Liberty University, now three weeks into the fall semester, has yet to publish coronavirus figures on its website despite promises to do so by mid-September.
The university Tuesday missed a self- imposed deadline to launch a data dashboard, an increasingly popular digital tool used by large colleges and universities to disclose the number of COVID-19 cases among its students and employees to the public.
The dashboard was delayed by a “technical glitch,” a Liberty spokesperson said in a text message Tuesday evening. Asked when the digital tool is now expected to launch, the spokesperson did not reply.
Since in-person classes began late last month, Liberty has declined to release daily COVID-19 figures as other institutions of higher learning have, including the University of Lynchburg and Sweet Briar College.
Instead, the university has provided just two updates to the media about positive cases, frustrating some students and parents who have called for more transparency from the school.
In the most recent update — which came one week ago Sept. 8 — Liberty reported 90 students and employees had tested positive in the preceding two weeks. At the time, 93 students and employees had tested negative and 180 were awaiting results.
Keith Anderson, executive director of the Health & Wellness Office of Liberty University, said earlier this month the school still was in the process of developing the dashboard. He said the digital tool will report numbers on a weekly basis but did not specify what information would be included.
Lawrence Gostin, the director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said that while Liberty does not have a legal duty to publicly disclose COVID-19 cases, it does have an ethical obligation to be fully transparent with students, parents and the wider community.
“COVID infections on the campus will ultimately find their way to family members and wider community so there is a clear right to know,” Gostin said in an email. “This means that Liberty and all universities should fully and transparently disclose all relevant information about the spread of SARS-CoV-2 on the campus in a timely way. Parents and students will have to make important decisions about their health and their education. They deserve full information to make an informed choice.”
Lucia Mullen, an epidemiologist and senior analyst at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agreed Liberty has a responsibility to inform its own students and employees directly. She warned an information vacuum could allow misinformation to run rampant on campus.
“The worry is that if the university isn’t reporting these numbers and if it’s not coming from a credible source, then we’re going to be hearing about it through rumors and they may be incorrect or have parts of the information that are incorrect,” she said last week.
Dr. Kerry Gateley, director of the Central Virginia Health District, said last week there are some signs the health threat may be waning locally. The seven-day average of new daily cases in the local health district has fallen to 33 as of Tuesday, down from a peak of 50 last month, according to VDH data. The district includes Lynchburg and its neighboring counties.
The University of Lynchburg on Tuesday reported 9 active COVID-19 cases in its student population and two active cases among faculty and staff members. That is down from a peak of 46 active student cases in late August.
According to the school’s daily coronavirus update, 31 students now are in quarantine or isolation. A total of 264 cases have been resolved, meaning the students have recovered or have been cleared to leave quarantine. Around 1,300 undergraduate students live on campus.
At Sweet Briar College in Amherst County, just one of its almost 400 students are now known to be infected after several students tested positive last month. There are two active cases among its employees as of Tuesday.
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