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Falwell Jr. claims Liberty had no on-campus COVID-19 cases after students returned — and he's suing NYT for its report

He feels the university was unfairly targeted

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University in Virginia, said there were no new cases of COVID-19 among people living on campus after they returned to campus following spring break — and he's suing The New York Times for its report on the situation.

Falwell made the decision in late March to invite students back to the Liberty University campus around the same time the state was implementing tight restrictions and closing schools to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He said he made the decision to accommodate students who could not access online courses or who were not able to move back home. Falwell said about 1,200 people returned to campus.

What NYT said: The New York Times, citing Dr. Thomas Eppes, who it identified as "the physician who runs Liberty's student health service," reported that "nearly a dozen" Liberty students were "sick with symptoms that suggested COVID-19."

The report said "three were referred to local hospital centers for testing. An additional eight were told to self-isolate." NYT reported that as of 8 p.m. on March 29, one of those students tested positive, one tested negative, and a third was still awaiting results. The report currently states that "the student who tested positive for COVID-19 lives off campus."

What Falwell says: In an interview with Glenn Beck on Friday morning, Falwell said the university has "no choice" but to sue because the Times said "there were 12 COVID cases on campus." In reality, Falwell said, there were no new cases of COVID-19 on campus. The Times did not report that there were 12 cases, and did not specify whether or not the one student who tested positive lived on campus.

He conceded that Eppes said there were "11 or 12" cases of Liberty students. coming in with "upper respiratory colds and allergies and different things." He said Eppes does not officially work for Liberty University, but he has a medical practice in Lynchburg.

Falwell said there were "a couple of off-campus cases, like bus drivers" with COVID-19. When those cases were identified, Falwell said, the person stopped working and those who had been around the infected person isolated themselves.

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