Friday, April 10, 2020   
Mississippi State to hold online commencement ceremonies
Mississippi State University is going to hold its spring commencement online, allowing graduates to "get recognition for their hard work," university officials said in a news release. "Many of our graduating students have expressed that some type of recognition is important," said David Shaw, MSU provost and executive vice president. "As we have all experienced over the past couple of months, engagement through technology gives us a chance to come together and give these graduates kudos for not only their accomplishments, but their adaptation and perseverance." The online ceremonies will begin at 2 p.m. May 1. MSU President Mark Keenum will confer degrees and address the new graduates. Graduates who wish to participate in a traditional graduation ceremony may do so with their regalia at the university's December commencement.
Mississippi State University to hold commencement ceremonies online
Mississippi State University will be celebrating spring 2020 graduates online. The online ceremonies will be broadcast May 1 at 2 p.m. MSU President Mark Keenum will grant degrees and address the new graduates. Students can purchase regalia and bring it to the campus in fall to have their pictures taken with President Keenum. A time and date for pictures will be announced later on. Graduates can also participate in the traditional December graduation ceremonies.
Mississippi State announces refund plans for spring semester
Mississippi State University has announced its plan to provide pro-rated housing refunds for eligible students living in university residence halls during Spring 2020. Most students had to vacate their housing early because of the COVID-19 pandemic and classes being transferred online. The university says students enrolled in meal plans with Aramark will have the remainder of their meal plans rolled over into Fall 2020 unless the student is graduating. In that case, students will receive pro-rated refunds on the unused portion. Parking and transit services will provide pro-rated parking refunds for all commuter students and students who did not remain on campus to live in university residence halls after March 16, 2020. Students who withdrew from the university before March 16, 2020 will not be issued a refund. Additionally, students whose housing was paid from institutional scholarships, MSU Foundation scholarships, or MSU Athletics will not receive a refund. Housing refunds will be applied to student accounts by May 10, 2020.
Mississippi puts ingenuity to the test in the fight against coronavirus
Respiratory failure associated with COVID-19 has sent the demand for ventilators soaring across the country. In Mississippi, an overwhelming surge of coronavirus patients hasn't been as issue, by large, for hospitals around the state. But state and medical officials are preparing for the worst. At Mississippi State University, electrical engineer David Wallace and more than a dozen other team members had been embroiled in their own fight against coronavirus. Wallace, who manages MSU's High Voltage Lab, had taken the lead on improving 550 of the state's battery-powered ventilators so they could be used in the state's response against coronavirus. The electrical engineer said he had received a call from the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. They wanted to know if Wallace could come up with a way to convert the ventilators to operate off a more sustained power source. In the meantime, Dr. Charles Robertson, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, wasn't waiting around for ventilators to come to him. Instead, the doctor started producing his own makeshift ventilators to use in the event of a shortage. Using items bought from the hardware store, like a hose and a lamp timer, Robertson was able to construct 170 makeshift ventilators he created to match UMMC's cache of 150 ventilators.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on ventilator supplies and racial trends in COVID-19 data
In Mississippi, the coronavirus crisis has evolved on a very different timeline than in hot spots like New York and New Jersey. Mississippi was one of the last states in the country to record a known coronavirus case, and one of the most recent to adopt stay-at-home orders. Governor Tate Reeves joins Amna Nawaz to discuss critical medical supplies and troubling racial trends in COVID-19 data: "We had portable ventilators that we used the ingenuity of Mississippi State University. Our research universities have been fantastic in working with us. We have taken those 500 ventilators that used to be battery-operated, and now they're both battery-operated, and they will plug into a wall. We actually had a doctor at the University Medical Center go and buy $50 worth of supplies at a couple of stores here in Mississippi and create his own ventilator. And so we feel confident that we're going to have adequate number of supplies to make sure that we don't overwhelm our health care system. And, honestly, that has been our goal from the get-go, and I think the goal of virtually every other state."
MSU researchers convert ventilators for use in fight against COVID-19
Mississippi State University students and faculty have worked in the university's Paul B. Jacob High Voltage Laboratory this week to convert over 500 battery-powered ventilators to AC power. These converted ventilators will be used for medical relief from the systemic stresses of COVID-19 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. David Wallace, manager of the lab, worked alongside faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students to create modifications that not only allowed the ventilators to run on AC power from a wall socket but also switch between battery power and AC power if needed. Wallace also worked closely with Taylor Machine Works, a machinery company based in nearby Louisville, Mississippi. According to Wallace, the partnership was crucial to the quick completion of the conversions. "Taylor Machine Works was invaluable," Wallace said. Looking back on the project, Wallace is amazed at the way MSU came together to help the state. "I think this was a fantastic coming together of people," Wallace said. "We had all nationalities, grad students and faculty. It was just a mixture of everybody in the lab doing this. It was great seeing everybody come together to get this done as fast as we could to help the people of Mississippi."
Perspective from the professors: MSU faculty members give viewpoint on transition to online classes
The unexpected COVID-19 crisis has had an unprecedented effect on higher education, forcing professors to turn classes geared towards face-to-face instruction into online courses in a matter of days. Benjamin McLarty, an assistant professor in Mississippi State University's Department of Management & Information Systems who teaches a class of over 400 students, said it has been difficult to move his classes to an online format and still maintain the same quality of instruction. The challenges involved in the move to online learning are different for every class size, class type and subject, and each teacher is adapting differently. Brandon Barton, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences who teaches a special topics elective, said his class already relied heavily on videos, and his students now just have to watch them on their own. Barton also said he is being mindful of the workload he places on his students because he knows they have other, more serious classes to worry about as well. "I'm trying to make sure my class isn't making their lives more difficult for the rest of the semester than it has to," Barton said.
