Liberty University said about 1,700 students returned to campus after the school’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., gave those enrolled the option even as the coronavirus outbreak worsened across the U.S.

Liberty spokesman Scott Lamb provided the figure Wednesday and said the school has about 15,000 residential students.

“They were talking about being glad to be back,” Falwell said on March 23. “I was joking about how they pretty much had the whole place to themselves, and told all of them to enjoy it.”

Falwell, whose father founded the private school about 50 years ago, moved classes online Monday and also decided to allow students to return to the Lynchburg, Va., campus. The decision ran counter to state and local officials and most U.S. colleges, which have ordered students to return home.

The university is housing the returning students, who are taking classes online. They can use only take-out options for food from dining facilities, Lamb said. In a statement on Liberty’s website Wednesday, officials said the school is taking extra precautions to clean high-touch surfaces and will comply with the governor’s directive banning large gatherings.

Falwell said operations on Monday had been seamless and that he had walked through campus and met with many students.

“Our thinking was, ‘Let’s get them back as soon as we can — the ones who want to come back,’” he said in a statement.


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