Out-of-state students returning to the University of Hawaii at Hilo next month will still be required to quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in Hawaii, although UH last week announced modified quarantine procedures for such students attending universities on Oahu and Kauai.
That plan allows for students arriving on those islands who received a negative COVID-19 test and meet other health and safety requirements to qualify for a “modified quarantine bubble” and attend official university activities, such as classes, for 14 days after their arrival. However, they would be restricted from having other contact with the community during that period.
UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl, however, said Hawaii and Maui counties did not agree to the modified quarantine requirements for college students.
Mayor Harry Kim said last week that the state isn’t prepared to reopen to tourists on Sept. 1, and that it’s not ready to bring out-of-state college students back to campus Aug. 24.
Plans to use a combination of preflight testing with 14-day quarantines for those who aren’t tested or who test positive simply aren’t feasible without a way of differentiating between the two groups and properly monitoring the quarantiners, Kim said last week.
“We will continue to work with Mayor Kim to address the county’s concern,” Meisenzahl said in an email to the Tribune-Herald on Monday. “In the meantime, out-of-state students will have to follow the current 14-day quarantine for out-of-state travelers.”
UH-Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin said university administrators met with Kim on Monday to see if he was open to changing his mind, but he was not.
“As I told him, I’m disappointed, but I respect his decision and I understand it.”
Irwin said it would have been challenging for the school to implement the modified quarantine plan because there are potentially as many as 800 students coming from outside Hawaii.
“It was just going to have so many logistical details, it would have been difficult for us to manage,” she said.
Now that the university has determined which classes can be taken entirely online and which have optional or required face-to-face components, Irwin said UH-Hilo will begin surveying students this week to assess their plans for returning.
If a student coming from the mainland would like to do an entire semester online and not travel, UH-Hilo should be able to accommodate most of those students, she said.
Students also will be informed about the mandatory quarantine period and the penalties for breaking quarantine.
The university is working to arrange quarantine areas off campus, according to the chancellor, but might set aside a small portion of one residence hall for on-campus quarantines.
“A lot of these plans will really be dependent on how many students we have to accommodate — hence the survey,” she said.
Irwin said the university has been in communication with Big Island hotels about quarantining students, and people have reached out with offers of being able to provide space.
The university might use federal funds to pay for the cost of those quarantines.
“We are hoping to cover most of the expense with our CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) money, but that will somewhat be determined by how many students we have who want to do this.”
Irwin said if students do come to Hilo and choose to quarantine for 14 days, university staff will check on them daily to make sure they’re monitoring their health, getting meals and will engage them in online orientation and other online campus activities.
However, it will still be the responsibility of law enforcement to ensure the students follow the quarantine requirements.
According to Irwin, some students choosing to return will opt to come early so they can be on campus or in their residence by the time classes start Aug. 24, but some have already made travel plans and will start the semester while still in quarantine if they can’t change those arrangements.
“Families have a lot of decisions to make,” Irwin said.
When asked about concerns regarding the potential for students to break quarantine, Irwin said that’s a risk.
“That’s why our messaging to them is going to be about the responsibility they have to one another and to this community to abide by this quarantine, and also the penalties for not,” she said. “… I think it’s important for these students to know it’s not going to be pleasant, and it’s better to just obey the rules.”
Irwin said UH-Hilo also is working on making additions, such as mask wearing, to its student conduct code to keep the community as safe as possible.
“Getting a college education is a privilege we are happy to provide for students, but we also have expectations that they will act responsibly.”
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.