COVID-19 makes college start ‘totally different’

UH-MC begins semester mostly online but some courses taught in-person

UH-Maui College Chancellor Lui Hokoana uses his cellphone app to enter a classroom building on Monday. The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photos

KAHULUI — Monday was a first day of school unlike any other for University of Hawaii-Maui College Chancellor Lui Hokoana.

“It’s totally different, right?” Hokoana said from his office Monday morning as the fall semester started with precautions for the coronavirus pandemic all over the place. “So, I stayed up all night last night trying to send a video to our kids to welcome them, telling the kids if they’re on campus, we’re ready for them. We’ve been preparing for this for months already.

“Most of the kids will be taking their classes online, about 80 percent of them. Last week, we asked the faculty who are going face to face if they wanted to go online and most of them said, ‘no,’ they are going to continue going face to face.” 

Total enrollment for UH-Maui College stood at 2,882 students at midday Monday, which was down 2.4 percent from opening day last year. 

There were some notable enrollment variances:

A few UH-Maui College classes are being taught face to face, such as Renee Wilcox’s ceramics class. But social distancing and other health protocols are in place.

• Freshmen, classified and first-time students total 464, down 18.3 percent.

• Transfer students, 303, up 28.4 percent.

• Returning students (who took a break for at least one semester), 285, down 13.4 percent.

• Continuing students, 1,410, up 4.3 percent.

There were students on campus for specific areas of study Monday.

Ivan Gaso fills out a hard copy of his health questionnaire before entering the UH-Maui College’s dental clinic on Monday.

“The classes that are face to face are primarily those that they told us they need to go face to face: Dental hygiene, nursing, auto mechanics, the art folks,” Hokoana said. “It’s hard to do ceramics online, so they’ve asked to go (face to face). We’re going to continue to monitor it and that’s what I told the students in the video today, that we’re paying attention to what the mayor and the governor has to say. If we’ve got to shut it down, we will shut it down.”

The school implemented several protocols to monitor the COVID-19 situation. Temperature check and hand sanitizing stations are all over the campus and each student is given a cellphone app that they need to gain entrance to their classrooms.

“What’s interesting about opening day is we prepared so long for it, to do this,” Hokoana said. “Last week, we were going back and forth: ‘Are we going to open, not open?’ So, I think for admin side it’s important for us to understand that, ‘You know, we don’t want to get into our ego. We want to make the decision that’s important to keep everybody safe.’

“And we believe that’s the decision we made.”

Incoming freshman Sofia Salvatierra, a 2020 graduate of Kamehameha Schools Maui, was excited to get going as she sat down to take her student identification photo Monday morning.

The rules for handling the COVID-19 pandemic are posted on every doorway at UH-Maui College. The vast majority of classes for the fall semester, which began Monday, are by teleconference, but some labs and classes, like art and auto, require face-to-face instruction.

“It’s going pretty well, I have my first face-to-face class at 12 p.m. today, and then I have another Zoom class at 3,” she said. “All of my classes except for one is on Zoom. I like the mix. My one class that is face to face is a hybrid, so you can choose whether to go on Zoom or face to face.”

Salvatierra said she made the decision to attend UH-Maui College with some concerns over COVID-19 playing a role.

“I knew I was going to stay in the islands — it was between UH-MC and Manoa, but, yeah, I think COVID did have a play in my decision, because I wanted to stay home, stay safe,” she said. “I feel safe here.”

Bre Rodrigues, a 2016 King Kekaulike graduate, is a returning student who also works as an assistant in the Student Life office.

“We just take care of all the students on campus,” Rodrigues said. “I feel like if students come to campus, they will be safe, for sure. I mean if they want to come or have to come, they’ll be safe.

“I feel safe.”

Rodrigues’ 9-month-old daughter, Kahanu, stays home.

“I don’t feel safe taking her anywhere, really, right now,” Rodrigues said. “She stays home, and I make sure I take the proper precautions, make sure I sanitize and stuff before I see her.”

Al Paschoal, director of Student Life at the school, said the phone app for students is a key to the school’s approach to handling the pandemic.

“The app was basically born out of a need from our students to communicate amongst each other better,” Paschoal said. “So that was something that our student government took upon themselves. They went through the complete process of vetting different companies, and we settled on a company that actually was currently in use at UH-Hilo.”

Paschoal said that the timing of the app being in place was fortunate.

“They were very forward thinking, so they started to move their platform to enable a better use on campus for the COVID situation,” Paschoal said. “Contact Tracing Plus is the name of the program. There’s many programs out there that allow the use of an app for prescreening questions, which is very good.

“For us, that allows us to give our students a clean pass for that 24-hour period. Eventually, it will be if you have the pass, you can enter the class. Without the pass, you will not be able to, but what we liked about it is it took it a step further by adding the code scanning capabilities.”

Paschoal said that use of the app complies with federal privacy and education rights laws.

“So now that enables us to track potentially infected students precisely. It simplified the whole contact tracing scope of work tremendously,” he said. “The back side analytics of the program is amazing. . . . We can, through the app, send out direct notifications to them, say, ‘Hey, you may have been around someone who has been infected’ and what the next steps are.”

Hokoana is proud of the school’s capabilities to monitor the whole situation and provide help wherever needed. 

The school’s dental hygiene department was full of patients taking advantage of the low- or no-cost services Monday. 

“In dental, it wasn’t very different than what we do every day anyway,” said Rosie Vierra, the coordinator for the dental hygiene program. “We practice what we call ‘universal precautions.’ So everybody is treated as if they had some disease. With COVID, because so little is known about it, we had to take additional protocols, such as having our air conditioning retrofitted with HEPA filters and ultraviolet light; air purifiers, which we’re waiting for; additional screening, using either our app or . . . filling out a physical copy.

“Before any patient comes in to the waiting area or enters the clinic, they’re screened outside.”

Hokoana added that the school’s campus is open to local public school students, who may need to take advantage of the Wi-Fi services for their distance-learning needs.

The school also has the capability to monitor the health of the entire campus.

“We do have a health clinic on campus, and they have been a sentinel site — the sentinel site is part of the World Health Organization,” he said. “They’re located all over the world, and basically what they’re doing is they’re tracking the spread of disease.”

The school’s nurse practitioner Denise Cohen is an expert on pandemics.

“So, long story short about that, we are able to do COVID-19 testing right here on campus should we need it,” Hokoana said. “So if anything happens, we’re going to send the kids there right away. And on the app, if you have the symptoms or you’re not feeling well, call the health center and talk to our nurse practitioner. 

“Our nurse practitioner interestingly enough is Denise Cohen and wouldn’t you know, she wrote a Ph.D. on pandemics, so we have the expert right now on Maui actually working for us. . . . She is actually advising us on how to open the campus.”

* Robert Collias can be reached at rcollias@mauinews.com.


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