UH President David Lassner addressed the UH community in an email message sent February 28, 2020.
Aloha University of Hawaiʻi ʻOhana,
Concern continues to escalate, rightfully, regarding the novel coronavirus now named COVID-19. Initially confined largely to China, there have now been serious outbreaks in many other countries where UH people commonly travel including South Korea, Japan and Italy.
While there have been no identified cases of COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi, we must all protect ourselves and those around us as we actively prepare for the likelihood that the virus will emerge here. Even as we calmly but actively take counter-measures and prepare, it is important to note that, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the overall risk of COVID-19 to the general public remains low.
You should be aware that UH is closely connected and aligned with governmental officials in monitoring the situation and preparing. We participate in each of the regular calls with state and county officials coordinated by the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency and the Hawaiʻi Department of Health (HDOH). And we participate in the regular cabinet-level meetings led by the Governor. These interactions, along with the public information provided by the CDC and the HDOH, inform the guidance we provide through these messages and the refreshed UH-specific web page we will be updating regularly.
In this message we share critical information about taking care of yourself and those around you, preparing for a possible COVID-19 outbreak in Hawaiʻi.
Taking Care of Yourself and Those Around You
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Important steps to protect yourself include:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or sanitizer for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow or use a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid sharing food utensils, containers and other personal items.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Get a flu shot. (While it won’t protect against COVID-19, it may help in diagnosis should you display symptoms.)
To protect those around you we ask that you stay home if you are sick. Those of us who supervise employees need to support those who stay home to protect the rest of us.
If you become ill with a fever (100.4°F/38°C or higher) or cough, and have recently left an area having widespread community transmission of COVID-19 or have had prolonged close contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19, call HDOH at (808) 586-4586 or your doctor’s office or an emergency room for guidance. If you have trouble breathing, seek medical care immediately or call 911. Be prepared to describe your symptoms, travel history and any contacts with individuals who may have been in an area with widespread prevalence of COVID-19.
Preparing for a Possible Outbreak in Hawaiʻi
Preparing for COVID-19 is similar in many ways to preparing for a flu outbreak or other emergency. Things you can to do prepare yourself and those around you include:
- Check and refresh your disaster supply kit, which should have at least 14 days of food for everyone in your family and your pets.
- Stock up on all prescription medications—90 days is recommended.
- Prepare for and consider practicing basic social distancing measures like limiting your time spent around large groups and avoiding unnecessary close contact with people (e.g., fist bumps instead of handshakes or kisses).
- Consider stocking up on basic household and hygiene items. Supplies of these items may be affected in the event of a pandemic and avoiding excessive trips to crowded stores helps with social distancing and protection.
- Plan for the possibility of cancelled events and activities.
Our student residents are top of mind for us. We ensure that our students who live in campus housing (at UH Mānoa and UH Hilo only) have emergency resources necessary including food, water and supplies. In the event of a positive diagnosis, locations where student residents can be comfortably and safely quarantined have been identified.
Everyone should follow the travel warnings and advisories issued by the CDC and the U.S. Department of State. As of this writing the State Department has issued a Level 4 travel advisory for China and Iran, which means “Do not travel.” The CDC has issued a Level 3 travel advisory for China and South Korea, which means avoid all non-essential travel, and a Level 2 advisory for Italy and Japan, which means that those areas are experiencing sustained community transmission and persons at greater risk should consider postponing non-essential travel. Links to the latest CDC and State Department travel warnings are always available from the UH COVID-19 web page. Editor’s note: Italy was raised to a Level 3 advisory as of February 28.
Any non-essential individual UH travel to a CDC Level 3 location should be cleared in advance by the chancellor or provost. Official UH group travel to CDC Level 3 and Level 2 locations should be postponed or canceled until the situation stabilizes.
As these warnings from federal agencies can be updated at any time, potential travelers should consider not only the risk of being in a location where COVID-19 is already being widely transmitted but the possibility that the warnings may be upgraded, flights may be cancelled including while you are there, and/or the U.S. Government may impose limitations or conditions on re-entry to the U.S. Everyone should especially carefully monitor their own health, and that of others close to them who return from travel.
Potential Campus Closings
No closing of schools or UH campuses have been planned in Hawaiʻi at this time. But, please be aware that, out of an abundance of caution, we are preparing for that possibility just as we regularly do in the face of serious hurricane situations and prior flu threats. Our goal will be to ensure maximum continuity of operations and support through any outbreak in Hawaiʻi. We believe that much of our UH work could continue with most students, faculty and staff working safely from home and only a core group active on our campuses maintaining key services. Any closure will be announced via email, the COVID-19 website, UHNews.org and social media.
The University of Hawaiʻi is committed to an environment that is free of all forms of discrimination and in which all can thrive. Since COVID-19 burst onto the scene initially from China there have been incidents of discrimination against individuals from or perceived to be from China, or recently arrived from China. Such bias, discrimination, and harassment will not be tolerated within UH.
While general wearing of masks is not common practice in Hawaiʻi or the U.S., it is a widespread preventive habit in a number of countries and is even viewed as a gesture of consideration for others. So, if you see someone wearing a mask you should not assume they are sick or contagious.
You can stay informed through our UH COVID-19 web page noted above, which has links to key information resources from the HDOH and CDC. We will provide email updates over time, particularly as conditions evolve. And if you have any questions, you can email: email@example.com.
Please be assured that we are taking this situation very seriously and are in close contact with all relevant officials on and off our campuses. While we are hoping for the best, we are actively preparing for worst-case scenarios.
Mahalo for your time and attention to the safety of yourself and those around you.
Aloha, David Lassner