Nearly a dozen Liberty University students report COVID-19 symptoms after returning to campus

Catherine Garcia

As of Friday, at least 11 students at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, have reported symptoms suggesting they have the COVID-19 coronavirus, Dr. Thomas Eppes Jr., the physician in charge of student health services, told The New York Times on Sunday.

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. came under fire last week when he reopened the campus to students at the end of their spring break, despite public health officials warning against it and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) banning gatherings of more than 100 people in the state. Falwell said 1,900 students returned to campus last week, and more than 800 have since left. Eppes on Sunday said of the students who have COVID-19 symptoms, three have been referred to hospitals to get tested and eight have been told to self-quarantine.

Falwell told The News & Advance last week that the school had to reopen because Liberty has "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."

Referring to the coronavirus, Eppes told the Times that Liberty has since "lost the ability to corral this thing," but he didn't tell Falwell to shut the school down because "I just am not going to be so presumptuous as to say, 'This is what you should do and this is what you shouldn't do.'" Falwell is a staunch ally of President Trump, and has said Liberty is being unfairly targeted for being "Christian" and "conservative." Michael Gillette, a former mayor of Lynchburg and a bioethicist, told the Times "to argue that criticism of Liberty is based on political bias is unfounded and unreasonable. Liberty just did not take this threat as seriously as others have."

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