Wednesday, April 15, 2020   
State's poultry industry hurt by Easter tornadoes
Tornadoes and damaging storms that swept through the state Easter Sunday afternoon and evening, killing 11 Mississippians also caused devastating losses to the poultry industry. Tom Tabler, poultry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the most significant damage to the state's poultry industry occurred in the Covington County area near Collins, Mississippi. Poultry was worth an estimated $2.7 billion to the state in 2019. Early indications are that at least 90 poultry houses were damaged or destroyed, along with an additional six breeder houses. Other houses are operating on generators for power. Reports continued to come in through the day Monday as roads were cleared of trees, and damage estimates may rise. No dollar figure has been assigned yet to the losses, but Tabler provided some specifics to help grasp the magnitude of the losses. "A new broiler house today is 46 feet wide by 500 feet long or sometimes longer," Tabler said. "Depending on the features built into the house, they may cost $300,000 to $325,000 per house and raise about 25,000 chickens."
No hugs or handshakes: Pandemic complicates storm relief
For people who lost homes to the deadly tornadoes that rampaged across the South, there are no comforting hugs from volunteers or handshakes from politicians. For homeless families, there are no Red Cross shelters, only hotel rooms. These and other changes reflect how disaster response has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic: Workers are still trying to provide all the help they can, but from a distance. With the economy already faltering because of business shutdowns and job losses linked to the pandemic, the storms hit the state's $2.9 billion poultry industry. At least 90 poultry houses were damaged or destroyed, many near the city of Collins, the Mississippi State University Extension Service said. "Although some houses were between flocks and empty, many of these houses had chickens in them," poultry specialist Tom Tabler said in a statement. "Some would have been chicks just a few days old, while others would have been flocks nearly ready for harvest."
Brian Pieralisi Named Mississippi State University Extension Cotton Specialist
Brian Pieralisi is the new Mississippi State University Extension Service cotton specialist. Appointed April 1, Pieralisi succeeds Darrin Dodds, who now heads the university's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. Pieralisi will work with growers to continue to refine cotton production practices to help increase profitability, including cotton variety testing and research and outreach on fertility management, weed control, irrigation, harvest aids and other areas of cotton production. "Sustainability of our farming operations and our environment will be addressed through research and outreach efforts," Dodds said. "Brian's background of education and experience is very unique and will allow him to work with growers and students and provide multiple perspectives to each." A native of Leland, Pieralisi earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural pest management from MSU before returning to his family farm and earning a master's degree in business administration from Delta State University. He returned to MSU to work on a doctoral degree in agronomy with an emphasis on nutrient management and soil fertility, which he will complete this summer.
Jerry Clower's Legacy of Endless Laughs and Boundless Faith
Standup comedian, recording artist and Grand Ole Opry member Jerry Clower struck the right balance between country comedy and heartfelt faith from his big label debut in 1971 until his 1998 death. Howard Gerald Clower was born in Liberty, Mississippi on Sept. 28, 1926. He served in the Navy right after high school (1944-'46). Following his military service, Clower played football and studied agriculture at Mississippi State University. Upon graduating from college in 1951, Clower worked as a county agent and a seed and fertilizer salesman. Interactions with rural farmers earned Clower a reputation as a fast-talking jokester. In 1970, Clower followed some friendly advice and recorded some of his stories. The reception to Clower's classic "A Coon Huntin' Story" and exposure from radio DJs made him a major label comedian by 1971. Clower died on Nov. 24, 1998 due to surgical complications from a heart bypass surgery. His final album of unreleased material, Peaches and Possums, came out that same year. His legacy remains that of a well-rounded entertainer whose act set the stage for every popular country comedian that followed.
Starkville-Oktibbeha becomes second district to leave Golden Triangle Early College High School
The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District became the second district to cut ties with the Golden Triangle Early College High School with two unanimous votes by the board of trustees at their Tuesday meeting. Superintendent Eddie Peasant recommended the board not renew the district's memorandum of understanding with GTECHS, which would have allowed the district to continue sending students to the early college high school on East Mississippi Community College's Mayhew campus next school year. The district's current agreement with GTECHS will end on June 30. Peasant also recommended the board reject a contract with GTECHS for the 2020-21 school year. Columbus Municipal School District voted earlier this month to sever ties with GTECHS. Peasant also said he does not believe all students accepted to GTECHS match the intended targets of "at-risk" or students trying to be the first generation in their families to attend college.
Governor announces 'Restart Mississippi' partnership with private sector
As Mississippi nears its peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials are beginning to look toward the eventual re-opening of the state's economy. While a specific timeline for a return to normalcy is still unknown, Governor Tate Reeves has announced the formation of 'The Governor's Commission for Economic Recovery'. According to a news release, the commission will be asked to "chart a course for economic recovery and re-opening Mississippi's economy." "We need Mississippians helping Mississippians. I have asked a trusted group of our state's top business minds to do just that. Under the 'Restart Mississippi' umbrella, they are going to develop a series of recommendations and goals for our new economy. They will study the impact of COVID-19 on our workforce and small businesses. And they will help us recover -- day by day," Governor Reeves said. Chaired by Joe Sanderson of Sanderson Farms, the commission will examine the impact of the outbreak on each geographic region of the state and develop tailored solutions. The remainder of the committee will be made up of representatives from across the state.
