Month: August 2020
On the Colorado River, will New Mexico be left in the dust?
The Colorado River supplies water for more than 36 million people in two countries and seven states, including New Mexico. As river flows and reservoir levels decline due to drought, warming and over-demand, states are wrangling over how to voluntarily conserve water use—before reservoir levels reach critically low levels and trigger mandatory cutbacks. New Mexico is one of the states most vulnerable to the impacts climate change is wreaking on the river. Yet, it’s unclear what the state is doing when it comes to drought management in the state and basin-wide negotiations on the Colorado.
The seven states subject to the Colorado River Compact are divided into Upper Basin states—Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah—and Lower Basin states—Arizona, Nevada and California. The Lower Basin’s planning has been sprawling and public, as the three states have tried to agree on a drought contingency plan that will keep Lake Mead’s levels high enough to keep farmers in southern California and central Arizona and cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego from having their water supplies curtailed.
Meanwhile, Upper Basin states are working out a drought contingency plan, too.
NM officials silent on Colorado River
Under the Colorado River Compact, New Mexico is allocated 11 ¼ percent of the Upper Basin’s annual allocation of 7.5 million acre feet. Though the Colorado River itself does not flow through the state, some of its tributaries do, including the San Juan River, which supplies the San Juan-Chama Project. That federal project delivers water to cities like Albuquerque and Santa Fe and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. Aztec, Farmington and Bloomfield also rely on water from the San Juan River, and both the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project and the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which is still being built, rely on water from the Colorado River Basin.
Unlike other Upper Basin states, New Mexico has fully allocated its share of the system’s water, although not all that water has been fully developed yet. That means there’s no wriggle room in the system when it comes to water shortages.
In Colorado, discussions on how to cut its share of water use have generated conflict among water users and between Front Range water users and the more rural Western Slope. Utah’s governor just declared a state of emergency over drought. And earlier this month, Wyoming’s State Engineer warned water users along the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado, that drought could force regulators to curtail diversions if voluntary limits don’t pan out first. According to a new story, State Engineer Patrick Tyrell told stakeholders that the Colorado River Basin system is at “risk of severe disruption.”
To understand New Mexico’s current role in Colorado River discussions and drought planning, NM Political Report contacted New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission Director John Longworth, the agency’s public information officer (PIO), Melissa Dosher and a state employee believed to work on Colorado River issues. The employee emailed that interview requests need to be handled by the PIO. But neither Dosher nor Longworth responded to messages.
The Upper Basin’s drought contingency plan has three main elements, said Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, including drought operations, demand management and weather modification.
The plan’s cornerstone, drought operations, involves managing key reservoirs, such as Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming, the Aspinall Unit on the Gunnison River in western Colorado and New Mexico’s Navajo Reservoir to make sure Lake Powell doesn’t drop too low.
Backed up behind Glen Canyon Dam, water is stored in Utah’s Lake Powell to allow Upper Basin states to meet their obligations under the Colorado River Compact and send more than 8 million acre feet downstream each year.
To do that, Haas said, models show Lake Powell must stay above an elevation of 3,525 feet.
“Below 3,525,” she said, “all bets are off.”
As of October 22, Lake Powell’s elevation was at 3,591 feet, storing 10,946,807 acre feet of water.
The Upper Basin’s drought contingency plan also looks at how to reduce water demands, including through voluntary water conservation programs.
At the end of the year, the commission wraps up a pilot program that paid farmers in
Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to conserve water. Through the program, the commission paid farmers about $200 per acre foot of water for water they saved by fallowing fields. It was an experiment, she said, to see if water conservation would help boost storage in Lake Powell.
The commission learned that farmers are interested in compensated conservation programs—but also that those water savings won’t make up for the losses from drought and climate change.
During the four-year pilot project, Haas estimated the Upper Basin will have conserved about 50,000 acre feet. But addressing the deficit at Lake Powell requires about 200,000 to 500,000 acre feet.
Haas said the commission is also exploring weather modification, such as how cloud seeding could increase precipitation in certain areas and at certain times. “We’re not going to see the storage savings we would out of drought management or even drought operations,” she said. “It has not been our focus, but it is still the third leg of our drought contingency plan stool.”