Some area farmers doing good business, seeing more customers during pandemic
Before the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus forced restaurants to suspend dine-in services or close altogether, Miller Kinstley was selling 95 percent of the eggs his hens laid to Restaurant Tyler in Starkville. Now that business has stopped. But Kinstley is still selling out of eggs. "People are still eating the same amount, it's just they're doing it from their own home," he said. Kinstley is a farm fellow -- or as he described it, has a "partnership/internship" -- with Johnny Wray, who owns High Hope Farm near Cedarbluff in western Clay County. Kinstley began working with Wray part time as an undergraduate at Mississippi State University about a year ago and now works there full-time, handling the poultry side of the business. He has 90 laying hens. When he was selling their eggs to Restaurant Tyler, those hens were laying about 30 eggs a day. Now that they're more mature, they're laying closer to 50 -- and all of those eggs are going to individual customers choosing local-sourced food over grocery stores and restaurants. On the other side of the farm, Wray sells beef and lamb. He's seeing the same thing, with more local customers looking to purchase meat directly from him.
New food truck drives into Starkville
Starting Monday, there will be a new food truck on the block in Starkville. Grenada native Hunter Bell is building his roots in Starkville with the incoming Mom and Pop Food Truck and Catering business. The recent graduate of Mississippi University for Women's culinary program said he wants to offer a twist on breakfast cuisine. Specializing in breakfast wraps, sandwiches and quiche, the food stop will advertise its menu and location on its Facebook page. Once quarantines end and a sense of normalcy returns, Bell said you can enjoy breakfast and lunch at Mom and Pop from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Another business in Starkville has been on the move, albeit right next door to its old location. Fleur-de-lis Flowers and Gifts moved from 222 to 220 E. Main St. The shop opened at its new location last week and will host a grand opening in the future.
Empty terminal, flights show the effect of pandemic at Golden Triangle Regional Airport
When Lisa Lemasters boarded the 2:40 p.m. Delta Airlines flight from Golden Triangle Regional Airport to Atlanta Tuesday afternoon, she was one of only four passengers on the plane. The West Virginia resident bought a ticket last week to fly from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania -- the nearest airport to her home -- to Mississippi for a funeral. She said she wouldn't have flown for any other reason right now, with COVID-19 coronavirus spreading through the country and causing would-be spring breakers and business travelers to cancel trips and hunker down in their homes to help curb the spread of the virus. That includes GTR, which is down to two flights per day -- it's normally four -- and fewer than 10 passengers, said Executive Director Mike Hainsey. "If you were to go there now, you'd see a very empty terminal," he said. "It's very quiet there." Hainsey pointed out there is significantly more going on at the airport than passenger flights. "The airport is open because airlines are only part of what we do," he said. "We've got a medical helicopter that flies in and out of there. We still are getting some general aviation flying in and out. The military's still flying. So the airport itself is open, but commercial service is greatly, greatly reduced."
Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce accepting applications for marketing program
Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson announced the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce is accepting proposals for the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program. Partners and collaborators may be private or public, for-profit or nonprofit entities. FSMIP is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and provides matching funds on a competitive basis to state departments of agriculture, state colleges and universities and other appropriate state agencies. Proposals must fit into one of the four project types: agricultural product distribution (handling, storage, processing, transportation, and distribution); cooperative development (cooperation among Federal and State agencies, producers, industry organizations, and others in the development and effectuation of research and marketing programs to improve the distribution processes); economic research to clarify marketing barriers and opportunities, including regulatory compliance costs; and agricultural product development.
Weather Easter Sunday: Severe storms, tornadoes forecast for South
Easter weekend tracks the beginning of the tornado season and forecasters are predicting a dangerous two or three days across a large swath of the South, with the likelihood of several severe thunderstorms, twisters and flooding from central Texas to Virginia. The gathering storm will begin in Texas, with severe thunderstorms Saturday night in the Lone Star State and possibly into parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and even Georgia, along with heavy rain. For Easter Sunday, the Deep South moves front and center, with tornadoes, widespread damaging winds and large hail possible from Houston to Raleigh, North Carolina, into Sunday night. AccuWeather Chief Broadcast Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said he is "very worried" about the possibility of numerous twisters on Easter. The NWS Storm Prediction Center says "strong, long-tracked tornadoes and potentially widespread damaging wind are possible" into Sunday night.
Potential for severe weather, tornadoes Easter Sunday in Mississippi
A severe weather outbreak appears likely Easter weekend for much of the Southeast, bringing the possibility of strong and long-tracked tornadoes, meteorologists are reporting. The forecast includes most of Mississippi on Sunday, particularly in the central and southern portions of the state. "The potential will be there all day, winding down early evening," said National Weather Service Meteorologist Dan Byrd. There is also a potential for widespread damaging wind gusts of up to 70 mph, large hail up to golf ball size and locally heavy rainfall. The severe weather is coming during Gov. Tate Reeves' shelter-in-place order to slow the spread of COVID-19, which remains in effect until 8 a.m. April 20, bringing into question whether to go to a shelter if a tornado threatens. Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director of External Affairs Malary White said in a news release anyone using a public storm shelter to practice social distancing to the best of their abilities.
Governor issues statewide burn ban
Governor Tate Reeves put a statewide burn ban into effect immediately on Thursday because of the coronavirus. The Mississippi Forestry Commission asked for the ban to ease the strain on emergency responders who are having to deal with the virus. Russell Bozeman, the state forester, added that the smoke produced by the fires "creates problems for anyone with respiratory issues and increases our firefighters' chances of exposure when they respond." Trouble breathing is one of the coronavirus symptoms. There are no exceptions with this burn ban, and deputies who find someone violating the ban can fine that person and hold them responsible for any smoke or fire damage.