Gov. Tate Reeves assesses tornado damage in South Mississippi
Gov. Tate Reeves made a stop in Soso on Tuesday at a Baptist church that took a hard hit from Sunday's tornadoes. The church's sanctuary was damaged and its Family Life Center destroyed. Its steeple lay across the street. But that damage may have been mild compared to what Reeves saw when he took an air tour immediately before his stop, accompanied by U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and U.S. Rep. Michael Guest. "I wanna just say to everyone who is here today -- thank you," he said. "We took a pretty hard punch on Easter Sunday. We lost the lives of some pretty wonderful people in our state, and we lost an awful lot of property." Twelve people died from the tornadoes that hit South Mississippi Sunday.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, Rep. Michael Guest speak about impact of Sunday's tornadoes
U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and U.S. Rep. Michael Guest of Mississippi's third Congressional District were among the dignitaries who joined Gov. Tate Reeves on a tour of tornado-ravaged areas of Mississippi Tuesday. Reeves flew over several areas affected by the deadly Easter Sunday storms, including parts of Jefferson Davis, Jones and Covington counties. Reeves, Sen. Hyde-Smith and Rep. Guest spoke to the media in Soso and Bassfield. "We are assessing the damage and we are doing all we can to possibly get the relief that some of you out there certainly are going to have to have that have lost everything," said Hyde-Smith, during a news conference at Bassfield's Victory Baptist Church. "We have seen the outpouring of support, neighbors helping neighbors," said Rep. Guest. "That is the great thing about when we have a crisis or disaster here in Mississippi, is we see everyday Mississippians help and step up to support members of their community."
Mississippi adds 273 known COVID-19 cases
With 273 new cases and 11 deaths reported Wednesday morning, Mississippi's total of known COVID-19 cases hit 3,360, with 122 known deaths. The following counties in Northeast Mississippi reported additional cases: Calhoun, Chickasaw, Clay, Itawamba, Lafayette, Marshall, Monroe, Oktibbeha, Prentiss and Union. Calhoun County also reported an additional death linked to COVID-19, for a total there of two deaths. Monroe County's new cases mean it is now tied with Lee County for the most number of known cases in the region, at 46 each. Tippah County is next, at 45 known cases but leads the region in deaths.
Coronavirus in Mississippi: 11 new deaths, 273 new cases reported Wednesday
The Mississippi State Department of Health announced 273 new cases of coronavirus In Mississippi on Wednesday and 11 additional deaths, bringing the state's total cases to 3,360 with 122 deaths. In a first for the state, children under the age of 1 have now tested positive for the coronavirus. The state also reported 66 outbreaks in nursing homes in 36 counties Wednesday. According to MSDH, "Even one case of COVID-19 in these facilities among residents or employees is considered an outbreak." Three Mississippians under the age of 18 are hospitalized, with 82 in that age bracket having tested positive. Nineteen of those testing positive are between the ages of 1 to 5. Seven are under 1 year old. Those in the 50-59 age bracket make up the largest number of confirmed cases in the state, with 636, while those in the 60-69 age bracket make up the largest number of hospitalizations with 188.
Governor: Mississippi schools remain closed rest of semester
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday that public school buildings will remain closed the rest of the semester to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, but he wants schools to continue distance-learning efforts. Reeves also said some school districts should look at an option of offering summer classes. He praised teachers, administrators and parents, saying that he thinks most students have continued to take some classes online or through other efforts. He also thanked school bus drivers who have delivered meals and packets of school work to children in parts of the state. But, referring to the recent school closures, Reeves said: "This hasn't hit all students equally." He acknowledged that some parts of the state lack strong internet access and some residents don't have access to computers.
Gov. Tate Reeves: Schools will remain closed through end of semester
Mississippi's public schools will remain closed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Tuesday afternoon. Reeves thanked educators for their efforts thus far to continue teaching students from afar as schools have closed due to COVID-19. "I know how hard teachers, students, all their staff and how hard parents have been working during this dangerous time," Reeves said. "You have my deepest respect and my sincere admiration. It has been so encouraging to see the efforts of our education community." Reeves suggested that could be anything from remediation plans for certain students to more or longer classes and school days in the future. He added that the state will work with local superintendents to develop a plan and the ideas he laid out won't necessarily be mandated, but will be options to consider.
Gov. Tate Reeves: Schools closed for rest of academic year, will shift to distance learning
Gov. Tate Reeves announced Tuesday that Mississippi schools would stay closed for the remainder of the school year in response to the spread of the coronavirus, but said distance learning will continue. "School buildings in Mississippi will remain closed for the rest of the semester," Reeve said. "That does not mean school is cancelled." Education will shift to "distance learning," Reeves said, though he noted that not all Mississippi school children have access to "fancy webcams" or high-speed internet. "We're going to require that we have a better understanding on what's going on in every single district," Reeves said. "The distance learning, I know that it's happening in many districts across the state, and like anything else in life, some are doing it better than others." In recent days, Reeves said he has been talking with state and local education officials, and it's his understanding that "the vast majority of students are participating in learning today." Reeves said closing down schools has been key to reducing the transmission of coronavirus -- and could prove to be the most important step his administration has taken so far.
As Gov. Tate Reeves shutters schools, some teachers worry about sustaining distance learning
Mississippi students will not return to the classroom this semester. On Tuesday, Gov. Tate Reeves announced that school buildings would remain closed for the rest of the year to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Reeves added that he had hoped to reopen schools but that data did not justify doing so. How schools provide instruction during the closures is up to each school district. In the Starkville-Oktibbeha School District, Starkville High School assistant principal Darein Spann said the superintendent asked teachers to hold office hours for two hours a day, three days a week for students to call or email with questions. "The normalcy is not there," Spann said. "So we've really just kind of been a facilitator of information and support for teachers to ensure that students are being serviced and getting correct information to support them." That district has some students who take dual credit courses at East Mississippi Community College and Mississippi State University, so students in those courses are continuing to use the online platform that was already in place.
No plans for Medicaid expansion in Mississippi as response to coronavirus
Contrary to other recent headlines, the possibility of Medicaid expansion in Mississippi as a response to Coronavirus remains highly unlikely. The state's top officials say there is no plan to do so anytime soon. When asked whether or not the state was considering an expansion, Renae Eze, spokesperson for Governor Tate Reeves' office, responded that it wouldn't be a solution to the COVID-19 response. "Expanding Medicaid is no guarantee that it will help with the response to COVID-19 -- Louisiana and New York both expanded Medicaid prior to the worldwide outbreak, yet their states are still being ravaged. Working to protect the health and well-being of all Mississippians, Governor Reeves is mobilizing state resources while reaching out to the federal government for additional support." Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann said that the focus right now by officials is placed on immediate responses to the pandemic as well as recent natural disasters like the Easter tornadoes. Speaker of the House Philip Gunn flat out said, "No," when asked about the possibility of expansion.