‘Front and center’
As executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, Haas represents the interests of the entire basin—with input from attorneys from the four states and federal technical experts—not any one state. But prior to becoming executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, she served as general counsel and deputy director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and also as New Mexico’s commissioner to the Upper Basin.
Though it’s no longer her job to represent the interests of only New Mexico, Haas spoke about the importance of the river system to New Mexicans.
Because New Mexico has fully allocated its share of Colorado River water, the state is in a “different boat” from the other Upper Basin states that haven’t come close to fully developing their Colorado River water rights, Haas said: “It’s critical that New Mexicans understand that any sort of shortage as a result of this now-19 year-long drought that we’re in—this aridification and the ‘new normal’ [of climate change]—could disproportionately affect New Mexico.”
The Colorado River system supplies water to cities, farmers, utilities and Native American tribes, she said, adding that a 2014 economic survey of the importance of Colorado River water showed it contributes $60 billion in annual economic activity to New Mexico, and about $30 billion more in labor. There’s also money from recreation and jobs related to building the Navajo-Gallup pipeline. As one of the poorest states, New Mexico shouldn’t take that economic contribution lightly, she added.
“I can’t overestimate the importance of this water to New Mexico,” she said. “Colorado
River issues should be front and center for New Mexicans.”
That same 2014 study shows that 60 percent of the water used in New Mexico for industrial and municipal uses comes from the Colorado River, as well as 15 percent of the water used for farming.
Losing Colorado River water isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
In 2017, a study showed that between 2000 and 2014, annual Colorado River flows averaged 19 percent below the 1906-1999 average. The models also showed that warming will continue to drive declines in river flows—by between 20 to 30 percent by mid-century and 35 to 55 percent by 2100. More recently, authors from the University of California-Los Angeles and Colorado State University found that 53 percent of the decrease in runoff is attributable to warming; the rest to reduced snowfall within regions that feed into the system.
And the effects of climate change on the basin are occurring at a more accelerated
rate than people had previously thought, Haas said. “These are things that should be of immediate concern to us,” she said. “It’s absolutely a wake up call.”
‘Not enough water for all the lawyers to be right’
John Fleck, director of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico, and an expert on Colorado River issues, pointed out that one-third of the water flowing through a crucial section of the Rio Grande in New Mexico this year was imported from the Colorado River system. That San Juan-Chama water, for example, is what has kept the Middle Rio Grande flowing through Albuquerque this fall.The Rio Grande in Albuquerque on Monday
“The seven states are engaged in this incredibly important set of negotiations that will go on for a long time, about how we go about scaling back our use of Colorado River water across the basin in a way that reflects the hydrological reality that there’s just less water in this river than we all came to expect,” Fleck said. “It’s really important that folks in state government in New Mexico take that seriously, and it’s really important and incumbent on them to engage in a public discussion about what our risks are and what our choices are.”
That’s so important, he explained, because it’s entirely likely that the river’s rules will be tweaked in coming years to account for the fact that as there is less water in the system, there is less water available for the states.
That discussion needs to be a public one, he said, and can’t be left to attorneys advocating that their clients hang on to their full entitlements. “There’s not enough water for all the lawyers to be right,” he said. “We need to be up front about the fact that [cuts] are needed, and we’re going to have to play along with the rest of the basin.”
These discussions are playing out in states like Colorado and Arizona, he said. “I’m a little concerned we don’t have a very robust discussion within New Mexico, about the implications for our Colorado River water users,” he said. “Part of this comes back to this broader question, of the need here in the Middle [Rio Grande] Valley for us to be having broader discussions about what we want our water future to be.”
New Mexicans face incredibly difficult choices, he said, about how much water is available for agriculture, how much water is available for municipalities and how much water is available for rivers and the environment.
“We’ve just been patching that together by draining reservoirs and trying to comply with the Endangered Species Act, and haven’t had a very broad community conversation about our values and what we want out of our water,” he said. “And the Colorado River is a part of that.”
The article was published at On the Colorado River, will New Mexico be left in the dust?
