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One of four COVID-19 testing PODs sits on campus near the Nicholson Gateway, Friday, August 21, 2020, on LSU's campus in Baton Rouge, La. The testing centers will allow for a rapid testing for students, faculty and staff exclusively.

The state’s public universities will start in two weeks reporting positive COVID-19 tests by campus on the Louisiana Department of Health’s website dashboard.

Some campuses are reporting the data on their own.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette started Wednesday and LSU started two weeks ago. But the state dashboard will include all colleges and universities.

The UL campus at Lafayette reported 81 confirmed cases among students and faculty since March but none since Aug. 30.

UL Lafayette created the dashboard “in the interest of transparency and accuracy,” said Dr. Jaimie Hebert, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. The numbers will be updated by 5 p.m. daily to reflect positive, documented cases confirmed the previous day. Cases reported between Friday and Sunday will be posted on the following Monday.

LSU reported 366 positive tests – up by 137 cases – from 3,544 tests since Aug. 15.

Meanwhile, Nicholls State University in Thibodaux has quarantined 14 students.

The university announced Tuesday that “a group of students hosting an off-campus, non-university sponsored event that resulted in four students testing positive for the virus. As a result, we have reached out to all those identified as being in attendance, which has resulted in 14 students in quarantine.”

Higher education and health department officials met with the Board of Regents Wednesday to cobble out the protocols needed to ensure that the tests are reported the same way so that the information would be comparable.

The LSU system, the Southern University system, the University of Louisiana system and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System have institutions on 30 campuses scattered across the state. (Another 13 campuses house private universities, like Tulane University in New Orleans, and seminaries, such as the St. Joseph Seminary College near Covington, don't have to be included on the Department of Health dashboard but could volunteer to do so.)

The Health Department is putting together the higher education dashboard, which will be ready on Wednesday, Sept. 9, according to Regents Deputy Commissioner Meg Casper Sunstrom. The institutions will start sending their numbers on Sept. 11 and they will be posted on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

Then the statistics updated every Wednesday from now on.

“Our colleges and universities are grateful for the partnership we’ve established and maintained with LDH and the Office of Public Health throughout the pandemic, especially as it relates to guiding our campus safety protocols as we continue education and training,” said Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed. “By sharing case numbers, by campus, we provide not only transparency but also actionable data to inform decision making as we work diligently to keep our students and campus communities safe.”

Interim President Tom Galligan said the increase LSU charted Wednesday was eye-opening.

“If it keeps going up, we’re going to go remote,” Galligan said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “I’m not shocked. We knew there would be positive tests. …That said, I am concerned.”

But officials are far from making that decision. Galligan noted that LSU has only been counting cases for 10 days. He’s hoping the numbers will level out soon.

Other variables, such as absenteeism, quarantine and hospital capacities, and how the virus is spreading in the community are all part of the calculus.

LSU Baton Rouge has about 33,000 students this semester, about 7,000 of whom live on campus, he said.

Thirty-six students are in quarantine because they were close to someone infected and 46 are in isolation as the COVID-19 runs its course in them.

A cluster of students in two residence halls tested positive, Galligan said, adding that he would not publicly disclose which dorms. But everyone on the floor where an infected student lived is being asked to test.

Galligan is pushing all the students, faculty, and staff to voluntarily have themselves tested for the COVID-19. In addition to the campus health center and state agencies, LSU hired a contractor to perform tests.

“If we don’t get more people going to get tested, we will go down the mandatory route,” he said.

A number of universities around the country are requiring students and faculty take tests. Among Southeastern Conference schools, the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Vanderbilt University in Nashville have mandatory tests.

In the meantime, students face a myriad of ways to push student into volunteering, such as withholding football tickets until students show they have been tested. Details of how the Tiger Stadium will be laid and how football games will be conducted will be released “very soon,” perhaps in a few days Galligan said.

Galligan said four students organizations have been brought up on charges of failing to meet the university’s code of conduct as it pertains to restrictions put in place to mitigate COVID-19, such as holding parities with too many people and not wearing masks. He refused to identify the organizations though said only some were fraternities or sororities.

Two students and two or three student organizations are in the early stages of investigations, he added.

The organizations and students face various sanctions from loss of privileges to having to perform community service to expulsion.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.