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See COVID protocols at Louisiana colleges amid surge: Some move online, others forge ahead

Albert Herring
Tulane Public Relations

Some Louisiana colleges and universities have adjusted their spring semester plans to respond to the omicron variant, though they’re taking varying approaches.

Tulane University led the pack when it announced a day after its fall semester wrapped that it would push the spring semester back for undergraduates.

Since then, some of the state’s biggest higher education institutions have made changes to their back-to-school plans. Rather than delay the start of the semester, most are moving classes online temporarily.

All of the colleges and universities reviewed by New Orleans Public Radio currently have mask mandates.

Tulane University

Tulane announced changes to its spring semester earlier than most schools on Dec. 23, as omicron cases began to surge.

Undergraduate classes will start a week later than planned on Jan. 25 and will be in-person.

Students and staff are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and to get boosted when eligible. Tulane conducts some of the most rigorous surveillance testing in the state, and students are required to get tested regularly.

The university adopted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new quarantine and isolation guidance at the end of December and will allow students who test positive to return to the classroom if their symptoms have resolved after five days.

Tulane continues to have an indoor mask mandate, and masks are encouraged at outdoor events with more than 500 attendees. The university recommends that events be held outdoors whenever possible and has prohibited food and beverages from being served at indoor events.

Loyola University New Orleans

The university announced plans to start the semester virtually on Dec. 30 due to the aggressive surge in cases driven by the omicron variant.

Classes will begin on Jan. 18 as planned, but will be online-only through at least Jan. 31, the university’s President Tania Tetlow said in an email to students.

“For the next several weeks, many of our students, faculty and staff will end up in isolation, even if their symptoms are (hopefully) quite mild,” Tetlow said. “This makes it very difficult for us to function normally on campus during the surge and difficult for many of you to travel back.”

The change applies to all undergraduate and graduate students except for those in counseling clinical work and nursing programs that are hands-on and difficult to delay.

Housing and other basic campus functions will be available throughout January for students that decide to return to campus prior to the start of in-person classes. Students must provide a recent negative test result before moving back in, Tetlow said.

Students are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID and are expected to provide proof of a booster shot, if eligible, by Jan. 10. Masks continue to be mandatory on campus.

Aubry Procell
Louisiana State University Tiger Stadium on Nov. 14, 2021.

Louisiana State University

The university will reinstate its mask mandate for the start of the spring semester, after lifting it in November.

Face coverings will be required indoors as well as within 50 feet of buildings, Louisiana State University President William Tate said in a Jan. 1 letter to staff and students.

Students and staff are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and are encouraged to get boosted before returning to campus. Exemptions are allowed, and individuals who are not vaccinated are required to test monthly.

The university has the highest COVID-19 vaccination rate of any public university in the state at 84%, according to Tate.

In-person classes will resume on Jan. 18 as planned, though instructors can opt to move their classes online part or full time for at least the first two weeks of the semester.

“At the end of the two-week period, if the community and campus COVID-19 positivity rates are below 10%, the campus will resume scheduled course delivery,” Tate said.

Students living on campus are required to test negative for COVID no more than 5 days prior to returning.

The university plans to monitor COVID levels in on-campus wastewater, like it did during the fall semester, and residence halls and buildings with high incidences will be required to test their students regularly.

Southern University at New Orleans

Spring classes start Jan. 18 and will be held online-only through at least the end of the month. Student move-in starts Jan. 14, and employees are required to work remotely until then.

“By continuing to follow all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, we aim to facilitate and practice safety precautions,” James Ammons, the school’s chancellor, said in a statement.

The Southern University System requires students to provide proof of vaccination, file for a medical or religious exemption or submit a letter of dissent. Proof of vaccination was due Dec. 8, and exemptions and dissents were due Dec. 3.

Employees who are not vaccinated are required to provide a negative COVID test result before returning in-person. Masks are mandatory on campus.

Southern University and A&M College

The start of in-person classes, originally scheduled for Jan. 12, has been delayed until Jan. 26. Classes originally set to be online-only will begin as scheduled.

Students and staff are required to provide proof of full vaccination no later than Jan. 7, unless they’ve received a medical or religious exemption or have successfully submitted a letter of dissent.

Unvaccinated individuals were required to get tested this week using a PCR test and share their results with the university and will also be required to test regularly throughout the semester.

Southern University Law Center, Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Southern University at New Orleans, and Southern University Shreveport are all following the same vaccination and testing requirements.

Aubri Juhasz
Dinah Cador sits near Dillard University's Avenue of the Oaks after moving into her dorm on Aug. 14, 2020.

Dillard University

The city’s smallest HBCU, with less than 1,300 students, will start the spring semester on-time on Jan. 10, but has moved its first week of classes online.

Students can return to campus as early as Jan. 7, and classes resume in-person Jan. 18.

Dillard requires staff members, students and visitors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and there’s a mask mandate on campus. The deadline for students to submit proof of vaccination was Jan. 3.

Students and staff are also required to submit a negative rapid or PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before returning to campus.

The university is considering adopting new quarantine and isolation guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and plans to release more information in the next few days.

Xavier University of Louisiana

Xavier has significantly updated its spring reopening plan in response to the omicron variant, according to a letter from the university President Reynold Verret dated Dec. 30.

Classes start online-only on Jan. 10 and could resume in-person on Jan. 24 if health trends have improved by then, Verret said. There will be no classes on Jan. 21 so that students can move back into their dorms, now that their return timeline has been pushed back.

Hands-on graduate programs will be allowed to resume in-person as planned, and special exemptions may be provided to students who would like to learn online temporarily instead.

Staff and students are required to get the COVID-19 vaccine booster prior to returning to campus or as soon as they are eligible, Verret said. Full vaccination is required, though religious and medical exemptions are available subject to university approval.

Students are required to provide a negative PCR test result taken within 48 hours of returning to campus. Increased surveillance testing will take place, and students are required to complete the university’s health screening app daily.

Masks are required indoors, and social events have been suspended.

Delgado Community College

Classes have been moved online from the start of the semester on Jan. 15 until Jan. 30, with the exception of clinicals, labs and other hands-on courses that cannot be completed virtually.

After Jan. 30, class sections with more than 30 students may opt for a hybrid format where 50% of students are in the classroom during high infection periods. When infection rates are low, classes are expected to serve all students in-person.

Students, staff and visitors are required to use the college's pre-screening app before arriving on campus, and instructors require students to show proof they’ve completed the daily process at the start of each class.

Masks are mandatory indoors, and on-campus indoor gatherings have been canceled for the time being.

The University of New Orleans

Spring classes are scheduled to begin in-person on Jan. 26, and as of Wednesday, no operational changes had been made.

“As we watch the data over the next few weeks, we will promptly communicate to you if any changes are necessary,” Carolyn Golz, the university’s dean of students, said in an email to students on Jan. 3. “However, we anticipate that classes and other in-person activities will begin as scheduled.”

Students are required to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a waiver prior to the start of classes. The university is recommending that students get tested before returning to campus, but it is not required.

All people, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask indoors on campus.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s audio stories.

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