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Even before University of Colorado Boulder’s spring break began this week, an exodus of students and staff — spurred by growing concerns over the new coronavirus — had turned campus into a ghost town.

Stay-at-home orders issued by Boulder County on Wednesday and Gov. Jared Polis later in the day will not substantially impact CU Boulder. The university has already moved all classes online, asked students to move off campus and and transitioned most employees to remote work in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Polis’ order goes into effect 6 a.m. Thursday and lasts until at least April 11, and Boulder County’s order lasts until at least April 17.

The orders do not apply to approximately 600 CU Boulder employees who are critical to keeping the university operational, said Associate Vice Chancellor Dan Jones.

Those employees — whose work includes health care, law enforcement, maintenance and food service — are still coming to campus.

“We’ve been operating in the spirit of the county’s order already, and from that perspective it won’t change the work that we’re doing in terms of having critical employees on campus to support the health and wellness of our students,” Jones said.

Campus leaders will “continue to evaluate” which employees are critical, Jones said, which may change based on how many students remain on campus.

Students who remain on campus are also subject to the stay-at-home order, Jones said, which includes complying with social distancing requirements such as keeping six feet of space between people, not shaking hands and frequent hand-washing.

In a letter to campus, Jones reiterated “travel is prohibited unless you (are) performing essential activities like obtaining food or health care or are an employee performing essential duties and you are traveling to and from work.”

Alan Slinkard, a project specialist in CU Boulder’s Facilities Management department, is one of those critical employees.

Slinkard said he takes comfort in being able to continue to help the university.

“With the campus being in the unenviable position it’s in right now, I think for myself and a lot of people in my department it’s the closest thing we have to normal,” he said. “It allows us to feel like we’re still contributing members of the campus and to our families. This is something we have to hold on to that hasn’t been taken away from us.”

Slinkard oversees a unit of employees who maintain building infrastructure, which can include patching buildings, repairing carpet and unclogging toilets.

The campus’ sudden emptiness is a mixed bag for critical service employees. Because of the spread of coronavirus, workers must take extra precautions for tasks like sanitizing, Slinkard said, donning vinyl gloves, paper face masks and eye shields.

But the sudden departure of students and employees is also allowing crews to complete projects they would normally do over the summer, Slinkard said. Crews are also deep-cleaning the campus so it’s ready for students, faculty and staff to return.

“It’s probably one of the cleanest, safest and most sanitary places you could find in the state right now,” Slinkard said.

In the meantime, Slinkard said he hopes people don’t forget about the on-the-ground employees who are keeping the university’s cogs turning.

“I hope, if people see someone still on campus, they will stop and say thank you,” he said.

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