Liberty University reopens residence halls, some campus services to students during coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus

CLEVELAND, OH – JULY 21: President of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr., delivers a speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party’s nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WAVY) — Like many college students in Virginia, those attending Liberty University are completing much of their spring coursework online while the Commonwealth grapples with the coronavirus crisis.

Unlike many others, some LU students are returning to the Lynchburg campus to live in residence halls and utilize university services — like dining and gyms.

Liberty spokesman Scott Lamb told the Associated Press that about 1,100 students were back on campus as of Tuesday morning.

It comes after President Jerry Fallwell Jr. announced that LU would reopen its residence halls to students beginning March 23. Fallwell said that LU staff have been working closely with state officials to monitor COVID-19, make plans for online coursework, and to reopen the university’s campus without putting students at risk.

Some of the precautions LU has taken include frequent disinfecting of often-used surfaces, posting signs to remind students to continue social distancing in places like computer labs, and adhering to Gov. Ralph Northam’s 10-person limit in a closed space in places like the dining facilities and fitness centers, according to a university press release.

For sick students and staff, LU has transformed one of its properties — Annex I — into a place for quarantining until medical services are available.

While LU’s campus is closed to visitors, students, employees, prospective students and their families, and those doing business with the university are allowed at the university, the release states.

“We were able to make huge changes in a short amount of time,” Falwell said. “It’s an incredibly fluid situation because every day there was another piece of news or another governor’s order, which would cause us to adapt and rethink our processes. It’s been on-the-fly teamwork from the whole group.”

All instruction has been moved online, with the exception of certain programs and labs and LU’s IT department has created a digital platform for video classes.

“So we’re really not operating as a university, except online,” Fallwell said. “I’m just thankful we have the resources and cooperation of our staff so we are well equipped to do this.”

Hundreds of professors and instructors without valid health exemptions were expected to still come to campus for office hours, the News & Advance in Lynchburg reported.

LU says it’s also working with employees who have expressed concern about COVID-19., though at least one employee is speaking out. In an op-ed with the Religion News Service, longtime Liberty English professor Marybeth Davis Baggett called on Liberty’s board to stop Falwell “before it’s too late.”

Baggett spoke of Falwell’s “conspiratorial thinking about COVID-19,” saying “his public comments on the pandemic have manifested bravado, self-congratulation and callousness in the extreme, as, even this week on the Todd Starnes radio show, he spewed far-fetched, unsubstantiated and misleading information about the coronavirus outbreak.”

Falwell is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, and has speculated that the coronavirus was the work of North Korea, and used to hurt Trump.

They have not laid off any staff, and are making accommodations for employees when appropriate, according to the news release.

The Virginia Department of Health performed a surprise inspection at LU recently, and the university was found to be in compliance with COVID-19 restrictions, the news release states.

Virginia had reported nearly 300 coronavirus cases statewide as of Tuesday afternoon, with 7 deaths.

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