Quarantines, online classes kick off UH-Hilo school year

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A student fixes her mask after picking up coffee from Deja Brew on campus at the University of Hawaii at Hilo on Tuesday. Plastic screens have been placed around campus to help protect students that may be walking or standing close together.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Shauna Gaylord attends a virtual meeting with professors at the University of Hawaii at Hilo on Tuesday. Gaylord is a graduate student working at Student Medical Services on campus.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Part of a dining hall is blocked as two employees walk toward the exit doors at the University of Hawaii at Hilo on Tuesday. Each room has one entrance and one exit to help direct any student traffic.

The University of Hawaii at Hilo has so far helped 163 students comply with state quarantine requirements by providing space on campus or at the Grand Naniloa Resort.

A program to provide quarantine assistance to those who asked for the help was established after Gov. David Ige announced that a 14-day quarantine for travelers arriving from outside Hawaii would be extended until Sept. 1. That deadline has since been extended to Oct. 1.

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A two-week quarantine also was implemented earlier this month for interisland travelers arriving on the Big Island, Maui and Kauai.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Farrah-Marie Gomes said the university is still in the process of bringing in new students, but as of Tuesday, 63 remained in quarantine.

According to Gomes, all out-of-state minor students and those who arrived before the university finalized its contract with the hotel were quarantined in Hale ‘Alahonua residence hall.

Interisland students living on campus were able to stay in the room they were assigned to for the fall semester if possible, but those whose roommates had already checked in were housed at Hale ‘Alahonua and could move into their permanent room once the quarantine is done.

Gomes said previously that institutional funds, or money generated by tuition and fees, would be used to cover costs.

On Tuesday, she said the quarantine costs are roughly $250,000.

“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 told the Tribune-Herald previously. “(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.”

Gomes on Tuesday said there have been no incidents of students violating quarantine rules.

“(It’s a) nice indicator our students are taking responsibility for their return to Hilo, and this is how they’re contributing.”

Back to school

UH-Hilo started its school year Monday without the usual hustle and bustle on campus.

All classes are entirely online for the first two weeks of school, and Chancellor Bonnie Irwin last week announced that courses that don’t require a face-to-face component will be conducted online for the whole fall semester.

Clinical and lab courses that require face-to-face instruction will be the only classes held physically on campus.

Gomes, however, said some students coming to campus are doing so to get set up for the school year.

Graduate student Shauna Gaylord, who was on campus Tuesday, said it wasn’t too weird for her to back because she had been working on campus during the summer.

“It’s actually nice to see some people walking around now,” she said. “It’s kind of sad to not see the usual buzz on the first week of school, though.”

A total of 3,066 students were enrolled on Monday, down 6.1% compared to the first day last fall, according to Gomes.

“We were down in the 3% range last week,” she said.

But in the days since Irwin’s announcement that about 85% of classes would be entirely online for the fall semester, Gomes said there has been a steady decline in enrollment.

“Part (of that decline) could be attributed (to the fact) that students come to UH-Hilo for a high-touch experience, or they come to Hilo so they can learn in the space that they’re in,” Gomes said. “We talk about Hilo being a living, learning lab. When you go to complete online instruction, there isn’t an opportunity for that high-touch experience any more.”

In a spring survey, some students also indicated they would not return if classes went completely online, she said.

Students also are struggling with the impacts from COVID-19.

According to Gomes, some students have lost their jobs or have had to take on other responsibilities.

“Students are still managing a lot,” she said. “… I am disappointed in the numbers, but I also understand the realities behind much of them.”

Gomes said administrators continue to monitor what’s happening at other college campuses across the country and routinely discuss the “triggers” UH-Hilo should be watching.

“Our approach is to act with an abundance of caution (and) take necessary measures to mitigate risk whenever we can foresee something coming our way,” she said.

“The uncertainty of the situation is probably the most frustrating for most people. The recent surge of cases in the community has no doubt added to the anxiety and fear many in the community are feeling at this point. All that is understandable during a pandemic like this one. That’s why it’s important for us as an institution to fully know and own our role.”

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Staff photographer Kelsey Walling contributed to this story.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaii tribune-herald.com.

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