And Jerry Falwell Jr has a lot to answer for:
“We’ve lost the ability to corral this thing,” Dr. Thomas W. Eppes Jr. said he told Mr. Falwell. But he did not urge him to close the school. “I just am not going to be so presumptuous as to say, ‘This is what you should do and this is what you shouldn’t do,’” Dr. Eppes said in an interview.
So Mr. Falwell — a staunch ally of President Trump and an influential voice in the evangelical world — reopened the university last week, igniting a firestorm. As of Friday, Dr. Eppes said, nearly a dozen Liberty students were sick with symptoms that suggested Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Three were referred to local hospital centers for testing. Another eight were told to self-isolate.
Considering the nature of this virus, there are likely many more students infected by now. We all knew this was going to happen when Falwell made this decision, and so did the government leaders in Lynchburg:
The city of Lynchburg is furious. “We had a firestorm of our own citizens who said, ‘What’s going on?’” said Treney Tweedy, the mayor.
The mayor and city manager here, Bonnie Svrcek, felt relieved two weeks ago, when Mr. Falwell assured them that he fully intended to comply with Virginia’s public health directives and close the school to virtually all students, most of whom were scattering for spring break. Then he changed his mind.
“We think it’s irresponsible for so many universities to just say ‘closed, you can’t come back,’ push the problem off on other communities and sit there in their ivory towers,” Mr. Falwell said on Wednesday on a radio show hosted by Todd Starnes, a far-right conspiracy theorist. “We’re conservative, we’re Christian, and therefore we’re being attacked,” he said.
Michael Gillette, a former mayor of Lynchburg and a bioethicist now working with its hospitals on rationing scarce ventilators, disagrees.
“To argue that criticism of Liberty is based on political bias is unfounded and unreasonable,” he said. “Liberty just did not take this threat as seriously as others have.”
Of course Falwell blames it on political bias. That is standard operating procedure for conservatives when they are caught doing something monumentally stupid. And Falwell appears to have taken a chapter from Trump's book on assholishness by viciously attacking his critics on social media:
Mr. Falwell and his administration have worked to tamp down dissent. After a Liberty undergraduate, Calum Best, wrote on his personal Facebook page that students should receive refunds, he said Liberty’s spokesman, Scott Lamb, called his cellphone to berate him. Asked about the call, Mr. Lamb said he was simply objecting to an error in the post, and Mr. Best was “spinning.”
After Marybeth Davis Baggett, a professor, wrote an open letter asking the university’s board of trustees to close the campus, Mr. Falwell mocked her on Twitter as “the ‘Baggett’ lady.”
Jeff Brittain, a Liberty parent, wrote on Twitter: “I’m as right wing as they get, bud. But as a parent of three of your students, I think this is crazy, irresponsible and seems like a money grab.” Mr. Falwell replied, calling him a “dummy.”
I've got a message for Mr. Brittain: If you keep sending your kids to the school after this irresponsible episode, then you are a dummy.