What You Need To Know About Coronavirus And Colorado Universities

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A COVID-19 monitoring station at the University of Colorado Boulder. The campus has shifted to a two-week all-online class schedule driven by climbing coronavirus infection rates. Boulder, Tuesday, Sept 22, 2020.

Over the last few weeks, students flocked back to Colorado universities as institutions reopened campus amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

The return marked a massive inflation in case numbers around the state. In late September, health officials marked the University of Colorado Boulder as the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the state since the pandemic began. Several colleges in Denver, including Regis University and University of Denver, also reported large outbreaks.

There are a lot of questions about how the pandemic has affected colleges across the state, specifically on the various health ordinances set in Boulder County to slow the spread caused by the reopening of students. We tried to answer some of these questions. 

What’s the new Boulder County order and who is subject to it?

Under the new order, which went into effect last Thursday, people ages 18 to 22 are prohibited from gathering indoors and outdoors for any shared and common purpose, including socializing and other recreational activities. People within that age range may continue with their routines as normal — as long as they’re not with more than one other college-aged person. 

Some people outside of that age range might also be affected. The county identified 36 addresses, mostly comprised of fraternity and sorority houses, that are subject to a mandatory stay-at-home order. Residents living at these addresses may only leave their homes for essential activities and travel. 

Boulder County officials said the idea for the ordinance came a couple weeks into CU’s new semester. They found a vast majority of cases in the county were being traced back to college students and anticipated an incoming outbreak. 

Several provisions to the gathering ban are specified in the order, including allowing work and jury duty. Solo exercise is permitted, but collegiate sports teams are prohibited from organizing team practices. 

City officials will take several disciplinary actions if people are caught violating the order, including fines up to $1,000 and jail time. CU students may be suspended or expelled if found in violation of the order. 

The order is set to expire Oct. 8, a day after CU plans to resume in-person classes.

What does it mean for college-aged people who live together?

Although people within the affected age range or living at the 36 stay-at-home residences are not allowed to socialize with others, they are still allowed to congregate with roommates inside their own homes. 

Boulder County health official Chana Goussetis said three or more roommates are not allowed to spend time together outside their homes. She said making exceptions for these types of situations make the policy difficult to enforce. 

“A police officer driving by doesn't know if those two people are roommates or not,” Goussetis said. “Unfortunately, yeah, it does require that you don't hang out with your roommate outside of the house, but the reasoning is purely for enforcement reasons.”

There have been a number of complaints about the order, from people saying it poses a danger for women walking alone or that it forces a burden on students that aren’t financially stable. Has Boulder responded to these criticisms?

Boulder officials amended the order Monday in response to several complaints that it ignores safety concerns from women. The amendment allows gatherings of up to two people, which permits a number of things to occur. 

First, it means women can walk to work or home with a friend to feel safer. Second, it means students who rely on other modes of transportation, like carpooling or public transportation, don’t have to worry about getting a misdemeanor. 

Before the amendment was made, CUPD public information officer Scott Pribble said these types of complaints were “not something [they’ve] even thought about.” He said enforcement around the university would mainly be focused on cracking down on large social gatherings, not minor infractions. 

“We're providing a little bit of education and holding on for the full enforcement for the more egregious violations at this point,” Pribble said.

CU Boulder isn’t the only university in the state. How are other colleges faring with the pandemic?

Private university Colorado College in Colorado Springs experienced an early outbreak within several of its residence halls, which forced school officials to send most students home and pivot most classes to remote learning for the rest of the semester. 

State outbreak figures show three Denver universities, Metro State University, Regis University and the University of Denver, are experiencing outbreaks. Denver city officials issued a public health order last week that requires all universities in city limits to provide daily health screenings and develop a new public health compliance plan. 

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said the recent rise in cases is due to a lack of social distancing between students on- and off-campus.

“For whatever reasons, young people still have this sense of immortality, sense that they cannot be impacted by this virus,” Hancock said. “Not only can they be impacted, they stand to be a real severe threat to a lot of people who are around them.”

Colorado State University in Fort Collins has faced numerous challenges during the pandemic. In July, the athletic program experienced an outbreak, with 17 athletes across various teams testing positive. 

Last week, wastewater testing uncovered traces of COVID-19 in two CSU residence halls, Braiden Hall and Summit Hall. The dorms were immediately quarantined, with hundreds of students being affected. The testing and its results were reminiscent of CU’s similar strategy, which uncovered four potential outbreaks earlier this month. 

While large universities in major hubs are struggling to control the spread of coronavirus within their communities, that doesn’t seem to be the case in community colleges and rural universities. 

Last week, Gov. Jared Polis said that there have been very few cases at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley and at Fort Lewis College in Durango. He also added in the whole community college system, with about 120,000 full and part-time students, there were only six cases as of last week.

And what's going on with college sports?

Fans and athletes alike were disappointed, but not shocked, when major college athletic conferences announced the fall sports season would be indefinitely postponed.

However, the past few weeks have marked a new mentality from organizing bodies, who seem set on having some sort of sporting events during the fall semester.

Last week, the Mountain West Conference, in which CSU competes, announced football will return in late October. Student-athletes, coaches, trainers and others that are on the field will be required to undergo testing three times per week. Results must be recorded prior to each game.

CU's conference, the Pac-12, announced it will also have a football regular season, which is set to begin in early November. Men and women's basketball was also given a schedule. However, teams will be unable to practice together until the Boulder County gathering ban expires in early October.