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Hawaii students face a vaccine mandate or weekly testing

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM 
                                UH Manoa student Mahie Beck received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday from Kaiser Permanente nurse Sean Masaki, right, during a vaccination clinic at the UH Manoa Campus Center. The vaccination clinic was put on by Kaiser Permanente and was open to students, faculty and staff of the University of Hawaii.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    UH Manoa student Mahie Beck received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday from Kaiser Permanente nurse Sean Masaki, right, during a vaccination clinic at the UH Manoa Campus Center. The vaccination clinic was put on by Kaiser Permanente and was open to students, faculty and staff of the University of Hawaii.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM 
                                Above, Kaiser Permanente nurse Donny Hamasaki, right, loaded syringes with Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as fellow nurse Teana Smith watched Tuesday during a vaccination clinic at the UH Manoa Campus Center.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Above, Kaiser Permanente nurse Donny Hamasaki, right, loaded syringes with Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as fellow nurse Teana Smith watched Tuesday during a vaccination clinic at the UH Manoa Campus Center.

  • COURTESY CHAMINADE UNIVERSITY
                                Chaminade University, above, announced the requirement for proof of vaccination for students last week.

    COURTESY CHAMINADE UNIVERSITY

    Chaminade University, above, announced the requirement for proof of vaccination for students last week.

  • COURTESY PHOTO
                                <strong>“These new requirements reflect the changing nature of the pandemic. … We know vaccination is our strongest defense against this virus, which is why we need to act urgently to protect one another.”</strong>
                                <strong>Lynn Babington</strong>
                                <em>President, Chaminade University</em>

    COURTESY PHOTO

    “These new requirements reflect the changing nature of the pandemic. … We know vaccination is our strongest defense against this virus, which is why we need to act urgently to protect one another.”

    Lynn Babington

    President, Chaminade University

Most college and university students in Hawaii will have to bring more than their notebooks and writing implements when they return to classes starting Monday.

They will have to show their vaccination cards or else submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. And that goes for most faculty and staff members when they return to campus, too.

With the pandemic spiking to unprecedented levels, Hawaii’s institutions of higher learning are taking the extra step in an attempt to safeguard their campuses against the highly contagious delta variant, which is driving the surge.

Chaminade University was the latest Hawaii college to announce the requirement last week.

“At Chaminade, we have made a strong commitment to in-person learning and on-campus activities because we know how important these experiences are to your academic success and personal growth,” Chaminade President Lynn Babington wrote in a letter to students Friday. “At the same time, our top priority remains the health and safety of our entire Chaminade family.”

Under the university’s new policy, students attending in-person classes will be required to take a weekly COVID- 19 test or submit proof of their vaccination by Sept. 1.

“These new requirements reflect the changing nature of the pandemic,” Babington said. “The delta variant is very contagious and has pushed up infections in Hawaii to new highs. We know vaccination is our strongest defense against this virus, which is why we need to act urgently to protect one another.”

At University of Hawaii campuses statewide this fall, students, employees and visitors will be required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test weekly.

A UH COVID-19 testing program is expected to be announced later this week.

But there are some courses, including clinicals, labs and performing arts, that require a vaccination without exception because safe physical distancing cannot be maintained, officials said.

Perhaps as many as 65% of classes will be taught online systemwide in what was supposed to be a transition semester toward a new normal, said UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.

Even so, student housing on the Hilo and Manoa campuses are nearly at capacity, he said, and students in dorms are required to be vaccinated unless a religious or medical exemption is sought. Meisenzahl said only about 50 of 2,800 students in Manoa housing have obtained an exemption.

According to a student survey from the week of Aug. 9, more than 90% of students planning to attend the 10 campuses of the University of Hawaii have been vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus or plan to be.

About 27% of all UH students registered for the fall 2021 semester responded to the survey, which comes out to 12,390 students out of 45,930. The findings nearly mirror the student survey from late June that found 92% of the UH students were vaccinated or planned to be.

As for UH employees, they will be required to either vaccinate or get weekly COVID-­ 19 testing starting Monday. The state is working with the three unions representing UH employees on a vaccination and testing policy expected to be announced soon, Meisenzahl said.

At BYU Hawaii, weekly testing will be required for both employees and students who are not fully vaccinated. According to the university, 97% of the faculty was already inoculated against the virus as of Aug. 2. Classes start Sept. 1.

Hawaii Pacific University will also require students to either be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. Only students in select classes that require people to be up close, including labs, athletics and music, are required to get the shot, as are all faculty and front-facing staff members.

But HPU surveys indicate more than 90% of students, faculty and staff will be vaccinated by the time the academic year starts Monday, officials said.

Correction: An earlier version of the story said Hawaii Pacific University had no general vaccine mandate. Hawaii Pacific University says it is requiring students to either be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. In addition, an earlier version of this story reported an incorrect figure for vaccinated BYU-Hawaii faculty.
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