UH-Hilo creates quarantine program for out-of-state students

  • Farrah-Marie Gomes

The University of Hawaii at Hilo is working to assist returning out-of-state students who have asked for help complying with the state’s mandatory two-week quarantine.

According to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Farrah-Marie Gomes, a program was established after Gov. David Ige announced that a 14-day quarantine for travelers arriving from outside Hawaii would be extended until Sept. 1. It initially was supposed to end Aug. 1.

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As part of the program, Gomes said UH-Hilo is finalizing contracts with two Big Island hotels to provide rooms for students to complete their quarantines off campus.

She did not name which hotels because both contracts had not been finalized, but said institutional funds, or money generated by tuition and fees, will be used to cover the costs.

“The university is making this offer available to students because as soon as the governor announced the extension of quarantine through the month of August, we received a load of phone calls from concerned students who already had purchased airline tickets to come back,” Gomes said. “(They) needed to find alternative ways to quarantine because they weren’t going to be able to afford the cost of doing quarantine on their own.”

Students who live off campus can quarantine in their own place, but Gomes said the university cannot determine if the living spaces meet quarantine requirements.

“For those that absolutely know they cannot quarantine in an off-campus apartment because they share with three other people and can’t pay for quarantine on their own, (these are the) type of students our quarantine program was set up to assist,” Gomes said.

A small group of students, however, will be quarantined on campus. Gomes said fewer than 20 students who are minors will be quarantined in the Hale ‘Alahonua residence hall.

Out-of-state students who aren’t minors but are planning to live on campus will quarantine at a hotel.

“These students (will) follow the state’s quarantine requirement of going straight from the airport to the hotel,” Gomes said. “They will check into the residence hall on campus after their 14-day quarantine is complete.”

While there are many COVID-related concerns, Gomes said the university is trying to meet the needs of students so they can continue with their education.

“We are doing our best to mitigate risk in both the residence hall and hotel,” she said.

For instance, students will be given a key they can only swipe once to get into their hotel or dorm room, after which the key is deactivated.

If a student leaves their room for any reason and the door closes behind them, Gomes said they will need to contact a staff member to be let back into the room.

“Staff at both locations are aware that it is their responsibility to report those incidents as quarantine violations, and prior to going into one of these rooms, students are made well aware of that,” she said.

Housing staff also will be doing routine walk-throughs on campus. Hotel staff, while not doing walk-throughs specifically, will deliver items like food, ice, clean towels and new linen to quarantine rooms.

Staff are required to report any doors that may be propped open or anything else out of the ordinary, Gomes said. Security will then check on the situation more closely.

To support students in quarantine, Gomes said the university has put together a “campus quarantine support team.”

Students are assigned a “point of contact” who can answer questions before they depart for Hawaii and who will remain in daily contact with the student throughout the quarantine period, she explained.

That individual will check in on the student’s health and well-being each day, and also monitor for symptoms so the student can be referred to care sooner rather than later, if necessary, Gomes said.

Additionally, students will be responsible for the cost of their own food during quarantine.

Gomes said a list of delivery options available in Hilo has been emailed to students and will also be provided upon check-in.

Once residence halls open on Aug. 18, Gomes said students using university meal plans can have meals delivered.

“While we are assisting those students who have reached out for assistance, we are mindful there are other students returning from out-of state who need to quarantine,” Gomes said. “We are encouraging them to comply with the state’s requirements and doing what we can to support them.”

Gomes discussed plans for out-of-state students prior to Gov. David Ige’s announcement that a mandatory two-week quarantine for interisland travelers will be reinstated Tuesday.

In a follow up email Friday, Gomes said Chancellor Bonnie Irwin will be sending updated information to students on Monday and university administrators would be working through the weekend to figure out options and a course of action.

Survey says

According to Gomes, 1,202 of 2,851 registered students responded to a survey about the return to school the university sent out last month.

Of those, 338 responses came from out-of-state students, about half of the university’s out-of-state students.

Gomes said 13 of the responding out-of-state students will be taking classes completely online and will not be returning to campus in the fall, and another 65 have not yet decided.

The remaining out-of-state students will return to Hawaii, and Gomes said 215 of those students have indicated they will need assistance with quarantine.

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Gomes said Ken Hon, interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, has asked faculty to minimize face-to-face requirements during the first two weeks of class to allow for students who may need to quarantine during that period.

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

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