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Part of the CU Boulder campus and residential halls as seen from the air.
Part of the CU Boulder campus and residential halls as seen from the air.
University of Colorado Boulder via YouTube

CU Boulder on Quarantine After 100s of Positive COVID-19 Cases

Students, faculty and staff at the University of Colorado Boulder have received a stay-at-home notice as a result of nearly 400 positive COVID-19 tests since late August — a setback driven by worrisome developments that have accrued over the past few weeks.

The recommendation was announced late yesterday, September 15, by CU Boulder chancellor Phil DiStefano and vice chancellor for integrity, safety and compliance Dan Jones. Their announcement makes it clear that university attendees and employees are being asked to quarantine, not isolate, and can leave their domiciles in order to go to in-person classes, other academic activities and athletic trainings, as well as to obtain food, medical care and a test for the novel coronavirus.

But while the university's recreational center remains open for now, the missive stresses that students won't be allowed to gather "for social purposes" and warns that "stricter measures may be necessary" — an acknowledgment that a move to remote learning is hardly beyond the realm of possibility.

The seeds for this scenario were sown even before the majority of students returned to campus for the 2020-2021 academic year. On August 12, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment formally declared an outbreak among CU Athletics Training Group D; a CU Boulder spokesperson revealed that cases were discovered among this small cohort of around ten members in mid-July.

During a visit to Boulder on August 22, we found strong safety compliance, including mask use and social distancing, on the university grounds, but far less around fraternities and sororities near the entertainment and business district dubbed the Hill and public areas such as the Pearl Street Mall. Less than two weeks later, on September 2, four CU Boulder dorms — Darley North, Darley South, Libby Hall and Willard Hall — were flagged for COVID-19 positives by sewer sampling stations, and 103 cases were identified campus-wide by September 4. Five days later, on September 9, the CDPHE noted another CU Boulder-related outbreak at the Pi Beta Phi sorority.

Meanwhile, positive cases began to ratchet upward at a concerning pace, as seen in this graphic shared last week on the CU Boulder COVID-19 data dashboard:

Another 77 positives were registered on Monday, September 14, the most recent day for which statistics are available.

Such upswings were noted during Governor Jared Polis's September 15 news conference, staged just hours before CU's stay-at-home notice was released. During the session, CDPHE's Dr. Rachel Herlihy cited a rise in case counts among eighteen-to-22-year-olds, with the most rapid spike seen among freshmen and sophomores. Even though college students are less likely to become seriously ill from the virus, she noted that this was troublesome because infected individuals could unwittingly pass the disease to more vulnerable members of the community.

The official number of positive COVID-19 diagnoses at CU Boulder between August 24 and September 14 stands at 385, and that total is expected to keep growing.

Boulder County Public Health partnered with CU Boulder to craft the stay-at-home notice, and in a statement, its executive director, Jeff Zayach, stresses that "we must stop this spike in cases. It affects the health, safety, and livelihood of all of our Boulder County residents. While this isn’t a perfect solution, it’s our hope that this will halt the current spread of the virus and allow us to better control transmission of this virus in the county."

Here's the notice from CU:

From the Chancellor: CU Boulder students: Stay-at-home notice in effect to stop the spread of COVID-19

Dear students, faculty and staff,

Because of a significant rise in COVID-19 cases linked primarily to CU Boulder students, and to protect the health and safety of the community, CU Boulder is fully cooperating with a Boulder County Public Health recommendation issued today: We will be moving to a 14-day quarantine period for our students who live in the city of Boulder. The quarantine period does not apply to CU Boulder faculty or staff.

In a joint news release, Boulder County Public Health strongly recommends that all local CU Boulder undergraduate and graduate students immediately self-quarantine for two weeks in their campus-area home or residence hall. CU Boulder will be enforcing this measure, which expires at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Additionally, any Boulder County resident (including CU students who live off campus, faculty and staff) who is interested in getting a test is encouraged to visit a new testing site. Full details, including hours and location, are available at the Boulder County COVID-19 testing webpage. We strongly encourage CU students who live off campus, faculty and staff to use the new site while it is available.

Mask use and social distancing were spotty on the Pearl Street Mall on August 22.
Mask use and social distancing were spotty on the Pearl Street Mall on August 22.
Photo by Michael Roberts

Quarantine period guidelines

Quarantine is not the same as isolation. Quarantine is avoiding in-person interactions with others, monitoring yourself for symptoms and following health precautions like washing your hands, covering your coughs and sneezes, disinfecting shared spaces and not sharing household items. Isolation occurs when a person has a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Local CU Boulder students may leave their residences only to:

• Attend in-person classes, labs, research activities and intercollegiate athletic trainings.
• Obtain food, medicine, medical care and emergency supplies that cannot be delivered. This includes seeking COVID-19-related testing.
• Work and take children to school/child care.
• Exercise by yourself. The Rec Center remains open.

When in public to carry out any of these permitted activities, you need to maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet from others and wear a face covering.

No students are allowed to gather for social purposes during this period. This prohibition includes social gatherings among people who reside in buildings with 10 or more unrelated occupants.

During this period, in-person campus events (other than the allowable activities listed above) are canceled.

The campus will continue to support students with dining, monitoring, testing, medical care and mental health services. Additionally, virtual events and programs will be offered for students to engage outside of the classroom in the safest way possible.

Expectations and enforcement

The expectation is that you follow campus and public health guidelines. The CU Boulder COVID-19 health and safety policy requires all members of our community to follow public health orders from state, county and city public health officials, as well as all directives from the university intended to prevent or mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including participation in testing and contact tracing.

Students have received many weeks of training, education and support on compliance with public health protocols. The vast majority are doing the right thing to keep our community safe, and we thank you.

So far, 422 students have been referred for student code of conduct violations due to not following public health orders.

Because of the serious public health risks involved, students found in violation of COVID-19 protocols that endanger our community will face strict enforcement of the student code of conduct and the campus health and safety policy, which may include exclusion from campus, probation—which can impact future study abroad or attending graduate school—and suspension from the university pending adjudication.

Rising cases makes quarantine necessary

Today’s additional public health measure is necessary to change behaviors that are contributing to the increase in cases. Swift action and immediate change in behavior is necessary. Positive cases of CU Boulder students have increased, and most of the cases are among individuals living off campus.

Stricter measures may be necessary

In partnership with city, county and state public health agencies, we are prepared to rapidly respond to COVID-19 in a way that best protects our community based upon the latest information.

Boulder County Public Health is prepared to take additional steps, including mandatory stay-at-home orders, if we do not improve the situation.

We’ll continue to add more information to our COVID-19 updates and resources webpage throughout the week, and please reach out to us with your questions and concerns.

We want to thank you for your cooperation at this juncture. We can persevere if we are Buffs together and follow reasonable health guidelines during this pandemic.

Sincerely,

Philip DiStefano
Chancellor

Dan Jones
Associate Vice Chancellor for Integrity, Safety and Compliance

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