Two Liberty University employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, two are awaiting test results and seven have been asked to self-quarantine, the university announced Wednesday night.
The diagnoses mark the first cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, among the thousands of people who work at Liberty — the largest employer in the region.
The university said the two employees underwent testing for the virus at least two weeks after they began working from home. School officials did not describe the employees’ current conditions.
“Public health officials do not deem these workers to have been a threat to the Liberty workplace or the campus community under these circumstances,” the university said in a statement.
It is unclear where the employees work specifically or in what capacity. A university spokesperson did not return a request for comment Thursday.
Liberty employs about 8,000 people, including more than 2,500 full- and part-time faculty members, according to the university.
Not all Liberty employees work on the school’s more than 7,000-acre campus. Some are employed in call centers and offices scattered across the city, a university-owned mall adjacent to campus and a flight school at the nearby Lynchburg Regional Airport, among other facilities. Others, such as some online instructors, work out of state remotely.
The university has allowed faculty members to conduct classes and hold office hours from home but other employees, including dining workers, still are required to work in-person.
On March 29, the university reported the first — and, as of Thursday, the only — case of the virus among the school’s student body. The student, who since has recovered, is enrolled in Liberty’s online program and lives off campus in Lynchburg.
At the time of the announcement, school officials said the student, a former athlete, visited a campus doctor before being diagnosed. The university now said the student consulted the campus clinic by phone and was directed to a Centra Health facility for testing.
On Wednesday, the university said in addition to two employees, one Liberty student now is awaiting test results. In all, eight students and 16 employees have undergone testing for the virus. Of those, six students and 12 employees have received negative results.
Two students, who are not showing symptoms associated with the disease, are in quarantine at an off-campus hotel owned by the school. Neither have been tested for the virus and are quarantined as a precaution.
Liberty said in the event an on-campus student tests positive for the virus, the student will remain in quarantine “until they are no longer symptomatic and have been confirmed by a health professional as no longer a threat to the health of others.”
Since the start of April, the number of cases in the city of Lynchburg has climbed from seven to 34. At least one person in the region has died from the disease.
For weeks, Liberty has faced criticism for its decision to allow students to return to residence halls amid the public health crisis. As of Wednesday, 1,060 students remain on campus, down from a post-spring break peak of about 1,900. Normally, about 8,000 students live on campus.
In an interview with conservative radio show host John Fredericks on Tuesday, LU President Jerry Falwell Jr. defended the school’s actions and accused national news outlets, including The New York Times, of spreading lies about the private institution.
“They don’t like our politics. They don’t like our faith-based university,” Falwell said. “And it’s so sad when somebody puts their politics, their ideology ahead of public health. And it just shows you how low the media in this country has stooped.”
In its statement Wednesday, Liberty said it will not reconsider the decision to keep dorms open, but is adjusting its curfew policies to comply with Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order. Before the pandemic, most students living on campus were required to be in their dorms by midnight or earlier weekdays. The school did not detail the changes to the curfew policies.
Reach Richard Chumney at (434) 385-5547.
Richard Chumney covers Liberty University for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.