Call for Remote Learning until Vaccinations are fully administered

We, the members of United Campus Workers, fear for the health and safety of LSU’s students, faculty and staff given the University’s current plan and protocol for returning to campus this fall is based on outdated information about both COVID itself and earlier projections of its spread. Due to the Delta variant of COVID, we are now in the middle (or even early stages) of an almost incomprehensible surge that was not clearly predicted in advance. We have also learned that the ability of vaccines to prevent spread by vaccinated people is negligible during the first week of infection (medRxiv) and that vaccine efficacy, while vastly useful, is not as strong as hoped for. Further, yet another potentially more lethal variant of concern, Lambda, has recently presented itself in Louisiana. Previously, that variant accounted for a case-fatality rate of nearly 10% (1 in 10) in Peru and may evade antibodies produced by available vaccines. From this we must assertively incorporate an increased wariness about unknown developments which may well still lie ahead. 

Therefore, we demand that the University take the following measures to better protect everyone on campus and the surrounding community.

  • Remote work and class attendance be made available to all faculty, staff, and grad workers who believe they need it such as those with vulnerable children and adults in their homes. Fortunately, the University community has, by now, gained an extremely good grip on how to conduct academic enterprise remotely.

    • The current remote work policy is inadequate. While immunocompromised employees can receive ADA accommodations to work from home, those with vulnerable family members are having difficulty receiving permission to work remotely because the University has not provided guidelines for deans and unit heads to follow: many deans and unit heads believe that they lack the authority to make such a determination. 

    • To provide transparency and to ensure compliance with the established university operating procedure during an unprecedented national health crisis, the LSU Interim Executive Vice President and Provost, Matthew Lee, and the LSU Office of Academic Affairs must provide the entire LSU community with a list that names each dean or other administrator who has signature authority for FASOP: HR 03 Flexwork Agreement requests.

  • Essential workers such as custodians and those in facility maintenance and residential life whose jobs cannot be performed remotely must receive hazard pay amounting to at least 25% of their regular salaries. Hazard pay for workers who cannot work remotely is necessary to offset the increasing economic inequalities that existed before, and continue to worsen during this pandemic. 

  • The University must follow CDC guidance for mitigating the spread of COVID in areas of substantial and high transmission. “In the context of substantial or high community transmission (Tables 2 and 3) CDC recommends universal entry screening and expanded serial screening testing at least twice weekly if sufficient testing capacity is available (source).” 

    • Two weeks before classes begin, both Louisiana at large and EBR Parish are classified as at “severe risk” of community transmission (The New York Times), making LSU’s current plan to implement monthly testing for unvaccinated students both a disgrace and embarrassment. 

  • Finally, the University must use a robust and verifiable method to determine that students, faculty, and staff are vaccinated or have received a negative Covid test every two weeks. Given what is at stake, the honor system to report this vital information is insufficient.

Humbled by the rapid emergence of Delta, we cannot know what is to come. Thus it is unethical to subject our community to what is, at core, an experiment. We cannot compare ourselves neutrally to institutions in other parts of the country as Louisiana is a global epicenter for the pandemic: our state itself currently has a higher infection rate than any nation in the world other than Fiji. Now that the school year is slated to begin, our state is experiencing a worse surge in infections than we were in March 2020 when LSU closed entirely. The Delta variant is twice as infectious as previous variants, and state medical authorities are warning that hospitals are so overwhelmed that care might have to be rationed (The Advocate). Thus, we demand a plan that is ethically and practically responsive and appropriately conservative. 

The LSU community deserves the highest standard of care and concern based on the most protective response to emerging data, cognizance of potential threats and the expertise of respected epidemiologists and immunologists. Rather than fantasizing a neat and happy ending to COVID, we must all look squarely in the eye that, despite our collective longing, the story is still unfolding, and then we must act accordingly.