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"Treating them like adults": CU Boulder warns students amid rising COVID-19, 14-day quarantine

Posted at 11:46 AM, Sep 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-16 20:27:09-04

BOULDER, Colo. — University of Colorado Boulder officials on Wednesday sent a stern warning to students: Follow COVID-19 protocols on and off campus or face strict punishment, including suspension or expulsion.

The university on Tuesday announced a 14-day quarantine for all students, as cases continue to rise on the Boulder campus, mostly among students.

Later Wednesday, the City of Boulder issued a mandatory self-quarantine for an off-campus resident in the 1100 block of 10th Street, an annex of the Kappa Sigma fraternity where residents have "repeatedly engaged in activities that violate public health orders during this pandemic." Residents at that address must stay home, except to attend class and leave for other essential services. If they violate the city order, they can face up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Officials said the school has had daily case increase of more than 50 in six of the past 10 days.

Chancellor Philip DiStefano attributed the rise in cases to too many students gathering and too many students not wearing masks.

So far, officials said, the classroom settings on campus have appeared to be safe, as no documented transmission of COVID-19 has been identified through classroom interactions.

The quarantine will still allow students to attend in-person classes. The emphasis, officials said, will be for students to limit interactions to essential services and avoid going out to restaurants, partying and other gatherings.

A plea from DiStefano to wear face masks and avoid large gatherings was sent to students’ inboxes Monday as the school grapples with a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.

A day later, Boulder County Public Health issued a letter saying it “strongly recommends” all CU Boulder students living in Boulder self-quarantine “immediately” in order to contain the COVID-19 outbreak there.

The county health department said that it has seen 663 new COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks – 76% of which were either CU students or associated with CU students. The health department said “the majority” of cases came in students aged 18-29 who live off-campus and who are attending large gatherings without face coverings and proper physical distancing measures.

When asked Wednesday if the university was blaming students for the spread of COVID-19, CU Boulder interim executive vice chancellor Patrick O'Rourke said it would "irresponsible" for the university to not ask students to adhere to COVID-19 protocols.

"That's not an exercise in shaming," O'Rourke said. "It's an exercise in treating them like adults and communicating the expectations we have for them."

University officials acknowledged the difficulty of asking college students to not gather and party. But O'Rourke said it's important that students "understand what the stakes are," so campus officials are stepping up enforcement and disciplinary actions.

DiStefano and O'Rourke said the student affairs department has had "formal conversations" with some students about adhering to protocols, and that those students changed their behavior afterward.

O'Rourke said that while the university does not have direct control over off-campus residences, the university can still enforce its code of conduct, whether a students lives on campus or off campus. The university is also working with landlords to address issues related to parties and other gatherings.

The CU Boulder outbreak is reflected in statewide data, where a similar increase in cases among younger people has Gov. Jared Polis and state health officials worried that the spike will spread to the broader community. The governor and State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy spoke about their concerns during a briefing early Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re a little bit worried about the recent uptick in numbers, driven in large part by some of our colleges,” Polis said. “The worry is that the college transmission leads to community transmission.”

Outbreaks are not limited to CU Boulder. There have been six outbreaks at colleges and universities in Colorado in the past week, and that number is expected to double by the end of this week, according to Dr. Herlihy.

"College-age individuals – those 18-22 – we’ve seen a substantial increase, with the greatest increase really occurring among our younger college students, so college freshmen and sophomores,” Dr. Herlihy said.

CU and Boulder County health officials are trying to reverse the trend. While campus operations continue, several restrictions like mask-wearing are in place. Those who are found to be non-compliant could face suspension for a minimum of one semester.

The governor also announced during Tuesday's briefing that the state has launched a new matrix to identify when various Colorado communities should be in various phases of COVID-19 response. The new dial chart is being used by local municipalities to determine when to further open, or close back down, various types of businesses and events based on the levels of virus transmission. You can view your county's level here.