Taxes, revenue, and liquor: Mississippi Department of Revenue's Herb Frierson provides an update
Herb Frierson, the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Revenue, joined The Gallo Show on Tuesday morning to provide an update on the state's current revenue situation. According to Frierson, the state was in a pretty good situation prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, but his department is expecting a major drop in revenue due to the recently enacted stay-at-home order. "On March 31, we were running about 190 million [dollars] above last year's collection," Frierson said. "We're anticipating a substantial drop in revenue---way below estimate for the next three months -- due to the shelter-in-place [order] and the shutting down of the economy." While the economy has suddenly gone idle due to the closing of nonessential businesses, Frierson did note that there is one industry prospering amidst the pandemic. Comically enough, liquor stores have reached "record sales." "We're selling more [liquor] than we did during the Christmas and New Year's time -- about 15 percent more," Frierson said. Regarding the blooming tax season, Frierson wanted to remind Mississippians that they have until May 15 to file their state taxes and until July 15 to file their federal income taxes. As of now, about 63 percent of taxpayers have already filed their federal income tax.
ICE reports first COVID-19 case at Adams County Correctional Center
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 among detainees in Mississippi at the Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 coronavirus are on the increase among immigration detention facilities across the country as officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement respond to the spread of the virus. As of Monday, 72 detainees have confirmed cases of COVID-19 among those in ICE custody. The number of confirmed cases have increased significantly in one week from the 6 cases reported in April 6. The numbers are reported on the ICE website at In addition to detainees, ICE reported 19 cases of COVID-19 among ICE employees at detention centers and 72 cases of COVID-19 among ICE employees not assigned to detention facilities.
Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith, Roger Wicker laud $108M special ops contract to Mississippi shipbuilder
U.S. Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) of Brookhaven and Roger Wicker (R) this week lauded the award of a $108 million defense contract to United States Marine, Inc. (USMI) of Gulfport to produce vessels for the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). "This is excellent news for the talented craftsmen at USMI," Wicker said. "This Mississippi-based company has grown to be one of the premier suppliers of special warfare boats to our nation's military, and the Combatant Craft Assault continues that legacy. Mississippians can be proud of their contributions to our national security." "This contract is very good news for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. United States Marine, Inc. has earned a solid reputation in support of our national defense, and this award will allow it to continue that important mission," Hyde-Smith said. USMI Chief Executive Office Barry Dreyfus Jr. said the contract would allow the company to retain and possibly expand its workforce.
Covid-19 hits hog farmers, processors
The National Pork Producers Council said Tuesday that the loss of foodservice customers, a drop in pork exports and a series of slaughterhouse closures across the country is wreaking havoc on the industry, writes Pro Ag's Liz Crampton. Farm economists with Kerns & Associates and Iowa State University estimate that hog farmers will lose nearly $37 per pig because of the market turmoil, adding up to about $5 billion for the rest of 2020. The shutdown of major processing sites like the Smithfield site in Sioux Falls, S.D., has caused a surplus of hogs, driving down their value. "We are taking on water fast. Immediate action is imperative, or a lot of hog farms will go under," said NPPC President Howard A.V. Roth. For example, the group is asking USDA to buy up more than $1 billion in pork products, helping to clear out the backed-up meat supply and to lift the financial pressure on producers. Those goods could be redirected to food banks, where demand is surging.
AG William Barr says government 'may not impose special restrictions' on religious gatherings
Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday that the government "may not impose special restrictions" on religious gatherings as churches across the country raise eyebrows with large in-person ceremonies conducted against the advice of health officials. Barr emphasized recommendations from federal health officials that people practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings, noting that "the Constitution does allow some temporary restriction on our liberties that would not be tolerated in normal circumstances." "But even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers," Barr said in a statement. "Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity." Barr added that the Justice Department filed a memo in support of a Mississippi church after congregants were fined $500 per person for attending its parking lot services. The Justice Department suggested in its filing that the city of Greenville, where the church is located, singled out the religious services after it declined to issue similar penalties on those attending nearby drive-in restaurants.
President Trump Says He Will Halt WHO Funding, Pending Review
President Trump says he will halt U.S. funding of the World Health Organization while his administration reviews the organization's handling of the coronavirus crisis. "Today I am instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization's role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus," Trump said Tuesday in a briefing at the White House. Trump said that the review would take 60 to 90 days and that a "very thorough investigation" is underway. It's unclear whether the president has the authority to unilaterally halt funding for an international institution such as the WHO. Congressional Democrats have argued he doesn't. But The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the White House budget office has concluded that Trump has several options for withholding the funds without congressional approval, including ordering agencies to reroute the money to other related purposes.
Biodefense must be a permanent White House focus, Christopher Murphy and Mitt Romney say
U.S. government spending on global public health, particularly on the early detection of new pathogens, must be significantly and permanently increased, said one key Senate appropriator on Tuesday. Moreover, the White House must have a permanent body devoted to detecting and responding to the earliest signs of a major infectious disease outbreak abroad, instead of the informal task forces that came and went under the past four presidencies, added Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn. Last week, Murphy announced he would introduce bipartisan legislation with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, that would establish a Global Health Security Interagency Review Council at the White House, to be led by a new coordinator for global health security drawn from the National Security Council. The bill seeks to put into statute biodefense preparedness processes which until now have been subject to the wavering priorities of different White Houses.
