BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana State University students will have to wear masks in classrooms and at campus events this fall to help fight the spread of COVID-19, but won't have to be vaccinated to return to school, university officials announced Wednesday.
LSU will require students to either have proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test within five days of arriving on campus. It also will require monthly tests for unvaccinated students. Some students living on campus may be required to take more frequent tests, university system President William Tate said.
The decision against requiring students to get the immunization was certain to anger some faculty who had pushed for mandatory coronavirus vaccines before returning to in-person instruction. Tate only encouraged vaccination instead.
“It is the single most effective thing you can do to help us restore ‘normal’ operations to the university,” Tate wrote in a message sent to faculty, staff and students.
Wednesday’s announcement came as Louisiana reported 4,778 new coronavirus cases, 44 more deaths and 135 more hospitalizations — pushing the state's daily COVID-19 hospitalization count to an all-time high of 2,247.
Hospitals under stress are getting federal help to arrange extra staffing.
Louisiana’s largest hospital, Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in Baton Rouge, saw assistance arrive Monday from a disaster medical response team of nearly three dozen health care workers. On Wednesday, Baton Rouge General started receiving a staffing boost as well, with more than 100 medical workers arriving that it said will help its hospitals and other health care facilities in the area.
The additional staff includes doctors, registered nurses, respiratory therapists and certified nursing assistants. With their help, Baton Rouge General said it will be able to open up as many as 110 more hospital beds to care for COVID-19 patients.
Gov. John Bel Edwards continues to urge people to get vaccinated. And he said a statewide indoor masking mandate that he ordered, which took effect Wednesday, was “the least onerous we can to do in order to try to curb transmission and give some breathing room back to our hospitals.”
At a town hall meeting hosted by The Advocate newspaper, the Democratic governor said he doesn’t intend to return to further restrictions on businesses.
“This is a very targeted and limited approach that we believe will be effective,” Edwards said of his mask mandate, which expires Sept. 1 but could be extended.
Asked if he intended to require proof of vaccination against the coronavirus for entrance into large events or New Orleans Saints games, Edwards said: “We’re not entertaining that here in Louisiana. But we do want people to be vaccinated.”
He said he would consider requiring a vaccination for state workers, but not until the FDA has given full approval to one of the coronavirus immunizations.
Meanwhile, three students at a north Louisiana medical school have joined Attorney General Jeff Landry in a lawsuit fighting that school’s vaccination requirement. The suit against the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Monroe was filed Tuesday in federal court.
The lawsuit states that the three students are being required to get vaccinated in violation of their religious beliefs.
McGill reported from New Orleans.