Liberty University controversially welcomed back students after the spring break—and, as officials feared, some of them may have brought the coronavirus back with them. Dr. Thomas W. Eppes Jr, who runs the evangelical university's student health service, told the New York Times on Friday that at least 11 students on the campus in Lynchburg, Va., are sick with COVID-19 symptoms. He said three had been referred for testing and eight others had been told to self-isolate. Eppes said he warned university president Jerry Falwell Jr. that they had "lost the ability to corral this thing." Falwell has repeatedly downplayed the risks of the outbreak, calling measures to slow the spread of the virus a politically motivated "overreaction." Falwell initially planned to allow in-person classes to resume, but backtracked after Virginia banned gatherings of more than 100 people.
Around 1,900 students returned to on-campus housing last week and others are in off-campus housing in Lynchburg, where Mayor Treney Tweedy called Falwell's decision to allow students to stay for the spring semester "reckless." Falwell has clamped down hard on criticism and has even fired back at worried parents, the Times notes. "I’m as right wing as they get, bud. But as a parent of three of your students, I think this is crazy, irresponsible, and seems like a money grab," tweeted one parent concerned about students bringing the virus back to their grandparents. Falwell called him a "dummy." WSET reports that Falwell says the Times' story is "false and misleading" and the university is not aware of any students showing COVID-19 symptoms, though four students who had been in the New York City area have been asked to self-isolate. (Read more Liberty University stories.)