Hawaii’s relatively low rate of COVID-19 cases and stringent emergency rules to prevent the disease’s spread are providing comfort and reassurance to parents of students planning to register for the fall semester at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
UH-Manoa Provost Michael Bruno said Wednesday that interest in enrollment is “up above” where it was at this time last year and “we’re looking at strong numbers from both residents and mainland students.”
“We think that in the case of students living in a hot spot, they might now view Hawaii as a safer environment in which to learn,” Bruno said.
Paul Estuar of Whittier, Calif., lives in one of those hot spots: Los Angeles County, where 3,266 new cases of coronavirus and 64 deaths were reported Wednesday. Estuar said he had few doubts about sending his 19-year-old son Mateo back to UH-Manoa for his sophomore year amid the ongoing pandemic.
“We talked about it and we felt that from a health perspective he’s very safe there. So long as he follows the rules and regulations and he gets tested before he leaves, we feel he’ll be very safe there. And the school seems to be making an effort, short of testing students, which they could do,” Estuar said in a phone interview from California.
“In L.A. County, there’s really nobody offering testing. Going to a gas station or the grocery store, it’s a lot worse in terms of risk. The way Hawaii has run their program and locked down the state, and the numbers prove it, he is about as safe there as he can possibly be anywhere in the country.”
Hawaii health officials reported 17 new confirmed coronavirus cases Wednesday, bringing the statewide total number of infections since the start of the outbreak to 1,435. There have been 25 coronavirus-related deaths.
UH-Manoa officials on Wednesday offered more details about “significant changes” to all campus services and operations in anticipation of the start of fall classes Aug. 24. Aside from the typical requirements for face coverings and physical distancing, all students, employees and visitors will be required to check in daily on a new UH app under development or a web form on the UH website.
Bruno said the daily check-in is a simple process “that will cause people to pause each day and self-check their temperature and how they are feeling. It’s to remind themselves that if they are not feeling well they should stay home.” It also will aid University Health Services Manoa in its “test-trace-isolate strategy.”
Additionally, protocols were developed for dealing with students and employees who are symptomatic or test positive for the coronavirus.
Bruno said that prior to the outbreak, application numbers and deposits were at record levels for mainland students and those planning to enroll under the Western Undergraduate Exchange program that offers discounts on out-of-state tuition. With the Aug. 1 application deadline for the fall semester approaching, the trend has continued, he said.
“We expected that we would see a rise in enrollment in mainland students in part because Hawaii has done relatively well in controlling the spread of the virus and there’s a higher degree of safety here,” Bruno said. “And I would like to believe more of our local students took a good look at where they were attending or planning to attend and recognized and realized they have a better university right here at home.”
Fall 2020 enrollment data won’t be available until September or later, but the 2019 fall semester saw 17,490 students at the Manoa campus, including more than 5,000 from the mainland.
More online courses
Of the 3,344 courses offered for the coming fall semester, 54% will take place entirely online, 23% in-person in a classroom or other space, and 23% in a combination of in-person and online instruction, according to UH-Manoa.
Fewer people on campus due to more online instruction and the reconfiguring of classrooms and labs to adhere to physical-distancing guidelines will enable the campus to reduce capacity by more than 50%, officials said.
Students and employees who are symptomatic for COVID-19 or test positive for the virus will be instructed to self-report to University Health Services Manoa. Bruno said the university is in the process of identifying off-campus options for infected or symptomatic students who must go into quarantine or isolation while the semester is in progress, with the college paying for housing, meals and staff support.
“We don’t want the family penalized because their young person became ill. And we will have staff who will do regular check-ins with them,” said Bruno, adding the campus is hiring additional health care professionals.
After Gov. David Ige announced July 13 that a pretravel testing program that would allow trans- Pacific passengers to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine was being pushed back to Sept. 1, Estuar and other parents of nonresident students worried whether their kids would be able to get to Hawaii for school.
Student rules modified
However on Friday, Ige issued modified quarantine procedures for college students that include the option of a straight 14-day quarantine at the student’s expense or a modified 14-day “bubble” quarantine that allows students with a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours prior to travel to quarantine while participating in official college activities.
Recognizing the difficulty in obtaining pretravel tests on the mainland, Ige also is allowing out-of- state students to enter quarantine upon arrival and get tested within 48 hours. Once a negative test result is received, they may enter the modified bubble quarantine.
“We think that’s going to make a big difference for those students. That has been by far the biggest issue for those families — the cost and logistics of a full quarantine for 14 days,” Bruno said.
UH officials also hope to soon announce an agreement with some hotels to provide “reasonable rates” for students who need to quarantine off campus, he said.
Estuar said he arranged private testing for his son, a UH-Manoa orientation counselor, before he leaves for Hawaii Aug. 20.
“It’s really hard. You’ve got to find a place to test your kid and get your results back in 72 hours, which is incredibly difficult, especially in California. We found a private lab that could do it, but with the government program it can take five days to a week or more,” Estuar said.
“As parents we were just happy that UH and that the state Department of Health and the governor figured out a way to give students an opportunity to get there and a way everyone agreed on. When we heard Sept. 1, we thought the students would get caught up in that.”
Getting to the Manoa campus safely is a concern even for local students. Sheri Hung of Salt Lake said her 17-year-old daughter Kailee was planning to commute via TheBus to UH for her freshman year, but now her parents are rethinking that due to the potential risk of infection.
Hung said she didn’t seriously consider postponing college due to the pandemic and felt it was important for her daughter to start classes in the fall.
“UH wouldn’t open if they didn’t think it was safe enough, just like with DOE and the schools,” said Hung, whose 16-year-old son will be a junior at Moanalua High School.
She noted that like most Hawaii residents over the past four to five months, her daughter is already accustomed to observing COVID-19 precautions.
“She doesn’t seem too worried about it. She knows she has to wear a mask, and I’ll be sending her with extra hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and napkins to open doors and other things. But it’s the same as going anywhere else to me, whether you’re going to store and standing in line — it’s common sense.”