Officials discuss COVID-19 precautions as Rams return to campus

Kota Babcock

As Colorado State University prepares for hybrid courses, which mix online and in-person classes to limit the spread of COVID-19, Fort Collins’ elected officials are working to ensure a safe transition back to on-campus and City life.

After Colorado Gov. Jared Polis decided to close bars and nightclubs once again after a surge of new COVID-19 cases in June, it has become clear to some elected officials and other government employees that many Colorado residents have misunderstood the reopening process as a signal to go back to their prior ways of life.

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As reopening stages continue, COVID-19 continues to raise questions between elected officials about what a new normal will look like, especially as discussions of a new wave of COVID-19 continue.

“What we don’t want to have is a second wave,” Mayor Wade Troxell said during an interview in June. “What we want to do is have the appropriate public health measures in place to … look out for the health and safety of our citizens and also the capacity that our hospitals can take. … In concert with that is the impact on our economy. … (A second wave) could have even more devastating impacts, not only on (public) health but on our economy.”  

Recently, CSU President Joyce McConnell released a list of 10 things for students to keep in mind as they return to campus for the fall semester. Masks, social distance, hybrid learning, reducing campus capacity and disinfecting spaces will all be tools used to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In addition to this, students will be expected to clean their space and provided with materials to do so. Testing and contact tracing will be part of the return to campus, and classes will be moving online after fall break, according to CSU’s website.

I think, with COVID(-19), just saying ‘don’t hang out with your friends’ isn’t going to work, especially in the long-term, so ‘how do we hang out with friends and do that safely’ … is how I think we need to redirect the conversation.”-Emily Gorgol, councilmember

As CSU plans for a hybrid reopening in the fall, new questions about Fort Collins residents’ public health and safety are rising.

For example, how does Fort Collins continue to keep its community healthy as students who come from all over the country are reintroduced to the CSU campus, especially as COVID-19 messaging varies drastically by each city, county and state government in the United States? 

For this question, the answer may be tricky, but according to Councilmember Emily Gorgol, who represents Fort Collins District 6, which includes City Park and Campus West, the answer may lie in a familiar place: sex education.

“Just saying ‘don’t do it’ doesn’t work, because the best thing to (say) is ‘how do you do it safely?’” Gorgol said. “And I think, with COVID(-19), just saying ‘don’t hang out with your friends’ isn’t going to work, especially in the long-term, so ‘how do we hang out with friends and do that safely’ … is how I think we need to redirect the conversation. We need to stop waiting for this to end and think, ‘How do we live in this context?’” 

Gorgol’s view presents a solution to the cabin fever that those across the nation have struggled with. Similar to sex, there is no way to be perfectly safe in all encounters during the pandemic, even with social distancing and masks in use. However, reducing the risk and being as careful as possible still provides new options to those who are expected to restart work or in-person courses.

Gorgol and Troxell shared similar concerns that individuals are starting to have a false sense of security due to the state backing off of some restrictions, especially as students return for the fall semester and potentially return to weekend partying.

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Both officials made it very clear that they had a positive outlook for CSU’s reopening, although Gorgol was unsure of exactly how the fall semester could play out in terms of students staying safe when interacting with each other in University housing and beyond. Since CSU students generally didn’t stay in Fort Collins as the pandemic started, it’s been difficult for her to predict exactly how perceptive students will be to new safety mandates in the fall.

“There’s a responsibility (that we have) to build it into our lifestyle, at least for the near future,” Troxell said.

The mayor also said that continuing to create a safe lifestyle in the fall would mean that following social distancing rules and that registering parties with Off-Campus Life will become incredibly important, although the party registration system has not been reopened through Off-Campus Life or the City of Fort Collins website at this time.

Editor’s Note: Kota Babcock is the news director at KCSU.

Kota Babcock can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @kotababcock.