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University of Hawaii requiring student-athletes to receive COVID-19 vaccination to compete in sports

                                Hawaii football coach Todd Graham instructs his team during morning football practice Monday.
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Hawaii football coach Todd Graham instructs his team during morning football practice Monday.

The University of Hawaii is requiring its student-­athletes to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to compete in sports this coming academic year, school officials confirmed.

The directive was sent in a July 29 email to the student-athletes of UH’s 19 sports programs. The athletic department’s decision was made in line with the university’s policy and after consultation with a UH-assembled medical committee addressing pandemic protocols. Unvaccinated student-athletes may apply for a waiver citing religious or medical reasons.

The intent is a return to normality for UH’s athletic teams, which adhered to strict protocols before the widespread distribution of vaccines, and create a unified approach to preparing for competition.

“The requirement is also made in the spirit of kokua to protect all community members who support our athletics programs,” the athletic department wrote in a release. “In addition to health and safety reasons, we want to avoid cancellations of games and practices due to exposures, isolation and quarantine.”

During last month’s Mountain West Conference meetings in Las Vegas, league commissioner Craig Thompson met with the 12 head football coaches to discuss new guidelines. UH is a football-only member of the Mountain West. Most of the other UH teams are Big West Conference members.

Thompson said there essentially will be two categories — players who received the vaccine and those who did not. It was suggested that vaccinated players would be free to use the locker room and weight room, not wear masks at their schools’ facilities (unless required by state or county rules) and not undergo weekly testing. Unvaccinated players would be screened daily, required to wear masks except during practices, have limited or no access to locker rooms or small meeting rooms and be tested for the coronavirus. Unvaccinated players would remain on scholarship and be allowed to practice. They would be provided grab-­and-go meals.

Thompson said the Mountain West used $4 million from a reserve fund to pay for testing for member teams during the 2020-21 academic year. The unvaccinated student-athletes for the school would have to foot the bill for the weekly tests — three rapid antigen or one PCR.

The pandemic greatly affected UH’s sport programs. The 2020-21 seasons were canceled for the women’s volleyball and soccer teams. The Rainbow Warrior football team’s 2020 spring training was canceled, and the ensuing training camp was twice delayed before being abbreviated to three weeks. The basketball teams initially wore masks during practices while their coaches also wore gloves. It was not until this summer when locker-room restrictions were eased to allow only vaccinated players to enter.

UH has not reported the vaccination rate for its sports teams.

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