How one Colorado boy with autism schooled the Supreme Court on public education for the disabled
Many parents heralded this year’s Supreme Court decision on Endrew F. v. Douglas County Schools as a victory over school districts in the perpetual struggle concerning the rights of students with disabilities.
Central to the case was the question of whether an Individualized Education Program is adequate. Known as the IEP, this program had been a source of constant dispute between parents and school officials since the inception of special education law.
Justices ruled unanimously for the parents of Endrew F., an autistic boy from Colorado. But characterizing Endrew as a clear win for parents would be a mistake.
The court specifically rejected the parents’ arguments that attempted to train special education toward a more post-secondary focus.
The court specifically rejected the parents’ arguments that attempted to train special education toward a more post-secondary focus.
To be sure, it also rejected the school district’s arguments that attempted to set the bar for special education quite low. Regardless, parent-advocates should hesitate to “overreach” and leverage the case as a tool to make unreasonable demands, which may not accord with the Endrew holding and may only perpetuate a counterproductive “parent versus school” narrative.
Instead, Endrew is an invitation for both parents and school officials to return to the core of special education: designing an ambitious and feasible special education around a child’s particular needs and capacities.
To some observers, it may seem odd that it would take a court decision to reassert this common sense principle. Yet years of litigation concerning the adequacy of special education has obscured this focus because, in many cases, parents and schools view each other as opponents, rather than partners. Endrew can change that dynamic.
(By way of background, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees a child with a disability the right to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). A FAPE is operationalized through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP sets forth the special education needs, related services and intended goals and objectives for the student. It is a critical document.)
Endrew experienced considerable success. While Endrew was still at the private school, public school officials proposed another IEP. Again, Endrew’s parents rejected it because they felt it did not incorporate the private school programming that had proved successful and, instead, essentially mirrored the last proposed IEP.
In court, the district argued that their proposed IEPs were “reasonably calculated” to provide some benefit, as opposed to none. In the school’s view, this was an appropriate education under existing law.
Endrew’s parents argued for a higher standard that appeared to focus on post-secondary concepts. In their view, an appropriate education would provide “opportunities to achieve academic success, attain self-sufficiency, and contribute to society that are substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities” (emphasis added).
The Court rejected both the parents’ and the school district’s arguments. Instead, it stated that an IEP should be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s unique circumstances.” Notably, while the school district technically “lost,” the Court also did not adopt a characterization of special education that incorporated themes more oriented toward post-school life, as the parents had hoped.
However, Endrew should not be viewed in zero-sum terms. Rather, it represents significant opportunity for all involved going forward. For parents, Endrew rightfully requires that information brought by parents regarding what goals are achievable vis-vis a child must be accounted for in the IEP development process. In Endrew’s case that clearly did not occur; the school district ignored evidence of Endrew’s success at his private school.
Professional educators should (and must) embrace Endrew, as well. They have experience and particularized training that can help set ambitious — but achievable — programming.
The Supreme Court noted that it wants to defer to school officials’ specialized knowledge. Yet it also warned school officials that that expertise must be applied on a case-by-case basis. Put another way: the days of “cut and paste” IEP development are over. For the overwhelming majority of educators who entered teaching to help each and every child they encountered, Endrew only supports their professional roles. In that light, professional educators won.
Endrew sends a clear judicial message that both parent input and school officials’ professional judgment must be joined together in the interest of an individual child. Years of costly litigation may have blurred that concept, but Endrew offers the proverbial “reset.” If interpreted as a victory for all parties, it can provide a valuable point of common ground in the struggle to fulfill the promise of special education law.
Mark Paige, J.D., Ph.D., is an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and author of Building a better teacher: Understanding value added models in the law of teacher evaluation.
The article was published at How one Colorado boy with autism schooled the Supreme Court on public education for the disabled
A Colorado Ski Community Planned To Test Everyone For COVID-19. Here’s What Happened.
