risk losing visitation privileges

Lehigh Valley numbers

The Lehigh Valley recorded 704 of its own cases on Thursday. That breaks down to 391 cases in Lehigh County and 313 in Northampton County. The region’s seen more than 500 cases a day in six of the last seven days.

The daily count of new cases on average over the last week rose to 287 in Lehigh County and dropped slightly to 290 in Northampton County, according to the lehighvalleylive.com analysis. By comparison, we entered December with weekly averages of 189 in Lehigh County and 132 in Northampton County, the analysis shows.

Pennsylvania reported another 177 COVID-19-related deaths, 10 of which were in the Lehigh Valley, on Thursday, bringing the statewide total since the start of the pandemic to 35,960 and the average number of new deaths per day over the last week up to 124. It’s been more than 100 each day since Dec. 14, the analysis shows.

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