Boulder County Issues Ban On Gatherings For College-Aged People To Help Stop Coronavirus Spread Linked To CU

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The tunnel connecting the University of Colorado Boulder campus to the Hill neighborhood , Tuesday, Sept 22, 2020.

Updated 11:51 a.m.

Boulder County Public Health issued an order Thursday that prohibits gatherings of people ages 18 to 22 and puts in place a stay-at-home mandate for anyone living at 36 properties near the University of Colorado Boulder campus.

The measures come as CU is now home to the state’s largest COVID-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

"We know that this age group is generating the majority of the challenges right now, and this age group can absolutely be part of the solution," said Jeff Zayach, who directs Boulder County Public Health. "It's going to come down to everyone taking responsibility for that individual behavior."

The reopening of the campus has been a driving factor in case increases in the county. There have been 1,392 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 among CU Boulder students and 12 cases among faculty since the start of the semester one month ago, according to the order. The university has already temporarily gone to remote learning in order to stem the tide.

The cases make up nearly 80 percent of those reported in Boulder County since classes started back up at CU, according to public health officials.

The mandates go into effect on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, at 4 p.m. The order lasts for two weeks, but officials can extend it.

"Gov. Polis knows that the better students do avoiding gatherings, the sooner they can get back to in-person learning and the sooner they can resume their regular activities," said a statement from the governor's office. "We know this isn’t the school year that any of us imagined, but urgent action is needed to prevent further spread in the community."

Many of the residences listed specifically in the order are fraternity and sorority houses located near the Hill just off-campus. Some of those houses have already been fined for throwing parties.

"The 36 properties include addresses with documented public health order violations, as well as off-campus collegiate group homes, which Public Health has determined represent a significant source of COVID-19 transmission in Boulder County, both among residents and visitors," Kate Haley of the Boulder County Attorney's Office said.

These residents must stay at home during this period, except for essential activities and travel. They can move to another home within a five-hour drive in order to quarantine, according to the order. But they must register their names and new addresses with the county.

At a press conference, county officials said they will work with university police to coordinate enforcement efforts and patrol high-risk areas.

Students who break the public health order could be fined up to $5,000 and serve up to 18 months in county jail. Since the semester began, CU has disciplined more than 300 students for breaking rules put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The order comes after the university moved all classes online for two weeks and after the county recommended that all CU students self-quarantine. A letter sent to students last week from Zayach and the county also warned that more "stringent and mandatory restrictions will be imposed if students do not comply and break the transmission cycle."

This is a developing story and will be updated.