School is back in session for students at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requesting that everyone practice social distancing if they can in an effort to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. announced Monday (March 23) that students should return to campus but continue classes online for the rest of the semester, since the state of Virginia has a ban on gatherings of 10 or more people. The campus’s academic buildings, library, and gym will all remain open, and students have been told to go back to their dorms. Professors are expected to hold office hours on campus. As of Tuesday, about 1,900 students were back on campus, a university spokesperson told Lynchburg’s News and Advance.
“I think we have 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,” Falwell Jr. told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
This comes just days after Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered all K-12 schools in the state to close throughout the entire academic year. Most of the universities in the United States are closed and remaining closed until the pandemic slows.
“We could not be more disappointed in the action that Jerry took in telling students they could come back and take their online classes on campus,” Lynchburg City Manager Bonnie Svrcek told The Associated Press. Doctors and public health experts seem to agree with Svrcek, telling the Daily Beast that the decision to reopen the school is “nuts” and “utterly irresponsible.”
“If Liberty University reopens, people will die,” Max Cooper, an emergency-room doctor at Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Pennsylvania who served in the United States Navy and is now leading his area’s Emergency COVID-19 Task Force, told the Daily Beast. “To say nothing of the many educators and university support staff whose age and mortality likely skews older and higher. It’s imperative that Liberty and other universities stay closed.”