In late March, residents of the Colorado town of Telluride and surrounding San Miguel County stood in line, along marked spots spaced 6 feet apart, to have their blood drawn by medical technicians wearing Tyvek suits, face shields and gloves for a new COVID-19 test.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tests for the virus that causes the respiratory illness have been in short supply since the outbreak began, this was a new type of test. It wasn’t to see who was sick right now. It was an antibody test that would assess who had been exposed and how widespread the virus was in the community to inform decisions about managing the outbreak.
When part-time Telluride residents and United Biomedical Inc. co-CEOs Mei Mei Hu and Lou Reese had offered to provide their company’s newly developed COVID-19 antibody tests for free to not just Telluride, but all of San Miguel County too, more than 6,000 of the county’s estimated 8,000 residents jumped at the chance.
“People really want to be part of it,” said Donna Fernald, a home health nurse who was tested the first day.
“This was a gift and an opportunity,” said San Miguel County spokesperson Susan Lilly.
That was the original plan, anyway. But on Tuesday, the grand experiment with bold aspirations appeared to fall apart. Lilly put out a statement announcing that testing was being “delayed indefinitely due to United Biomedical Inc.’s reduced ability to process the tests due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Lilly declined to comment on the decision.
The test that Hu and Reese’s company had promoted as “fast — results in two hours” had slowed to a virtual halt. The company had initially told the county to expect results within 48 to 72 hours after the samples arrived at the company’s New York lab. Results from tests conducted March 26 and 27 were announced April 1, but results from subsequent tests have still not come in.
A San Miguel County Department of Public Health and Environment press release quoted a company statement that blamed the delay on operations and the majority of staff being located in New York, where the pandemic has hit especially hard. The press release issued Tuesday said the company is aiming to resume processing the estimated 4,000 outstanding tests from the first round of testing.
But with only a fraction of the results in so far, and additional testing in question, the COVAXX testing appears to be yet another example of the chaotic response to the coronavirus crisis gone wrong.
A Different Kind Of Test
The test that Hu and Reese donated to the Telluride community is an antibody test developed by COVAXX, a newly formed subsidiary of their New York-based United Biomedical. It’s one of more than 30 commercially available tests without Food and Drug Administration approval under flexible rules adopted to address the COVID-19 pandemic. So far only one antibody test has received official FDA approval — a test made by Cellex, which uses just a pinprick of blood and produces results in about 15 minutes.
Antibody tests are fundamentally different than the CDC swab tests currently used to make official diagnoses. Where the swab test looks for the virus’s genetic material to determine active infections, an antibody test looks for antibodies in a person’s blood that show an immune response to the virus that causes COVID-19. Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University School of Medicine, said the test can’t tell whether the person is currently sick or infectious.
The plan in Telluride was for participants to be tested twice, two weeks apart, with the COVAXX test because it can take a while for someone infected to show up as positive when measuring antibodies.
The COVAXX website claims its test has 100% sensitivity (that’s the test’s ability to find antibodies to the virus) and 100% specificity (a measure of how good the test is at differentiating this novel coronavirus’ antibodies from other antibodies).
But, Garry said, no test is perfect. And creating an antibody test for the virus being called SARS-CoV-2 is “tricky,” he said, because it needs to distinguish among several seasonal coronaviruses. Furthermore, he added, the COVAXX test is a peptide assay, which he said typically is not very sensitive.
“We know 100% is an almost impossible bar to reach,” Garry said. “It kind of raises some red flags.”
In an interview with KHN before the Telluride program stopped, Hu said that “I always hesitate when I say 100%,” but she said that the company validated the test against 900 samples collected before the COVID-19 outbreak, with no false positives. She added the test also correctly produced positive results from blood samples that have been verified as positive through other tests.
Theoretically, having antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 could make a person immune to the virus, but how robust this immunity is and how long it might last remain open questions. The big promise behind testing a whole community is that if one can identify people who have been infected and recovered (or never gotten sick in the first place), one can safely send them back to work or out in the community, Reese said.
“It’s absolutely my goal to make this standard for how we get the country back to a new normal,” Reese had said before the test was suspended. “If we tested everyone in the whole country and were prepared to do it twice, you would know exactly when you would be back at functioning — everybody back at work.”
