Nearly a dozen students at Liberty University, a private, evangelical Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia, are showing symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, after coming back to campus after spring break, according to a New York Times report.
Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. is a staunch ally of President Donald Trump’s and has been one of the most outspoken opponents of social distancing guidance that has advised schools to avoid holding large, in-person gatherings.
Much like Trump, Falwell Jr. has routinely downplayed the impact of coronavirus, and made the baseless claim that North Korea and China developed the disease as a bioweapon to attack the United States.
By last week, about 1,900 students — of about 15,000 — were back on campus, a university spokesperson told Lynchburg’s News and Advance. By Sunday, Falwell Jr. told the Times, more than 800 of those students had left.
“Liberty will be notifying the community as deemed appropriate and required by law,” he said.
The head of Liberty’s student health service, Dr. Thomas W. Eppes Jr., told Falwell Jr. that the university had “lost the ability to corral this thing” before inviting potentially infected students back to campus, according to the Times. Eppes said he didn’t urge Falwell to close the school at that moment.
The day Liberty reopened its campus amid the outbreak, Lynchburg’s mayor, Treney Tweedy, issued a statement condemning Falwell and the university.
“I am concerned for the students, faculty and employees at Liberty University, and I am also very concerned for the residents of the Lynchburg community,” Tweedy said.
“Liberty University is an important part of this community,” she added. “However, I believe it was a reckless decision to bring students back on campus at this time.”
Liberty University did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.