Executive Director of Student Health Services Sharon Rabinovitz. Photo courtesy of Emory University

As the end of the semester nears after another year of COVID-19 regulations, Executive Director of Student Health Services Sharon Rabinovitz gushed about the upcoming graduation ceremonies, which will be held on campus for the first time in three years. 

“It’ll look wonderful and so exciting,” Rabinovitz said. “We’re just over the moon to be able to get back there.” 

Commencement, which will be held from May 6-9, will be a ticketed event to help control the number of people who attend, Rabinovitz explained. Each graduating student will be allocated two guest tickets. 

Rabinovitz said this will be the biggest change to the event in terms of COVID-19 guidelines.

“Obviously, there’s contingency plans if there’s an increase in COVID cases, which we don’t anticipate at this point,” Rabinovitz said.

Although the number of COVID-19 cases has increased slightly in DeKalb County, Rabinovitz said cases have remained steady at Emory University over the past two weeks. The University’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that 41 cases were reported among students, faculty and staff in the past 10 days, a slight decrease from the 53 cases reported on April 5. 

“We do have a little bit of ebbs and flows, but the swing is much, much lower,” Rabinovitz said. “Cases are down to trends that hopefully will continue throughout the next couple months.”

The percentage of Emory community members who are fully vaccinated has also remained steady, with 95% of students and 91.4% of faculty and staff reporting being up-to-date on their vaccinations as of April 16, according to the dashboard. On April 5, 94.6% of students and 91% of faculty and staff reported that they were up-to-date.  

Last month, Emory restricted Wi-Fi for students who were noncompliant with booster vaccine requirements, and was met with national criticism. However, Rabinovitz credited the high vaccination rates to the Wi-Fi restrictions.

“We had a significant decrease [in non-compliant students] once we rolled out the Wi-Fi [restrictions],” Rabinovitz said. “From about [1200 or 1300], down to about 600.”

About 500 students are still non-compliant, according to Rabinovitz. Although she said administration is currently discussing how to enforce compliance next year, Rabinovitz explained that COVID-19 vaccines and boosters will likely be added to the list of other vaccinations students are required to submit to register for classes, such as Hepatitis B. 

“Coming back for next year, people will still be held to these standards,” Rabinovitz said. “Everyone — whether they’re here now, or coming back, or both or new — will be held to the same compliance standards, which will include the booster and the primary series.”

As the University begins preparations for next year, Rabinovitz said that students’ mental health — especially in terms of coping with the pandemic — is “at the forefront of all leadership.” She said different plans and resources will be developed over time, noting the University’s recent appointment of James Raper, the current assistant vice president for health and wellbeing at Wake Forest University (N.C.), as Emory’s first associate vice president for health, well-being, access and prevention. He is set to begin June 1.

Director of Internal Communications Emily León explained that Raper’s appointment will make mental health more accessible for students, which she said Campus Life has given a “front seat priority.”

Mental health discussions will be included in orientation programs for new students, Rabinovitz added, although she does not know the specific plans. 

Rabinovitz said she learned how to care for students holistically this year, which includes ensuring faculty have the resources necessary to support their students. 

“The medical care and assessment of students with COVID-19 is obviously very important, but also in the context of their mental health, their resources, supporting their academic mission,” Rabinovitz said. 

Rabinovitz added that she has a lot of hope for the future after seeing how well students, administration and campus life have worked together to navigate the college experience amid COVID-19.

“I know that will move us forward in a better direction,” Rabinovitz said. “Students showed how much perseverance and resilience that they’ve had. It’s been a very difficult semester, so I honor that.”