As thousands of incoming University of Colorado Boulder students unloaded their family cars on Monday, a marked dichotomy between the familiar and the surreal unfolded on the massive campus welcoming back students during a pandemic.
Dorm check-ins were preceded by officials in medical garb handling students’ COVID-19 tests. University schwag in the form of face masks and hygiene kits were handed out to eager students making their way to their new homes.
The infamous, wheeled bins tasked with transporting students’ lives from car to dorm overflowed with the standard Gatorade packs, decorative pillows, full-length mirrors and sports equipment, but new additions like air purifiers were along for the ride, too. Once the bin arrived at a building’s front doors, only one loved one was allowed to help their new Buff haul it inside to cut back on the number of people — and germs — traipsing through students’ living areas.
“I feel excited to move in,” said Tycho Cinquini, a sophomore who was carting his betta fish Zoomy through a CU parking lot. “I’m a little nervous. I’ll be as careful as I can, but if there’s an outbreak, there’s an outbreak.”
Around 1,200 students were expected to move onto campus Monday with about the same number of Buffs moving in daily for the rest of the week — an elongated move-in process to allow for a less-dense campus, Scott Pribble, CU Police Department spokesman, said.
The 2020 migration of students back to campus was like never before, but there are some things about heading off to college that never change.
The string lights and pictures from her Florida home that Olivia Schweiger planned to hang on her dorm walls, for example, are a tried-and-true decoration.
“I am so excited and happy and just relieved that we’re having school at all,” said Stacey Schweiger, Olivia’s mom. “I feel like school could have been cancelled, and that would have been a bummer, so any way it’s happening is a win. I’m super impressed at how well and smooth the whole process has been. All the email updates and Zoom calls I participated in. I feel totally comfortable with Olivia here.”
Some CU Boulder employees, on the other hand, did not feel as pleased by the return to campus.
Alex Wolf-Root, an adjunct philosophy lecturer and president of the United Campus Workers Colorado union, hoisted a sign near the turn-off into campus that read: “If I die of COVID tell Mark Kennedy to teach my class.”
Wolf-Root and several other union members said they’re concerned for their well-being and the lives of their peers and colleagues who will soon be exposed to tens of thousands of students living and learning together.
A list of union demands include a call for the CU system to permit anyone who can perform their job remotely to do so, without reduction in compensation, accessibility, and privileges.
On the flip side was Mark Boen, who said he wished his freshman son, Ethan, could take all in-person classes.
Ethan Boen, hailing from California, said he longed for a real campus experience. His dad said at least the new Buff would have a “revised” version that would beat hanging out in his parent’s house.
“I’m not worried about the kids getting sick,” Mark Boen said. “They are young, healthy and strong. Even if [Ethan] got it, he probably wouldn’t even know he had it. The only people who should be worried are the 70-year-old professors who smoke. They should be behind plexiglass barriers or something.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how many incoming students, if any, had tested positive for the virus on Monday.
Melanie Marquez Parra, CU Boulder spokeswoman, said the students tested for COVID-19 Monday received rapid result tests to clear them for moving into the dorms, but those results would not be shared publicly until Tuesday.
Already, COVID-19 is causing problems on other college campuses.
In Colorado Springs, 155 students living in a Colorado College dorm were quarantined after one student tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory illness over the weekend and didn’t follow distancing protocols between taking the test Friday and receiving results Saturday, the university said.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is going back to remote learning one week after students returned to campus because the COVID-19 positivity rates rose to 13.6% from 2.8% last week, according to student news organization The Daily Tar Heel.
As Abby Presutti, 18, waited in line at the CU Events Center to get her COVID-19 test, she thought about all the video games she and her roommate would play together and envisioned herself as a marching band member meeting new friends.
“I’m very excited and a little nervous, but more excited than nervous,” Presutti said. “I think Boulder has done a really good job with updating us about the coronavirus, and I think things are going to go smoothly.”
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