Reese isn’t alone in his excitement. Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman invested an undisclosed amount of capital into COVAXX through his Pershing Square Foundation, and bestselling author and XPrize founder Dr. Peter Diamandis is listed as part of the COVAXX leadership team on the company’s website. Diamandis presents a fawning interview with Hu and Reese in a widely shared YouTube video, which does not disclose his relationship with the company. Neither responded to requests for comment.
In all, about 6,000 of San Miguel residents were tested at three locations across the county, which covers about 1,300 square miles. As of Monday, only 1,631 of the tests had been processed, with eight (0.5%) of them deemed positive, 25 (1.5%) “borderline” and 1,598 (98%) negative. Borderline results indicate the person may be in the early stages of producing antibodies, Lilly said.
Yet the single tests alone can’t provide a clear picture of how many people have been exposed.
As of Thursday, a total of 11 cases in San Miguel County had been identified with standard swab tests. Officials continue to recommend that all residents practice social distancing and that those experiencing symptoms practice further isolation to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.
One way to look at this attempt at large-scale testing is that “everybody’s getting together and trying to do something cooperative and innovative,” said George Annas, director of the center for health law, ethics and human rights at Boston University School of Public Health.
“If you wanted to be cruel, you could say this is a publicity stunt,” Annas said.
The program certainly won COVAXX a lot of good publicity, along with gratitude from local residents — at least initially.
And a resort town in Wyoming is following suit. John Goettler, president of St. John’s Health Foundation in Jackson, said his organization is spending “less than $20,000” on COVAXX tests for about 500 health professionals and first responders. Goettler said Jackson resident Dakin Sloss, a hedge fund owner listed as another member of COVAXX’s leadership team, helped secure the tests. Testing is set to begin next week, and the test will be processed at a local lab, rather than in New York.
But in Ouray County, adjacent to San Miguel County, officials decided against such testing even before the Telluride suspension.
The cost “would shoot a hole in my budget for at least the next two years,” said Ouray County public health director Tanner Kingery.
But that wasn’t the only concern, Kingery said. It would have required a large supply of precious masks and other personal protective equipment, he said, while potentially exposing health care workers and community members to the virus.
Dr. Andrew Yeowell, an emergency room physician and Ouray County EMS medical director, also was concerned that negative tests might give people a false sense of security. If people with negative tests felt emboldened to go out in the community and interact with others, he said, it could undermine the county’s advisory to stay home.
“If you’re having symptoms or feel sick, stay home,” Kingery added. “That guidance doesn’t really change if you have a positive test.”
The article was published at A Colorado Ski Community Planned To Test Everyone For COVID-19. Here’s What Happened.
Colorado ranks among the best states for job hunters
Colorado ranks among the top states in the country for job hunters, according to a recent study.
WalletHub ranked the Centennial State third overall, behind only Massachusetts (No. 1) and Washington (No. 2), in its “2019 Best & Worst States for Jobs” list.
The personal finance website ranked all 50 states into two categories, job market and economic environment, using 33 different metrics.
“WalletHub compared the 50 states across 33 key indicators of job-market strength, opportunity and a healthy economy,” the website said. “Our data set ranges from employment growth to median annual income to average commute time.”
Colorado ranked second overall in job market and 12th in economic environment.
Rounding out the top 10 in the rankings were Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Delaware, New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island.
Denver, Aurora, and Colorado Springs ranked among the best large cities in the country to start a business, according to a WalletHub list released last month.
Almost every city in the state saw population growth in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Article was published at Colorado ranks among the best states for job hunters
How companies learn what children secretly want
If you have children, you are likely to worry about their safety – you show them safe places in your neighborhood and you teach them to watch out for lurking dangers.
But you may not be aware of some online dangers to which they are exposed through their schools.
There is a good chance that people and organizations you don’t know are collecting information about them while they are doing their schoolwork. And they may be using this information for purposes that you know nothing about.
In the U.S. and around the world, millions of digital data points are collected daily from children by private companies that provide educational technologies to teachers and schools. Once data are collected, there is little in law or policy that prevents companies from using the information for almost any purpose they wish.
Our research explores how corporate entities use their involvement with schools to gather and use data about students. We find that often these companies use the data they collect to market products, such as junk food, to children.
