UH lays out COVID-19 guidelines for upcoming academic year

The University of Hawaii released on Wednesday interim COVID-19 guidelines for the upcoming academic year.

“These are the guidelines to which all 10 UH campuses will be developing their operational plans. That work is underway now,” said UH President David Lassner during a news conference in Honolulu. “… But it’s the release of these guidelines that really lays out everything that we expect all of our campuses to do across the islands.”

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Lassner said the guidelines were developed with the expertise of faculty in health, public health, medicine and other fields, and draw on guidance available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Department of Health and county orders in effect.

“They cover pretty comprehensively all of the areas that we need to address to ensure a safe return to campus for many of our students and employees … ,” Lassner said.

Guidelines include, among others:

• Face coverings will be required when interacting in person with others and when indoors and where physical distancing is not possible.

• Safety practices to screen, report and monitor COVID-19 cases.

• Regular cleaning and disinfecting of buildings, classrooms, work spaces and frequently touched surfaces.

• Classrooms and work environments will have to be reconfigured to meet social distance requirements, and physical barriers at public-facing transaction counters will be installed.

Additionally, guidelines call for those who are sick, have tested positive for or were in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 to remain at home.

The University of Hawaii at Hilo is already working to implement the guidelines.

In addition to face masks, UH-Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin said the university will continue to promote good hygiene practices with the installation of additional signs on campus.

That falls in line with system guidance that encourages campuses to post signs promoting safe behaviors in highly visible locations.

UH-Hilo will also be instituting 6-foot distance requirements in classrooms and office space.

“We are currently changing up our classroom spaces to reduce the number of chairs or block chairs so students sit (6 feet apart),” Irwin said.

The university also is looking at “traffic patterns” in some buildings, so that a single door is designated an entrance or exit to prevent congestion, she said.

“Really, what the university is doing pretty much parallels what the state and county are doing,” Irwin said.

Irwin said most of UH-Hilo’s courses will be offered in some kind of hybrid model, meaning some of the class is online and some is face-to-face, or high-flex way, meaning there is flexibility for students to decide the modality. Each faculty member will determine what to do with their own classes.

Irwin said that will work for most of UH-Hilo’s classes, aside from specific activities or labs that have more of a face-to-face component.

Face-to-face lab activities and classes will have to come up with protocols to ensure a safe environment, she said.

According to Irwin, the College of Health and Natural Sciences is working to develop guidelines for lab spaces. The Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy and College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management are also looking at what can be done safely in person.

Irwin said current campus dining plans will predominantly be take-away offerings rather than indoor seating.

“It’s a challenge to plan while we’re still learning new things everyday, but we’re doing our best to follow (guidelines) …” she said.

UH-Hilo also is looking at how to handle the influx of students from the mainland.

“That’s an ongoing conversation, how that’s going to be handled in our residence halls,” Irwin said.

Housing plans currently call for one resident per bedroom, which means double rooms will have a single resident. Irwin said UH-Hilo, however, will keep those room rates the same for the fall.

So far, Irwin said fall enrollment at UH-Hilo is “doing pretty well. So we don’t see a precipitous decline in enrollment, but it is still early.”

She added some students, however, have been waiting for announcements about classes.

“I think we’ll see more students making decisions in the next couple of weeks,” Irwin said.

Irwin said she expects in-state enrollment to be stronger than out-of-state enrollment, a trend being seen throughout the country.

“Out-of-state parents may be wanting to keep their students closer to home … ,” she said.

Challenges also are expected with international enrollments, according to the chancellor, “because even getting Visas is difficult, let alone the travel.”

Despite the challenges brought by COVID-19, Irwin said the university still hopes to announce a new vice chancellor of academic affairs, is still interviewing dean candidates and is “still hoping to get some more of our interim positions filled, depending on both COVID and budget considerations.”

The full list of guidelines can be found online at hawaii.edu/covid19-guidelines/.

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The first day of classes is Aug. 24.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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