'Should have happened yesterday': Republicans press President Trump to restart economy
President Donald Trump is itching to reopen the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. And congressional Republicans are mostly giving him the green light -- and in some cases, leaning on him to speed up. As Trump alternately agonizes over when to push states to reopen and browbeats governors with questionable claims of his superior authority, GOP lawmakers are urging federal guidance that quickly restarts some industries and begins to roll back unprecedented closures of vast swaths of the United States. While most Republicans say the country should go slow and take a regional approach, there's an unmistakable demand building in the party for the president to move forward, according to interviews with more than a dozen GOP members of Congress. It's a message they're delivering privately in calls with Trump and his senior advisers, as well as in public op-eds and letters to the administration. It’s a message at odds with the public health professionals advising Trump, who have warned against the country dropping its guard.
China didn't warn public of likely pandemic for 6 key days
In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan at the epicenter of the disease hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people; millions began traveling through for Lunar New Year celebrations. President Xi Jinping warned the public on the seventh day, Jan. 20. But by that time, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press and expert estimates based on retrospective infection data. That delay from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 was neither the first mistake made by Chinese officials at all levels in confronting the outbreak, nor the longest lag. But the delay by the first country to face the new coronavirus came at a critical time -- the beginning of the outbreak.
Coronavirus destroys lungs. But doctors are finding its damage in kidneys, hearts and elsewhere.
The new coronavirus kills by inflaming and clogging the tiny air sacs in the lungs, choking off the body's oxygen supply until it shuts down the organs essential for life. But clinicians around the world are seeing evidence that suggests the virus also may be causing heart inflammation, acute kidney disease, neurological malfunction, blood clots, intestinal damage and liver problems. That development has complicated treatment for the most severe cases of covid-19, the illness caused by the virus, and makes the course of recovery less certain, they said. The prevalence of these effects is too great to attribute them solely to the "cytokine storm," a powerful immune-system response that attacks the body, causing severe damage, doctors and researchers said. Almost half the people hospitalized because of covid-19 have blood or protein in their urine, indicating early damage to their kidneys, said Alan Kliger, a Yale University School of Medicine nephrologist who co-chairs a task force assisting dialysis patients who have covid-19.
Recovered from COVID-19: MUW's Baptist Student Union director speaks out about symptoms, dealing with coronavirus
For Sam Ivy, it didn't start with a nagging cough or a fever. It started with a bad glass of sweet tea. Ivy is the director of the Baptist Student Union at the Mississippi University for Women. He is also someone who has contracted and recovered from COVID-19 coronavirus. As evidence of the latter, he spent most of Tuesday doing yard work at the home of 94-year-old Daisy Poros, whose house is next door to the BSU. "I feel fine now," Ivy said. Ivy most likely contracted the disease during a week-long mission trip to New York City from March 7-13. He was accompanying a group of 24 BSU members from The W and East Mississippi Community College. "We were out everywhere, probably every borough in the city," Ivy said. "When we got there (COVID-19) wasn't considered a big ordeal, but that had changed by the time we left." The city reported its first COVID-19 death the day after Ivy returned home. As of this morning, the death toll in the state of New York is almost 11,000.
COVID-19 impacting on-campus visits for upcoming college students
High school seniors are usually making their final decisions about college during this time of the year. COVID-19 has put a damper on those plans. So what are some options for students to help them select the perfect college for them? "As far as the tours go, of course, we did have to postpone students that had originally requested to tour our campus, unfortunately," said Iika McCarter, Interim Director of Admissions at Mississippi University for Women. "But we will be rescheduling those tours and we are also finishing a virtual tour." In addition to providing virtual tours, McCarter said outlets like social media has helped in a major way. McCarter said with students physically out of school at the moment, it's a perfect time to reach out to colleges for any questions that need answers. "Take the time to do some research now," said McCarter.
UMMC begins clinical trials to find COVID-19 treatment
University of Mississippi Medical Center is beginning clinical trials on COVID-19 treatment. Dr. LouAnn Woodward says the hospital has working for about a month to get to the treatment trials. "There is no currently approved, commonly accepted treatment for COVID-19," Woodward said. But she says the clinical trials process will help them find one that will be a helpful treatment for those with the virus. Dr. Richard Summers says the trials will cover all currently available options for treatment and will be tested on adults and children. Dr. Alan Jones discussed hydroxychloroquine's presence in the testing. He says he will test the drug's ability to fight death or respiratory failure if it's offered early for patients. Another of the tests will be researching antibodies in people who've recovered from coronavirus. They'll look at a plasma donation and see if the antibodies built up in that person's body would be effective against the disease.
Q+A with Southern Miss' Anna Wan, maker of 'The Hub Mask' for COVID-19 protection
Anna Wan has built a career out of making math come alive. The assistant professor and self-described tinkerer at University of Southern Mississippi has just pivoted from hands-on math labs for future teachers and students alike, to medical mask-making. The common thread: her 3D printer and duel "makers" hub-research lab in Hattiesburg. For the Inform[H]er newsletter, Mississippi Today spoke with Wan last week about her approach to getting creative during a pandemic that led to a new medical mask innovation, as she was driving around town delivering said new masks to Forrest General Hospital and the Hattiesburg Clinic. Like many innovations, her design was partly due to chance and a hunch at 2 in the morning. Upshot: She's a "math licensure" faculty member at USM, meaning she teaches future math teachers. Her motto about teaching through making (and the perfect pivot to mask-making): "What other way to make it more real than to actually have the tools to make the precise thing that you want to make and make math come alive."
Alcorn State University to Issue Prorated Refunds for Spring 2020 Semester
Alcorn State University will issue prorated refunds and credits for eligible students for housing, meals and parking charges. The transition to remote learning left many students concerned about refunds and paid fees due to the coronavirus and the university wanted to do something generous for their students. Larry Orman, Vice President of Marketing and Communication, tells how these paybacks will be issued. "Refunds and credits will be applied to student accounts at the university and will first apply to any current outstanding charges or balances owed. Any unused balance will be disturbed to students via direct deposit or refund check. All remaining payments due on payment plans for housing, meals, and parking will be prorated and late payments and financing charges will be waived through the end of the semester." The university states, all transactions will be processed no later than May 29, 2020. Students who remained on campus during the pandemic will not be eligible for refunds or credits.
