Oct 9, 2020 | NEWS | By Bella Staal | Illustration by Bibi Powers

This Wednesday, The University of Colorado at Boulder ended its 14-day quarantine for specific off-campus properties after over 1,200 students and staff tested positive for COVID-19. The quarantine was introduced after Boulder County issued a public health order, which stated that residents of the 38 identified off-campus properties only leave their house for essential activities such as, “receiving COVID-19 testing, and obtaining food and provisions through curbside pickup.”

“The Boulder County Public Health order was not aimed just at CU Boulder students. Anyone in the city, age 18-22, was not allowed to gather with anyone they did not share their residence with. In response to safety concerns requiring people to walk alone at night, Boulder County Public Health amended the order on Monday, Sept. 28, to allow this age group to be with one other person,” the University Police Public Information Officer, Scott Pribble, said.

Prior to the public health order, the school was holding a mix of in-person, remote, and hybrid classes. After a wave of positive cases at the beginning of September, the University announced a stay-at-home recommendation on Sept. 15. An email sent out by the school’s Chancellor Phil DiStefano on Sept. 14 urged students to follow social distancing guidelines, particularly off-campus students, because the majority of cases were coming from students living in off-campus housing.

Six days later, DiStefano announced the decision to move all classes to an online format. This move went into effect on Sept. 23. Along with only taking online classes, students are prohibited from having social gatherings of any size. According to the university spokesperson, “Anyone who was in violation of the current public health order could be issued a summons by a police officer which could include a fine or jail time. CU Boulder students that receive a documented violation are referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution.”

The COVID-19 outbreak at CU Boulder is the biggest outbreak to date in Colorado. It far surpasses other large outbreaks — the second biggest outbreak thus far occurred at the Sterling Correctional Facility, numbering 619 cases. Outbreaks of this size have a big impact on the total number of cases in the state. The week that CU Boulder transitioned to online classes saw the greatest increase in cases in Colorado in four months, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Universities have been the sources of some of the biggest outbreaks in several states. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, The University of Georgia, The University of Illinois, and The University of Arizona have also created large outbreaks. According to the New York Times report tracking coronavirus at universities, the cases for these schools numbered 2,775 at Wisconsin, 3,532 at Georgia, 2,227 at Illinois, and 2,149 at Arizona as of Sept. 25.

Other schools in Colorado have also had relatively large numbers of COVID-19 cases, but none that come close to the size of CU Boulder’s recent outbreak. Colorado State University, which has an enrollment of 26,500 students (compared to CU Boulder’s 31,000 students) has had 440 cases since May, according to the University webpage on coronavirus. Denver University’s website states they have had 222 positive test results as of July 31, and the Colorado School of Mines has had 42 cases as of Aug. 17.

The next steps that CU Boulder takes to prevent further outbreaks will depend on ongoing discussions with Boulder County Public Health, according to Pribble, and “more information will be shared soon.”

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