David Rubenstein, Lehigh’s executive director of the Health and Wellness center, explains his thoughts surrounding COVID-19 and the fall semester. So far, Rubenstein thinks Lehigh is doing well. (Courtesy of Lehigh University)

Q&A: David Rubenstein talks COVID, shares thoughts on semester so far

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The Brown and White spoke with David Rubenstein, Lehigh’s executive director of the Health and Wellness center, to talk about how the semester is going so far. 

Q: With first years welcomed back and some in-person classes resuming, how has the semester been going in your opinion?

David Rubenstein: I think the semester is going really well so far. The start of this semester is unlike any other. What’s different this year of course is face coverings and social distancing, and I think that students, staff and faculty are all adjusting to a different kind of start to the year, and at the same time, trying to hold the excitement of potential possibilities of what this year can bring, even with one that looks completely different. People are teaching differently, people are attending classes differently, people are learning differently. So, it’s an opportunity and a challenge at the same time. 

I think another part of this is the start of the school year from a COVID-19 perspective. I’m very thankful and appreciative that we currently don’t have any positive students that are currently living on-campus as I know that that’s not the case at many, many universities across the country. And even off-campus, our numbers are relatively low, with four students in isolation and 18 students in quarantine as of the morning of 9/24, so I’m very thankful and I’m very appreciative of that.

I’m also aware that the virus is the virus, and it doesn’t care if you are student, staff or faculty, it spreads the same way. So I’m really appreciative to students, staff and faculty for taking seriously the need for wearing face coverings, keeping social distancing, washing their hands frequently. Those are the things that we know definitively mitigate risk, and prevent the spread of the virus. It’s on all of us, so if we all do that, well, then that helps us continue a good start to the school year.

Q: How did you feel about the school welcoming back first-years and opening dorms and dining halls?

DR: I think as much as we can possibly give an opportunity for students to have a university experience that is healthy, exciting and academic, we should do that. You can’t eliminate risk, but you can do the very best you can to create an atmosphere and an environment that mitigates risk, and the rest of it is on all of us to do our part. I think the university has done a good job in reducing the density of students on campus to mitigate risk while providing an academic experience. 

Q: Are the positive case numbers in the expected range?

DR: I expected more cases, and I think many of us expected more cases. On one hand, I’m very pleased with the fact that we have such a small incidence, but we are prepared for those numbers to increase. As I said, the virus doesn’t care if you are students, staff or faculty, it spreads the same way. I think, unfortunately, that it’s inevitable that we are going to have cases on our campus, so that’s what we have been planning and preparing for.  

Q: What do you think Lehigh is doing that other schools aren’t that has led to us being successful so far?

DR: To be fair, we have had a lot of conversations with other health care leadership at other universities, and that’s a very hard question to answer because I think the other health care leaders at other institutions are doing many of the same things we are trying to do. What I can speak to is that what we’re doing so far is working. We are a university environment, a congregate setting, with many in the age range of 18 to 25.

The university setting is built to foster academic and social enrichment and, so, wearing face coverings and being socially distant is challenging over a long period of time.  I’m expecting that that is going to continue to be hard for people. I think we are doing all the right things with the information we know, but at the same time it’s not just about what the university is doing, it’s about what our community is doing as well.

Q: What are your expectations of the student body, and do you think these expectations are being upheld?

DR: I think the campus is doing a good job, by and large. When I’m walking around, I see students with face coverings on, and I see students keeping socially distant. From time to time, when I see someone that isn’t, if I just say, ‘Hey, face covering!’ people have responded and taken their mask out and they put their mask on. I think we are all finding our way with this. And that’s not to say that there aren’t parties here and there off-campus, but those have been smaller in number. The responsibility is on all of us, and the more that we all do what we are supposed to do and stay with it, the further we will get through this semester.

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