Auburn science labs use online elements for remote classes
Nearly a month into remote instruction, Auburn University's students and professors have settled into their new normal. Marilyn Vogel, lecturer and coordinator for Concepts of Science, said that now it's a matter of keeping students moving and motivated. "On the one hand we have more time to do work, but on the other hand I think students are struggling with motivation and a changed schedule." Vogel said. "So now that we are in week four, the issue is not things settling down but keeping things moving." Vogel is one of many professors who have been working on a successful transition from in-person labs to online labs. "It helped that my classes have already been adapted to online versions," Vogel said. "Our labs use Canvas a lot, and as a STEM class we try to model technology adoption. The graduate students who teach Concepts of Science have all done a great job learning about new software and following instructions on the changed format." Online labs use more resources than in-person labs, and graduate teaching assistants have had to adapt to this quickly during the transition to online delivery.
Georgia public colleges could take $350 million hit from virus
The University System of Georgia faces revenue losses of $340 million to $350 million through this summer because of coronavirus impacts, according to University System Chancellor Steve Wrigley. The system's per-student funding from the state is already down 35 percent over the past 20 years, he reminded members of the state Board of Regents in a telephonic meeting Tuesday. Revenue losses through spring semester already add up to around $200 million, Wrigley said. The system has reserves to cover some of the losses, and will get an estimated $125 million from the federal COVID-19 relief bills passed last month, he said. There are "some restrictions" on how the money can be used, and university system officials have not yet gotten guidance on when the money might come, according to Wrigley. Neither UGA nor the university system has released a breakdown of expected revenue losses by school. But if UGA's losses correspond to its share of federal relief set to come to UGA -- $23.7 million out of Wrigley's systemwide estimate of $125 million -- UGA's hit would be around $65 million.
U. of Florida faculty member simulates vet-patient rounds amid COVID-19
Alex Fox-Alvarez recalls thinking the early social distancing orders stemming from COVID-19 would last more than the initially-thought two weeks, and imagined how prolonged online learning would impact his veterinary students. "I was thinking this is going to last much longer than that," the assistant professor at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine said. "For my students, it's a scary time and on top of everything else, they're worried they won't be able to graduate or won't have as much time for clinical experience." The small animal surgeon thought of ways he could emulate clinical rounds -- where students observe and learn hands-on how to interact with patients -- after social distancing mandates nixed the traditional in-person group method. He filed through his catalogs of compiled videos, X-rays and pictures he had taken over the course of his two years as a faculty member. Using his past training in video editing, he crafted a recorded session that has proven to be a long-term, online substitute for rounds.
Texas A&M, Blinn to receive $54M in relief funding from CARES Act
Texas A&M University and Blinn College will receive almost $54 million in federal grants from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund authorized by the CARES Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas Sen. John Cornyn announced Tuesday. Texas A&M will receive $39,816,443 in total aid with $19,908,222 going toward student aid. Blinn will receive an aid package of $14,141,911 with $7,070,956 going toward student aid. Sam Houston State University will receive $17,468,204 in total aid with $8,734,102 going toward student aid. The Texas A&M University System will receive a total allocation of $112.5 million among its 11 schools with $56.3 million going to student grants, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Education. Texas A&M's main campus in College Station is receiving the highest allocation of universities and colleges in the state of Texas and the 10th-highest allocation in the nation.
U. of Missouri System announces pay cuts for top officials
The University of Missouri is planning for unit budget cuts of up to 15 percent and top administrators are taking a 10 percent pay cut as the four-campus system looks for ways to cut costs during the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement of possible layoffs or unpaid leave, as well as the pay cuts at the top, came just a few hours before UM System president and interim Columbia campus Chancellor Mun Choi addressed a virtual town hall of faculty and staff. Questions from faculty and staff during the virtual town hall were emailed and read by moderator Emily Spain, an anchor at KOMU. During the online town hall, he repeated the potential that the University of Missouri System could experience a revenue shortfall of up to $180 million. "We have already made significant cuts," Choi said, noting frozen salaries and hiring and restrictions on large expenses. In the next few weeks there would be decisions about further cuts, including possible elimination of programs, layoffs and furloughs, Choi said.
Zombies and viruses: Memphis scholar studies pandemic movies to understand society's response
The coronavirus has transformed the American social, political, economic and cultural landscape into terra incognita -- unknown territory. But that landscape is not entirely unprecedented. For decades, it has been imagined -- in the most extreme terms -- as a place overrun by zombies, vampires and other threats, in pandemic movies that shed eerie but revealing light on the current crisis. One of the most dedicated explorers and cartographers of that landscape lives in Memphis. She is Marina Levina, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and Film at the University of Memphis. "I've been writing about the cultural meaning of viruses ever since my Ph.D. program," said Levina, 45, known on campus for her popular class on "Monster Films." Levina is the author of "Pandemics and the Media," a suddenly notable academic book -- thin in page count (148), fat in ideas -- that provides what Peter Lang Publishing calls "a comprehensive analysis of mediated representations of global pandemics."
Senate committee was close to a deal on higher ed; then came the pandemic
It feels like a long time ago. But before the pandemic created a public health crisis, shuttered businesses and raised questions about how and when Congress will be able to meet again, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate's education committee were "dang close" to reaching an agreement to update the nation's main higher education law after years of failure, according to a top Republican aide to the committee. In February Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and the committee's chairman, spoke at the annual Community College Legislative Summit. About 300 people were crowded in a room in the Senate's Hart Office Building. Most were seated in metal chairs, while others stood shoulder to shoulder. A catering worker at the Capitol refilled coffeepots at a table in the back. This was before social distancing. Alexander was optimistic that day, but he said the committee would have to move quickly for Congress to pass the measure by the end of the year. But then the pandemic arrived.
