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Denver mayor announces public health orders for universities to halt COVID-19 spread

Denver Mayor Hancock also discussed upcoming changes to city testing efforts, and the recent increase in case numbers on college campuses.

DENVER — Denver officials on Thursday issued a public health order related to college universities in an effort to combat a surge of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

Those updates include required health screenings on campus, as well as a face covering requirement for athletes during all indoor sports and outdoor sports where distancing is not possible. 

The orders also restrict access to on-campus housing to current residents and essential personnel. Universities must also work to develop and implement a public health order compliance plan.

Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) officials detailed the changes during a COVID-19 news conference Thursday afternoon.

"We’re doing this because we are seeing a very focused increase in case rates among the college-aged population, particularly on our university campuses, that is driving the increase in case numbers here in Denver that we’re seeing," Hancock said.

According to the order, institutes of higher education are required to complete each of the following:

  • Conduct daily health screenings of students, faculty, staff, vendors and all other campus guests. Any individual experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 will be restricted from accessing any building (other than their place of residence or to seek medical attention), as well as any practice or athletic event.
  • Notify DDPHE within 24 hours of all confirmed positive cases involving students, faculty and staff.
  • Increase efforts to ensure strict adherence to DDPHE’s Face Covering Order by all students, faculty, staff, vendors and campus guests.
  • Require all student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, medical personnel and any other individual attending indoor and outdoor athletic activities to wear face coverings during those activities, including practices and games, except for outdoor athletic activities where participants strictly adhere to the Distancing Requirements in CDPHE PHO 20-35. Student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and medical personnel also must adhere to the same face-covering requirements while traveling to and from all athletic activities with another individual. All visiting teams must adhere to the same face-covering requirements while in Denver.
  • If one or more confirmed positive COVID-19 cases are reported for a single athletic team, the institute of higher education must notify DDPHE and suspend all sports programming for that team until further notice, and DDPHE will evaluate the need to impose a quarantine or isolation order on team members.
  • Develop and implement a public health order compliance plan by Sept. 30, 2020, that utilizes campus security, campus police and other resources necessary to ensure that students are following existing public health orders, regardless of whether they reside on or off campus.
  • Restrict visitor access to all on-campus housing, except for the students who reside there and other essential personnel necessary for the maintenance and operation of the facilities.
  • Take any actions available (such as enforcement of student ethics code violations) against any student, faculty or staff member who fails to comply with any public health order or school policy related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) on Wednesday updated its weekly outbreak report to include 10 active outbreaks linked to colleges and universities around the state – including one at Regis University, one at Metro State University of Denver, and eight at the University of Denver.

Denver health officials believe the increase in new cases is a result of less physical distancing and activities that take place on and off campus settings. 

Hancock emphasized that if students don't take the measures seriously, there will likely be additional restrictions for on-campus activities. The public health orders apply to all college campuses in Denver, DDPHE said. 

“The risk of continuing to spread this deadly virus is real and made even more evident by the abrupt spike in cases on and near college campuses,” Hancock said. “We are committed to working with institutes of higher learning to help reduce this risk, but if these measures are not successful, we will not hesitate to look at other options.” 

DDPHE also recommends that colleges voluntarily suspend all nonessential, in-person extracurricular social activities.

Pepsi Center testing site

During the briefing, Hancock also discussed upcoming changes to city testing efforts as the COVID-19 testing site at Pepsi Center is set to close Sept. 30. 

The testing site opened a drive-through testing lane exclusively for college students on Sept. 22 to provide quick, easy and safe testing for students dealing with outbreaks on their campuses.

“This mass testing location has been extremely beneficial to our community and a critical tool in our public health response over the last several months,” Hancock said.

The city will also be setting up community testing hubs where residents can get tested, with a particular focus on serving those in under-resourced communities. 

The first of those, according to Hancock, will open at Paco Sanchez Park, located at 1290 Knox Ct., in early October. Additional locations will be announced in the coming weeks. 

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