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Boulder's Insane College-Age Gatherings Ban Works — Sort of

A sole scofflaw ventured past barriers blocking Boulder Creek access at Eben G. Fine Park.EXPAND
A sole scofflaw ventured past barriers blocking Boulder Creek access at Eben G. Fine Park.
Photo by Michael Roberts

Boulder is currently the hottest spot in Colorado when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rapidly exploding case counts and outbreaks at dorms and Greek houses persuaded administrators at the University of Colorado Boulder to temporarily switch from on-campus instruction to all-remote learning last week, and the city just instituted a 10 p.m. last call for alcohol, even though Governor Jared Polis, who'd previously established that time statewide, pushed it back to 11 p.m. in August and is now allowing municipalities with low virus counts to keep serving even later.

Still, Boulder's most surprising new policy announcement was a ban on gatherings for all individuals between 18 and 22 for two weeks, starting September 24. Although the order originally contained no definition of "gathering," presumably the target was parties of the sort that could lead to a slew of infections. As written, though, a date between a pair of twenty-year-olds could seemingly have constituted a violation — at least until the morning of September 28, when Boulder County Public Health amended its order to specify that gatherings must be larger than two to be verboten, so that folks aren't put in the position of walking home at night alone. See the latest news release below.

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"We must take stronger action to stop the spread of this virus in our community," BCPH Executive Director Jeff Zayach said in an earlier statement. "We have researched the actions we can take that would be effective while minimizing burden on those who have not been the source of increased transmission. We believe this strategy can achieve both goals."

"How many of you are between 18 and 22? Can we see your IDs?"EXPAND
"How many of you are between 18 and 22? Can we see your IDs?"
Photo by Michael Roberts

Against this backdrop, Westword received a tip about large bashes allegedly taking place during recent weekends alongside Boulder Creek, the setting for similar jamborees back in May that were caught on viral videos. The clips inspired censure from Polis and a decision by Boulder government types to shut off access to the creek at Eben G. Fine Park, the key entry point. So on Saturday, September 26, we headed to Boulder to see if Boulder Creek bashes were still a thing and whether college students were obeying or laughing off the gatherings ban.

During our time in town, we found no evidence of any creekside parties...but we did see quite a few small gaggles of college-age students in assorted public places. However, the overall volume of people out and about was lower than would have been expected for such a beautiful early fall day, and was similar to what we'd experienced this past April, when students had been sent home for the rest of the semester.

At Eben G. Fine Park, barriers to Boulder Creek were still up, but only a few folks had climbed over them to get to the water, and those we saw were all loners: one person studying, another making a phone call, a third dangling his toes in the water. Otherwise, the only groups in the park were young parents with kids cavorting on a jungle gym — which, as far as we can tell, remains legal in Boulder.

The only overt sign of frustration was a "Fuck the Police" scrawl on one of the sidewalks leading away from the creek.

The CU Boulder campus was largely deserted on the afternoon of the 26th: a few random walkers, some solitary, others in twos and threes, but no large collectives. The Hill area, near numerous fraternities and sororities, was also fairly quiet. Again, we saw modest clusters of students strolling or heading to eateries, and none of them seemed particularly self-conscious. But then, neither were there any examples of police officers searching for suckers to cite. Gatherings-ban enforcers were nowhere in view.

College-age diners and pedestrians risking punishment in Boulder.EXPAND
College-age diners and pedestrians risking punishment in Boulder.
Photo by Michael Roberts

The situation was much the same at the Pearl Street Mall: knots of students here or there, but generally fewer people stopping into shops, munching snacks, buying curios or dropping bills into the box beside a conga drummer, the only street performer we saw. Mask usage was strong, even outdoors, and social distancing was better than average thanks to the lack of crowds.

In short, Boulder's gathering ban seemed to inspire general compliance rather than widespread anger or overt rebellion this past Saturday. As for whether it accomplishes anything, we'll know more in another couple of weeks — when three Boulder eighteen-year-olds should be able to go out together again without breaking the law.

Here's the release about the amended order:

Boulder County Public Health updates Gathering Order to address personal safety concerns of 18-22 year-old residents

In response to feedback from the community, Boulder County Public Health has amended Public Health Order 2020-07 to include provisions to ensure young adults feel safe in the community and can attend to the legally required activities, such as jury summons.

The revisions to the Order include:

• Changes prohibition of gatherings to more than 2 people rather than the original one person. Revised language:  “Gatherings of more than two persons within the city of Boulder that include any person or persons between the ages of 18 and 22 years are prohibited. Two persons gathered together must follow all public health laws and orders concerning Face Coverings and must comply with Social Distancing Requirements whenever possible.”

• Allows residents of designated Stay-at-Home properties to leave the property for purposes as required by law. Revised language: “Stay-at-Home Residents are prohibited from leaving their Subject Property except for Essential Activities and Essential Travel or as required by law. This will allow students to leave their residence to move their car to avoid parking tickets, for example.

• Permits participation in programs that serve adults with disabilities and any activity required by law. Revised language: “A Gathering does not include: 1) employees of any business, government, nonprofit, or not-for-profit entity while performing work for such entity; 2) activities undertaken pursuant to jury summons, lawful subpoena, or order of a court; 3) any educational activity explicitly permitted by CU, Naropa University, Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, Boulder Massage Therapy Institute, Thai Healing Art Institute, Montessori Education Center of the Rockies, Dr. Ida Rolf Institute, and any other education institution in the city of Boulder as approved by BCPH; 4) any life rites, such as wedding ceremonies, graduation ceremonies, funerals, other religious rites, and worship services, as authorized by and conducted in strict compliance with CDPHE Public Health Order 20-35; 5) participation in programs that serve adults with disabilities; or 6) participation in any activity required by law.”

CU Boulder students who are concerned about walking alone on campus can call the CU Police Department (CUPD) at 303-492-6666. If an officer is available, they will walk the student to their campus destination. Students are also encouraged to download the Guardian app, which is free for CU Boulder students and allows them to set friends and family as guardians who can watch them virtually as they walk.

In addition, an exemption process has been created for those living in properties under the Stay at Home portion of the Order if the requirements are causing financial hardship. To stop transmission of the virus, this exemption is only available to those who are less likely to be contagious.

The application requires that students demonstrate they have a job, have had a positive COVID test result in the past 90 days, and have isolated properly. Designation as an “essential worker” is not sufficient reason to be granted an exemption, nor is a negative test for the COVID-19 virus. Students may contact the Boulder County Public Health call center at 720-776-0822 if they have questions about the exemption.

For detailed information, review the full Order or visit at https://boco.org/covid19GatheringsOrder. Residents may also contact the Public Health call center at 720-776-0822.

Anyone who feels they need mental health support can contact Colorado Crisis Services any time, day or night, by calling 1-844-493-8255 or Texting “TALK” to 38255. CU Boulder students can also check mental health resources available at https://www.colorado.edu/covid-19

Update: This post has been updated to include the revision to the previous Boulder County Public Health order banning gatherings for those in the 18-to-22 age range.

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