Prospective students, staff and faculty at the University of Colorado, have been waiting all summer on the edge of their seats to hear whether or not they’ll be heading back to school in the fall. No one really knew what to expect — particularly as Colorado started to see secondary outbreaks of COVID-19 throughout the state.

Then, on August 4th, Boulder Valley School District announced that they would only be doing virtual classes this semester — they were going fully remote, for the safety of their staff, their students and their community.

Hope for the fall 2020 CU semester was not looking high.

However, unlike public schools, there is a lot of money to be made at a university. (Even at a public one like CU.) Each and every one of CU’s students represents tens of thousands of dollars in tuition money.

Which is why, CU has decided they're charging full steam ahead. On Friday July 31st, CU’s chancellor, Phil DiStephano, sent out a letter to the entire student body declaring that CU is officially a “COVID-19-Ready campus.” Then, on August 5th, just a day after BVSD announced they would scale back to fully remote learning, CU doubled down. The Provost and COO of the school sent another letter, this one to the staff and faculty, explaining how they expected to proceed.   

What all this means, is that students who aren’t afraid of no virus, don’t have to stay at home. If they still want to get their on-campus college experience, even during the COVID-era, they can. Never mind the risks to students/staff/faculty/community. There is money to be made! There are seats to be filled!

However, things are going to look very different at CU, this year, for all those who do end up on campus. It isn’t going to be the rowdy, shoulder-to-shoulder, party extravaganza experience it has been for Buffs of yore. This year, things are going to be respectfully socially distanced, masked up, and sanitary…

At least, that’s the executive board’s hope. How the reality of college in the time of COVID plays out, has yet to be seen.

“We have listened to our faculty, staff, students and key stakeholders and understand the concerns.” Wrote Chancellor DiStephano. “No return to campus is without risk, but we have worked tirelessly with our own faculty experts in environmental engineering, epidemiology, public health and bioscience research to develop and implement countless strategies for the healthiest and safest return possible.”

So what what’s it going to look like?

The most visible changes that students will see will be in the classrooms: which will all be socially distanced. Some will be held in spaces “not normally used for class” if they aren’t held virtually. Masks will be required indoors and out while on campus, and hand-sanitizing stations will be strategically placed all over.

Buildings will be locked, and require buff passes to gain entrance to; the gym will be limited to half capacity, restricted to students only and will be socially distanced; football games and other events are banned (at least until the 16th); and the campus will be plastered with sanitation/health reminders.

As for testing: rapid result COVID-19 tests will be available for all students; and all students living on campus or in student housing, will be required to complete a COVID-19 test before moving in. (However, the university just recently announced that they will not  require COVID-19 testing for off-campus students.)

They’ve also put a lot of thought and strategy into their heating and ventilation systems, in order to limit the potential spread of any pathogens.

And on top of all that, after Thanksgiving break, classes will become fully remote. After students travel home for the holiday, CU wants them to stay home through all of the holidays. If all goes well, they can return to campus again in the spring.

Will it work? Can these measures actually prevent another serious outbreak of COVID-19 in Boulder?

It’s hard to imagine life in the dorms without close contact. It’s hard to imagine college students partying with respectful social distance, masks and sanitary precautions.

As one of CU’s teachers (u/frecklebitch8710) commented on Reddit, when the school announced that they would not require off-campus COVID-testing for students: “I give it 3-4 weeks of class before we go fully online due to the next big outbreak.”

Only time will tell. But, if u/frecklebitch8710 is right, then all of Boulder should be battening down the hatches — because an outbreak on campus, will not stay on campus.

The first day of school for CU is August 17th.