Here’s how student data are being collected
Almost all U.S. middle and high school students use mobile devices. A third of such devices are issued by their schools. Even when using their own devices for their schoolwork, students are being encouraged to use applications and software, such as those with which they can create multimedia presentations, do research, learn to type or communicate with each other and with their teachers.
When children work on their assignments, unknown to them, the software and sites they use are busy collecting data.
For example, “Adaptive learning” technologies record students’ keystrokes, answers and response times. On-line surveys collect information about students’ personalities. Communication software stores the communications between students, parents and teachers; and presentation software stores students’ work and their communications about it.
In addition, teachers and schools may direct children to work on branded apps or websites that may collect, or allow third parties to collect, IP addresses and other information from students. This could include the ads children click on, what they download, what games they play, and so on.
How student data are used
When “screen time” is required for school, parents cannot limit or control it. Companies use this time to find out more about children’s preferences, so they they can target children with advertising and other content with a personalized appeal.
Children might see ads while they are working in educational apps. In other cases, data might be collected while students complete their assignments. Information might also be stored and used to better target them later.
For instance, a website might allow a third party to collect information, including the type of browser used, the time and date, and the subject of advertisements clicked or scrolled over by a child. The third party could then use that information to target the child with advertisements later.
We have found that companies use the data to serve ads (for food, clothing, games, etc.) to the children via their computers. This repeated, personalized advertising is designed specifically to manipulate children to want and buy more things.
Consequences of targeted advertising
Additionally, advertising, regardless of the particular product it may sell, also “sells” to children the idea that products can make them happy.
Research shows that children who buy into this materialist worldview are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and other psychological distress.
Teenagers who adopt this worldview are more likely to smoke, drink and skip school. One set of studies showed that advertising makes children feel far from their ideals for themselves in terms of how good a life they lead and what their bodies look like.
Aren’t there laws to protect children’s privacy?
Additionally, nearly 300 software companies signed a self-regulatory Student Privacy Pledge to safeguard student privacy regarding the collection, maintenance and use of student personal information.
First of all, most laws, including the Student Privacy Pledge, focus on Personally Identifiable Information (PII). PII includes information that can be used to determine a person’s identity, such as that person’s name, social security number or biometric information.
Companies can address privacy concerns by making digital data anonymous (i.e., not including PII in the data that are collected, stored or shared). However, data can easily be “de-anonymized.” And, children don’t need to be identified with PII in order for their online behavior to be tracked.
Second, bills designed to protect student privacy sometimes expressly preserve the ability of an operator to use student information for adaptive or personalized learning purposes. In order to personalize the assignments that a program gives a student, it must by necessity track that student’s behavior.
This weakens the privacy protections the bills otherwise offer. Although it protects companies that collect data for adaptive learning purposes only, it also provides a loophole that enables data collection.
What to do?
While education technologies show promise in some areas, they also hold the potential to harm students profoundly if they are not properly understood, thoughtfully managed and carefully controlled.
Parents, teachers and administrators, who serve as the closest protectors of children’s privacy at their schools, and legislators responsible for enacting relevant policy, need to recognize the threats of such data tracking.
The first step toward protecting children is to know that that such targeted marketing is going on while children do their schoolwork. And that it is powerful.
The article was published at How companies learn what children secretly want
Covered faces, distancing, hybrid learning: Campus gears up for new normal
There were many familiar sights as new CU Boulder students moved into their campus residence halls this week: teary-eyed parents, slightly awkward encounters between roommates, beds to make with extra-long sheets, and posters to hang up on walls.
But this year’s move-in was unlike any other in the campus’s 144-year history: Students and their loved ones wore face coverings; welcome events rolled out online; and campus residents had to show proof of negative COVID-19 tests.
For incoming freshman Alison Naeve, of San Francisco, move-in was quick and easy. And sad. She cried as she said goodbye to her parents after moving into her room at Williams Village. But being in Boulder was also a proverbial breath of fresh air, even with the wildfire smoke.
