Boulder Ramping Up Enforcement Amid COVID-19 Student Outbreaks

Boulder has become Colorado’s epicenter of COVID-19 concerns. The rising number of cases at the University of Colorado Boulder, including spikes at dormitories and multiple Greek houses, prompted administrators to switch from on-campus instruction to remote learning for at least two weeks starting today, September 23. And while the numbers have begun to moderate in recent days, Governor Jared Polis made CU Boulder’s problems a centerpiece of his September 22 press conference about big increases in novel coronavirus transmission since Labor Day.

Against this backdrop, the City of Boulder has made some major moves involving enforcement of safety protocols implemented to combat the disease.

On September 16, officials issued a mandatory self-quarantine order for a duplex at 1125 10th Street that serves as an annex for the Kappa Sigma fraternity, which “has repeatedly engaged in activities that violate public health orders during this pandemic,” according to a Boulder news release. In addition, the city revealed that it’s keeping an eye on three addresses — 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, 1200 College Avenue and 1150 College Avenue — “that have been the site of some activities that violate public health orders. So far, there are fewer infractions or documented cases, but the behavior is still troubling. Should there be continued violations at these addresses, the city will take a similar mandatory quarantine approach.”

Two days later, on September 18, Boulder followed up by announcing that it had given a summons to Bryan McGinnis, head of football operations at CU Boulder, after he led an unauthorized team hike on Mt. Sanitas involving a group of 108 people, most of whom were unmasked and eschewed recommendations about social distancing.

Sarah Huntley, Boulder’s director of communication and engagement, doesn’t characterize these actions as a crackdown, but she acknowledges that “we have been ramping up our collaborations. We’ve been meeting with CU Public Health and others daily, and often many times a day, since about last week, developing a combination of strategies to address this particular situation.”

The result of these get-togethers has been what Huntley characterizes as “a multi-pronged approach, and enforcement is certainly part of it — but so is education and testing. All of these strategies are being carried out and considered in coordination with our collaborators.”

Focusing entirely on punishment is both impractical and potentially counterproductive, Huntley believes. “Enforcement remains an issue in terms of resources, given the size of the current, impacted population. But also, the whole idea is to change behavior, not to criminalize behavior. So we need to figure out how to hit the right mix of compliance and enforcement and education and awareness and community building. That’s what we’re working on together right now.”

Nonetheless, Huntley notes that “we are responding in a combined enforcement posture with the CU police department, our police department and the health department, which has some individuals who are monitoring what’s happening on The Hill over the weekends. We’re not going to respond to every complaint, because we have to evaluate everything against what’s happening all over the city, nor do we anticipate issuing summonses to everyone involved. But we do want to have a pretty high level of accountability for property owners and people organizing gatherings, like the boards that govern the Greek communities. We need everyone to be doing their part right now.”

Reiterating a comment Polis made at the September 22 press conference, Huntley says that the city does not yet have any indication of “widespread community spread” from CU Boulder to other residents, but is carefully monitoring data in search of warning signs.

In the meantime, the city’s recovery team is back in what Huntley dubs “response mode — and we do have some increased participation by both code enforcement and our police department, probably similar to what we were seeing in the early days of the pandemic. And of course, our city manager, our deputy city manager and our city attorney have been involved in the meetings we’ve been holding. I would say [the increase in cases] is rising to their priority focus right now.”

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