After LSU gave all sororities and some fraternities a 48-hour deadline to get checked for COVID-19, thousands of Greek students overwhelmed the campus’ largest testing site and jammed up traffic on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said the call for testing came after the school detected “high traces” of coronavirus in the sewage from Greek Row. And with just two days to comply, some 3,000 members of 15 Greek chapters lined up in cars to get swabbed at the school’s drive-through clinics. 

Abbie-Grace Milligan, Greek senior and vice president of student government, said she got an email at noon Thursday instructing her to get tested at one of three on-campus testing sites. She waited in line for nearly two hours on Gourrier Avenue near the UREC field testing site but left without getting swabbed.

“It was an absolute nightmare,” she said. “I saw five people run out of gas while waiting. People were even getting out of their cars to use the bathroom on the side of the road. It was madness.”

Louisiana Army National Guardsmen stationed at the Gourrier Avenue site confirmed Milligan’s observation, saying they lugged gas cans over to several cars over the course of the day.

Milligan said LSU Police Department and BRPD started directing traffic around 1 p.m. Thursday — about an hour after students learned of the testing requirement. LSU posted a notice on Twitter about the traffic jam, asking drivers to avoid the area unless they need to get tested.

“If LSU knew thousands of students were about to show up for tests, you’d think they would add extra testing sites,” Milligan said, “or at least have a better system.”

Major Chase Branch, who coordinates some testing on campus, said that he was unprepared for the meandering car caravans that descended on the site. 

“We’re equipped to handle about 400 people at a time,” Branch said, “not 3,000 people.”

He said LSU informed him earlier in the week that “a large influx” of students would need tests Thursday and Friday. By 2 p.m. Thursday, Branch said he looked out at the sea of cars in bumper-to-bumper traffic and realized he needed to come up with a new plan.

But he said it was impossible to change things up in the middle of the process, so he resigned himself to the idea that he wouldn’t be able to test every student in line.

“One girl just sat in her car crying when we closed for the day,” Branch said.

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Nurses administered around 500 COVID tests at the main site Thursday, school officials said. 

On Friday, instead of funneling cars through two lines like the day before, Branch and his team assembled four lanes with testing tables at the end of each.

Mia LeJeune, another Greek senior, said she got to the UREC fields before the site opened at 8 a.m. She said she was one of hundreds of students parked there for hours. 

"I thought I’d get there early to get it over with quickly," LeJeune said. "I was wrong."

Branch said that the morning rush lasted until 10 a.m. Four hours later, traffic eased up considerably, with cars rolling in minutes apart and the lines all but disappeared. 

“This is nothing like yesterday,” Branch said. “I actually get to breathe today.”

By 4 p.m. Friday, the site saw more than 600 cars, with most containing multiple Greeks.

Ballard said students have until 11 a.m. Saturday, the first day of Greek recruitment, to get tested.

“We are assessing the situation as it pertains to rush,” he said. “We will factor in both wastewater results and the results of individual testing in our decision.”

The number of students who got the swab wasn’t yet tallied by the end of Friday, Ballard told The Advocate.

But he said one thing is clear: those who don’t get tested can lose their right to stay on campus and participate in the in-person activities that define rush week. 


Email Caroline Savoie at CSavoie@TheAdvocate.com or follow her on Twitter at @CarolineSavo.