By Adrian Dubose
LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE--LSU said Wednesday that it will encourage but not require the 40,000 students on its campuses across the state to be vaccinated against the coronavirus before attending fall classes.
Instead, students can either submit proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID test when they arrive on campus for classes starting August 23. Students will have to wear masks to class, and unvaccinated students will be required to take monthly COVID tests.
Although an LSU safety and medical committee recommended last week that the school cut class sizes by 50% to slow the surging Delta variant of the virus, LSU plans to only make that reduction temporarily for classes with 100 students or more during peak infection periods.
The plan, announced by new president William F. Tate IV, is likely to anger faculty members, who have been seeking permission to decide whether to move other classes online or teach them in hybrid fashion, with half of the students alternating between attending in person or watching online to provide social distancing.
Dr. Ravi Rau, who has taught physics at LSU for 47 years, said waiting a month between COVID tests for students “is ridiculously too long.” He said the tests should be administered at least weekly to contain outbreaks.
He also noted that the nation’s premier science journal, SCIENCE, recommended mandating COVID vaccines for students.
“But I guess it falls on non-scientific deaf ears at LSU,” Dr. Rau said.
The UL System, which has 95,000 students at nine universities, plans similar rules for the fall.
Given opposition from Republican politicians, including the threat of a lawsuit by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, LSU and UL leaders decided not to mandate the vaccines before they receive full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, as Tulane, Xavier and other private universities have done.
LSU and the UL system have asked the Louisiana Department of Health to add COVID vaccines to a list of required inoculations for students as soon as the vaccines receive final FDA approval.
News reports on Tuesday indicated that the FDA is likely to give final approval to Pfizer’s COVID vaccines by early September. Gov. John Bel Edwards told The Advocate Wednesday that he expected the Health Department to add COVID vaccines to its mandate list for all university students as they are approved.
While saying they would continue to monitor the overall situation, LSU officials did not address how they might adjust their fall plans if the vaccines start to receive full approval that soon.
The mask mandate on LSU’s campuses in Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Eunice and elsewhere will stay in place indoors at all times, except when individuals are alone in their offices. Masks also are required outdoors when within 50 feet of building entrances.
LSU said it could require more frequent COVID tests for students living on campus if wastewater tests at dormitories or Greek Life houses suggest high levels of the virus.
It also will limit indoor events with more than 100 attendees to 50% of capacity.
The LSU plan says that unvaccinated students should quarantine if they test positive for the virus. But it does not provide any mechanism for informing other students who were in contact with them.
About 30% of LSU's students have reported being vaccinated, compared to 95% at Tulane.
Meredith Veldman, a history professor at LSU, questioned whether LSU's plan meets CDC guidelines for social distancing during the virus surge.
She also said that it would be very difficult to teach a class of 100 or more students in person, suddenly shift to hybrid instruction during an outbreak and then switch back again.
"It takes an enormous amount of time and energy and thought to shift a course from in-person to hybrid or remote," she said. "We can't just do it overnight (and then shift back again two weeks later)."