Liberty University denies report of returning students with coronavirus symptoms

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ/Gray News/AP) - Liberty University has denied claims from The New York Times that students were showing signs of the coronavirus after the school’s president allegedly welcomed them back after spring break in an irresponsible manner, WDBJ reports.

Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, waits for the arrival of President Donald Trump to sign an executive order on "improving free inquiry, transparency, and accountability on campus" in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 21, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

On Sunday, President Jerry Falwell, Jr., contested a report from The New York Times that claimed "nearly a dozen Liberty students were sick with symptoms that suggested COVID-19” and that “three were referred to local hospital centers for testing.”

According to the university’s response, no students in its residence halls have had “sufficient symptoms” to get tested, based on CDC guidelines.

However, one online student, who does not live on-campus and never left Lynchburg, Virginia, has tested positive from local community contacts.

Four students returning from New York were told to self-isolate, based on the U.S. surgeon general’s recommendations, despite not showing symptoms.

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

According to the university’s statement, there were approximately 1,900 students in the residence halls at the start of the week, but that number is now down to about 1,045 as students choose to leave.

In its article, The New York Times pointed to Lynchburg's mayor, Treney Tweedy, in calling Falwell "reckless."

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also criticized the university at a news conference Wednesday in Richmond. He said Liberty was sending “mixed messages” about COVID-19.

Falwell responded that “our messages did change throughout the week as the governor’s orders changed,” going on to say “we had to adapt.”

Officials in Lynchburg said Tuesday they were fielding complaints about Falwell’s decision to welcome students back to campus after spring break, a move at odds with many other higher education institutions.

Liberty, which is among the nation's largest and most prominent evangelical institutions, initially planned to continue on-campus instruction but has since moved most instruction online.

The Virginia Department of Health reported 890 people in the state have tested positive for coronavirus, as of Sunday. Twenty-two people have died.

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