Big Island Coronavirus Updates

UH to Resume On-Campus Education This Fall

May 4, 2020, 6:14 PM HST
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University of Hawai‘i students will attend classes on campus this fall, or at least that’s the plan as of Monday, May 4.

UH President David Lassner said the university will strive to achieve on-campus instruction at all 10 of its locations statewide, though not everything will be “business as usual.”

Some classes may take place outdoors. Lecture classes will remain online-only. Other classes will assume a hybrid model of online and in-person instruction, and labs and classrooms will implement social distancing policies to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 to the greatest extent possible.

Sanitation and handwashing stations will also be strategically placed across all campuses. Protocols for testing, contact tracing and quarantine will be in place as needed for collaboration with public health officials.

“I’m still processing the news that we will be back on campus in the fall,” said UH-Hilo Associate Professor of Sociology Dr. Lindy Hern. “While I’m glad that I will have the opportunity to see and work with my students on campus, I’m also concerned about the risk factors involved.”

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“It’s important for everyone to be safe so that we do not see a second surge in COVID-19 cases, which may happen either way,” Hern continued. “I’m relieved to see that processes are already being developed at the system and campus level that will help us to move back to on-campus instruction in a safe and productive way.”

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A surge of positive cases at any point in the semester, however, could lead to a return to the online-only instruction model that dictated education throughout the UH system to end the Spring 2020 semester.

“We are acutely aware that we do not control the environment,” Lassner said at a press conference Monday. “There is a possibility we will have a resurgence … and in that case, we will be prepared to revert to fully online instruction if necessary.”

The president added that a technology safety net will be put in place for students should online-only instruction resume, such as better internet access and “loaner” laptops for students who don’t have laptops and can’t afford them.

UH Hilo. Courtesy photo.

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Surveys about the online-only model used at the end of the spring semester will inform any move back to online-only education in the fall.

As for on-campus accommodations, residence halls at UH-Mānoa and UH-Hilo will remain open despite representing the most likely risk for coronavirus spread.

“That is a call we made early on, that we wanted to keep residence halls available,” Lassner said. “We have many students who have no safe place to go other than with us.”

A quarantine program will be in place for students coming back to Hawai‘i in the fall, either from the mainland or from foreign countries. Lassner said the university will follow whatever program is in place at the time. Currently, a mandatory 14-day travel quarantine has been imposed on anyone visiting Hawai‘i or returning to the state.

Depending on the availability of hotel rooms due to travel quarantines and other factors, some students may spend their first two weeks back in Hawai‘i holed up in a suite while they wait to clear requirements.

“We’ll make arrangements to make sure anyone who arrives and needs a place to be quarantined … we will provide a place for them so they can participate in studies and be fed,” Lassner assured.

UH expects student populations in residence halls will be lower in the fall as opposed to recent semesters, though not necessarily enrollment. Admissions deadlines have been extended, and Lassner believes there will be an uptick in local students because many in Hawai‘i won’t see the fall of 2020 as a good time to enroll at an out-of-state school.

Hilo Athletics photo

While UH expects local interest to rise in its programs to rise, the university believes international enrollment will dwindle for the same reasons.

“On balance, we could actually have higher numbers depending on what happens with our local enrollment in the fall,” Lassner said.

Whatever the case proves to be as to total enrollment numbers, UH faculty and staff are bracing for a less robust budget than in years past. Campus book stores, student residences and parking are all self-supporting, which could present financial complications next school year.

Some services may be cut, Lassner conceded, adding the next two months will be dedicated to planning how best to navigate a tighter belt while keeping the student body and UH employees as safe from COVID-19 as possible.

Whether athletics will be a part of the UH collegiate experience next semester remains an open question. The university has to collaborate with various athletic conferences of which it’s a member, as well as other member schools, before making a joint determination.

“It’s complicated for student-athletes, it’s complicated for fans and it’s not something UH can unilaterally decide,” Lassner said.

He added that the university’s athletic director is in regular contact with colleagues to try and figure out what a new normal might look like when sports seasons roll around this fall.

Classes are slated to begin as scheduled on Monday, August 24 across all UH campuses.

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