Katharine DeRosa, Contributing Writer
More than 1,000 students have returned to Liberty University as of Tuesday by invitation from president Jerry Falwell Jr., following an announcement on Monday by Gov. Ralph Northam to close schools for the rest of the year, ban gatherings of over 10 people and close non-essential businesses.
An email sent to residential students stated they were welcome to return to campus. Liberty spokesperson Scott Lamb told the Associated Press that 1,100 students were already back on campus as of Tuesday morning.
The campus is currently closed to visitors and will seek to follow state restrictions while supporting students who chose to remain at home, according to a Liberty University press release.
Students who wish to return to campus must fill out an “Intent to Return” form on the university website on their residential housing portal.
Dining locations will offer only takeout services and adhere to the 10-person limit set by Northam, according to the press release. In an interview on CNN, Falwell said the university library remains open and is practicing social distancing.
Falwell said in the release that he received a “favorable reaction” from both Lynchburg’s mayor and city manager.
Mayor Treney Tweedy posted a statement online denying these claims, saying Falwell had misled her.
In the statement, Tweedy said Falwell told her he was going to keep campus open for labs and international students but later decided to open the campus to all students wishing to return.
The controversy surrounding the move caused “Liberty University” to trend on Twitter from Tuesday afternoon into evening.
Northam said in a press conference on Wednesday that Falwell was contributing to the “mixed messages” of COVID-19. The governor encouraged Virginia citizens to stay home, referencing a Bible verse.
“As we are told in 1 Corinthians,” Northam said, “‘it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.’”
Northam also applauded colleges and universities which made accommodations for schools in need, but said that Liberty University’s stance was different given that they invited students back.