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University of Colorado Boulder students will return to campus for a mix of in-person, hybrid and online learning Feb. 15 after starting the semester with all remote learning.

The decision follows the plan proposed by campus leadership in December, when Chancellor Phil DiStefano announced the spring semester would be all online for at least the first month. Students living on campus will be able to move back into residence halls by appointment starting on Feb. 7, according to the letter sent to campus Wednesday by Provost Russell Moore and Interim Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Rourke. The spring semester starts Thursday.

CU Boulder will also expand coronavirus surveillance testing this semester, with required weekly tests for all faculty, staff and students who will be on campus.

Campus leaders have gradually expanded who is regularly tested for coronavirus, starting in August with required surveillance tests for students living on campus, then adding essential workers and optional surveillance tests for off-campus students and other employees. The university does not know the exact number of people who will be required to take weekly surveillance tests, O’Rourke said during a news conference Wednesday, though it’s the widest range of the campus community to be included in mandatory testing so far.

CU Boulder can currently process between 20,000 and 25,000 surveillance tests per week, said spokesperson Melanie Marquez Parra, and additional equipment has been ordered to support testing in the spring semester.

Surveillance testing will still be available to immediate family or household members of faculty, staff and students, as long as the campus has the capacity to offer them.

University of Colorado Boulder freshman twin sisters Hettie, left, and Hallie Hill move their belongings out of their dorms on Wednesday in Boulder. The sisters are moving back in with their family in Greeley and will attend classes at CU Boulder virtually this semester. Students who have elected to live on campus in the spring semester can set up appointments to move in starting Feb. 7. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

There will likely be an increase in coronavirus cases when students return to campus, Boulder County Public Health spokesperson Chana Goussetis said, which is what would happen with any large influx of people into the community.

“However, we also know that students have a better understanding of what is expected of them and the consequences for not following public health requirements,” she said.

CU Boulder will be able to better respond to a surge in coronavirus cases this semester, O’Rourke said, due to expanded testing and better partnerships with the city and county. A local response group includes campus, city, county and public health officials who meet for regular briefings and policy discussions. The university will also continue to discipline students who don’t follow public health and campus coronavirus rules, O’Rourke said.

One point of uncertainty is what would cause Boulder County to move back to level red on the state’s coronavirus dial, which would reduce in-person classes and severely limit student gatherings. The state moved Boulder and other counties to level orange in January, despite the counties not meeting the required metrics for fewer restrictions.

“We’re unclear currently about what exactly might shift the county back to level red,” O’Rourke said. “There are still counties throughout the Denver metro area that their infection rates would be significantly above what would qualify for level red. We’re trying to get some clarity from (county) officials about what would result in that kind of shift so we can be prepared, but we don’t have absolute insight into that right now.”

It’s also too soon to say what the fall 2021 semester will look like on campus, Moore said, particularly given that it’s not clear when supplies of the coronavirus vaccine will increase.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to provide more robust in-person experiences on campus, but again we need to be tied to the COVID dial in partnership with Boulder County Public Health to make sure first and foremost we’re defending the health and safety of our campus community and the community in which we exist,” Moore said.

University of Colorado Boulder first year master’s student Karla Gioeannini, left, and senior undergraduate Alex Roberts spit into vials for their COVID-19 saliva surveillance tests in front of the University Memorial Center on Wednesday on campus in Boulder. The campus has ordered more testing equipment to support increased monitoring in the spring semester. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

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