College-aged people are driving an increase in coronavirus cases in Denver, so the city’s making new rules

The city announced public health orders for colleges and universities that take effect immediately.

The University of Denver at dawn, Feb. 11, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The University of Denver at dawn, Feb. 11, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

A spike in coronavirus cases in Denver driven by college-aged students is prompting the city to create some public health orders for colleges and universities.

The public health orders include:

  • Requiring daily health screenings (temperature checks and symptoms assessments) for students, faculty, staff and visitors so that people who are symptomatic don’t go onto campuses.
  • Requiring face coverings for athletes during all indoor and outdoor sports where physical distancing isn’t possible. This also includes when athletes are traveling to or from events with others.
  • Requiring colleges to notify the city’s public health department within 24 hours of all positive cases. If one athlete on a team tests positive, it will result in suspension of activities for that team.
  • Restrict visitor access to all on-campus housing.
  • Develop and implement a public health order compliance plan by Sept. 30 to make sure students are following existing public health orders.
  • The rules apply to visiting teams as well.

City public health executive director Bob McDonald on Thursday said the rules apply to all post-secondary institutions in the city and go into effect immediately. State outbreak figures show there are 10 active outbreaks linked to colleges and universities, including three in Denver: Metro State University, Regis University and the University of Denver, which has eight outbreaks. State data shows DU and Regis have 32 confirmed positive cases, while Metro has eight.

Data from Denver Public Health shows the city’s seven-day case average went from a low of 35.1 on Sept. 9 to 90.4 cases on Sept. 23. McDonald said the city’s positivity rate has increased and is just under 5 percent.

McDonald said the city’s increase has been the result of less physical distancing and on- and off-campus gatherings among young people.

“We don’t want to get to that space where we have to suspend all athletic programing, so we’re hopeful that this increase measure to wear face coverings during those close-contact sports will help get that in check,” McDonald said.

McDonald said there’s concern about the possibility of young adults spreading the disease to more vulnerable populations. Mayor Michael Hancock said something similar, adding young people across the country don’t seem to be taking COVID-19 seriously.

“For whatever reasons, young people still have this sense of immortality, sense that they cannot be impacted by this virus,” Hancock said. “Not only can they be impacted, they stand to be a real severe threat to a lot of people who are around them.”

The spike among Denver schools mirrors what’s happening at the state’s largest university. Boulder County Public Health on Thursday issued an order banning gatherings of people ages 18 to 22 and putting in place stay-at-home mandates to address an outbreak at the University of Colorado Boulder. The university now has the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

The city will close the free coronavirus testing site at the Pepsi Center after Sept. 30 to focus on targeted community testing in the city. In the meantime, the city has a lane at the Pepsi Center just for college students to get tested.

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