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Liberty University advances efforts to slow spread of COVID-19

Before the start of the new school year, Liberty University released its full Campus Operating Plan that contained all health and safety regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic for the Fall 2020 semester.

The plan was reviewed by the State Council of Higher Education and was found to be in compliance with the required components of the Higher Education Reopening Guidance, which was developed in consultation with the Virginia Department of Health.

A full COVID-19 Response website was also launched, easily accessible from the university’s main website. The site details areas of campus life that are impacted and the proper health and safety procedures to follow. In addition, Liberty directly informed all students, faculty, and staff that physical distancing and face mask requirements are in place for all academic buildings and at any official gathering of students, regardless of whether the recommended 6-10 feet of physical distancing can be maintained. Signage across campus enforces these requirements.

No Trespassing signs, installed at campus entrances in the spring, are still alerting people that no one is permitted on campus other than students, faculty, staff, potential students and families, and those on university business.

On Wednesday, the university posted a COVID-19 dashboard that displays weekly statistics and updates on cases for students, faculty, and staff. The campus community has also received further communication from the school encouraging them to continue their efforts to social distance and slow the spread of COVID-19.

In a video message to students, Keith Anderson, executive director, Student Health Center and Wellness Initiatives, reminded students to do their part.

“As the situation has developed, we’ve used many resources to keep Liberty open,” he said. “Our faculty and our staff have worked hard for you. We’ve reallocated financial resources to keep this campus open — for you — and now with the number of COVID cases rising, we need you to do your part. Please stop the social gathering, please follow the guidelines. As members of the student body, you have the responsibility to help protect each other.”

Anderson said Liberty, unlike many other colleges across the country, is in an advantageous position to use its vast resources to navigate this pandemic and has taken every precaution to ensure that the campus environment fosters health and wellness while still cultivating an exciting and spiritually strong atmosphere consistent with the university’s overall mission.

As part of the campus operating plan, Liberty designated its off-campus Annex 1 facility, a former hotel converted into a residence hall (which has not been used in recent years for regular student housing), as quarantine housing for any students who test positive for COVID-19, are presumptive positive, or who have recently come into direct contact with someone with COVID-19. Meals are delivered to students, as well as any other necessities, and they are able to maintain their courses online. Students in quarantine are being monitored medically by the Virginia Department of Health.

In addition, this week Liberty announced that it has pledged up to $1 million to expand this service at another nearby facility if the situation should warrant it.

“We’re working hard to make this all work for our students — they really want to be here,” Anderson said. “They want to learn and go to classes in-person and interact with their professors. They want to enjoy each other’s company, and they want to soak in everything that our exciting campus has to offer. We aren’t close to being back to normal, and we have some different plans everyone has to follow, but we’re doing all we can to give them this full college experience and the guidelines they need to follow to stay safe and healthy.”

At a robust triage facility within the Student Health Center on campus, Liberty is offering testing to any student or employee who requests it. The Student Health Center is operated by Central Virginia Family Physicians.

The university’s IT Department has also worked with Anderson’s staff to build a mechanism for actively tracing the contacts of those who test positive for the virus, through a combination of technology and phone interviews. Students are receiving emergency notifications if they are presumed to have been exposed to COVID-19.

With full cooperation from students, faculty, and staff, Anderson said the goal to remain fully operational this semester can be achieved.

With a phrase he commonly uses to rally everyone on campus to take the proper precautions and in a nod to Liberty’s mission to Train Champions for Christ, Anderson said, “We have to be Champions Together.”

As the university previously announced, after Thanksgiving break, students can either return to campus or finish the semester virtually from off-campus. (If leaving the Lynchburg area and returning from within the United States, it is recommended that daily self-checks be conducted. Any person returning from traveling abroad will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.)

Some of the additional changes at Liberty this semester include:

  • New instruction protocols, such as the reduction of student occupant capacities in classrooms and additional barriers in instructional labs
  • Increased hand sanitation with additional stations and NanoSeptic self-cleaning strips on door handles around campus
  • Constant communication with local community health partnerships, such as CVFP Medical Group and Centra Health, to provide quality medical services, health promotion, and preventive care
  • Limited capacity and new procedures for large events, such as face covering requirements and planning for flow adjustments to prevent bottlenecks