The University of Hawaii will switch to online classes after spring break, but dormitories, dining halls and libraries will remain open for those who need them, President David Lassner announced Thursday.
The university’s 10 campuses will begin online courses March 23, the first day after spring break, as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus.
UH hopes to resume in-person classes April 13, Lassner said at a Bachman Hall news conference.
He emphasized no students would be forced out of dormitories, and campus life will go on as normally as possible after spring break.
In addition to suspending face-to-face classes, UH is suspending interscholastic athletics and gatherings of 100 or more people in enclosed places.
Also on Thursday, Chaminade University announced a switch to online courses for two weeks beginning at the end of this month.
The atmosphere on the UH-Manoa campus Thursday was normal but less crowded. Parking was much easier to find. Some classes were canceled; others were made optional by instructors.
“We’re not telling students to leave,” Lassner said. “The dorms will remain open. Our libraries will be open, our labs will be open, the Warrior Rec Center will be open. Food will be available on campus. We’re not sending people home in any way, shape or form. We’re simply limiting in-person classes.”
Lassner said no cases of the virus have been detected anywhere in the university system. Precautions to try to keep it that way include changes in sanitizing protocols, he said.
“All of our staff are re-doubling efforts on sanitizing as well as our food services. Vendors on our campuses are paying particular attention to that,” Lassner said. “We’ve already seen changes in serving styles and things like that.”
At least one international exchange student at UH is considering returning home early this semester because of anxiety and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The recent escalation of COVID-19 and the decision to move classes online until April 13 has generated a lot of unease and questions for my family and me,” Sawyer Neame of Hamilton, Ontario, said Thursday.
Also, recent reports that a doctor who works at the Hamilton Health Sciences Juravinski Cancer Centre has been diagnosed with COVID-19 hit close to home for Neame and her family.
Neame said they do not personally know the 32-year-old oncologist who visited Hawaii recently, and Neame had no contact with her. But the reports were unsettling, she said.
Neame said she is doing well enough in her classes that even with an early return to Canada, she would likely pass all of them with online instruction, even if there is a return to face-to-face instruction for the last 1-1/2 months of the semester.
“My family and my greatest concern is COVID-19 reaching a point that restricts travel from the U.S. to Canada,” she said.
The Manoa Experience event, a university preview day open to the general public, scheduled for April 4, will likely be canceled, Lassner said.
He was asked whether there will be a graduation ceremony this spring.
“We don’t have a date for that decision,” he said. “We will be monitoring it. Those are large, complicated events. If we have to do some kind of virtual graduation, we’ll assure that we have enough notice that we’ll be able to pull that off.”
He said the April 13 date for reinstituting face-to-face teaching is a goal but not a certainty.
“That’s about half the time left between (now and the end of the semester). Although I think things will get worse before they get better, we as a team want to be hopeful that it will have started getting better then, at least in Hawaii,” he said. “So we want to leave that option open, that if we are able to return to in-person classes, we want to do so. We’ll make that call when we can see which way things are headed.”
Brittnee Rossi, a junior majoring in communications, said she hopes for a quick return to traditional classroom instruction.
“I know it’ll be hard to adjust and getting everything organized,” she said. “I particularly don’t like online classes only because for me it’s harder to keep up, and if I have questions or issues, I can talk to my professors face-to-face whereas emailing might take longer and be more complicated getting clarity on whatever issues I may have.”