Published: July 14, 2020 By

I have vowed to continue to inform you of what we know as quickly and completely as I can, so I write to share some steps we are taking on COVID-19 testing and contact tracing on campus this fall. 

Testing and contact tracing are mentioned in the CU Boulder Road Map to Fall 2020, but more details about them are coming into view

James W.C. White

James W.C. White

Partnering with Boulder County Public Health, the University of Colorado Boulder is moving to implement large-scale testing and contact tracing. Both testing and contact tracing—contacting people who’ve been in contact with someone who got sick—are key parts of an overall strategy to keep students, faculty and staff safe.

Matthew McQueen, associate professor of integrative physiology and director of CU Boulder’s Epidemiology Laboratory, has been working with a team of dedicated professionals to plan CU Boulder’s fall 2020 semester. As an epidemiologist, he is focused on testing and contact tracing. 

CU Boulder Medical Services at Wardenburg, in concert with the university’s BioFrontiers Institute and off-campus partners, are working to establish a robust SARS-CoV-2 testing strategy and platform to serve the needs of faculty, staff and students in anticipation of fall 2020. 

That testing will enable surveillance—randomly testing individuals in residence halls, for instance—which yields data about possible infections in small groups. Testing also dovetails with contact tracing; those who have been identified as having possible contact with a person carrying the virus should be tested.

To facilitate contact tracing, McQueen and Todd Gleeson, professor of integrative physiology and director of the Health Professions Residential Academic Program, have set up a contact tracing course (IPHY 4900—Public Health Practicum). 

The course is intended to attract pre-health and public-health students at CU Boulder. Students are vetted before being able to enroll. Gleeson and McQueen have already accepted 85 students who have begun their training and have another 90 on a waitlist, should additional contact tracers be needed. 

Students in the course will be overseen by public health and medical professionals and will perform contact-tracing on other students; contact-tracers for faculty and staff would be performed by non-students.

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 could rely in part on students, staff and faculty verifying that they have no symptoms before coming to campus. The mechanism of such a daily check-in has been launched for faculty and staff currently working on campus and will soon be released for students. The goal for the daily check in is to send a clear message to faculty, staff and students: 

“It’s party to establish a culture that if you are not feeling well, it is in everyone’s best interest that you do not come to campus (attending, teaching or supporting classes),” McQueen said.

Many other pieces of the fall 2020 puzzle—such as beds for isolation and quarantine for students living on-campus—are also still being finalized, and I will do my best to keep you informed as details become clearer. It is important to keep you abreast now, so that you are as aware as possible of the herculean efforts our college and university are taking now to keep all of us productive and safe this fall.

As valued members of this community, you deserve all the information we can share. We are Buffs Together.

James W.C. White is interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.