Published: July 15, 2020

In the special virtual meeting on Wednesday, July 15, the University of Colorado Board of Regents heard an update from CU Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano about the Boulder campus’s plans for fall semester, which included testing, housing and dining facilities and about what it would take to cause the campus to return to remote learning.

Changes in status

DiStefano explained that the Boulder campus is planning for different modes of operation this academic year.  

DiStefano said that the campus does not have an absolute formula answering whether we will need to move between phases or return to remote learning in the fall. He reported that campus epidemiologists and public health experts will be monitoring 11 different factors on a continuous basis to allow us to make decisions about when changes become necessary. These factors include:

  • Increase of the state COVID-19 reproductive number
  • Campus density as measured by wireless utilization
  • Utilization rate for local healthcare system resources including hospital beds, ICU capacity and ventilator availability
  • Increase in on-campus cases
  • Number of warnings or violations of physical distancing rules (Physical distancing, also called social distancing, means keeping a safe space between yourself and other people who are not from your household) 

Testing, contact tracing and isolation

DiStefano addressed the campus’s plans to perform testing, and contact tracing, as well as for isolation and quarantine.

DiStefano reported that CU Boulder is employing multiple strategies for testing:

  • Running polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests when students arrive on campus for students living in on-campus residential communities, student athletes and others in higher risk groups
  • Conducting ongoing pooled testing, a population-based strategy to detect the presence of infection early within communities
  • Testing wastewater to detect COVID-19
  • Performing syndromic PCR tests when people present with COVID-19 symptoms

DiStefano told the board that the Boulder campus is developing contact tracing capabilities that will serve as an adjunct to the county’s contact tracing. 

“We are already training contact tracers, some of whom are CU students who will receive course credit, and we executed a memorandum of understanding with the county health department yesterday,” DiStefano said. 

DiStefano also explained that the Boulder campus will have facilities designated for isolation and quarantine for situations in which testing or contact tracing have identified people who are at risk of transmitting COVID-19 in the residence halls.

Housing and dining

DiStefano reported that campus epidemiologists and other health experts are identifying changes to mitigate health risks. Recommended changes include:

  • Reducing housing density
  • Holding spaces for our on-campus students to self-isolate
  • Creating academic cohorts to create smaller networks of students taking the same group of courses
  • Working with local hotels to select one or two we can effectively use as additional residence hall space
  • Changing the process for campus move-in to reduce the number of people coming to campus at once
  • Providing meal options that include mobile ordering for grab-n-go
  • Identifying additional areas for students to eat their meals outside of dining halls

Expectations for conduct 

DiStefano discussed the need for CU Boulder’s students, faculty and staff to “take responsibility for their actions and do their part to keep themselves and others safe.”

DiStefano said that whenever possible, violations are being adjudicated to provide educational opportunities for students, but campus is “prepared to act when students do not meet those expectations and have not conformed their conduct to our standards.”

“Our first action will always be education,” DiStefano said. “Our students are coming from various places around the country and globe, and we will work to educate them on the culture norms and public health guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But we will be prepared to take appropriate disciplinary action in cases where students have not corrected their behaviors or have engaged in conduct creating a serious public health and safety risk.”

Academic experience

DiStefano told the board that in addition to the changes already discussed, the question of how many classes will be online and how many classes will be in person is a critical question that the campus hopes to be able to answer definitively for each individual student in the next two weeks.

“What we know is students will not have a full course load of in-person classes. What each student will have will depend upon the courses in which they are enrolled. Some students may have two in-person classes supplemented by in-person small group discussions. Other students may have labs conducted in-person. Still others might be part of an orchestra practicing together in the College of Music. Each student’s options will vary depending upon course selections.”

DiStefano emphasized the importance of campus’s need to be transparent about what each student can expect upon returning to campus.

“A student must possess accurate information about the fall’s academic experience to make informed educational decisions. We want to avoid any situation where a student later says, ‘That’s not what I expected.’ If we’re open and transparent about what we’re providing, we empower students to make the decisions that are best for them.” 

Facilities and personal protective equipment

DiStefano also reported on adjustments to how facilities are used in an effort to prevent infection, for example by having classes in places where we never thought we would.

“We are looking at how to use our outdoors spaces, climate-controlled tents and our athletics facilities as academic spaces,” DiStefano said. 

DiStefano told the board that when the fall semester arrives, the Boulder campus will have purchased more than 80,000 reusable masks to provide to all students, faculty and staff.

“We’re going to be requiring people to wear masks, which we know is one of the most effective means of preventing the transmission of the virus,” DiStefano said. “When students and faculty members are wearing masks, the risk of transmission drops by more than 90% than if neither of them wears one.” 


DiStefano briefed the board about a new COVID-19 course that all students must complete before the start of classes this fall. The course includes instruction on physical distancing, wearing of face coverings, hand hygiene and sanitation, and following public health orders for events and public gatherings. 

DiStefano explained that students who do not complete the training will have a hold placed on their account that prevents them from changing their course schedule or registering for additional classes. A similar training requirement for all faculty and staff is also being implemented. 

Health reporting 

DiStefano reported that the Boulder campus is requiring students, faculty and staff to complete daily health questionnaires before coming to campus and that employees have already completed more than 15,000 of these. He explained that this effort allows the campus to:

  • Gather data on the health and safety of our community
  • Identify the locations on the campus where cases are reported
  • Conduct contact tracing

A livestream of the meeting will be available.