Another 46,000 Mississippians file for unemployment
Nearly 90,000 Mississippians have filed for unemployment in the past three weeks, more than half of those coming last week. The U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday said 46,514 Mississippians filed unemployment for the first time last week, a 48 percent increase from the previous week, when more than 32,000 filed. Gov. Tate Reeves said the coronavirus pandemic is not only a healthcare crisis but an economic crisis. "It is an economic crisis for a family with two parents out of work; it is an economic crisis for workers racking up credit card debt today," Reeves said. "It is an economic crisis for people who never thought they would have to rely on the government to get by but now find themselves in that position." He said he wasn't worried about Wall Street as much as he was about Main Street Mississippi and the fallout from the coronavirus. Last week's jobless claims were more than the previous 52 weeks combined, he said.
Some Mississippians may soon see extra $600 in unemployment benefits, governor says
Enhanced unemployment benefits, longer hours, more days and additional help is on the way for Mississippians who are without work during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday at a news conference. "This is a public health crisis, but this is also an economic crisis," Reeves said. "I'm worried about mainstream Mississippians whose lives and livelihoods are at risk." State officials have been awaiting guidance from the federal government on how and when they can begin distributing an additional $600 per week in unemployment assistance per month for people who qualify, money allocated as part of federal coronavirus stimulus legislation. Reeves said Mississippi will be one of the first states to begin receiving funds from the CARES Act to distribute to the unemployed -- as early as this week or next.
'10 times worse than Katrina.' Casinos not eligible for COVID-19 relief to pay employees.
A union that represents employees at three Coast casinos demanded on Thursday that casinos across the country pay staff members during the new coronavirus pandemic. After Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and other disasters, the casino industry paid employees while they were out of work, said Donald "D." Taylor, Unite Here international president, in a virtual press conference Thursday. "In all those cases, the casino industry stepped up," he said, and he questioned why the casinos have stopped paying employees now when all the commercial casinos in the country are closed and people are out of work. Taylor said, in many cases, casino companies have huge profits on hand and could cover employee salaries through the federal coronavirus relief programs. On March 16, the Gaming Commission ordered that all Mississippi casinos close indefinitely, which put most of the 10,500 casino employees on the Coast and 16,500 employees statewide out of work. The AGA estimates a two-month shutdown of Mississippi casinos will lead to $736 million in lost economic activity.
State approaching 2,500 COVID-19 cases
The number of COVID-19 cases in Mississippi jumped by more than 200 for the second day in a row. Data released Friday morning showed 2,469 cases in the state. Based on figures as of April 9, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported 209 new cases and six new deaths. None of the new deaths were in the Daily Journal's 16-county coverage area. The statewide total of known deaths related to the virus is 82. Northeast Mississippi's population hub of Lee County now has 41 known cases while the smaller and more rural Tippah County has one more at 42. Alcorn, Chickasaw, Itawamba, Lee, Monroe, Oktibbeha, Tippah and Union all added a single case. Clay, Lafayette, Marshall, and Prentiss added two or more cases overnight. Statewide, just less than 30 percent of all known cases are hospitalized.
'You're going to make some mistakes': Former Gov. Barbour on leading in times of crisis
In one of his first public appearances after the state's first confirmed COVID-19 cases, Gov. Tate Reeves, speaking at the Governor's Mansion, drew parallels to a previous economic disaster: Hurricane Katrina. "It's been ironic, interesting and a little bit eerie," Reeves said of working in the same conference room as he did 15 years ago as state treasurer. "Just like we did after Katrina, I'm committed to doing everything in my power to recovering and returning this state bigger and better than ever before." There are several similarities between the two Mississippi events. A key difference is the fact that this current storm is invisible and still developing. Gov. Haley Barbour, who oversaw Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina, said the leaders like Reeves shepherding their states through the coronavirus pandemic are in an unenviable position when it comes to the daunting task of rebooting the economy. "This pandemic's potential for death and knocking our economy totally out of kilter -- in many ways, the economic damage could be much worse and longer lasting," Barbour told Mississippi Today.
No one knows when lawmakers will return to work at capitol
Northside lawmakers weren't sure at presstime when the 2020 session would resume, but they do expect to have their hands full once they return to the capitol. District 25 Sen. Walter Michel said a major priority will be crafting a budget. However, that likely won't be done until late June, once lawmakers have a clearer picture of how income tax and sales tax revenues shake out. District 29 Sen. David Blount said lawmakers will need to review the recent coronavirus stimulus package to see how it affects state law and spending. Meanwhile, District 70 Rep. Bo Brown said he will push for reviving several healthcare measures that had been killed in committee prior to the session's recess. All three said they were ready to get back to work. Michel said the budget likely won't be passed until June, once lawmakers have a better idea of how the coronavirus outbreak has impacted tax revenues.
Sign language interpreter serving community during COVID-19 crisis
Greg Goldman says he's been a sign language interpreter for about 33 years. Goldman is not deaf or hard of hearing, but he did grow up in the deaf community. Goldman said his father is deaf and his mother is an interpreter, so he grew up signing and speaking. Goldman has been a professional sign language interpreter since the age of 19. He's interpreted for many state-wide disasters going back to hurricane Katrina in 2005. Goldman said, "During Hurricane Katrina when we actually started with the interpreter with the governor. Before that, they had none, and if they did, it was in a little bubble." Goldman said interpreters are having to adapt to the terminology of the coronavirus outbreak. "Some of it is old signs that mean something different due to the way it looks," Goldman said as he demonstrates the new way of signing the word "coronavirus." Goldman said he relies on a colleague from the office on Deaf and Hard of Hearing who sits in front of him while interpreting the Governor's press conference. It's to insure the deaf community is getting the most accurate information.
