That's among the most pressing questions related to the ongoing fight against the novel coronavirus, especially at the University of Colorado Boulder, which already experienced an outbreak among one group of athletes before the return of the student body as a whole.
We visited Boulder on Saturday, August 22, and while mask usage and social distancing were quite strong on the campus, that wasn't always the case at other popular gathering spots, including the Pearl Street Mall and the shopping and entertainment area known as the Hill, as well as the adjacent neighborhood where the majority of the university's fraternities and sororities are located.
during a visit to Boulder in mid-April, when students were gone and full-time Boulderites demonstrated a higher degree of buy-in to Governor Jared Polis's mask-use recommendation than residents of other metro areas we visited during that period.
Our theory: Students returning to Boulder are now bringing the comparatively loose mask culture and iffy concern about safety protocols in their respective home towns to Boulder, thereby increasing the risk of viral spread that could lead to scattered quarantines and, in a worst-case scenario, a shift to online-only instruction.
We're not putting the blame for this scenario solely on young people who shrug off the disease, figuring it won't seriously affect them, because the lax attitudes we spotted were frequently a multi-generational affair. The rolling move-in process at the school was going strong this past weekend, and we saw entire families in town to help unpack a kid ignoring the public mask order, suggesting that many of the students are simply following the lead of their who-gives-a-damn parents.
We didn't see campus police officers or other security personnel enforcing these edicts. Students simply seemed to understand the expectation that anyone on campus needed to don facial coverings and avoid invading the bubbles of strangers.
Clearly, administration messaging is getting through — for now, anyway.
The Pearl Street Mall looked less like a flashback to the pre-COVID-19 days. Around 40 percent of those on hand skipped masks, with most of them traveling in packs — some including moms, dads and younger siblings, others dominated by teens and early-twenty-somethings. And at street crossings, folks were often shoulder to shoulder whether their mugs were cloaked or not.
Scenes like these will definitely resonate if CU Boulder has to go completely virtual in another month or so.