The Students Left Behind When College Campuses Empty Out Due to Coronavirus Fears
Every weekday morning, Siân Lewis calls her brother on FaceTime and spends an hour doing yoga, stationed on the porch outside her apartment on the campus of Davidson College. It is normally a prime place to see classmates crisscross campus. Now, it is just Ms. Lewis and the birds. More than 90% of the 1,761 students who usually live on campus at Davidson in Davidson, N.C., have departed. The school, like almost all others around the country, sent students home last month in an effort to minimize their exposure to the coronavirus that has swept the globe. But not everyone could leave due to issues including tight finances, unstable home situations or travel restrictions. Those who stayed behind are now living on shadow versions of their campuses, sequestered inside for long stretches, emerging to pick up to-go meals from the dining hall and maybe for exercise, then back to the dorms. They are taking classes online, seminars meeting over Zoom and study groups meeting on Google Hangouts, and earning pass-fail marks rather than grades
Covid-19 Is a Pivotal Moment for Struggling Students. Can Colleges Step Up?
Elizabeth Ouanemalay slips on rubber gloves and wraps a black scarf with pink hearts around her face before venturing outside. She obsessively counts how many door handles she touches on the journey to pick up each of her meals: six. No one wants Covid-19, but she really doesn't want it. She has lupus, an autoimmune disease. The Wesleyan University freshman is fearing for more than just her physical safety, though. She is a first-generation student from a low-income family, and the virus has also upended her fledgling academic and financial security. The California native spent part of high school homeless, living in a car with her mom and working as a waitress and at other jobs to support the two of them. She also struggled through her first semester at Wesleyan, withdrawing from one class and clawing through her others. Now she is facing the threat of coronavirus, alone on a largely deserted campus and uncertain what her future at Wesleyan will look like. The burden the pandemic is placing on many students has exposed the staggering class divides that have always existed in higher education.
What an interrupted school year means for these college students
Video: The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the academic year of some 20 million college students as campuses are shuttered nationwide. Many of these young people are continuing their studies through online classes -- but the transition is not easy for all of them. John Yang reports on the logistical, emotional and economic consequences of this interrupted school year.
Low-Income Students Count on Finding Jobs. But the Pandemic Has Halted Their Job Training
Danielle Jones was less than two months away, she thought, from a degree as a dental hygienist and a license to practice. A few more weeks of scraping tartar and calming jittery patients in Amarillo College's dentistry clinic, and she'd be starting a career that would alleviate the financial stresses that have weighed heavily on the single mother of three. Covid-19 seemed a distant threat in Amarillo, a rugged city in the Texas Panhandle, hundreds of miles from the state's major population centers. Then, on March 21, the pandemic hit home. The clinic's coordinator emailed that a few cases of the virus had cropped up locally, so the clinic was heeding government warnings and sending students home for at least 30 days. As four weeks became six, Jones began to panic. She had planned her schedule carefully so that she'd complete the clinical hours required for her license by mid-April. Both licensing exams -- one practice-based and one written -- have been postponed, and her graduation, which had been scheduled for May 15, is now uncertain. As the coronavirus pandemic has forced nonessential businesses to close and colleges to shutter their campuses and clinics, students in the final stages of work-based training have been left in limbo. Many come from low-income families. Some programs can be completed in a year or less, which appeals to students with limited funds looking for a quick entry into a job. Those students were counting on jobs they assumed were just months away but now seem just out of reach.
Academics lost to COVID-19 fondly remembered
One of the professors was a famous artist who transformed and raised the profile of African American art. Another spent decades steeped in the art of making music. The third gentleman was more focused on the art of the deal, or the business of professional selling. They traveled different paths in life, but they shared a sad fate -- all three died recently from health complications related to COVID-19, the latest victims of the pandemic that has already caused so much upheaval in American higher ed. There are many more academics whose deaths have not been publicized and whose life stories are still unknown. There will undoubtedly be more deaths as the pandemic continues. The current moment demands an appraisal of the victims as individuals and, perhaps more importantly, as a collective. It's always tragic when a professor dies unexpectedly. It can mean the loss of a valued faculty member, a respected colleague, or a favorite instructor or beloved mentor. If the deceased was a rock star in his field or a leading public intellectual, as were several professors who died from coronavirus last month, the loss can feel even more consequential. It can set an institution back if the late academic was a font of historical knowledge, or doing groundbreaking research, or possessed unique and irreplaceable talents. These various scenarios raise troubling questions. What happens if professors start dying at higher rates than average, at more universities than usual?
Pay and seniority gaps persist for women and minority administrators in higher education
While the number of women and minority administrators is climbing, they still face significant pay and seniority disparities, especially within executive leadership roles, a new report shows. The report, based on a survey of 1,160 institutions conducted by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, takes a look at the hiring pipelines for three key administrative positions: presidents and CEOs, provosts and chief academic officers, and chief human resources officers. Nearly two-thirds of presidents and CEOs were hired from an outside higher education institution, while the remaining third were promoted from within a college, the report found. A quarter of presidents and CEOs held the same title prior to their current position, 20 percent were formerly provosts and 13 percent were deans. Women's representation in college administrations is growing. More than half of administrators are women, according to the report. But they remain underrepresented at the top of the organizational chart -- they hold less than 40 percent of executive leadership roles.