'The world's got the blues right now': Art and music in Mississippi take a hit during COVID-19 shutdown
Seven months ago, Rita Brent, Jackson native and comedienne, signed to an entertainment agency and left Mississippi to pursue her comedy career in New York. But on one early March night, everything hit pause. Brent noticed the confirmed cases of COVID-19 spreading across the country, specifically in her new New York home, and soon all her scheduled appearances and shows were cancelled. For Brent and other artists, the fear around the novel coronavirus has separated them from their audiences for the foreseeable future and no one knows when live, in-person performances will resume. In Mississippi, the result is the loss of costly, revenue-driving events, and performers unsure of their next paycheck. World-renowned blues musician and Pontotoc native Terry "Harmonica" Bean said he had to cut his international tour short back in January. "The world's got the blues right now," he said.
With market collapse, Senators seek COVID-19 aid for U.S. Catfish aquaculture industries
U.S. Senators from leading catfish-producing states today asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to use his authority to provide CARES Act funding to help sustain the U.S. aquaculture industry, which has been hit by sharp market share declines and depressed prices. U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), with U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-Ark.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), sent a letter asking Perdue to use emergency supplemental funding and other authorities to assist farm-raised fish producers and processors. "All aspects of the domestic aquaculture industry have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic," the Senators wrote. "Approximately 60 percent of catfish processor sales go to foodservice dining establishments. Foodservice sales are down more than 65 percent across all seafood sectors because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Fish inventories continue to build, which is creating significant cash-flow challenges for processors and depressed prices for producers."
Senate hopeful Mike Espy has raised more than $500,000 so far in 2020, his campaign said
Mike Espy has raised more than $520,000 this year as the Democrat prepares for a rematch with Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, according to a campaign spokesman. Spokesman Joe O'Hern said Espy, with nearly $400,000 on hand, is in better financial position now than he was two years ago during the early stages of the 2018 campaign. Of the $520,000 raised this year, O'Hern said about 7,300 individuals made more than 10,000 contributions, making the average donation about $48. A significant number of donations came from Mississippians, O'Hern said, though the campaign is "definitely garnering national attention." The deadline to turn in fundraising numbers to the Federal Election Commission is next week, and a spokesman for Hyde-Smith's campaign said they had not yet prepared their financial report. The reports will include all donations made this year through the end of March.
Fed adds Main Street business, municipal and state lending aid
The Federal Reserve has long been the lender of last resort for Wall Street. Now it'll be for Main Street as well. The Fed established two new lending facilities Thursday in its attempt to ensure the U.S. economy has enough credit to weather the mass shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Main Street Lending Program ill offer up to $600 billion in low-interest loans to mid-sized businesses, and a Municipal Liquidity Facility will provide up to $500 billion in lending to states and municipalities. The Fed also increased lending in other credit facilities it had already created. Altogether, the Fed made an additional $2.3 trillion in loans available Thursday, backed by funds appropriated to the Treasury Department in the latest coronavirus relief package. "In the situation we face today, many borrowers will benefit from these programs, as will the overall economy," Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a Brookings Institution event shortly after the announcement. But Fed lending alone isn't enough, Powell added. "There will also be entities of various kinds that will need direct fiscal support, rather than a loan they would struggle to repay."
US approaching coronavirus peak, CDC director says
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on Thursday night said that the U.S. is closing in on the peak of the coronavirus outbreak. "I think we're coming to the peak ... we can see the other side of the curve," the doctor said in an appearance on CNN. Redfield credited the country's "aggressive social distancing" techniques for lowering the expected mortality rate. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House's coronavirus task force, said this week that the expected death toll in the U.S. has fallen to around 60,000. Previously, the task force had signaled that it could range from 100,000 to 240,000. Still, Redfield urged that there was still work to be done, saying that America's public health infrastructure needs to be augmented before the country and its beleaguered economy can begin to do reopen.
'Most of the country' will not be open by May 1, surgeon general says
Surgeon General Jerome Adams acknowledged Friday most Americans will not be able to resume their normal lives on May 1, when the Trump administration's guidelines aimed at countering the spread of the coronavirus in the United States are set to expire. In an interview on Fox News, Adams said the administration would be "data-driven" in determining when to reopen the country, and stressed that "now is the time for us to continue to lean into" the social-distancing recommendations first issued in mid-March and extended last week until the end of April. "There are places around the country that have seen consistently low levels. And as we ramp up testing and can feel more confident that these places actually can do surveillance and can do public health follow-up, some places will be able to think about opening on May 1," Adams said. "Most of the country will not, to be honest with you, but some will," he continued, "And that's how we'll reopen the country: place by place, bit by bit, based on the data."
Coronavirus threat extends Mercedes plant shutdown in Alabama
Mercedes-Benz U.S. International has extended the production shutdown at its Tuscaloosa County plant through April 20. An initial shutdown of two weeks began March 23, but a spokesperson for the plant in Vance said that company officials elected to extend the delay because of the ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic. Similar closures have occurred at other automotive production plants in Alabama, including the Honda assembly plant in Talladega County and the Hyundai factory south of Montgomery, where at least one worker had tested positive for the coronavirus. MBUSI announced it's the initial shutdown of its Tuscaloosa County plant, which employs about 3,800 people, on the recommendation of international, national and local authorities. Operations will be resumed when the COVID-19 situation improves, the company said.
U.S. advises suspending bat research over concerns coronavirus could infect North American species
The federal government is recommending that scientists suspend all fieldwork involving bats in North America out of concern that researchers could pass the novel coronavirus to the animals, possibly imperiling bat populations or creating a new reservoir for a virus that has caused a global pandemic. Scientists say the virus that causes covid-19 probably originated in China's horseshoe bats, which carry a closely related virus. The advisory, emailed in late March to bat biologists, reflects concerns that the virus could spill back from humans to other species of bats on this continent. Covid-19 is caused by a zoonotic virus, or one that can hop between animals and humans. The precise path it took to people is unclear, and scientists say it may have included a stopover in an intermediary species such as the pangolin, an endangered and highly trafficked mammal. But the virus, SARS-CoV-2, has shown an ability to be passed from humans to animals. The Fish and Wildlife directive to suspend research comes at a problematic time, said Winifred Frick, chief scientist for Bat Conservation International.
