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Lynchburg-area colleges report 62 COVID-19 cases as the region sees decline in new infections

Lynchburg-area colleges report 62 COVID-19 cases as the region sees decline in new infections

Liberty University health triage - Dr. Thomas

Dr. Joanna Thomas answers questions regarding COVID-19 testing at the student health triage center at Liberty University on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2020.

Lynchburg-area colleges and universities this week reported a total of 62 active COVID-19 cases among students and staffers, a decrease from the 76 cases reported a week earlier.

Liberty University, the largest institution of higher learning in the region with about 15,000 students, accounted for the majority of the area’s reported cases, according to weekly updates from the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

At least 31 Liberty students and 16 employees were sick with COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Those figures represent a drop from the 47 student and 18 employee cases reported a week ago. Liberty defines an active case as an infection reported in the last 10 days.

Liberty began holding in-person classes last week after students spent the first week of the semester taking online classes to help limit the spread of the virus. The approach was aimed at minimizing a spike in cases in the first weeks of the semester as students from across the country returned to campus.

But the school has faced criticism for not enforcing social distancing and mask wearing on campus, including at a mass snowball fight organized by school officials Sunday. Liberty Acting President Jerry Prevo apologized this week for hosting the event and pledged to “rededicate” the university’s commitment to complying with coronavirus precautions.

As of Wednesday, Liberty officials have instructed 104 on-campus students to quarantine at a university facility due to a potential exposure to the virus or because they’ve developed symptoms associated with COVID-19, according to the dashboard. Last week, 172 on-campus students were in quarantine.

Another 52 Liberty commuter students have been asked to quarantine at their off-campus homes, down from the 93 commuter students asked to quarantine last week. For the second week in a row, at least 63 employees were in quarantine.

Since Jan. 18, 73 students and 34 employees at Liberty have tested positive for the virus. That is in addition to the 999 students and 292 employees who tested positive during the fall semester and winter break.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the region has been on the decline since new daily infections peaked in the middle of last month. The Central Virginia Health District, which includes Lynchburg and the bordering counties, has reported 843 new cases in the past seven days, down from the 1,414 cases reported a week earlier.

At the University of Lynchburg, there are six active cases among its students and five active cases among its faculty and staff members. Last week, there were two student cases and six employee cases. A total of 32 students, 14 of whom live on campus, are in quarantine.

Randolph College, which began classes Monday, reported just one active student case and one active employee case Thursday. There was just one positive student case on campus last week, according to the college.

Central Virginia Community College, meanwhile, has reported one active COVID-19 case among its staffers in the past two weeks. At Sweet Briar College in Amherst County, there is one active student case.

Health officials have not yet identified any outbreaks on local college campuses since spring semester classes began last month, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Last fall, at least four outbreaks were discovered, including an outbreak at Liberty that was tied to 31 cases. The department defines an outbreak as two or more confirmed COVID-19 cases associated with a particular setting.

In addition to the 62 cases reported locally, colleges and universities across Virginia last week reported a total of 551 active COVID-19 cases among students and employees, according to a state dashboard tracking cases at some of the largest institutions in the state.

The dashboard, which aggregates data from 17 public and private institutions in the commonwealth, does not include COVID-19 case information from any of the colleges and universities in the Lynchburg region.

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