“It’s just strange to me how so many are overreacting,” Falwell said, comparing media coverage of the novel coronavirus to coverage of earlier epidemics. “It makes you wonder if there’s a political reason for that. Impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller report didn’t work, and Article 25 didn’t work. And so maybe now this is their next attempt to get Trump.”
Falwell also speculated in the “Fox & Friends” interview that North Korea and China may have cooperated on a secret plot to spread the virus without offering evidence to support his baseless rumor, which he attributed to a restaurant owner.
Liberty has taken some steps in response to the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, it canceled attendance at its weekly convocation of students that brings together about 6,000 students to listen to a speaker. The event was streamed online. Earlier this week, it announced that all of its international study programs for spring and summer were terminated and called back Liberty students studying in Rome.
By announcing that the university’s 16,000 students would return to class on campus, Liberty is an outlier among Virginia’s universities. Almost all of the commonwealth’s prominent colleges and universities have announced that classes will move online only.
Falwell’s announcement that in-person classes would resume following spring break did not sit well with some students at the Christian evangelical university in Lynchburg.
“I think it’s gross,” said Elizabeth Lake, 22, a senior math major. “We’re supposed to be taking preventative action, and he’s not doing that because of his political views.”
Lake said she didn’t have any issue with Falwell’s support of Trump but thought he was making a poor decision to keep the school operating as normal.
“Students are going to be coming back from spring break from all over and who knows if they’re going to bring this back with them,” she said. “He’s not taking into consideration all of the Liberty students and the people who live in Lynchburg.”
Scott Lamb, a spokesman for Falwell, declined an interview request.
Joe Keller, 18, a freshman sports management major, said he was “pretty upset” with the school’s decision.
“If I get coronavirus, I can probably beat it, but I don’t want to get in contact with older professors who might catch it from me. I don’t want to be in crowded dorms where it’s spreading all over,” he said. “This decision really endangers the students and staff.”
Other Liberty students who posted their unhappiness with Falwell’s decision on social media declined to be interviewed.
Falwell’s comments on Fox conflicted with some of the messaging the university has been sending to students in recent days.
In a letter signed by Falwell and appearing on the school’s website, the university urges students, faculty and staff to reconsider travel that might increase the risk of exposure and to inform the university of travel to areas affected by the coronavirus.
“The number of national coronavirus (COVID-19) cases continues to rise and the safety of the Liberty University community is our primary concern,” Falwell wrote Tuesday in a letter to the campus. “Liberty University officials have been meeting regularly and carefully monitoring the situation, maintaining contact with state public health officials, and following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for college campuses.”
“The decisions we are making rely heavily on the guidance we are receiving from the CDC and the Virginia Department of Health and are intended to protect the health and welfare of our students, faculty, staff, and local community,” Falwell’s letter said. “We recognize the uncertainty this global health issue is creating and are committed to keeping you informed and up to date as this situation evolves.”
Keller said he hoped Trump’s declaration of a national emergency Friday would lead Falwell to change his decision to bring students back.
“Wherever Donald goes, that’s where he goes,” Keller said.