Does Vaping Raise Your Risk of Covid-19 Symptoms?
While serious coronavirus infections are more likely in older populations, teenagers and kids aren't immune to the virus. Now, some parents and public health experts are worried that vaping mixed with coronavirus could have terrible consequences. "The anxiety level is at an 11 out of 10 about vaping and smoking right now from parents," says Jonathan Winickoff, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital who studies tobacco use among children. "No parent wants to see their child be placed in a higher risk category." There isn't any published research yet that specifically addresses the Covid-19 health risk for vapers, but there is some evidence showing additional risks for tobacco smokers. Data from the Chinese Centers for Disease Control shows that smoking-related diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have raised the death rate for Covid-19 patients. Additionally, several earlier studies suggest that vaping weakens the lungs' immune response and leaves the body more vulnerable to infection overall.
Mississippi colleges to receive $149 million in COVID-19 federal emergency relief funds
The University of Southern Mississippi will receive more than $13.5 million in the first round of federal emergency relief, with at least half earmarked for cash grants to students affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The funding, which is to be distributed immediately, was part of Mississippi's initial $149 million allocation provided through the recently-passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, better known as the CARES Act. United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the distribution Friday. Colleges and universities will receive allocations and guidance through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund in the coming weeks. Both public and private institutions at both the senior and junior college levels were eligible for the funding. William Carey University will receive $2.3 million-plus. Pearl River Community College was allocated nearly $4.4 million and Jones College $3.8 million. Mississippi State University received the largest allocation at $17.8 million, followed by the University of Mississippi at $16.6 million.
U. of Mississippi cancels in-person programming on all campuses through August 1
After cancelling all in-person instruction through the summer last month, the University of Mississippi canceled all in-person programming on Thursday. In a letter to Ole Miss faculty, staff and students, provost Noel Wilkin announced all in-person, on-campus programs would be canceled through Aug. 1 due to COVID-19. The decision includes all Ole Miss athletic and academic programs on the Oxford, Tupelo, Southaven, Booneville and Grenada campuses. "While this was a difficult decision, this action is necessary to uphold our commitment to safety, health and well-being of our campus community," Wilkin's letter read. "We recognize that this decision presents disruptions and challenges for students, families, faculty and staff." The programs affected by the school's decision includes summer camps, conferences, events and other experiences, according to Wilkin's letter. Online or remote experiences will be offered where possible.
Coronavirus in Mississippi: Ole Miss making face shield headbands
The University of Mississippi is using 3D printers to create face shield headbands to support health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Face shields are valuable because they allow facilities to conserve the short supply of N95 masks that are needed for health care workers who come in direct contact with COVID-19 patients. The headbands can be reused with an interchangeable face shield, which provides more use versus equipment that can only be used once, according to officials at the Ole Miss Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence and the IDEAlab in the J.D. Williams Library. "Our goal is to produce around 400 prints by the end of the month at the latest," said the CME Associate Director of Academic Programs Scott Kilpatrick in a news release.
Itawamba Community College's health science programs give back to the community
One of the real definitions of community is giving back, and that is exactly what Itawamba Community College's health science programs continue to do during a time when that community is facing the paralyzing effects of a global pandemic. To date, ICC's Nursing and Surgical Technology programs have donated personal protective equipment, including gloves, masks and gowns to the North Mississippi Medical Center, and the Respiratory Care Technology program has loaned three ventilator machines. In addition, the Surgical Technology program donated PPE items to Sanctuary Hospice in Tupelo. "Giving back to our community, one that has given so much to us, is the right thing to do," said ICC President Dr. Jay Allen. "A large majority of ICC's health science students are employed by the North Mississippi Medical Center upon graduation. Those healthcare professionals transition to their role in promoting the health and welfare of the communities they serve, although they continue to remain a significant part of our ICC family. It is our responsibility as a community partner and neighbor to assist in whatever way we can to ease the burden of this pandemic, which is touching our neighbors."
$23.7 million in stimulus funds slated for UGA
The University of Georgia will get $23.7 million from the federal COVID-19 stimulus package, according to a database posted by the Chronicle of Higher Education. About $11.9 million of that is a minimum allocation for emergency financial aid grants to students. The news comes just as University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley announced that he will recommend no tuition increase for Georgia students next year. The Regents, the appointed body that oversees Georgia's 26 public colleges and universities, met in cyberspace Thursday. Like other universities, UGA stands to lose millions of dollars in connection with its shutdown of on-campus classes to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Texas A&M advisory group to coordinate coronavirus efforts
Texas A&M University has launched an emergency management group consisting of dozens of its scientists, researchers, engineers and other experts to develop countermeasures for the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. The newly formed Texas A&M Emergency Management Advisory Group (TEMAG) brings together more than 85 experts from a variety of disciplines, including infectious disease, virology, medicine, emergency management, supply chain management, international affairs and more. TEMAG will support the state through the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Texas Department of State Health Services. In a Thursday afternoon phone interview, TEMAG Co-Chair Allison Ficht said that the university has been in contact with state and local officials and entities -- including Nim Kidd, who serves as the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management -- in recent weeks to find ways to assist.
U. of Missouri System president warns of projected shortfall
University of Missouri system president Mun Choi warned Thursday that a projected revenue shortfall could be as high as $180 million. The economic hit is a result of the downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic which has resulted in hundreds of business closures in the state. Revenues in the current budget for the UM System total $3.4 billion. Choi, during a news conference Thursday following a meeting of the UM System Board of Curators, also said projections for the pandemic in Missouri make it look promising for a return of students to campuses in the fall semester. "We fully expect to be open in the fall term," Choi said. All courses are being delivered online, which will continue through the summer session. Decisions about layoffs will come soon, Choi said.
