LYNCHBURG, Virginia: Liberty University announced a temporary campus-wide quarantine on Thursday amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.
The quarantine is set to begin on Monday and last until September 10, news outlets report. The university has about 15,000 students and 5,000 faculty or staff on campus.
There were 159 known active cases among students, faculty and staff as of Wednesday, according to the university’s online COVID-19 dashboard. Of those cases, 124 cases were among students.
It is a sharp increase from last week when 40 students and staff tested positive as students were welcomed back to campus. It also surpasses the highest confirmed active caseload last September, when at least 141 people on campus tested positive and nearly 1,200 people were quarantined.
As the university began its fall semester this week, the university, which doesn’t require vaccination, lifted building capacity restrictions and distancing and masking requirements. The university changed its protocol late Thursday to enact the campus-wide quarantine, moving classes online and suspending large indoor gatherings.
Outdoor events will continue as scheduled and worship services will move to the stadium.
The university will encourage masking and social distancing and host vaccine clinics on campus, but it didn’t indicate it would mandate those measures.
Judge blocks Florida governor’s order banning mask mandates
Meanwhile, a judge ruled on Friday that Florida school districts can legally require their students to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, saying Governor Ron DeSantis overstepped his authority when he issued an executive order banning such mandates.
Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper agreed with a group of parents who claimed in a lawsuit that DeSantis’ order is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced. The governor’s order gave parents the sole right to decide if their child wears a mask at school.
Cooper said DeSantis’ order “is without legal authority.’’
His decision came after a four-day virtual hearing, and after 10 Florida school boards voted to defy DeSantis and impose mask requirements with no parental opt-out. Districts that have done so include Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach and others. Cooper’s ruling will not go into effect until it is put into writing, which the judge asked the parents’ lawyers to complete by Monday.
Cooper said that while the governor and others have argued that a new Florida law gives parents the ultimate authority to oversee health issues for their children, it also exempts government actions that are needed to protect public health and are reasonable and limited in scope. He said a school district’s decision to require student masking to prevent the spread of the virus falls within that exemption.
The law “doesn’t ban mask mandates at all,’’ Cooper said during a two-hour hearing that was conducted online because of the resurgent pandemic. “It doesn’t require that a mask mandate must include a parental opt-out at all.’’
The judge also noted that two Florida Supreme Court decisions from 1914 and 1939 found that individual rights are limited by their impact on the rights of others. For example, he said, adults have the right to drink alcohol but not to drive drunk, because that endangers others. There is a right to free speech, but not to harass or threaten others or yell “fire’’ in a crowded theater, he said.
In that same vein, he said, school boards can reasonably argue that maskless students endanger the health of other students and teachers.