The South may see the largest share of coronavirus misery
It looks increasingly likely the South will endure more death and economic loss from COVID-19 than any other region in the country -- and not just because Southern governors were slow to shut down businesses and order people to stay at home. Southern poverty rates are high, social welfare programs spotty and health care infrastructure threadbare. Last year, 120 rural U.S. hospitals closed their doors; 75 of them were in the South. And emerging data from some cities and states shows that black people -- more than half of whom live in the South -- are contracting and dying from the virus at a disproportionately high rate. Because of poverty and limited access to health care, African Americans more often have underlying health conditions -- such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, obesity and asthma -- that increase the risk of death from COVID-19. In addition, African Americans more often work in essential frontline jobs that make social distancing impossible. "The South is expected to be hit hard, because African Americans are expected to be hit hard," said Dr. Harry Heiman, a professor at Georgia State University's School of Public Health. "There's no getting around that."
Over the hump
Mississippi newspaper publisher and columnist Wyatt Emmerich writes: There's a lot of good news on the COVID-19 front: New cases are dropping. Daily deaths are dropping. Our hospitals are managing their caseloads. We haven't run out of ventilators. All and all, we are responding to this viral challenge. Every single country that has encountered this virus is producing the classic bell curve first postulated by William Farr, the founder of modern medical statistics. Farr discovered that epidemics follow a normal bell shape curve. Initially, the number of cases rises rapidly. Then they level off and fall back down in a predictable pattern. National death predictions have dropped dramatically, from millions of deaths down to 60,000. That's fewer deaths than killed by the flu in the 2017-2018 flu season. ... What I am saying here is that we need to have perspective, indeed a sense of statistics, or we risk throwing the baby out with the bath water.
COVID-19 poses a familiar threat to our economy that older Mississippians recognize
Syndicated columnist Sid Salter writes: Mississippi is no longer the poorest state in the union. West Virginia holds that distinction by a rather narrow margin. But regardless the rank, we struggle against a high rate of poverty and low rates of educational attainment, per capita income, and median household income. We have high rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer coupled with the lowest rank for health care outcomes. And now, introduce into that scary mix a global pandemic. Endemic poverty in Mississippi always makes our state's economy -- even in relatively good times like the last seven years -- fragile and easily spooked. Prior to COVID-19, Mississippi's economy was ginning along at levels that could only be considered full employment. Economic development efforts were improving. ... But no prior calamity has the potential to impact Mississippi's economy and near-term future quite like the COVID-19 pandemic does. A check of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reflects that job loss and unemployment claims in the wake of the coronavirus are already eclipsing those seen after either Hurricane Katrina or the BP oil spill.

Nikki McCray-Penson's identity at Mississippi State will be layered, but her expectations are clear
Nikki McCray-Penson isn't shying away from expectations. Then again, why would she? As a player, McCray-Penson twice earned SEC Player of the Year honors under Pat Summitt at Tennessee. She was a three-time WNBA All-Star and won gold medals at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic games with Team USA. Jumping into her coaching career in 2006, success followed. As an assistant at Western Kentucky, the Hilltopers won the 2008 Sun Belt Tournament title and reached the semifinals of the 2007 WNIT. A nine-year run at South Carolina under Dawn Staley brought the Gamecocks four SEC regular-season titles, three conference tournament championships and the 2017 national title as well. Finally, in her first head coaching job at Old Dominion, McCray-Penson breathed life into a program that had looked lifeless since legendary coach Wendy Larry left in 2011 -- guiding the Monarchs to a 13-win turnaround in 2019 before winning the Conference USA regular season title this past year. But now at Mississippi State -- a school that has reached two national title games and one Elite Eight over the past four years -- McCray-Penson isn't settling for her past success. Rather, she's embracing the future challenge of greatness.
2 words stood out in Nikki McCray's Mississippi State press conference
Calling it a broken record wouldn't be fair. Or, quite frankly, it wouldn't be accurate. It would imply what Nikki McCray-Penson said during her introductory press conference on Tuesday afternoon got old and cliche. It would write her words off as classic "coach speak." But for Bulldog fans listening to McCray-Penson formally talk as the new Mississippi State women's basketball head coach for the first time, the words probably sank into their ears and nestled somewhere inside their brains with a sense of familiarity and comfort. Relationships. Championships. Those are two things Mississippi State fans became accustomed to during the heyday of former head coach Vic Schaefer. By the sound of Tuesday's virtual press conference, they're two things that won't walk out the door and travel to Texas with him. "For me taking on this job, obviously a lot of it was being able to connect with people," McCray-Penson said. "But also, this is a top 10 program. And nothing has changed about that. I want to win national championships. That's my DNA. I want to win SEC championships, and we will."
Former Gamecock assistant lands at Mississippi State, eager to face dynasty she helped build
Mississippi State hired Nikki McCray-Penson as its new women's basketball coach because she's a phenomenal teacher of the game and very familiar with the SEC. In three years, the Tennessee grad transformed Old Dominion from an eight-win team into a 24-6 juggernaut that would have done damage in the NCAA Tournament. That she served nine years under Dawn Staley as South Carolina rose from a 10-win group of underachievers to one of the country's best programs wasn't the main reason MSU picked McCray-Penson to replace Vic Schaefer, who left for Texas. But after Schaefer led Mississippi State to unprecedented heights but could never quite overcome Staley and the Gamecocks, having McCray-Penson's familiarity can't possibly hurt. "Everybody wants to have a chance to come to one of the premier conferences and this is it," McCray-Penson said. "Dawn Staley is the National Coach of the Year, so having a chance to go up against her and all of those coaches is great. I've only been removed from those coaches for three years, so I still have scouting reports."
Mississippi State releases contract details for Nikki McCray-Penson
Mississippi State on Tuesday released Nikki McCray-Penson's contract terms. The new MSU women's basketball coach signed a four-year deal worth $750,000 annually in base compensation. That's a drastic difference from what the MSU athletic department was paying former head coach Vic Schaefer. He departed last week to become the head coach at Texas, which paid Schaefer's buyout of $1.25 million, according to the Mississippi State athletic department. Schaefer had signed a contract extension with Mississippi State in July 2018 that paid him an average of nearly $1.6 million per year. At the time of his extension, Schaefer became one of the highest-paid coaches in women's college basketball. When Schaefer first signed to become Mississippi State's head coach in March 2012, his contract was worth $275,000 per year. McCray-Penson was making $250,000 annually with Old Dominion before coming to Mississippi State, according to The Virginian-Pilot, and the stage is set for her to earn an even bigger payday.
