university health services staff
University Health Services Mānoa’s COVID-19 Response Team

When the COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa operations in March 2020, the University Health Services Manoa (UHSM) became a leader in the campus response to the health crisis. Since its opening in 1932, the campus clinic has served primarily students by offering a wide range of health services and programs. In response to COVID-19, UHSM was part of the team that established the COVID-19 prevention guidelines adopted across the 10-campus system while also offering COVID-19 resource and support services to the Mānoa campus.

“The hardworking and dedicated team at University Health Services has been crucial to Mānoa’s response to the pandemic and to minimize the spread of the virus on campus,” said UH Mānoa Provost Michael Bruno.

andy nichols
Andrew Nichols

From the beginning of the pandemic, the clinic never closed as it quickly adapted to add telehealth services to continue to provide medical care to the UH Mānoa community.

“We expanded our role to keep our patients and campus community healthy and safe,” said UHSM Director Andrew Nichols. “We worked closely with the Hawaiʻi Department of Health (DOH) and met frequently with campus leaders and the Mānoa COVID-19 Health & Well-Being Group to quickly develop and implement a campus response plan.”

Mary G. Boland, dean of the School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene, is co-lead of the Health & Well-Being Group, and worked with Nichols and the UHSM team to put together Mānoaʻs COVID-19 response plan.

UHSM has been a key player from the very beginning of this pandemic,” said Boland. “Serving as the designated point of contact for all COVID-19 health matters is a huge undertaking. They have done it well, all while taking care of other health matters from our campus community.”

Managing COVID-19 on campus

contact tracing illustration

UHSM is responsible for testing, contact tracing and telehealth monitoring of all positive cases reported on the UH Mānoa campus. The COVID-19 Response Team supports diagnosed or exposed individuals and monitors them daily through their isolation/quarantine period. They provide care instructions, advise when to seek medical attention and determine when individuals can return to work or class. They also identify close contacts and provide those individuals with support.

The health clinic is in regular communication with DOH and coordinates with multiple campus units including student housing, athletics, facilities and communications on numerous efforts including accommodating student residents who test positive, identifying rooms and buildings that have been exposed and the timely announcement of positive cases.

COVID-19 forced us all to make changes faster than were going to occur naturally. —Nichols

“Our team is committed to provide a rapid response to manage our campus cases. Our focus is on identifying and minimizing the spread of COVID-19 on campus,” said Nichols.

In the spring 2021 semester, UHSM started surveillance testing of student housing residents and staff. About 5% of the student resident population and 10% of the staff are tested each week for about 50 tests a week.

“Our point is to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus,” said Nichols. “The results indicate a very low prevalence on campus, at least so far.”

Students and employees take the self-administered swab tests on a covered lanai outside the UHSM building on East-West Road. Couriers pick up the test specimens the same afternoon the tests are administered and the results come back in less than 48 hours.

A shift to telehealth

laptop with stethoscope

Prior to COVID-19, UHSM was predominantly a walk-in clinic that averaged 16,000 visits per year and only 25% were scheduled appointments. Patients now are seen by appointment only and telehealth sessions are offered.

“With so many students in the residence halls, so close to campus, we didn’t know how much need there was, but with telehealth, we’ve had 600 telehealth visits in the first 10 months,” said Nichols. A portion of these sessions also included faculty and staff.

The clinic reduced operating hours in the initial months of COVID-19, but have since resumed normal business hours and have also started to accept a limited number of walk-in patients.

In addition, an after-hours phone line is available for those seeking to speak to a healthcare professional outside of the clinic’s normal operating hours by dialing the main office number (808) 956-8965.

“We made a remarkable shift. COVID-19 forced us all to make changes faster than were going to occur naturally,” said Nichols who also praised the collaboration among the many UH Mānoa units that had little interaction before the pandemic. “When we put our combined efforts together and enlist the expertise of many persons, it’s amazing what we can accomplish in such a short period of time.”

Nichols is hopeful that UHSM can begin to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, similar to how the clinic provides the flu and other vaccines. “The Get Vaccinated UH campaign is helping to get to the critical mass, our students. We’ll be better off once we get to herd immunity. However, it’s also important to realize with vaccines there won’t be any significant relaxation of mitigation measures for some time. Physical distancing and masks will not be going away anytime soon.”

Contact the clinic

Visit the UHSM website to learn more about their services or call (808) 956-8965.

COVID-19 related questions can be emailed to uhsm.covid@hawaii.edu.

university health services building
University Health Services Mānoa has been at its present location on East-West Road since 1964.