Liberty University Acting President Jerry Prevo has apologized for participating in and organizing an on-campus snowball fight this week in which participants were photographed without facemasks or social distancing.
Prevo explained in a statement posted to Liberty’s website on Tuesday that as snow fell on much of the East Coast this week, he encouraged students at the Lynchburg, Virginia-based evangelical institution to participate in a large snowball fight on campus Sunday.
“I messed up,” stated the school’s acting president, who took over after the departure of the controversial former president, Jerry Fallwell Jr., last year.
“We did not think through or communicate the need to wear facial coverings and remain 6 feet apart in compliance with Virginia Governor’s Executive Orders for the suppression of the spread of COVID-19 or even our own COVID-19 Operations Plan. And the size of the group was not in compliance either.”
According to Prevo, the school failed to enforce “the guidelines that we have followed routinely and sincerely for these many months.” He added that the snowball fight was “not done with a heart of defiance.”
“I and my leadership team apologize for not leading our students to abide by COVID-19 protocols during this event,” he continued. “I am truly sorry for how this activity may put our students and university in a negative light.”
Prevo also explained that the university also removed social media posts related to the snowball fight.
“We hope to foster more fun and excitement for our students in the days ahead, but we will do so while abiding by our health and safety protocols,” concluded the administrator.
There is a set of “guidelines and practices'' listed for on-campus students on Liberty's website. Among those guidelines are mandatory face mask-wearing at student gatherings, the social distancing of at least six feet, washing hands often, covering coughs and sneezes and monitoring one’s health daily.
In response to the snowball fight on campus, some Lynchburg residents raised concerns about the event and the virus's potential spread to local health officials, The Lynchburg News & Advance reported. The local newspaper reported that there were at least 118 complaints related to Liberty lodged with the Central Virginia Health District since Sunday.
“As following the public health guidelines is essential to containing this pandemic, we share the complainants’ concerns about the potential for COVID transmission and are consulting the [Virginia Department of Health] central office on our response,” population health manager Lindsey Lockewood told the News & Advance in an email, adding that it is unclear when health officials will take action over the alleged violations of safety protocols.
In March of last year, Liberty received media scrutiny when it announced that thousands of students could return to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic and government lockdowns.
Then-President Falwell explained at the time that the institution was confident that the campus would be safe from an outbreak and that they intended to adhere to public health guidelines.
“So we're really not operating as a university, except online. I’m just thankful we have the resources and cooperation of our staff so we are well equipped to do this,” stated Falwell last year.
“While some colleges basically threw their hands up and just shut down and left the problem for somebody else to deal with, Liberty's executive staff rolled their sleeves up.”
In response to New York Times stories claiming that allowing students back on campus resulted in multiple students contracting the coronavirus, Liberty sued the news publication and accused it of defamation.