Interim President Thomas Galligan confirmed Monday that University policies regarding COVID-19 will not be altered by the Louisiana legislative special session unless the University is directly mandated to do so.
Legislators are seeking to remove many COVID-19 regulations Gov. John Bel Edwards established throughout the duration of the pandemic, such as the mask mandate and building capacity restrictions. They are also undergoing discussions about limiting the governor’s authority to declare a state of emergency beyond 30 days and to allow the legislature to revoke that declaration at any point in time.
Currently, the governor has singlehanded authority to declare states of emergency and enact executive orders, mandate and statewide guidelines pertaining to that emergency. There is no limit on how long a state of emergency can last under Louisiana law and no requirement that legislators be brought into the discussion on statewide policies.
Rep. Tony Bacala said that over the course of the pandemic, legislative power in Louisiana has been negligible, unlike other states which make provisions for emergency situations which includes input from the legislative branch.
“As legislators, we feel like we need to have a seat at the table,” Bacala said. “Right now we’re totally excluded from any decision making process, any oversight. It’s important that as an equal branch of government we have at least some input into the executive orders and to what degree we impose restrictions on people and how long an emergency lasts.”
Bacala said he would support revoking the statewide mask mandate but would like to see more data from the governor regarding the policy.
“The collective opinion of the legislature needs to be heard, and it needs to have some weight of authority under the law,” Bacala said.
Galligan said that the University is monitoring the session closely, it currently has no plans to change any policies unless the bills are directed at the University. University administration plans to follow the Roadmap to Fall for the rest of the semester.
“We monitor it, we watch it, and whatever they do, I’m going to wear my mask unless told not to,” Galligan said. “I’m going to say that our students have to wear masks in class because the science and the data indicate that masks work.”
Galligan explained that through the wastewater monitoring system LSU implemented, researchers noticed a decrease in COVID-19 cases 14 days after the Baton Rouge mask mandate. Similar results followed the statewide mandate.
The wastewater monitoring team, led by pathobiological sciences professor Konstantin Kousoulas and environmental engineering professor John Pardue, collects samples from around the state as well as across campus. It can detect traces of COVID-19 up to 10 days before an individual begins displaying symptoms.
“If we change [our policies] it will be based upon the science, upon our data and our particular condition,” Galligan said.
Assuming some policies will change throughout the state as a result of the special session, Galligan said there are concerns about off-campus activity and how it might impact others at the University.
“I would continue to urge students and everyone in our community, whether there’s a mandate or not, to choose to wear a mask,” Galligan said.