The University of Hawaii will be requiring teachers and students to wear face masks and perform daily health checks using a newly developed app as part of a preliminary plan to keep students safe when classes resume in the fall.

According to guidelines released Wednesday for the 10-campus system, the university will not conduct random testing for COVID-19 but will test students with certain symptoms, as well as those who have been in close contact with them. 

“We do believe there will be COVID-19 cases on our campus in the fall, that’s almost inevitable,” UH President David Lassner said at a press conference Wednesday.

University of Hawaii at Manoa mall near UH art building1.
Students at the University of Hawaii Manoa walk to class last year. Students will be required to wear masks in classrooms this fall, and will have the option of taking more classes online. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The guidelines are for the entire UH system. Individual campuses are expected to develop additional plans.

“It is a monumental task to prepare for an unprecedented semester,” Lassner said in a press release.

Masks will be required indoors and when interacting closely with others. Classrooms, workspaces and public areas will be cleaned on a daily basis.

To prevent community spread in classrooms, there will be a cap of 50 people per section for larger in-person lectures that might previously have held as many as 300 students.

Not all classes will be in-person, however. Lassner said instructors have the option of going totally online, increasing the number of sections, or adopting a “hybrid environment” where lectures will be online but interactive components will be in person.

UH is also adjusting the flow of people within buildings to reduce foot traffic. Campus housing capacity will be cut by 30%. Dining spaces will be encouraged to implement “grab-and-go” service.

UH also emphasized plans for increased mental health support during the pandemic, with a specific emphasis on telecommunication.

No definitive decision has been made about resuming sports.

“I think we are all preparing as if it will be possible to hold sports in a safe manner, but we haven’t made final decisions as to exactly what that will look like for the student athletes, coaches, and potentially for spectators,” Lassner said.

University of Hawaii UH President David Lassner during regents meeting held at Leeward Community College.
“It is a monumental task to prepare for an unprecedented semester,” Lassner said in a press release Wednesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Lassner said UH has plans to implement an app that will assist the university with contact tracing all students and visitors, but the technology behind it is still under development. 

“Arguably, the most important thing we can do is to keep people with symptoms away from campus,” Lassner said.

Although enrollment is still hard to predict, Lassner said there has been an uptick in local residents enrolling, as well as a “strong interest” from potential students on the west coast. 

“We also know that conversely many local students are still deciding whether or not they should go off to the mainland,” Lassner said. “And particularly as they are seeing some universities that are going fully online, whether that’s something worth going away for.” 

The application deadline has been extended to Aug. 1 to give students time to make those decisions.

On the other hand, international enrollment has plummeted sharply due to visa requirements and travel difficulties, and Lassner said the challenges for international students are not expected to change anytime soon.  

“We won’t really know the extent to which the (enrollment) numbers will balance out, and how, most importantly, the tuition revenue numbers will balance out,” Lassner said.  

UH is working to partner with local hotels to provide places for students arriving in the fall to spend their 14-day quarantine if on-campus spaces are unavailable. There are no contracts in place yet, Lassner said.

Students coming from the mainland who have tested negative for COVID-19 will not be required to quarantine. But for those who cannot get tests, UH is working with government officials to find an alternative to the 14-day quarantine, though what that might look like is still unclear.

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