What COVID Spread Is Like at Colorado Universities Now

An aerial look at the University of Colorado Boulder campus.
An aerial look at the University of Colorado Boulder campus. YouTube file photo
A year ago this week, a COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the University of Colorado Boulder that registered 68 staff cases and 3,534 student cases before finally being resolved in June. And more than seventy other outbreaks at colleges and universities, at settings that included athletic programs, frat houses and more, resulted in thousands of additional infections statewide.

What a difference twelve months makes. Today, the COVID-19 spread at CU Boulder and other major colleges in the state is much more under control — even as spread is escalating in other parts of Colorado. And while a definitive reason for this improvement may have to wait until the pandemic is over, the most likely explanation involves the belated decision by many of these institutions to mandate vaccinations for students and staff.

According to the September 15 report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, only three outbreaks at colleges or universities are under active investigation. Furthermore, two of the three, at Colorado Northwestern Community College and the Fort Lewis College football team, are relatively modest when compared with the outbreak at Colorado State University Pueblo, which has racked up 68 staff cases and 228 attendee cases to date.

The number of resolved college/university outbreaks as of September 15 stands at 77, with CU Boulder, Colorado State University, the University of Denver, the University of Northern Colorado and Colorado Mesa University having all contributed multiple entries since infection figures were first collected in April 2020. But none of them are currently experiencing outbreaks — and the first four have vaccine mandates in place.

As for Colorado Mesa University, its website states, "We're honoring everyone’s personal choice on this medical decision," but notes that "as an early member of the national College Vaccine Champion Program, we've partnered with the White House and are committed to engaging every member of campus, to make sure you're aware of the resources available to you, and if or when you're ready to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we'll provide easy access."

Each of the schools has a COVID-19 data dashboard that eases the process of tracking the progress of the disease on campus — though some are better than others.

CU Boulder's dashboard is first-rate and data-rich; by its estimate, 95 percent of students and 96 percent of staffers have been vaccinated. Only a relative handful of positive diagnoses have been reported so far in the 2021-2022 academic year — 66 since August 9. Daily totals are also available, and they show no cases September 9-10, two on September 13, one on September 14, two on September 15, and three apiece on September 16 and 17.

The Colorado State University dashboard is less detailed, focusing largely on case counts that are a bit higher than those at CU Boulder, but still in the single digits per day. The September 14 total of seven student infections and one staff infection was the highest in the past week, while September 18, the most recent date available, checked in with one student and one staff case.

DU's dashboard reveals 41 cases in the past seven days, 37 of them involving students. The confirmed vaccination percentage is estimated at 96.24 percent, and only 4.3 percent of the isolation/quarantine spaces designated by the university are currently occupied.

The University of Northern Colorado health alerts page indicates that 85 percent of students and 91 percent of employees have been vaccinated. The number of current active cases with what are described as "on-campus impact" is estimated at only seven.

And Colorado Mesa University? Given the facility's lack of a vaccine mandate, as well as the high prevalence of the Delta variant in Mesa County, where the school is located, no one should be surprised that the information on its data dashboard is the worst of these five. However, the totals — 53 positive cases this week, and eighty positives over the past two among a smaller student body than any of the other schools — aren't out of control, in part because the breakthrough rate for people who've been immunized is just 0.70 percent.

These stats support studies showing that the vaccines are especially effective in young people. Understanding that should be mandatory.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts