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UH-Maui College is all in

Ka‘ana Mana‘o

Maui Nui is approaching an almost implausible anniversary — one year since the arrival of COVID-19. We decided early on that UH-Maui College would be “all in.” We would communicate regularly, welcome every innovative idea, partner with the public and private sectors, deploy every resource — human and otherwise — to keep our campus safe, keep our students learning, and do what we could to help our county. We knew it would be a Herculean task. And we knew we could do it because we are fortunate to have a deep bench of faculty, staff, students and community supporters with an awesome range of knowledge and capabilities.

“All our heads went straight to ‘what do we have to do first?’ “ remembered Campus Security Chief Angela Gannon. “Dr. Denise Cohen (a nursing professor with expertise in pandemic response who postponed her retirement when COVID-19 hit) and I immediately looked at our pandemic plan and updated it based on the best information we could get.

“We started swimming quickly,” said Gannon. “The chancellor set up an internal COVID task force that met regularly, sometimes twice a week. We met with the Maui Emergency Management Agency three times a week. We listened in to what the state was doing.”

In addition to implementing health and safety protocols prescribed by the CDC and the University of Hawai’i system and enhanced for our own campus, we needed to transition to as much virtual learning as possible — a huge undertaking in and of itself. Then we needed to find a use for our mostly empty campus.

“The chancellor immediately chose to integrate the National Guard,” continued Gannon.

Fortunately, we have Aris Banaag. In addition to being our personal support counselor and our Veterans Resource Center coordinator, he’s an active duty Hawai’i Army National Guard captain. He jumped right in to help us create an agreement among the college, the Guard and the Maui District Health Office of the state Department of Health to use our campus resources. Immediately, we dedicated a classroom for contact tracing and assisted with training contact tracers.

After nine long months, the vaccine rollout finally began, and holding vaccination clinics on campus became our top priority. Managed by DOH, we provide the real estate — our large back parking lot — and many dozens of volunteers. The logistics could have been daunting. But we have Angela Gannon.

“First and foremost is safety,” Gannon said. “I’m going to communicate with all my campus facilities to make sure the flow is as smooth as possible among the numerous moving parts — tables and chairs, signs, making sure gates are open when they need to be open, cones, traffic flow, does everyone know where to go, walkie-talkies for 80 volunteers, people need to get to restrooms, someone’s car battery dies. And remember, we also do have some faculty, staff and students on campus.”

At our trial run on Dec. 15, it was inspiring to see our nursing students vaccinate their nursing professors! Dec. 23 was another emotional day as the first doses of vaccine were administered to our first responders. Yes, there were bumps, but we continue to improve and get the job done every week.

Our 2020 nursing graduates have been on the community front lines since the beginning and our current cohort has been at every vaccination clinic. Brian Kim is a second-year nursing student and the president of the Student Health Center Student Advisory Board.

“Before she retired, Dr. Denise Cohen invited me to a planning meeting about the vaccination drives,” he said. It’s a fluid situation so “I’ve been updating the first- and second-year cohorts regularly. All the nursing students are eager to volunteer. They’re going to make great nurses.”

Science is playing a role in all our daily lives like never before. So we are fortunate to have a first-rate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) program and faculty. Sean Calder heads it up and his areas of expertise are biology and microbiology. His department stepped up immediately.

“Most of our faculty has volunteered multiple times at the clinics,” Calder reported. “Our students have volunteered, too.” And there’s this. “We have the only two minus-80-degree freezers on the island, so my faculty colleague Sally Irwin and I immediately got it over to the hospital for safe storage of their Pfizer vaccine.”

Over the course of the pandemic, Calder has been able to answer questions about the virus and the vaccines as well as debunk widely circulating myths.

“Vaccines are the best tool in the war against infectious diseases,” he said. “I speak from science and empirical evidence. The good these vaccines do exponentially outweigh the risk.

“The vaccines we have are broad based enough to stop the new variants, too. This will eventually go the way of flu shots — every year or couple of years we’ll need a booster,” he explained.

The technology used to create these new mRNA vaccines is very powerful, according to Calder. Scientists had been working on it for years prior to this pandemic, which is why several were able to come to market in less than a year when it would normally take six to 10 times that long.

“This type of vaccine is going to help us overcome emerging infectious diseases,” explained Calder.

He also thinks masks are here to stay, “at least for a long time,” to become as normal a part of our world as they are in Asia.

And he’s hopeful.

“I would say 80 percent of the folks on Maui should be vaccinated by summer. And I hope we can get up to 30 percent or 40 percent face-to-face classes by fall 2021.”

Our Culinary Arts Program is one of very few that has been able to meet at least partly face-to-face over the last two semesters. Chef Instructor Noel Cleary and Chef Instructor Peter Pak teach our Intermediate Cooking and Batch Cookery classes, respectively. Each has a full cohort of 10 students. Although our on-campus food service is suspended, there’s lots of good cooking going on. So, during this semester, the students are preparing and packaging delicious — and beautiful — lunches for students who need to be on campus and for all the vaccination clinic volunteers. And our baking classes offer sweet, luscious treats.

“We have to work together to handle these types of situations,” said Chef Pak. “It makes me think of generations past, coming together during World Wars. We need to show we’re willing to get involved, to do our part and show our appreciation to those who are sacrificing their time and effort for our community. And it affords our students an opportunity to participate in a real-life scenario, cooking food at a high level and sharing it with people.”

The vaccination clinics are mission critical. It’s hard for students to learn if they or their families don’t feel safe, so we are putting a lot of resources into the clinics. The pandemic has been a wonderful opportunity for teaching and learning. And now we want to be part of ending it as quickly as possible.

Let’s let Angela Gannon sum it up.

“Everything we’re doing is preparing us for a better future,” she said. “We don’t know what’s around the corner. But this year becomes part of your resume, of your experience. It makes you a better person and you leave a legacy for the future . . . for all of us.”

To learn more about our UH-MC community, please visit https://maui. hawaii.edu/.

* Dr. Lui K. Hokoana is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. Ka’ana Mana’o, which means “sharing thoughts,” appears on the fourth Sunday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.

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