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Boulder County health officials, police confer on coronavirus distancing problems

Monday, Tuesday gatherings at Eben G. Fine Park in spotlight

Crowds of people not wearing protective masks or practicing social distancing are seen at the Boulder Creek on Tuesday, May 19, 2020 in Boulder. (Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)
Crowds of people not wearing protective masks or practicing social distancing are seen at the Boulder Creek on Tuesday, May 19, 2020 in Boulder. (Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)

It wasn’t quite on the level of the masses taking a dip in the holy Ganges in India, but Boulder Creek just west of Eben G. Fine Park this week has offered a remarkable — and, disturbing to many — tableau featuring hundreds of young people in the water and on its banks. For many visitors, any notion of social distancing has seemingly washed well downstream with the rest of the spring runoff.

Members of Boulder County Public Health were alerted to the situation on Monday, and didn’t like what video clips were showing. There was more — much more — of the same, Tuesday.

“We can quickly lose all that we’ve gained —  we may have already,” said Boulder County Public Health spokesperson Chana Goussetis.

No police citations were issued Monday or Tuesday for public health violations, despite the display of indifference to public health orders in the heart of the city. Violations of a public health order are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail.

In a statement, Boulder County Public Health Executive Director Jeff Zayach said, “I know it’s been difficult, but the video of people clearly gathering along the creek not only shows groups larger than 10 people, but there was also not adequate social distancing.

“Situations like these not only violate the state and local public health orders, but they put our whole community, our businesses, and our economy at risk. Please remember that it takes up to 14 days before we see who will become sick and spread the disease from this large gathering of people along the creek.”

Along the creek just west of Eben G. Fine Park on Tuesday, hundreds of empty bottles and cans and other trash overflowed around the available collection points, which were not equal to the task.

“Here, let me help you out with that,” one young lady quipped as she tossed a bottle on the growing pile as a passerby snapped a picture of the refuse.

Trash is piled up in a trash can on the Boulder Creek Path near Eben G. Fine Park on Tuesday in Boulder. (Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)

Hundreds of mostly young people, many stripped down to their swimwear, congregated by the water and in the water. It was exceedingly difficult to find anyone wearing a mask. On one small cluster of boulders protruding into the stream, 18 young men and women were bunched together.

“They’re just riskin’ themselves,” reasoned Nicole Haliw, who was visiting the area from Thornton, with her 8-year-old son Tyler. “They know the rules. They’re big kids.”  As for herself, she added, “I work in a restaurant, so I’m exposed anyway.”

A University of Colorado Boulder student who gave only his first name, Sam, insisted that he knew the health order rules concerning masks and social distancing, as he and his friend headed for the creek’s banks.

“I think it’s something that needs to be taken seriously,” Sam said, his face not obstructed by any covering.

“I’ve got a mask here in my bag,” he added. “I Uber’d over here, and I was wearing it, then. But, I wanted to breathe.”

A young man who identified himself only as Scott, who had been pedaling past on his bike, dismounted long enough to offer a short speech about how glad he was to see the young people defy the”tyranny” of the government and what he sees as its excessive and oppressive rulemaking.

“Our immune systems depend on a human connection, exposure to sunlight, and fresh air, and being free from fear,” he insisted. “Stress kills us. We know that.”

But Zayach, the public health executive director, once again is urging people to “take this virus seriously” and to limit gatherings to 10 people or less, and remain at least six feet from each other.

“Individual actions are putting our businesses and our most vulnerable in the community at further risk.”

Goussetis, who noted that the community had succeeded in lowering the numbers of new COVID-19 cases and keeping area hospital and health care workers safer, said it was nevertheless “disappointing” to see local residents not considering the impact of their actions on others.

“We understand that this is a difficult time for all of us,” she said. “The days are beautiful and we want to finally get out and enjoy. But we’re not there yet.”

Two Boulder Police officers, not identified, patrol the Boulder Creek Path near Eben G. Fine Park on Tuesday in Boulder. (Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)

County health personnel were in contact with the Boulder Police Department on Tuesday to discuss the Eben G. Fine Park situation.

On Tuesday, however, the police department did not indicate that a significant change in its approach is in the offing.

“Boulder Police will continue to focus on a strong educational approach to emphasize wearing a mask and social distancing of six feet or more to encourage personal responsibility rather than issue citations,” said department spokesperson Laurie Ogden. “Boulder County is launching a regional media campaign this week to support these approaches.”

As the good times continued to roll Tuesday afternoon, Nikowa Wright of Denver, and his friend Zack Custard, also of Denver, enjoyed some cold beverages in the shade of a tree by the riverbank. They acknowledged that social distancing was obviously not being embraced by a sizable number of young people eager to cool off by Boulder Creek.

“Doesn’t seem like they’re doing a very good job of it,” Wright said, smacking his lips after a gulp of his beverage.

Assessing the free and easy scene unspooling a few feet away, he said, “Not too much has changed.”