Thousands of students at the University of Colorado-Boulder are under a 14-day quarantine because of a rise in COVID-19 cases in the past several weeks.

The quarantine guideline applies to all students living on campus or elsewhere in Boulder and was issued to try to slow the spread of the virus with the university reporting 441 positive COVID-19 cases since the start of the school year on Aug. 24.

During the quarantine, students are not allowed to gather for social purposes and are only supposed to leave their home for work, class, taking care of children, getting food and seeking medical attention.

"It’s really up to individual behaviors to control the spread of this virus," Jeff Zayach, Boulder County public health executive director, said during a conference call Wednesday. CU Boulder has an enrollment of more than 30,000 students, its website shows. It's hard to say how many of those are living in Boulder and subject to the quarantine, given that "many are already taking remote classes and are not in town or on campus," said university spokesman Ken McConnellogue. 

Since the classes resumed for the fall semester, colleges and universities across the state and country have struggled to manage outbreaks of the disease.

A survey by the New York Times found that in just the past week, there have been 36,000 additional coronavirus cases at American colleges and universities, raising the total of campus infections since the pandemic began to 88,000.

Dorms at Colorado College in Colorado Springs were placed under quarantine after several students tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, the private school went to remote learning for the semester's first block and required many students to leave campus by Sunday. Students with in-person classes for the remainder of 2020 may live on campus. 

None of the positive cases at CU-Boulder have been linked to in-person classes, Chancellor Phil DiStefano wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff. Rather, off campus activities were connected to the bulk of transmissions at nearly 71% with sorority and fraternity and other large social gatherings driving the spread of the disease.

Students who violate school protocols and gather at large events could face exclusion from campus, probation, sanctions, or suspension.

"Students expressed they want to be able to continue their educational experiences," said Patrick O’Rourke, the school's interim executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer. "If they value that experience, they have to modify their behaviors."

Boulder County opened two new testing centers and expects to see the number cases go up in the next several days, Zayach said, although hospitalizations are not expected to increase because of students' age range.

Boulder County's safer-at-home levels currently allow for in person classes, but if case rates are not curbed that could change. While classes could be reduced, the university expects to hold some form of in-person classes especially for certain campus labs, O'Rourke said.

The university's level of operations depend upon county metrics such as case rates, positivity rates and hospitalization rates. 

The school's five-day positivity rate was 3.97% as of Wednesday with 204 hospitalizations. 

"If this disease continues to spread we know from the data that we have in Boulder Bounty that it has had serious and deadly effects on our highest risk populations," Zayach said. "Not only can it have serious health implications but has serious implications to our economy to our society."

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