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UH Mānoa professors remember the immediate impact of the pandemic

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University of Hawaiʻi News

COVID-19 is still very much a part of daily life for many people across the islands. This month marks three years from the start of stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa was one group that scrambled to adjust in the early days of the pandemic.

The UH Center for Oral History gathered some perspectives on those experiences — and we're sharing them as part of our continuing joint project. UH ethnic studies professor Ethan Caldwell introduces the speakers, fellow professors Rosie Alegado and Monique Chyba.

The university responded to the pandemic within weeks of the initial case on the islands, shutting down in-person work for all on March 20. Here is Rosie Alegado, associate professor of oceanography and director for the Center of Excellence in Integrated Knowledge, discussing the initial response and long-term goals of the university. 

ALEGADO: The policies that UH Mānoa took were effective because we had very few outbreaks on campus, and I know that because the Tropical Medicine Clinical Lab was testing in the dorms as well as UH athletics, so while these guidelines by many might have been seen as being pretty rigorous, maybe some even felt draconian, they prevented the disease outbreaks on campus.

Our long-term goal is to really to be a center that allows us to develop tests for other emerging diseases. We're predicting that because of climate change, it's not going to be just COVID.  And so we think that Hawaiʻi is actually pretty vulnerable to these other things, to rat lungworm, leptospirosis. You have to wait till you have symptoms to go to the hospital, and by then you could be really really sick. So our goal of the clinical lab is to develop them so we can have that in-state capacity.

Mathematics professor Monique Chyba was part of the team that modeled the pandemic in the early days of its spread. The state drew on the team’s work in deciding to shut down travel in March 2020, which we discussed last week. When she queried her students, she found that COVID impacted them in complex ways that the numbers alone could not capture.

CHYBA: Weʻve done a unit on COVID where they looked at the numbers and then I asked them question how it has impacted you. I have to say, there is a big range of different impacts. It impacted in more like shallow life of you know, like okay, I couldnʻt go to graduation for high school, and that I understand, and itʻs a little bit frustrating. But at the same time, there were other students that were impacted in a much more profound way. Many of them actually lost their job, especially in Fall 2020. A lot of them work in a restaurant and they tried to make some money. They lost that income, that impacted them a lot, whether they could continue studying at the university or not. They also lost family members, some got COVID. So it was really hard. And then suddenly they had to face a whole new world on how you go to school through a screen. A lot of my students, I was the only person that they would see that day and interact with. I felt it was a lot of responsibility. I think it was hard, and it still is because it's lingering.


This oral history project is supported by the SHARP initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Council of Learned Societies.

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