A recent Liberty University graduate living in Lynchburg has tested positive for the coronavirus after visiting a campus doctor, school officials announced Sunday night.
In a statement, the university said the former student-athlete, who is now enrolled in online courses, was advised to self-isolate after showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The student is believed to have contracted the virus locally through community spread, according to President Jerry Falwell Jr. and Dr. Thomas W. Eppes Jr., the director of Liberty’s student health service.
Physicians are required by law to report positive COVID-19 test results to the state and on Monday the Virginia Department of Health announced the number of cases in Lynchburg had increased from three to four. Statewide, more than 1,000 people have contracted the disease and 25 have died.
In a statement issued Monday night, the Central Virginia Health District said privacy concerns prevent health officials from confirming Liberty’s announcement.
“To protect patient confidentiality, we cannot release any additional case details, including those pertaining to the testing lab, potential school affiliations, or place of employment,” spokesperson Lindsey Cawood said. “As with other medical diagnoses, if a patient chooses to publicly reveal their test results, it is their right to do so. Similarly, organizations may choose to reveal additional information to their employees. However, CVHD will not be commenting on these cases.”
Meanwhile, at least one student who lives off campus is awaiting testing results while five on-campus students who may have been exposed to the virus but have not become sick have been quarantined in an off-campus facility, school officials said.
According to Eppes, the university is not aware of any cases of the virus among the more than 1,000 students who continue to live in residence halls.
On Monday, Falwell tweeted, “@LibertyU is being supportive and embracing its responsibility to care for students instead of running away and pushing the COVID problem off on others! LU is blessed that we have no cases on campus but is committed to providing proper care regardless of what happens!”
Liberty faced a torrent of criticism last week after The News & Advance reported Falwell had invited students to return to campus dorms even as most classes moved to an online format in response to the pandemic.
Gov. Ralph Northam, who criticized Falwell’s decision to keep residence halls open last week, issued an executive order on Monday prohibiting institutions of higher education from holding in-person instruction.
The new directive forced Liberty’s School of Aeronautics to stop flight training, the only program at the university which continued to hold in-person classes this week.
The university’s announcement Sunday was in response to an article in The New York Times, which reported nearly a dozen students were sick with symptoms associated with COVID-19.
Liberty officials refuted that characterization. In a statement, the university said just three students who do not live on campus have undergone testing for the virus.
The recent graduate enrolled in Liberty’s online program tested positive, according to Falwell. Another student tested negative and a third student is awaiting results.
According to university officials, the third student returned to an off-campus residence in Lynchburg after visiting an out-of-state area with a large number of COVID-19 cases during spring break. The student showed symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and he returned to his permanent residence after being advised to self-isolate.
The university also asked five other students who recently visited the New York City area, the site of the largest coronavirus outbreak in the country, and two students who came in close contact with those individuals to enter quarantine.
Of those seven students, two chose to return home and five are now living in isolation in an old university-owned hotel located about three miles from campus, school officials said.
In a separate announcement Sunday, the university said starting Monday any students returning to campus dorms will be asked to self-quarantine for two weeks.
In the Central Virginia Health District news release issued Monday night officials said “Performing case investigations and contact tracing, monitoring cases and those who potentially have been exposed, and continuing public education is — and will continue to be — our top priority. We urge residents and the news media to help us shift public attention away from the number and location of cases, and toward preventive measures that reduce the risk of being exposed to or spreading the SARS CoV2 virus.”
The university estimates about 1,045 students still live on campus, down from a peak of about 1,900 last week. School officials had planned for up to 5,000 students to return from spring break, which ended March 23.
“A bunch of students came back because they thought it was going to be fun and games and then they found out that they couldn’t go to the bowling alley and meet in groups and stuff like that,” Eppes said. “So, they went back home.”
Richard Chumney covers Liberty University for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.
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