CU Boulder leaders updated Boulder City Council members on Tuesday about campus initiatives underway to ensure the health, safety and well-being of students, faculty, frontline employees and other staff––and the broader Boulder community––in response to the ongoing impacts and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patrick O’Rourke, interim executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer; Katherine Erwin, chief human resources officer; JB Banks, dean of students; Devin Cramer, assistant dean of students; and Frances Draper, senior strategic adviser, addressed council members during a virtual monthly meeting.
Together, the university officials outlined details about safety measures the campus has put into place this fall and what steps are being taken to educate students about the perils of not complying with mandates, protocols and public health orders designed to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Students began arriving on campus on Aug. 17, and 5,570 of them came with test results in hand or were tested upon arrival. Those who demonstrated positive results were quarantined on campus or opted to return home if their families live locally.
CU Boulder continues to operate under an “expanded” hybrid in-person/online model, and is testing students in residence halls on a weekly basis, conducting surveillance testing, testing students who admit to attending large gatherings against university and public health recommendations, and is working to expand testing to students living off campus and employees working in jobs with higher-risk responsibilities.
The “expanded” operation mode means public health orders permit some in-person operations with appropriate mitigation.
“If we had an outbreak in a residence hall, we might move that hall into isolation and quarantine,” O’Rourke said, noting impacts to other Colorado colleges. “These are assessments being made with Boulder County Public Health.”
University officials also told council members, the university trained a team of contact tracers who are working with Boulder County Public Health, and recently updated an online dashboard that provides university, Boulder County and state conditions and statistics and the university’s operation mode.
Other operation modes include “limited,” which would require the campus to operate at limited physical capacity, and “remote,” which would mean a shift to remote-only instruction with limited access to facilities and services for a set period of time.
O’Rourke noted that even if the university were to shift to an all-online model, it would probably have little impact on the number of students living in the community who have indicated they would stay in town regardless of the instruction mode.
During the city council meeting, Jeff Zayach, executive director of Boulder County Public Health, gave council members a public health briefing, and thanked CU Boulder and city officials alike for working collaboratively with the county to stem the spread of COVID-19.
“There has been an immense amount of work, and none of us are taking this lightly,” he told city council members.
Boulder County stands at 2,324 COVID-19 cases to date, which is under the state average among Colorado’s 64 counties. However, the potential for further spread of the highly contagious virus remains a concern for the university, the city and the county as the long Labor Day weekend and the fall flu season loom ahead.
Of particular concern are student gatherings, mostly on the Hill, that have drawn widespread criticism. Zayach underscored the importance of everyone using face coverings, washing their hands frequently, and engaging in social distancing at least 6 feet from others—especially indoors and in public places.
“It comes down to personal behavior,” Zayach said. “When people are following those three simple things, it really makes a difference.”
Cramer, the assistant dean of students, said some 30 students are currently going through the campus’s conduct process for nuisance party or noise violations and, when possible, the university adjudicates public health order violations. The university is employing multiple approaches to educate students—including fraternities and sororities—about the hazards of not socially distancing, he said.
Efforts include working with the Boulder Police Department, neighborhood associations, landlords and other community partners to obtain information that can help the university address specific student conduct cases.
Cramer is also scheduling meetings with students to educate them about behavioral expectations and is adjudicating cases as they arise.
“When we have the names of attendees at large gatherings, we can adjudicate and treat these cases appropriately,” Cramer said.
Council members asked campus leaders what the university is doing to protect the health and well being of frontline employees such as bus drivers, custodians, groundskeepers, dining hall workers and others who work to keep campus facilities, infrastructure and essential services operating effectively, efficiently and safely.
Erwin said efforts include providing frontline employees, students, faculty and other staff with mandatory health and safety training, daily health questionnaires, reusable and disposable masks, additional hand-sanitizer stations, Plexiglass barriers, and MERV and HEPA air filters that run 24 hours a day in buildings. The university has also increased HVAC inspections in all academic and administrative buildings.
Daily health questionnaires are provided in English, Laotian, Mandarin, Nepali, Spanish and Tibetan. Additional protective measures include health screenings and temperature checks and limiting employee density during shift work.
Erwin said the university values its frontline employees and has made Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and other paid leave available to address COVID-related child care, isolation or quarantine.
When the university pivoted to a remote operational model in mid-March, furloughed frontline employees received support that included translation services and assistance with filing unemployment claims. CU also created a Staff and Faculty Emergency Fund to assist employees facing hardship created by COVID-19 and other emergencies. To date, 336 staff members have received assistance from the fund, 248 of whom were furloughed employees—almost all of whom have returned to work.
In addition, supervisors are providing employee guidance on how to create a safer work environment based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
“All safety and health measures apply equally to them,” Erwin said of frontline employees. “We have created clear guidance to supervisors on how to respond quickly in work environments when they find that someone is symptomatic or has been exposed, and we quickly isolate that person and quarantine others.”