LSU has quietly shifted its policy for COVID-19 quarantine on campus. Students are now allowed to quarantine in their own dorm rooms under certain circumstances. They no longer have to go to special quarantine housing offered on campus or to hotel rooms in Baton Rouge.
This means some students told to quarantine because they have been exposed to COVID-19 could be living in residence halls with students who have not been exposed to the virus.
When LSU began the fall semester last month, the school said it would house students who had been infected with COVID-19 or exposed to someone else who had the virus in housing that was separate and apart from other students. But Interim President Thomas Galligan said LSU has shifted that policy over the past few weeks.
“We talked to the health professionals about sheltering-in-place and they said that was OK to do. So we are confident,” Galligan said in a group call with reporters last Wednesday.
There are some restrictions on quarantining in one’s own dorm room. Students have to have access to a bathroom and shower that aren’t shared with other people who haven’t been exposed to COVID-19, Galligan said. If their bathroom and showers are shared with people not under coronavirus restrictions, then they should move to the campus quarantine housing or a hotel room provided by LSU.
Students also have the option of going home to parents or guardians if they get sick or have to isolate, but LSU is providing its own housing options to discourage them from doing so. Students going back to their permanent homes could cause the wider spread of COVID-19 in their home communities, health experts have said.
LSU did not specify which health experts it had consulted before allowing students to quarantine in their own dorm rooms, but Susan Hassig, an associated professor at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said the accommodations sound inadequate. Universities should only be using isolated dorms or housing for people infected and exposed to COVID-19.
“People who are potentially infected should not be walking the halls with people who are not. That is what happened on the Diamond Princess,” she said, referring to the cruise ship that had a massive COVID-19 outbreak this past spring.
LSU “moved faster” to arrange self-quarantine situations in student dorms, Galligan said, because of Hurricane Laura. Baton Rouge hotels have less capacity for LSU students in quarantine now because they are also housing Hurricane Laura evacuees from Southwest Louisiana. The evacuees are expected to need hotel space for at least another few weeks.
“The hotel issue has become a little bit complex because of our many, many friends from Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana who were forced to evacuate. So hotels have been very, very crowded,” Galligan said.
Nevertheless, Galligan said he is confident LSU has enough capacity to quarantine and isolate all people living on campus who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus. That’s a significant metric. If the university were to run out of space to quarantine and isolate people, it might have to roll back some of its opening plans.
LSU is currently housing students on campus, allowing in-person classes and planning to have fans attend the school’s first football game at the end of the month. Other universities with large COVID-19 outbreaks have been forced to restrict student housing, revert to online classes and cancel sporting events.
“Our ability to continue to safely quarantine and isolate is one of the things that we really watch because it’s a really important factor,” Galligan said.
People who test positive for COVID-19 typically have to stay isolated for 10 days. People who have been exposed to COVID-19 have to quarantine for two weeks. As of last week, LSU had 77 people who tested positive for COVID-19 in isolation and 108 people who had been exposed to the virus in quarantine.
Those people are spread across dorms, special on-campus COVID-19 housing and hotel rooms, said university spokesman Ernie Ballard. Whether they are housed in hotel rooms near Hurricane Laura evacuees or other guests is up to the individual hotel, Ballard said.
Students, faculty and staff living off campus or who have gone home for quarantine and isolation aren’t included in those numbers.
As of Monday, LSU has tracked a total of 754 positive COVID-19 cases among its students, faculty and staff since Aug. 15. That includes people who voluntarily report their coronavirus status to the school as well as people who get tested through sites offered on campus. Overall, the school had tracked the results of 4,142 tests as of last Wednesday.
LSU is monitoring its wastewater for COVID-19 infections. By tracking the amount of virus in the wastewater, it hopes to flag dormitories, residence halls and Greek housing that might be seeing an uptick in infections.