As colleges and universities across the United States tell students and faculty members to stay home after spring break, Liberty University students are returning to their campus in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Although Liberty has already moved most of its courses online, it is allowing students who wish to return to their residence halls to do so. The Evangelical Christian university’s other facilities, including academic buildings, libraries, dining halls, and gyms, will also remain open.
“While some colleges basically threw their hands up and just shut down and left the problem for somebody else to deal with, Liberty’s executive staff rolled their sleeves up,” Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty’s president, said in a press release. “I’ve been so impressed meeting with them every day; they have stepped up to the plate and made necessary changes to help the students.”
Falwell said that by keeping the residence halls open, Liberty is able to house all the international students who are unable to return home due to travel restrictions, as well as those commuter students who have nowhere else to live.
As of Mar. 24, more than 1,900 of the Liberty’s more than 14,000 residential students had returned, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, citing a Liberty spokesman. It is unclear how many more students will return by the end of this week.
The Virginia Department of Health sent an inspector for a surprise visit to Liberty’s campus after Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order that banned all gatherings of more than 10 people. The university was found to be in compliance with all restrictions, as gatherings in lecture halls and gyms are capped at 10 people, dining halls provide only take-out service, and the campus is closed to visitors.
Annex I, a former hotel property owned by Liberty, is being used to quarantine those who have symptoms before they can get medical attention, according to Falwell.
“I think we, in a way, are protecting the students by having them on campus together,” said Falwell during an interview with Lynchburg newspaper The News & Advance. “Ninety-nine percent of them are not at the age to be at risk and they don’t have conditions that put them at risk.”
At the time of this publication, Virginia’s health department reported nearly 400 COVID-19 cases, including 9 deaths. A majority of the cases are concentrated around Fairfax County on the southwestern outskirts of Washington. There has been no confirmed case in the independent city of Lynchburg, where Liberty University is located.