“For us at home it’s even worse,” the biomedical engineering major said of the COVID-19 situation. “It’s nice to know when your roommate comes in I can give her a hug because we know we’re both negative, and to have a community that’s been taking it seriously is good.”
For months, diverse groups from across the university have worked to get the campus ready for fall 2020, striving to make this semester as safe, and as rewarding, as possible.
University scientists and staff formed a dream team that worked to align the campus’ fall plans with the latest research into COVID-19. CU Boulder also adopted a community-based strategy to slow the spread of the virus—one in which everyone on campus, from new freshmen to maintenance workers and professors, are encouraged to do their part to “Protect Our Herd.”
“These approaches overlay one another, and I believe they provide an application of the latest science and research on COVID-19,” said Provost Russell Moore. “We’re going to continue to fine-tune our approach; we’re going to be flexible and be able to act quickly to changing conditions.”
In preparing for the unprecedented school year ahead, CU Boulder’s own researchers came to the forefront of the university’s response in collaboration with CU Boulder Medical Services.
Planning for the fall semester was “an incredible process where our researchers linked up with our top professional staff to think about how we prepare for our students returning to campus,” said Terri Fiez, vice chancellor for research and innovation.
The collaboration delivered results. As part of its fall plans, CU Boulder made facial coverings mandatory on campus, put new sanitization protocols in place and expanded classroom space and teaching hours to maintain physical distancing.
But the university also went above-and-beyond what many other campuses around the country are doing. CU Boulder, for example, boasts some of the nation’s top scientists studying how viruses can spread through microscopic droplets in the air. Drawing on their expertise, facilities’ staff overhauled ventilation systems for all of the campus’ roughly 13 million square feet of indoor space.
“It’s creating more of an outside air environment inside,” said Shannon Horn, a mechanical engineer in the Office of Facilities Management.
Testing and contact tracing will also be key to keeping campus safe. Students moving onto campus had to show proof that they had received a negative COVID-19 test within five days prior to moving in. Students that didn’t arrive with a test completed were tested on campus.
Meanwhile, CU Boulder researcher Matthew McQueen is launching a new for-credit course that will train students how to be epidemiological detectives. They’ll talk to their peers who have tested positive for COVID-19 and track down who they might have exposed as a way to curb any outbreaks.
“If we can focus on quarantining the people who were exposed to a known case, that gives us a chance to break the chain of transmission,” McQueen said.
And, to keep on breaking those chains of transmission, CU Boulder is conducting surveillance testing of its on-campus residents by monitoring their wastewater. A team of students and scientists have set up 20 wastewater monitoring stations across campus, which may be able to spot emerging infections in residence halls. Such surveillance could help the university get a head start on conducting targeted testing of individuals before they even begin to show symptoms.
For the university’s students themselves, from newcomers in residence halls to doctoral candidates, CU Boulder may look very different this year. The university has sought to redesign the student experience to account for the coronavirus—while also ensuring that learners don’t miss out on what makes college fun and fulfilling.
Students, faculty and staff will begin each day by filling out a health questionnaire, checking off whether they’ve felt any symptoms of COVID-19.
They may check into their first morning class online along with about half of the students in the course. The other half may be with the instructor in-person, sitting in chairs spaced at least 6 feet apart.
When it’s time for them to attend classes physically, students may recognize a lot of the covered faces around them: They may belong to the same cohort of learners who live together in a residence hall and share many of their courses.
Throughout their day on campus, students, staff and faculty members will also be asked to serve as leaders for their communities—engaging in behaviors that care for the people around them. The same applies to students who live off campus. Some of them will act as “block captains,” partnering with the city of Boulder to decrease the risk of the pandemic spreading in the community.
The goal of all of these initiatives, of course, is to ensure the state’s flagship university can fulfill its mission to educate the next generation of citizens and leaders and foster the spirit of discovery through research.
“We have to do what we can to safely be on campus so we can stay open and continue working toward our degrees,” said CU Student Government tri-executive Isaiah Chavous. “It will require all students to take on an introspective lens and an increase in self-awareness that ensures we prioritize our health before anything else.”
The article was published at Covered faces, distancing, hybrid learning: Campus gears up for new normal