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DOE: No change to graduation guidance as COVID cases rise

State officials ask public and ceremony attendees to take precautions

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the state and in public schools, in-person graduation guidelines have not changed, Hawaii’s top education official indicated on Wednesday.

But interim Education Superintendent Keith Hayashi asked for the public’s help to keep the cases down by wearing masks, being vaccinated and “staying home when you are sick,” precautionary measures that he said “will really help our schools honor our graduating seniors.”

Hayashi and State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble addressed reporters on Wednesday afternoon amid the seventh consecutive week that average daily COVID case counts have increased. Wednesday’s weekly report noted an average of 722 cases a day statewide, which is up from the average of 475 cases a day reported last week.

Public schools are also seeing the same trend as the greater community, with this week marking the seventh straight week that case counts have risen since spring break, Hayashi said.

Last week there were 1,053 confirmed or probable cases at the state’s 257 public schools.

Lanai High & Elementary School reported 29 new cases from April 29 through Sunday, according to the state Department of Education’s website.

The island, which county officials say is experiencing a surge, reported 33 new cases over the past week, according to state Department of Health data on Wednesday.

Molokai Middle School, which saw 24 cases from May 1 through Tuesday, had no school on Monday and pivoted to distance learning this week. Principal Kainoa Pali said the school would not be able to follow a bell schedule with distance learning due to a staff shortage. Free COVID self-test kits are being distributed with Grab and Go meals at other Molokai schools through Friday.

The island saw 40 new cases over the past week, DOH data show.

Hayashi said that in the last month, half a million home test kits have been distributed to the schools.

“Please use this tool before attending any event,” he said.

Hayashi said schools have flexibility to decide on graduation-specific details, “to maintain the health and safety of all attendees.”

He added that the number of guests allowed and lei-giving may look different at various campuses.

“While the specifics of graduation and how it will be conducted haven’t specifically changed, we are really glad the DOE was able to get a lot of test kits out before graduation,” Kemble said. “Use those test kids. Test before you go to graduation. That’s another way to make ceremonies safer.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com. Managing Editor Colleen Uechi contributed to this report.

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