Thousands of students are set to return to LSU's campus even as the state's hospitals buckle under the weight of record-setting COVID cases, and some faculty and students are questioning how the university will enforce its pandemic rules.

LSU hasn't mandated COVID vaccines, but it is requiring students to submit proof to an online entry verification portal of a vaccination, a negative test result in the last five days or a positive test within the last 90 days.

As of Thursday, 6,203 students submitted their COVID information to the university. By Aug. 22 — the day before classes start — the remaining 24,000 students are supposed to submit theirs.

Protocol says students have to present emails acknowledging their information has been received to enter campus. But how is LSU going to enforce that plan?

LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said the university does not expect to check each person’s entry confirmation. He said security personnel will be scattered throughout campus to confirm that students are authorized to be there.

“We wouldn’t logistically be able to check each student each and every day to verify that they’ve done the symptom checker or have provided their status,” he said.

But Ballard said students should follow the protocol because "on any given day, they could be checked to make sure they are in compliance."

"This is part of the personal responsibility we all share during this time to protect ourselves and others," Ballard said. "Gov. [John Bel] Edwards has said throughout the pandemic that we won’t be able to enforce our way through it, and this is a similar situation."

LSU handles between 6,000 and 7,000 incoming students’ immunization records each year. That's approximately one-fifth of the roughly 30,000 student records the school is trying to keep track of this semester.

Nickolas Gordon, a senior majoring in communications, scoffed when he heard about LSU's plan. Last semester, he recalls seeing one security guard stationed in front of the student union.

“Students just avoid them,” Gordon said. “If they’re at one entrance, we just go in through the back. Sometimes there’s one at the door to the first floor, but there’s no one checking at the second floor. So we go to the second floor.”

Gordon said he hasn’t ever been tested for COVID, and he was hesitant to get the vaccine due to an adverse reaction a flu shot gave him several years ago. He made a vaccine appointment after reading LSU’s new COVID policy for unvaccinated students.

“I don’t want to get tested once a month,” Gordon said. “That’s a lot of work, so I’ll just go get vaccinated. Plus, they’re going to mandate it in a few weeks anyway.”

LSU President William Tate IV has said the university will enforce a vaccine mandate when the FDA approves it. Ballard said that should take effect “in the coming weeks.”

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

More than 700 public and private colleges across the United States require COVID immunization as of Aug. 14, a measure that several federal judges have agreed is constitutional. 

When the school’s entry protocol was put to the test for move-in weekend, many faculty members were not impressed with the initial results. Several students who did not provide entry requirements wondered if they would be allowed to move into their dorms before the results of their COVID tests came back. 

Some staffers said no. Others said sure, go ahead. 

The policy, according to LSU Associate Director of Communications for Residential Life Catherine David, was to allow students to move in before their tests ruled out COVID.

Robert Mann, a mass communication professor at LSU, said the miscommunication is more than just an organizational problem.

“Logistical nightmare doesn’t even begin to describe this,” he said. “This is reckless disregard for public health. How can we expect (LSU) to enforce anything if they can’t get everyone on the same page?”

Some professors say they're trying to avoid teaching in person because they don't trust the reopening procedures to stop COVID. Several requested remote teaching accommodations through the Americans with Disabilities Act. But approval is not guaranteed. 

Jerry Ceppos, another mass communication professor, said his ADA request was approved, but not every faculty member is given the same response.

“We don’t know what the criteria to get approved are,” Ceppos said. "We don’t know what qualifies a person to teach remotely.”

Rosemary Peters-Hill, French studies professor, said she is waiting for her request to come back. 

“I know people have been denied,” she said. "But I don’t know why.”

Peters-Hill said her classroom in Hodges Hall seats 15 students, and she is scheduled to teach 17. 

"There was no room for social distancing in there before adding two chairs," she said. “It’s like no one cares that we can’t follow CDC recommendations in these classrooms.”

Gordon said that, while he’s happy to have some semblance of normalcy in classrooms this semester, he’s not getting comfortable just yet. 

“I give it two weeks before we have to close campus again,” he said. “There’s no way [LSU] can keep the virus away with the rules it has now. And I think they know that.”


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