Feds begin distributing emergency grants for students affected by campus closures
The Education Department is beginning to disperse the $14 billion set aside for higher education in the stimulus package passed by Congress two weeks ago, beginning with $6 billion in funds for institutions to give students through emergency grants. In addition, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told reporters the department is working on releasing billions more in stimulus funds to help defray the costs to institutions of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The department on Thursday also released how much each institution will get based on a complex formula set by Congress that is weighted toward institutions that enroll the greatest number of low-income Pell Grant recipients. Arizona State University, for example, will get $63 million. However, DeVos didn't answer a key question colleges have been asking: How exactly will they be allowed to use their share of the money?
How Much Coronavirus Stimulus Money Will Your College Get? Take a Look
The federal stimulus package enacted last month will send about $14 billion in grants directly to institutions of higher education. The law was passed as college leaders continued to grapple with the financial consequences of moving instruction online as well as the broader economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday the U.S. Department of Education released new information about how a majority of that money, or $12.5 billion, would be distributed across the sector. (The remaining share of the stimulus money will be directed to minority-serving institutions and smaller colleges.) Below is a sortable table showing how much of the $12.5 billion each college is in line to receive. Half of each institution's total grant amount is reserved for emergency student aid, represented in the right column. That portion of the money, the department said in a Thursday news release, will be distributed "immediately."
Colleges announce furloughs and layoffs as financial challenges mount
First came the hiring freezes. Now come the furloughs. Several colleges announced furloughs and layoffs this week and warned of potential additional staff reductions in the weeks to come. As colleges field unexpected expenses and lost revenue due to the coronavirus outbreak, paying employees -- especially those who are unable to do their jobs remotely -- is becoming more difficult. When colleges are forced to consider budget cuts, administrative costs such as travel and expense funds are typically the first to go, according to Ken Rodgers, director at S&P Global. Hiring freezes come next, which result in "a reasonable amount of savings," he said. If that's not enough, pay reductions, furloughs and layoffs become viable expense-saving options. June is likely to be a key decision point on future furloughs and layoffs, Rodgers said, because the June 30 end of the fiscal year will be approaching. Colleges will be working out their budgets for the new 2021 fiscal year. "They're trying to see how this is going to impact their fiscal '21 budget," he said.
Canceled and Altered Summer Programs Will Cost Colleges Hundreds of Millions
Last year, 427 students and 116 faculty and staff members, musicians, and interns from 38 states and 28 countries participated in the American Dance Festival at Duke University. Twenty-four dance companies and choreographers presented 66 performances. This year, the studios will be empty, the stages dark, as the storied summer festival, which dates to the 1930s, joins hundreds of other college summer programs canceled, or in some cases moved online, by the Covid-19 pandemic. Even with the online alternatives, the lost summer will cost colleges hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, industry experts say, before what's shaping up to be an even more financially devastating fall. Most colleges run or host summer programs to supplement their budgets. The off-season revenue can account for up to 10 percent of annual income, said William G. Tierney, a professor emeritus of higher education at the University of Southern California. Beyond the financial loss, Tierney said, many of these academic, athletic, and artistic programs serve to introduce precollege teens -- often low-income and underrepresented minorities -- to the college environment. Some summer programs help ready them scholastically, improving STEM and reading skills, and imbue them with "a sense of belonging."
Colleges move summer classes online; some consider tuition reductions, technology fee waivers
A flurry of colleges has made the formal, if inevitable, announcements in the last 10 days that summer sessions -- or at least the first scheduled sessions for those that have multiple summer start dates -- will be online-only due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For colleges that already had extensive online summer course offerings, the transition may be relatively smooth, but those that didn't may face questions about quality and tuition pricing from skeptical students. Lucie Lapovsky, principal at Lapovsky Consulting and a former college president, said private college leaders she talks with are discussing incentives such as two-for-one course pricing or reduced tuition. "When I've talked to students, they're saying, 'If I'm going to be online, I don't need to pay the price of my institution,'" she said. "I think you will see shopping, so I think for the more expensive schools you're going to see discounting or deals, so to speak."
Thousands of coronavirus tests are going unused in US labs
As the United States struggles to test people for COVID-19, academic laboratories that are ready and able to run diagnostics are not operating at full capacity. A Nature investigation of several university labs certified to test for the virus finds that they have been held up by regulatory, logistic and administrative obstacles, and stymied by the fragmented US health-care system. Even as testing backlogs mounted for hospitals in California, for example, clinics were turning away offers of testing from certified academic labs because they didn't use compatible health-record software, or didn't have existing contracts with the hospital. Researchers warn that if such hurdles remain, labs trying to join the effort to fight coronavirus might end up spinning their wheels. The United States is now the global epicentre of the pandemic, with more than 430,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including nearly 15,000 deaths.
Faculty Members Fear Pandemic Will Weaken Their Ranks
Covid-19 is being described as both a crisis and an opportunity for higher education. But how "opportunity" is defined depends on where one stands in the academic hierarchy. While some hope the pandemic provides a chance to reverse troubling trends toward the adjunctification and casualization of academic labor, administrators may see it as a different sort of opportunity, to realign institutional priorities or exert greater authority over their faculties. Indeed, as colleges brace for a drop in fall enrollment and other financial hits, a crowdsourced list of institutions that have announced hiring freezes has more than 250 entries. Academics on social media have described having job offers rescinded. And in explaining hiring freezes as necessary to avoid layoffs, administrators have sparked fears among non-tenure-track faculty members that their jobs will soon be eliminated. Faculty critics are also concerned that the pandemic will be used as a rationale to further undermine the traditional faculty model.
