Evangelical Pastor Reopens University, 12 Students Display COVID-19 Symptoms | All In | MSNBC

as many of the nation's colleges and universities remain closed to help limit the spread of coronavirus liberty university evangelical school in Lynchburg Virginia run by this man Jerry Falwell Jr decided to reopen last week a move in direct contravention of basically all medical advice earlier this month as governors around the country we're closing all non-essential services and banning large gatherings Jerry Falwell Jr a staunch ally of the presidents went on Trump TV to talk about how everyone is overreacting it's just strange to me how so many are overreacting impeachment didn't work and and the Mulla report didn't work and and article 25 didn't work and so maybe now this is their their next their next attempt to get Trump and so last week Jerry Falwell Jr ordered his students and staff back to school and you'll never guess what happened next New York Times is reporting that as of Friday nearly a dozen Liberty University students were sick with symptoms that suggested coronavirus ProPublica reporter Alec McGillis visited Liberty University and reported on the reopening and a piece entitled what it's like on one of the only university campuses still open in the u.

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he joins me now by phone Alec what was it like down in Lynchburg it was very strange Krista it was a very odd tension and very odd middle ground where on the one hand the campus was back open in contravention as you said of all sorts of public health advice and orders from various authorities and so students were welcome to come back to campus there were between a thousand and two thousand students back on campus but at the same time they were making these half-hearted attempts to to do social distancing so he had all these signs up you had librarians kind of scolding students who got too close together in the library and so he ended up with this really weird middle ground where where they were basically and at the sort of higher level from Jerry Falwell on down trying to be provocative and keep things open and and beat be different than everyone else but then down at on the ground through these half-hearted attempts to to do things the right way it was very very weird there was also sort of a strange kind of climate of fear in your reporting in the reporting new york times that people not wanting to talk on the record or they were worried about speaking their mind about the the the policies of Falwell Jr at the top oh definitely one of the students I was actually graduate student when I approached to ask what he what he made of all this he was being forced to to come back to work on campus as a as a person took to a professor and he he said he could not be he spoke with me he's very upset about the policy but he didn't want to be named he said that all students have been have been instructed not to speak to the press one student who has been very outspoken a senior member of student government who's been very outspoken actually got a call at night from on a cell phone from University of vice president scolding him up grading him for for having spoken out as he as he did so there's definitely a real climate of the students feeling like they've been kind of caught in the middle of what what certainly seems like just an attempt a political gambit it's an attempt at political provocation as part of this kind of culture national culture or around social distancing it's it's an enormous operation a huge institution there in Lynchburg Virginia you said only what I mean it sounds like not that many students that come back but the problems mean so there's some voluntary nature there but the employees have basically have to come back is that how it works it is the well you have to understand what Liberty is that in what makes this whole thing so especially odd is that the campus has a huge online operation so it's actually quite easy much easier for this university than others to go fully online with its courses and that online operation is run by a massive sort of sideline operation you've got hundreds of employees in a building quite a ways away from campus who you know are cold calling students recruiting students to the online operation they've got ninety five thousand people in a given year taking classes they're at Liberty it's incredibly profitable it's basically what makes the whole University run is this massive online nationwide online college and in those those people at that online operation are so reporting to work or have been where until last week still reporting to work as our hundreds of employees were at another building that handle all the financial aid and all the tuition stuff so you've got a lot of these these workers who are quite worried about still having to come to work in close quarters and this is a final note here I'm in Lynchburg Virginia I think you reported in earpiece it's fifty thousand residents aged 65 years or older it's not just about I mean as we all know in the way of pandemics and viruses function it's not a call that that mr.

Falwell Jr is making for his own institution it's a call that he is now making for the entire surrounding area exactly he's he's often said well what's the big deal students young people don't really get that sick from this but the problem of course is that they're very likely to to spread that to others in the community they're gonna go off-campus they're gonna you know go get a coffee go go to go to chick-fil-a and and and it might be spreading it there and and it's such a concern actually that today the governor of Virginia has put out another order that that certainly seems partly directed at places like Liberty that are still trying to to to kind of you know reach prior orders and this one is even more Stern in it and it really says you got to stay home well we're gonna come after you and I'll be very interesting to see if Liberty actually gets some kind of a fine now for having continued to do this yeah governor Northam issuing essentially I think as a shelter-in-place worker for the state we will see whether that resonates down in lynchburg Alec McGillis thank you so much great reporting.

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