The president of the University of Hawaii said Monday all 10 campuses plan to resume in-person instruction for the fall 2020 semester.
During Gov. David Ige’s afternoon media conference, David Lassner said that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that caused UH to shift to online instruction during the spring semester, the return of students to classrooms “will not be business as usual.”
“We are not going back to what it was in fall 2019 or even the beginning of spring 2020,” Lassner said. “Rather, we will be implementing in-person instruction in our classrooms, in our labs, perhaps even outdoors on our campuses. And it will be done in a safe, COVID-aware manner.
“We will implement social distancing measures in our classrooms, labs, offices, libraries and study spaces,” he said. There also will also be measures taken, including “hand washing for everyone” and “greater use of online technology.”
“The lessons that we learned this spring will be applied as we move forward,” Lassner said. “We will have a number of hybrid classes, particularly some of our large lectures. The lecture portion will be moved online, and the interactive portion may be conducted in person, in (a) COVID-aware, safe manner.”
He said there will be measures in place for testing, contact tracing and quarantining, as needed, and residence halls will be open on the UH-Hilo and Manoa campuses “for students who really need a safe place to live while they learn.”
Lassner said he thinks there will be “an uptick in local students” staying at home for college.
“There will be many residents of Hawaii who do not think this is a good time to go away to college, so that becomes an opportunity for us,” he said. “We think international enrollment will be down, both because of the COVID situations, restrictions on travel and difficulties for international students to get visas to come into this country.”
According to Lassner, the possibility of budget cuts is “a fact of life that all of us are preparing for.” He said some auxiliary services, such as residence halls, bookstores and parking are self-supporting.
Noting he is “acutely aware that we do not control the environment,” Lassner said the institution will be ready “to revert to fully online instruction, if necessary” should there be another surge in COVID-19 cases.
Lassner said the university is “not there with a plan for intercollegiate athletics, just yet.”
“It’s complicated for student-athletes; it’s complicated for fans,” he said. “And most of all, it’s something that UH cannot just unilaterally decide.”
According to Lassner, the decision on when and how intercollegiate athletics return on the Hilo and Manoa campuses is going to be made collaboratively with the conferences and the other member institutions.
“Frankly, the entire NCAA is also engaged in conversations about what athletics can look like,” he said. “But clearly, if a university is not in session, intercollegiate athletics will not be in session.”
The university said specific questions about the fall semester can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lawmakers get update on economy, unemployment
In a morning meeting of the State House Select Committee on Economy and Financial Preparedness, Carl Bonham, an economist and executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, told lawmakers the plan to gradually reopen Hawaii’s economy calls for, in May “regaining about 35 to 45% of the lost activity” from April.
“By the end of the year, we anticipate the local economy to regain about 75% of the lost activity,” Bonham said.
“The opening of the tourism economy is even more uncertain than the local economy,” he added. “In our baseline, we’re assuming we’ll see progress in screening, testing and tracking visitors. … We’re going to have to do better than we are right now with the visitors that are arriving, and we anticipate that will happen.
“So we’re assuming that by the end of July, we’ll begin to reopen some to tourism.”
Bonham noted that, at this point, that is merely an assumption.
Scott Murakami, director of the state Industrial Labor and Industrial Relations, told the committee the Unemployment Division is working on a database to identify laid-off employees who have declined to return to work after being offered a job.
“At that point, what we would do is terminate the benefit … and then allow the individual to … appeal to our appeals office. So the individual the could say, through our appeals process, ‘I actually was not offered the job’ or whatnot.
House Speaker Scott Saiki said because school is out and child care is difficult to find and pay for during the current crisis, “It’s difficult for workers to return in those situations.”
“It’s not entirely, you know, the workers’ fault.”
As of Sunday, according to DLIR, there have been 329,354 new jobless filings since April 1. Of those, 95,353, or almost 29%, are duplicate filings. About 6,000 filings were received with errors, according to the department.
Of the 221,701 filings that have been inputted into the mainframe computer that Murakami conceded Monday is “between 30 and 40 years old,” 125,511, or 56.6% have been processed, with 96,190, or 43.4% being processed.
So far, 36,693 claims that have made it to the mainframe have been denied, leaving a total of 185,511 claims that have either been approved or are still being processed. Of those, 88,818, slightly more than 48%, have been paid.
Ige said during his media conference he’s “not satisfied with the progress at the unemployment office.”
“You know, it’s been a tremendous effort,” he said. “We have hundreds of state workers and other employees rallying to the call to help,” Ige said. “You know, the challenge has been it’s a very antiquated system. And we’ve resolved the easy conflicts in the applications.”
He added the more difficult problems officials are trying to iron out “require more knowledge … about the different rules and the different discrepancies” in the unemployment system.
One new case of COVID-19 on the Big Island
As of noon Monday, the state Department of Health reported one new case of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 621.
The new case was in Hawaii County, which has had 75 cases.
There have been 17 coronavirus-related deaths in the state, 11 on Oahu and six on Maui.
Health Director Bruce Anderson said during Ige’s conference the new Big Island case is in Kona and “not associated with the … cluster associated with McDonald’s franchise there.”
He said the new case is part of “one of three clusters that are probably not associated with” the McDonald’s cluster.
“One was a family of four who were all infected, another case (is) a couple who both got infected, and this case is yet another situation where there is evidence of some community transmission,” Anderson said, praising his contract tracing and surveillance program.
“We’re able to identify the contacts, trace those contracts and respond,” he said. “So we’re in pretty good shape as that goes. We still need to work on making sure we have (personal protective equipment) and other infrastructure in place.
“But with that, we can talk about the opening of Hawaii and returning to the new normal.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.