Less than a week after Liberty University announced and enacted a temporary campus-wide quarantine amid rising infections, the school is reporting a sharp surge in positive COVID-19 cases and offering free vaccinations.
The private evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia last week ordered a campus-wide quarantine from Aug. 30 to Sept. 10. Prior to the fall semester beginning on Aug. 24, the school did not have a mask or vaccine mandate in place.
Liberty's COVID-19 dashboard on August 25 reported 159 active COVID-19 cases, out of which 124 were students. On September 1, the number of total active cases reported within the last 10 days spiked to 488, out of which 430 were students.
The university has around 15,000 students and 5,000 faculty or staff on campus. More than 1,500 people are currently in quarantine, 1,056 of which are on-campus students. A Liberty University official told WFXR News that the quarantine annex at in the college "has reached maximum capacity."
When asked for comment, university spokesperson Scott Lamb told Yahoo Finance that it was unsurprising to see cases shoot up given that as of "two weeks ago, these people were [not] in Lynchburg at all" and that now "they are here, and hence, the [numbers] have gone up."
Lamb added that the school's quarantine, a temporary pivot to remote learning, the new offering of free vaccinations, and the suspension of all large indoor gatherings have been enacted to "slow the spread of the virus and maintain a safe and healthy campus environment while the institution continues to act responsibly as a community partner in battling the pandemic."
The school sent an email to students informing them that it will be hosting a "first dose clinic" on September 3, according to an email obtained by Yahoo Finance.
'It's just been a very unsafe environment'
One former student said that she was concerned about the outbreak spilling into the surrounding areas.
"I know people that work in health care here in Lynchburg that are just overwhelmed by how scary it is, and they said it's worse than it was last year," Lynchburg resident Tobi Walsh, a 2015 Liberty University graduate and former employee of the school who lives less than two miles from campus, told Yahoo Finance.
"With everybody back it's kind of scary because you go like to Target and you see all these students that are Liberty students because they're wearing, their [residence hall] shirts ... it's obvious that they're on-campus students," said Walsh, who noted that the area is already experiencing a rise of COVID-19 hospitalizations. "And they're not wearing masks, they're not social distancing, they're acting like everything is normal, and it's scary."
Earlier this week, a current Liberty University student discussed what it felt like on campus.
"To me, it's just been a very unsafe environment," Robert Locklear, a 21-year-old journalism student at Liberty, told Yahoo Finance. "We're seeing thousands of students from literally all over the country gathered together with zero restrictions ... you're on the bus with 50 other people packed together, you're in the cafeteria with hundreds of other people, you're passing in the hallways and coming in very close contact with no one wearing masks."
Walsh noted that the news of the outbreak was particularly "frustrating" given that the school is gearing up to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
"I want to be excited, and celebrate my school and these friendships that I made," she said. "But when I see stuff like this and that these students don't care, it's really hard to be proud of where you came from."
Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.