Group of Five commissioners ask NCAA to relax rules that could allow more sports to be cut
College athletic departments are quiet, spring sports seasons have been canceled and the future of college athletics is as clear as mud thanks to the financial uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic. The commissioners of the Group of Five conferences are concerned. The commissioners of the AAC, Mountain West, MAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA sent a joint letter to NCAA commissioner Mark Emmert earlier this month that paints a very concerning picture. According to Yahoo Sports, the letter asks the NCAA for relief of several regulatory requirements for a four-year period in order to prepare for a potential loss of revenue. Among those requests is a reduction of mandatory school-sponsored for FBS programs. As of now, every FBS school is required to have a minimum of 16 varsity athletic teams. The letter also asks the NCAA to waive the minimum football attendance requirements.
Dr. Anthony Fauci sees path for sports to come back without fans
The hurdles are endless. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation's top doctors in charge of leading the response to the coronavirus pandemic, said sports returning without fans is within the realm of possibility. The chances of it actually happening depend on a league's or organization's ability to procure massive amounts of tests and how closely they monitor their players. "There's a way of doing that," Fauci said on Snapchat's show "Good Luck America" when asked if there was going to be a college football season in 2020. "Nobody comes to the stadiums. Put (athletes) in big hotels, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well-surveilled, but have them tested like every week and make sure they don't wind up infecting each other or their families and just let them play the season out."
Gov. Andy Beshear warns against large crowds at sporting events in Kentucky this fall
The sporting world has shut down indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, but even if sports return this summer they may be played in empty stadiums and arenas. Games without large crowds of fans could continue into the fall, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday. "It's got to be driven by public health, and the data that we see that time," Beshear said when asked if there could be 60,000-plus fans at a UK football game in September. "In the fall, I think we ought to be really hesitant to have 60,000 people together at something, but we haven't seen exactly where this is going to go." Beshear's comments are particularly relevant for the state's college football programs and the Kentucky Derby. The derby was pushed back from its normal May date to Sept 5, 2020 earlier this spring. That's the same week the college football season is set to open.
Tennessee football: What AD Phillip Fulmer said about upcoming season
Tennessee Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer said Tuesday he's "optimistic that we'll have football this fall and all of our fall sports this fall." Fulmer made the comments on "The Paul Finebaum Show." The coronavirus pandemic has forced college sports to be cancelled for the academic year. "So much depends on the next couple of months and how that looks and how we get through it," Fulmer said. "But none of us have the answer, and somebody would be lying to you if they said they did. "We all want it to turn out well and us all to get back to normal, but there's those challenges in front of us and this is unprecedented." Fulmer said he and a few others in the UT athletic department still go to the office every day. He said he's not used to working from home. The building is empty except for them, he added. He and his wife, Vickie, have been spending time with their grandchildren. They've also watched movies such as "Top Gun."
LSU strength coach Tommy Moffitt says Tigers would need a month to prepare for practice
Like everyone else who follows college football, LSU director of strength and conditioning Tommy Moffitt is waiting to find out if and when the games will go on after the greatest danger passes from the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike most people, Moffitt's job is to make sure LSU's players are physically ready to train for the 2020 season, whether it can be played on time or begins later than scheduled. "My biggest concern is player safety," Moffitt said Monday night on LSU's in-house radio show, "LSU Sixty." "It's my responsibility to make sure they're in shape before we start any form of training camp. "For me to do my job, I feel I would need at least a month to prepare." Like the rest of the campus, LSU's athletic facilities are closed to its student-athletes except for some dining and medical support. Moffitt said he and his staff are in constant contact with the football players, whether they are still in Baton Rouge or back in their hometowns, having crafted training plans to help them work out on their own.
Mizzou salary cuts could impact athletics
The University of Missouri System and the Mizzou campus in Columbia will institute salary cuts and other cost-cutting measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Salary cuts could be coming to Mizzou athletics, too. UM System President Mun Choi announced Tuesday that he's taking a 10-percent salary cut from May 1 to July 31, along with UM System vice presidents, chancellors and their cabinet members, plus the deans at the four UM universities. Mizzou athletics director Jim Sterk is among the cabinet members expected to take a pay cut. Sterk makes $700,000 as part of his seven-year contract. On Monday, 20 people in the Mizzou athletics department received an email from university leadership asking them to participate in the salary cut plan, deputy athletics director Nick Joos confirmed Tuesday. They have until April 21 to decide if they'll accept the cuts. Other athletics departments across the country have announced salary cuts for some of their highest-paid employees. Earlier this week, Washington State announced 5 percent salary cuts for its football coach, basketball coach, athletics director and president and will forego all bonuses and incentives through the end of the 2020-21 academic year. Iowa State was one of the first major programs to announce salary cuts. Last week, the Big 12 program shed $3 million in one-year salary reductions and also suspended all bonuses and incentive payments for one year.
Broadcast crews struggling after sports go dark
Greg Calvin believed his job as an audio technician could survive most economic downturns because people will keep watching sports while the networks that air the games still receive advertising revenue. But that was before the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down all sports and put Calvin and his fellow technicians out of work and on unemployment. "I don't see a time in the near future where they are going to put 45,000 fans in a stadium," said Calvin, who has been an audio technician in New York since 1989. The new coronavirus has caused a global pandemic that has sickened at least 1.68 million and killed over 101,000 worldwide, halted sports and forced restrictions on the movement of millions of people in an effort to stop the virus from spreading further and overwhelming health care systems. The rapid postponement or cancellation of most sports meant those who were booked for events through the spring and summer now have an open calendar. Besides audio technicians, those affected include camera operators, stage managers and producers.

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