11 Liberty University students reportedly have coronavirus symptoms after the school played down the crisis and reopened

Liberty UniversityLiberty University main residence hall
  • Liberty University’s director of student health services told The New York Times on Sunday that 11 students had reported being sick with COVID-19 symptoms.
  • He said three of the students were sent to a local hospital for testing and another eight were sent home to self-isolate.
  • The reported illnesses come after Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., defied calls to close the school’s campus, which many other universities did to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
  • University officials disputed the director of student health services, saying in a statement that no students in residence halls had “sufficient symptoms” to be tested.
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Nearly a dozen students at Virginia’s Liberty University have reported being sick with COVID-19 symptoms after the school decided to stay open while dozens of others across the country closed their campuses to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to the New York Times.

The school’s director of student health services, Dr. Thomas W. Eppes Jr., told The New York Times on Friday that of the sick students at Liberty, in Lynchburg, Virginia, three were sent to local hospitals for testing, and eight were told to self-isolate.

“We’ve lost the ability to corral this thing,” Eppes recalled telling Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr., according to the New York Times. Eppes said he did not tell Falwell to close the school.

University officials played down Eppes’ report of 11 sick students, saying in a statement that no students in residence halls had “sufficient symptoms” to be tested.

“@LibertyU is being supportive and embracing its responsibility to care for students instead of running away and pushing the COVID problem off on others,” wroteFalwell on Twitter. “LU is blessed that we have no cases on campus but is committed to providing proper care regardless of what happens!”

Eppes has since revised the 11-person figure, according to the Washington Post, but did not offer a different estimate for how many students have suspected cases.

Of the three students who were tested, one tested positive for the coronavirus, one negative, and one’s results were still pending at the time of the report. The student who tested positive lives off campus and lives with his family, the university said in a statement.

Falwell, an ally to President Donald Trump, came under fire last week when he reopened the Liberty’s campus despite the calls for it to close. In the days leading up to the reopening, Falwell criticised concern over the pandemic and other universities’ decisions to move classes online.

Lynchburg’s city manager says Falwell wasn’t ‘totally transparent’ about keeping the campus open.

Lynchburg City Manager Bonnie Svrcek told The Daily Beast that Falwell wasn’t “totally transparent” in reopening the school. She said she was led to believe Falwell had decided to not invite students back to campus after spring break.

“He added that some food services would remain open for on-campus international students who have not gone home and some lab classes and the school of aviation will continue,” Svrcek told The Daily Beast. “The mayor and I thanked him for this shift that we believed meant that students would be told to not come back to campus with a few exceptions.”

ReutersJerry Falwell Jr.

Falwell said that around 800 of the 1,900 students who lived in student housing opted to go home for the spring semester.

He said on Friday that he would be giving $US1,000 in credits to students who decided to withdraw from classes.

“I think we have a responsibility to our students – who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here – to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies, enjoy the room and board they have already paid for and to not interrupt their college life,” he told The News & Advance.

Virginia’s Department of Health reported that there were 1,020 COVID-19 cases in the state as of Monday morning. There have been 136 hospitalizations and 25 coronavirus-related deaths.

Falwell told The Times that he still has no plan to close the school, but would monitor developments of the coronavirus potentially spreading on campus.

“Liberty will be notifying the community as deemed appropriate and required by law,” Falwell told the Times.

A representative for Liberty University didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

This story has been updated.

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