How Colleges Are Grading Students During Coronavirus
When Carolynn van Arsdale, a senior at the University of Vermont, was forced to leave her campus amid coronavirus concerns last month, it caused a lot of complications. Samantha Noor, a student at the University of Southern California, had to leave behind the research she had been conducting all year for her senior thesis. Noor and van Arsdale are among the millions of college students across the country who have been forced to switch to online classes via platforms such as Blackboard and Zoom as the coronavirus has shut down campuses. All that on top of their course load. Yet many universities have been hesitant to make changes to their grading system for the semester despite how drastically students' lives have changed in light of the pandemic. Other schools have made all courses pass-fail. While the majority of students seem to be vouching for a universal pass-fail policy, there is also a significant number of students who would prefer to be graded as usual.
College Students Demand Coronavirus Refunds
Students filed lawsuits this week against Drexel University and the University of Miami in an effort to recover spring tuition, room and board and fees after their campuses closed and their classes moved online. The suits, which aim to be class actions, allege the schools are failing to give them the educational experience they paid for, one with in-person instruction. Total cost to attend either the University of Miami or Drexel exceeds $70,000 a year. Schools around the country have been moving classes online to adhere to social-distancing regimens to try to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Some schools prorated rebates for room and board, but very few -- if any -- have reimbursed students for tuition. That policy has prompted widespread discontent. Students at about 200 schools have started petitions demanding the return of money. Attorneys who represent universities say schools refusing to reimburse tuition is rooted in firm legal ground: By continuing to hold classes for credit remotely, they are fulfilling the terms of their contract.
Keeping it together while homeschooling
Angela Farmer, an assistant clinical professor in Mississippi State University's Shackouls Honors College, writes: As the reality of the stay-at-home mandates begin to resonate with families, it is important that they have a plan for student success and not a "wing-it" type approach to learning. Much like the traditional school day has a set schedule, students' study-at-home schedules also need some degree of consistency. One of the best ways to establish a workable schedule is to set aside 30 to 60 minutes of consistent learning before taking a break. This allows students to focus and work diligently, knowing that a break is coming up next. As they no longer have breaks when they can hang out with their friends, it's also good to encourage students to talk to their friends about lessons and try to reestablish their peer tutoring network. While there are a variety of ways to present and teach material, there are also a variety of ways to understand and apply the content.

Robert Woodard declares for NBA Draft, could return to Mississippi State
Reggie Perry may not be the only Mississippi State sophomore to enter the NBA Draft this year. Robert Woodard II announced on Thursday that he too would test the professional process but would not hire an agent, which leaves the door open for a possible return to the Bulldogs. "Playing in the NBA has been an aspiration of mine since I was a child," Woodard said. "I have sacrificed a lot and worked relentlessly to get where I am today. Thank you Mississippi State University, coaches, teammates, trainers and staff for investing and supporting me throughout my Bulldog career. To the Mississippi State basketball family, I cannot thank you enough for all the love you have shown me throughout the season." The NBA Combine is currently scheduled for May 21-24 in Chicago but could be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Woodard has until May 29 to withdraw his name from the NBA Draft in order to return to Mississippi State next season. "We fully support Robert and his decision to pursue the NBA Draft process," said MSU coach Ben Howland. "He's an outstanding talent that possesses every tool to achieve success at the next level."
Columbus native Robert Woodard II declares for NBA Draft
Columbus native Robert Woodard II is taking his talents to the next level. The Mississippi State standout declared for the NBA Draft Thursday, thanking MSU fans and his family on his Twitter account. Woodard II, a 6-foot-7 forward, also maintains his eligibility, meaning he still has the option to return to school at a later date. That's not the mindset he's entering this process with, though. "I am going in to the draft with the intention of not going back to school," Woodard II told ESPN in an article published Thursday. "I am maintaining my eligibility because of the uncertainty about the dates and what workouts will look like, but I don't look at it as testing the waters. I am all in with this thing." The NBA Draft is scheduled for June 25, but may be pushed back to a later date considering the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus. It's likely there won't be any NBA combine this year, so teams will have to rely on virtual interviews and game tape while making personnel decisions.
'Outstanding talent': Robert Woodard declares for NBA Draft
A second Mississippi State player has entered his name for consideration in the 2020 NBA Draft. Robert Woodard II, a 6-foot-7 sophomore from Columbus, declared for the 2020 NBA Draft on Thursday. He has not signed with an agent and still maintains the ability to return to college. "We fully support Robert and his decision to pursue the NBA Draft process," Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said in a statement. "He's an outstanding talent that possesses every tool to achieve success at the next level." In March, USA TODAY Rookie Wire rated Woodard as the No. 43 prospect in this year's NBA Draft class.'s player rankings list Woodard as the No. 24 prospect in the draft class and CBS Sports lists Woodard as the No. 38 prospect in the draft.
Are Mallard Ducks Becoming Nocturnal?
The pattern repeats itself every fall. A cold front brings in a fresh wave of ducks and a rekindled passion among waterfowlers. Some of them fill their duck straps. Others don't, but the mood is the same. It's show time. The ducks finally arrived. A week later, the skies are empty, save for a few random birds that pass well out of range of every decoy spread in the marsh. It's as if the ducks have packed up and moved on to safer grounds. But have they? Or are they hunkered down on a refuge or some secret swamp that no hunter knows about? It's one of waterfowl hunting's greatest mysteries. New research sheds light on those disappearing ducks. As it turns out, when food and open water is available, the birds that filled the skies and tumbled into your decoys early in the season haven't headed for parts south. In fact, they haven't even left your county. The mallards that were so visible last week just found a place to hide that you and your fellow hunters either can't go or haven't discovered. And in some cases, those secret hide-outs are available to anyone with a hunting license and a duck stamp. "They are real good at keying in on small areas that hunters don't use," says Gulf Coast Joint Venture biological team leader Dr. Joe Lancaster. As a graduate student at Mississippi State University graduate, Lancaster attached VHF transmitters to 113 hen mallards during the 2010 and 2011 hunting seasons and monitored their locations.
Football ticket renewals at Arkansas please hopeful AD Hunter Yurachek
University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek is more than just hopeful football will be played this fall. He thinks the country will need football and sports as part of a healing process to deal with the effect of the coronavirus pandemic. "I'll tell you what I think," Yurachek said in a phone interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Thursday. "I think that will happen. I think we will get a full football season in. I think that will start on time. I think it's something that our community and our country desperately needs, for professional and college athletics to start back up again. I feel comfortable. That is how we're planning here at the University of Arkansas right now." Yurachek's enthusiasm for the return of sports -- starting with the cash cow of football -- rides on the forward momentum of a just-completed season-ticket renewal campaign by UA athletics and its fundraising arm the Razorback Foundation. The renewal effort, despite back-to-back 2-10 football seasons, was promising in Yurachek's estimation.
Tennessee to honor extended eligibility to spring athletes affected by COVID-19 crisis
Tennessee will honor the extended eligibility granted by the NCAA to spring athletes affected by the coronavirus pandemic, an athletic department spokesman told Knox News on Thursday. The NCAA Division I Council ruled March 30 in favor of eligibility relief for athletes impacted by spring sport cancellations, but left the decision in the hands of individual institutions. "Everybody in the world's life has changed with the virus and all," Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer said Thursday morning on WNML. "I give the NCAA and our conference, especially, kind of leading the way, to step out of the box and give the year back to our spring athletes. No fault of their own, that they lost the opportunity. Kudos to them." Tennessee's spring sports are baseball, softball, rowing, men's and women's outdoor track and field, men's and women's tennis as well as men's and women's golf. All were cut short when the SEC canceled all regular-season athletic competitions and postseason tournaments through the academic year on March 17.
Where Vanderbilt locker room renovation, athletics director search stand during pandemic
Vanderbilt interim athletics director Candice Storey Lee planned to spend her spring finalizing football locker room renovations, meeting fans for coffee and deciding the future of coaches. She just didn't think it would be on Zoom video calls. "I'm busier now than before," said Lee, who took the helm Feb. 4 after athletics director Malcolm Turner was forced to resign. "We had a Board of Trust executive committee meeting on Zoom (on Wednesday), so I put on a blazer. But I may or may not have had a hoodie on for some other calls. "Your audience changes every call." Vanderbilt sporting events and on-campus classes were canceled for the remainder of the spring semester because of the coronavirus pandemic. Student-athletes moved out of their dorms. Coaches and administrators are working remotely, and the Board of Trust meets via video conference.
Memphis will soon be the home for the U.S. Navy's competitive gaming team
Memphis is set to become the U.S. Navy's headquarters for all things esports. The Navy's esports team, named "Goats & Glory," is accepting applications from Navy members to join a six-person team to compete in the video game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and help its recruitment efforts. Those who are accepted to the team will be based full-time in an esports-focused facility at a currently undetermined location in Memphis, where they will practice and stream games online. The plan is to have the location up and running later this year, said Allen Owens, deputy chief marketing officer for Navy Recruiting Command. "Everyone knows Pensacola is the home of the Blue Angels," said Chief Marketing Officer Capt. Matt Boren, referring to the Navy's flight demonstration squadron. "With the growth of esports, it's possible the most famous outreach item the Navy will have is its esports team based out of Memphis, Tennessee."
Poll: Fans won't attend games without vaccine
The sports world has been at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic for roughly a month, and despite the widespread eagerness to restart games, a majority of Americans said in a recent poll they would not attend sporting events in person just yet. A whopping 72% of Americans polled said they would not attend if sporting events resumed without a vaccine for the coronavirus. The poll, which had a fairly small sample size of 762 respondents, was released Thursday by Seton Hall University's Stillman School of Business. When polling respondents who identified as sports fans, 61% said they would not go to a game without a vaccine. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.6%. Only 12% of all respondents said they would go to games if social distancing could be maintained, which would likely lead to a highly reduced number of fans, staff and media at games. The poll shows that the coronavirus pandemic would affect sports for the foreseeable future, even if some resume.
MGM Park staying 'game ready' for Shuckers' 2020 season
No players in the dugout, not a single fan in the stands, or concessions being served. A bizarre sight to see for Opening Day at MGM Park, but with COVID-19 plaguing the sports world, the Biloxi Shuckers 2020 season is at a standstill. "I was excited and looking forward to that as our whole front office and staff was ready for the first game," Reuben Wedgeworth told WLOX. "It's very disappointing, the world is kind of turned upside down right now." First year groundskeeper, Reuben Wedgeworth, was preparing for his first minor league game of his career, but will now have to wait awhile longer. "I started actually the week before the Mississippi State game, so I was here seven days before we had those first two games. Then we had the high school games," Wedgeworth said. "It was exciting to get all of that done in a quick time frame, but here we are kind of sitting and waiting."
MLB considering radical realignment for 2020 season: Grapefruit and Cactus leagues
How about the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies being divisional rivals for the season? Or the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves? And the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians? Major League Baseball, assessing myriad proposals, has discussed a radical plan that would eliminate the traditional American and National Leagues for 2020, a high-ranking official told USA TODAY Sports, and realign all six divisions for an abbreviated season. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is one of several being discussed. The plan would have all 30 teams returning to their spring training sites in Florida and Arizona, playing regular-season games only in those two states and without fans in an effort to reduce travel and minimize risks in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The divisions would be realigned based on the geography of their spring training homes.

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