Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. rejected a report that said nearly a dozen students are showing symptoms of the coronavirus after the Virginia school announced it was expecting thousands of students to return to campus following spring break.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that three of the students were told to go to a hospital, and another eight were told to self-quarantine. Falwell accused the newspaper of publishing a misleading report.
“The New York Times ambushed Liberty University to publish a false and misleading story claiming that, ‘students started getting sick’ after the University received students back after spring break. The Times attributed the reporter’s conclusion about the scope of the COVID-19 symptoms being about a dozen students to a local doctor who has consulted with LU. The truth is a far different story. Both the numbers and the sequencing are wrong,” he said in a lengthy statement.
Falwell disputed the number of students with symptoms, saying the school was not aware of any students in its residence halls who have tested positive for the coronavirus or have been tested at all. He said some students were asked to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution.
“Liberty can confirm that, following the US Surgeon General’s recommendations concerning persons who had been in the New York City metropolitan area, Liberty University asked four students who had recently been in that area and who were living in campus residence hall rooms to self-quarantine for the recommended period in single rooms at Liberty’s otherwise unoccupied housing annex (a former hotel a few miles from campus). Two did and two opted to return to their permanent residence, instead. There were three students in close contact with these individuals and they were also asked to self-quarantine in separate rooms in the annex. They did,” he said.
“Liberty is also aware of one off-campus student who returned from an out-of-state county with a high number of cases who was running a fever and had a cough. He was tested and advised to self-isolate pending the results. He elected to return to his permanent residence instead. Another off-campus student came in for COVID-19 testing during spring break and her results came back negative,” he added.
Falwell said another student who recently graduated and lives off-campus was advised to self-isolate after he reported symptoms, and his test results are still being processed. That student visited the campus clinic, he said.
“So despite the Times’ sensational headline and story lead, Liberty is only aware of three off campus student who were sufficiently symptomatic to qualify for COVID-19 testing, two of which did not leave Lynchburg for Spring Break and one of which tested negative during Spring Break,” he said.
Falwell said this month he expected between several hundred and more than 5,000 students would return to on-campus housing to continue their studies. Classes have moved online, but some facilities, such as the fitness center and library, remained open.
“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’ve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life,” Falwell said last week.
Falwell said more than 800 of the 1,900 students who returned to campus last week have since left. He said he had “no idea” how many students had returned to off-campus housing.
“If I were them, I’d be more nervous,” he said, because they live in more crowded conditions in off-campus rentals.
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