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The University of Colorado Boulder campus. (Unsplash)

The University of Colorado Boulder will bring thousands of students back to its campus for in-person learning on Oct. 14 after rising coronavirus case numbers last month pushed the school to move entirely online for more than two weeks.

Chancellor Philip DiStefano said the plan to return to in-person classes was made possible by decreasing coronavirus case numbers, especially among the 18- to 22-year-old population, after public health orders to stem the outbreak went into effect.


The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:

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DiStefano made the announcement at a news conference Wednesday that included representatives from the city of Boulder and Boulder County Public Health. 

“I’m grateful to everyone at CU and in the surrounding community for your patience and understanding as we work to provide the safest and best experience possible for students as well as community members,” DiStefano said.

Meanwhile, Boulder County’s public health order banning gatherings of 18- to 22-year-olds in the city of Boulder, issued on Sept. 24, will be allowed to expire on Thursday at noon without being renewed. 

At that time the order was issued, there had been nearly 1,400 COVID-19 cases among CU students since the start of the semester. Last week, county health officials warned that if COVID-19 metrics did not improve quickly and significantly, the county could be forced to return to Colorado’s stay-at-home status. 

Jeff Zayach, Boulder County Public Health director, said Wednesday that while the county still isn’t out of the woods yet, the decreasing case numbers and compliance among the student population mean the community is headed in the right direction.

“You are making a difference right now,” Zayach said.

Since the public health order limiting gatherings among young people was issued two weeks ago, CU-affiliated residents in the county have accounted for 275 positive or probable COVID-19 cases, with most reported in the few days following the public health order. The county reported 268 non-CU cases in that same time span. 

Over the weekend, no new CU-related COVID-19 cases were reported. Only two were reported from Monday and eight were reported from Tuesday.

To keep up the progress and maintain stay-at home status, Zayach noted that students and all other Boulder County residents must continue to operate with health guidelines in mind, including wearing face coverings, avoiding large gatherings and maintaining physical distance. Zayach also emphasized the importance of getting tested when exposed to COVID-19 symptomatic and working with contact-tracing efforts.

Zayach also unveiled two new county-level public health orders on Wednesday which will replace the one set to expire on Thursday. One focuses on controlling outbreaks in collegiate group homes, such as fraternities and sororities, by requiring houses to submit infection control plans to the county in order to lift stay-at-home orders that were put in effect to slow the spread of the virus. If a house does not submit its plans before Oct. 12, when the stay-at-home directive is set to expire, it will remain in stay-at-home status pending submission and approval of its plan.

The other order lays out more details on social gatherings of various sizes for 18- to 22-year-olds, based on the county’s coronavirus case metrics for that age range. The range varies from no gatherings at all, to small private gatherings, to gatherings on the same level for other county residents. Loosening restrictions will be based on the county’s 14-day positivity rate and 14-day average of cases per 100,000 people, while more restrictive measures will be determined by the 5-day positivity rate and 5-day average of cases per 100,000 people.

Lucy Haggard was a TRENDS Reporting Fellow from August 2020 to May 2021 with The Colorado Sun. Email: Twitter: