UH pushes back return to in-person and hybrid classes

School makes decision as Hawaii continues to see high case counts

University of Hawaii Maui College Associate Professor Michael Takemoto remotely teaches an Art 101, Introduction to the Visual Arts class to 24 students in his fine arts classroom Tuesday afternoon. UH announced Tuesday that it was pushing back a return to in-person and hybrid classes at its campuses by another week as the state continues to report high COVID-19 daily case counts. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

University of Hawaii campuses will delay a return to in-person and hybrid classes by another week after the state reported another record-high single-day count of COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.

UH had announced Dec. 28 that it would move many courses online for the first two weeks of the spring semester in light of the recent surge fueled by the omicron variant. Classes had been expected to resume as normal — whether in person or hybrid, depending on the course — on Jan. 24 but will now be pushed to Jan. 31.

“While we are cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 hospitalizations in Hawaii are starting to plateau, we experienced the highest case count of the pandemic today, and believe that it is prudent to allow the online shift to continue for one extra week,” UH President David Lassner said in a letter to students, faculty and staff on Tuesday. “We do not expect to revisit the January 31 restart date, which is consistent with many other higher education institutions.”

The state Department of Health reported 6,252 cases statewide on Tuesday, including 816 cases on Maui, 24 on Molokai and 10 on Lanai. Hawaii is now averaging 4,171 new cases a day, with Maui County second highest in the state with 572 new cases a day.

The most recent surge began to pick up speed just as schools were getting ready to return for classes after winter break. While the state Department of Education decided to move ahead with in-person classes at local public schools, UH opted to start out with virtual instruction.

Each UH campus was allowed to determine which courses they would move online for the first two weeks of the semester.

UH-Maui Chancellor Lui Hokoana said last month that classes that would likely take place virtually included liberal arts subjects such as English, math and sciences. Courses that couldn’t be taught as easily online, such as nursing, dental hygiene and trades programs, would continue in person, with students physically distancing, wearing masks and either getting vaccinated or undergoing regular testing for the virus.

He estimated that this would leave about 300 students on campus of the roughly 2,600-student body at UH-Maui.

Lassner said Tuesday that all classes presently meeting in person should continue to do so. Essential programs and services will continue to be accessible in person as well as online.

“Faculty who are teaching classes online now that are scheduled to meet in person can opt to begin in-person instruction on January 24, with no formal approval required,” Lassner said. “However, these faculty need to contact their students as soon as possible to provide information about how students who cannot attend class or may have delayed their return to campus can participate.”

Lassner urged students and faculty to use the additional week as a chance to get their booster shot, which is now the only way to avoid quarantine if someone is exposed to the virus under the most recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

As of Jan. 3, all UH students and employees are required to be fully vaccinated or have a university-approved medical or religious exemption. Those with an approved exemption are required to regularly submit proof of a negative test to the LumiSight UH daily health check app. Students who are 100 percent online are the only exception to the vaccine requirements.

As of Jan. 11, UH reported that 94.3 percent of its 9,207 employees and 99.7 percent of its 20,726 students enrolled in in-person or hybrid courses had been fully vaccinated or exempt. UH-Maui had a 99.8 percent rate among students, with 641 vaccinated and 18 exempted. Among its 279 employees, 257, or 92.1 percent, were fully vaccinated, while six employees, or 2.2 percent, were approved for an exemption and regular testing. Another 16 employees, or 5.7 percent, were in the process of getting vaccinated, waiting or an exemption approval or have opted not to get vaccinated.

Lassner said the school’s COVID-19 advisory team of UH medical and public health professionals, along with campus leaders, considered the decision to postpone a return to normal classes by another week “very carefully.”

“We believe Hawaii is at a turning point as the COVID-19 pandemic moves toward endemicity, and we learn to live with the virus,” he said. “For most of us, this change is ultimately a welcome step forward. However, this transition is also causing anxiety and requires adjustment for many in our community.

“We believe that providing this clear direction of our plan for one additional week online, while urging that everyone eligible get their booster shot, will best move us all forward together.”

To view UH case counts and vaccination rates, visit hawaii.edu/covid19/cases-of-covid-19/.

For UH’s current guidelines on COVID-19, visit hawaii.edu/covid19-guidelines/.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.


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