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Universities across the state have shifted to online classes, which is not as easy as it sounds. LSU starts today, March 30, 2020. LSU has been shut down a couple of weeks due to the Coronavirus.

LSU has braced for a gradual re-opening of its campus activities in Baton Rouge starting May 18, which will only include "critical personnel" in a "very limited capacity," according to a plan released by the university Thursday.

The plan, titled Phase 1, is set to follow all state and regional guidelines in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, and it aims to return a 25% maximum of the school's employees to work "slowly and safely," prepare the university's buildings and "develop plans for occupancy," the two-page document said.

Classes will still remain online.

The Middleton Library, the Veterinary Medicine and Law libraries, teaching labs, the UREC and the student union and bookstore will remain closed to users.

All on-campus camps and events are cancelled through the summer, but LSU interim president Tom Galligan said the public should view Phase 1 with optimism that the university "can begin to move forward and hopefully be back fully in the fall."

LSU officials have constructed multiple phases behind the scenes, Galligan said, because, although they cannot predict the course of coronavirus, future medical advice and how Gov. John Bel Edwards' stay-at-home order will be amended, they cannot be unprepared when the opportunity to re-open arrives.

LSU's Phase 1 plans hinge on the expectation Edwards will adjust his stay-at-home order, which is set to expire on May 15, and, if Edwards doesn't, Galligan said Phase 1 will be pushed back to a later date.

LSU's leadership staff planned out the phase's initial steps along with the school's Emergency Operations Center, the document said, and it notes that EOC officials will send specific instructions to the school's deans and department heads on how to determine which specific people can begin coming back to campus.

Those specific people, Galligan said, will be chosen by assessing the person's "critical function" and whether the physical space in which they're working allows them to comply with physical distancing guidelines.

Lab researchers will make up the large majority of LSU's first returning employees, Galligan said.

It'll be an early step for LSU, the first brick in reconstructing a campus environment with several separate functions. So, is Phase 1 crucial for a full return to campus come the fall semester?

In principal, Galligan said, yes; but it isn't "absolutely crucial" that Phase 1 be implemented on May 18. It could happen in June. The beginning of July. 

The issue, Galligan said, isn't so much Can LSU physically prepare for students to arrive?, as much as it's, Is LSU going to have the confidence that they can have students on campus without health threats? 

"I'm an optimist and I think we're going to be able to do that," Galligan said. "But, I'm not going to put the health of our students or our faculty or our staff in jeopardy."

Athletic activities are tied into Southeastern Conference leadership, Galligan said, and any LSU decisions will follow what the conference agrees upon for safety.

LSU's plan comes at a time where institutions of higher learning are all weighing resuming campus activities versus the ebbing status of the coronavirus that once surged exponentially across the country.

All the major institutions in Louisiana have since cancelled on-campus activities. Spring semester classes moved online. Commencements were postponed.

Meanwhile, school administrators have been working behind the scenes to prepare for a possible full return in the fall semester.

The nine schools within the University of Louisiana System are planning for a fall return, system president Jim Henderson said, and their gradual actions will follow Edwards' potential removal of restrictions over the next several weeks.

"We're moving as hard as we can to return to some sense of normalcy," Henderson said. "It's with that overriding principle in play that we've got to take care of our people."

Tulane University, based in hard-hit New Orleans, and Southern University are both still examining scenarios.

"In repopulating our campus, the health and safety of our community cannot be compromised in any way," Tulane spokesman Michael Strecker said in a statement.

According to LSU's Phase 1 document, the employees who return to campus must maintain physical distancing and hygiene practices: washing hands; using hand sanitizer; avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; wearing face coverings when within six feet of others; increasing the frequency of cleaning.


Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.