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University of Colorado Boulder students can expect a smoother and more social spring semester, university leaders said in a community town hall Friday, because the campus is responding to issues that made for a rocky fall.

CU Boulder’s fall semester has been marked by upheaval as surging coronavirus cases caused public health officials to enact no-gathering orders and students and faculty had to switch to all remote learning.

Not having a traditional spring break is an effort to prevent a similar surge in cases, Provost Russell Moore and interim Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Rourke said Friday.

If students travel for spring break and spread coronavirus, and there is another spike in cases followed by stringent public health orders, “that would be very, very taxing on mental health,” O’Rourke said.

“This decision is not an easy one, but it is one that’s in the best interest from a physical health standpoint and in being able to avoid those measures that most burdened mental health throughout the course of this semester,” he said.

CU Boulder’s spring semester will begin Jan. 14, three days later than normal, and the campus will have two additional mid-week “wellness days” on Feb. 17 and March 25.

Students are not returning to campus after Thanksgiving in November and will finish the semester doing all remote learning, and a town hall attendee asked campus leaders why that isn’t the case with spring break.

While there are only a few weeks of the classes left after Thanksgiving, spring break is in the middle of the semester, said Katherine Eggert, senior vice provost and associate vice chancellor for academic planning and assessment.

“We felt it would be very disruptive to send students home to spend weeks and weeks in remote mode,” Eggert said. “The second factor is really important, and that is we are having in-person classes as well as hybrid and remote classes. When a student signs up for an in-person class they should be able to have that in person, and a faculty member should be able to continue to teach in person,” she said.

Campus leaders are also working to address part of what made the fall semester so difficult for students, like professors adding assignments because classes are online, minimal social events and gaps in guidance for coronavirus.

Campus leaders are communicating with colleges, schools and departments about not piling on work just because it’s a remote class, Moore said.

“I’m confident that as we build this into the expectations for the spring semester, we won’t have this kind of anomaly that showed up in the fall semester,” Moore said.

Students can also expect additional campus events and programs, Moore and O’Rourke said, and university leaders are working with Boulder County Public Health to bring back intramural sports.

The university is also taking steps to improve its handling of coronavirus cases, including taking over contact tracing for all student, faculty and staff members and keeping the Wardenburg Health Center open on Saturday.

Wardenburg will be open on Saturdays starting Oct. 31 and will be open each Saturday until at least Nov. 21, said spokesperson Joshua Lindenstein.

“We will re-evaluate our plans at that point to determine whether the Saturday hours are still needed after students go fully remote for the semester,” he wrote in an email.

The campus is still working out details of when Saturday tests will be posted on the university’s dashboard, he said. The campus has added three case investigators to take on additional student, faculty and staff coronavirus cases, and there are enough contact tracing resources in place to handle the increase.

As for identifying cases affiliated with CU Boulder — but aren’t tested on campus — Lindenstein said the university will work closely with Boulder County Public Health.

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