Virginia’s Liberty University began housing hundreds of returning students last week as the state’s governor announced closures of all K-12 schools through at least the academic year, as well as the closures of all non-essential businesses.
As the university prepared to open last week, Mr Fallwell said he believed he is “protecting” students by keeping them on campus together and that the students are “glad to be back” after spring break. He told the campus news service: “I was joking about how they pretty much had the whole place to themselves, and told all of them to enjoy it.”
Officials in Lynchburg, Virginia, where the university is located, did not approve the campus reopening.
The decision to reopen the campus follows his frequent praise of the Trump administration’s response to the virus and comments that undermined the threat.
He said: “Thank God [Donald Trump] is managing this Corona Flu like you would expect from a successful CEO v a career politician!”
Earlier this month, Mr Falwell appeared on Fox News to falsely compare the coronavirus pandemic to the flu-like H1N1 outbreak in 2009, saying that “it’s just strange to me how so many are overreacting” to the virus. “There was not the same level of hype. You just didn’t see it on the news 24/7 and it makes you wonder if there’s a political reason for that.”
Of the nearly 2,000 students who returned to campus last week, 800 have already left, according to a university statement.
The university — founded by Mr Falwell’s father — enrols roughly 100,000 students, nearly half of which are undergraduates. Nearly 60 per cent of Liberty’s students live on campus. The private university has amassed more than $2bn in investments and endowments over the last several years.
In a statement, the university said it is “not aware of any students in its residence halls testing positive for Covid-19 or, in fact, being tested at all, much less any residence hall students having sufficient symptoms of Covid-19 prompting the need to get tested” following a report in The New York Times. The statement said The Times published a “false and misleading story” though it confirmed that at least 10 students were asked to quarantine after exhibiting symptoms or being nearby possibly infected people.
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The statement said that four students who had been in the New York area were told to “self-quarantine” in a “housing annexe” in a hotel a few miles from campus, which the university had obtained for treating sick students. Two agreed to the quarantine and two others “opted to return to their permanent residence,” according to the university.
Three other students who were in “close contact” with those students also are quarantined in the hotel.
They were not tested. The university said that the quarantines are “precautionary and not based on any symptoms” of the virus.
Another “off-campus student” with a fever and a cough was tested and “advised to self-isolate” pending the results but “he elected to return to his permanent residence after testing instead,” the university reported.
Testing results from another student came back negative.
A recently graduated student also was “advised to self-isolate” based on his reported symptoms while awaiting his test results.
Mr Falwell told The New York Times that the university “will be notifying the community as deemed appropriate and required by law” in response to the possible infections.
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