Amid the coronavirus pandemic, as many as 1,900 students returned to Virginia’s Liberty University on Tuesday after spring break, a university spokesperson confirmed to CNN.
The Washington Post reported that Jerry Falwell Jr., the evangelical Christian university’s president, said on Fox News earlier this month that people were overreacting to the pandemic and that the campus would reopen this week.
According to a statement on the university’s website, school officials, including Falwell Jr., said the decision was taken to not extend spring break so that students don’t risk “having a longer time to become exposed to the virus and bring it back to Lynchburg” where Liberty University is located.
“Our thinking was, ‘Let’s get them back as soon as we can — the ones who want to come back’,” said Falwell Jr. in the statement.
Liberty students returned even as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a statewide order a day earlier banning gatherings of more than 10 people. That order was scheduled to go into effect just before midnight local time on Tuesday, said CNN.
Northam expressed concern after learning the university was allowing students back on campus. So did Lynchburg Mayor Treney Tweedy.
“I was very surprised and disappointed to later learn of President Falwell’s most recent decision to allow students back on campus,” Tweedy said in a statement. “We are in the midst of a public health crisis. 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.”