Gov. Jared Polis on Friday said that sending University of Colorado Boulder students home amid a worsening campus outbreak of the coronavirus is not a safe option.
The Democrat cited a 16% positivity rate among COVID-19 tests associated with the school, explaining that having CU students return to their homes across Colorado and the country could lead to outbreaks in many different areas. Colorado’s statewide test positivity rate was 2.85% on Thursday.
“It would not be constructive for them to be sent away,” Polis said. “That would be very dangerous.”
He added: “It’s very important to handle it in the dorms, in the off-campus housing, with responsible students quarantined, going online for two weeks, getting tested.”
But pressed on what actions he’s looking at taking to contain the situation — 130 members of the campus community tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday alone, according to CU — he said students are “going to do the right thing.”
“I know the college students are up to it. They are responsible young men and women,” he said at a news conference at a Front Range Community College campus in Westminster. “I know that the Buffs are up to it.”
The situation is so dire at the state’s largest university campus that public health officials this week asked all students to voluntarily quarantine for two weeks. They’re asked not to leave their dorms or homes unless they are going to class, getting food, exercising or seeking medical care.
CU also told students in a dorm in the Williams Village area of campus they have to relocate by Sunday to make more room for their peers who will need to be quarantined because of the rising number of cases.
As of Friday, 178 of the spaces set aside to quarantine students who catch the disease are occupied, or about 67% of capacity, CU reported.
More than 670 people at CU have tested positive for coronavirus since Aug. 24, when classes began. More than 350 of those cases have been reported by the university this week alone.
The majority of cases have been among students living off campus. CU says it hasn’t seen transmission related to people attending classes.
Colleges and universities across the U.S. have struggled to contain the virus on their campuses after welcoming back students in recent weeks. Colorado College temporarily abandoned its plans for in-person classes after a wave of cases among its student population earlier this month.
Like other colleges and universities, CU has pointed to off-campus parties as being the main factor in spreading coronavirus.
On Wednesday, city officials in Boulder issued a mandatory quarantine order for the residents of a duplex that serves as an annex for the Kappa Sigma Fraternity at CU. Violators face up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
University of Colorado Boulder officials have declined to say how close they are to calling off in-person classes, but said that if the voluntary quarantine doesn’t work out, more stringent steps may have to be taken.
So far, more than 400 students have been referred for student code of conduct violations due to not following public health orders.
Polis said that state officials will be watching closely to see if CU and Boulder County can get a “lid” on the situation. He applauded community colleges and other higher education institutions in Colorado — like Fort Lewis College in Durango — that have been able to keep the virus at bay.
Updated at 9:31 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020: This story has been updated to clarify that the 16% positivity rate among coronavirus tests is the rate associated with the University of Colorado Boulder.