Thursday, April 16, 2020   
MSU Extension Service: Get best quality, taste from frozen foods
Home freezers provide a great way to keep more perishable items on hand as Mississippi residents shelter in place to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus. Many foods can be frozen, even items families usually do not need to freeze, such as bread, said Natasha Haynes, a family and consumer science agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. "You want to be sure to freeze items the right way to make sure they have the best flavor and texture when you get ready to eat them," she said. Pamela Redwine, family and consumer science agent in Yalobusha County, shared some technical tips for freezing other foods. Always label containers or bags with the name of the item and date. To help keep track of frozen foods, Redwine suggested keeping an inventory list near the freezer. "When you put items in the freezer, write down the date, the food and the amount," she said. "Try organizing foods by group in the freezer to make them easier to locate and arranging them so that the oldest foods are used first."
How COVID-19 is impacting college plans for high school seniors
Herron senior Connor Foley had planned on going to his orientation at Mississippi State University in April. His family had made travel plans and booked a hotel. Then, the orientation was delayed. It's now in June and could change from in-person to virtual or offer a virtual version just to students who can't come in June, said Michelle Foley, his mom. She said she's concerned about her son's health so if the online version is offered to them, they'll do it and have yet to make travel plans. Foley said that as a parent, she's giving extra thought about it means to send Connor to school out of state while the length of the coronavirus outbreak is still unknown. "It's already a big act of faith, and this makes it more frightening," she said. However, she said her family's attitude is to be as positive as possible while also staying realistic and doing what they can under the circumstances. One option she said would be to consider starting college classes online this summer to jump start his college career -- especially since Connor's summer research plans are now canceled. "He's really worked hard, like a whole lot of seniors," Foley said. "To tell him to put his dreams on hold isn't fair." But that's something they'll think about more as it gets closer.
Pandemic causes families, funeral homes to greatly alter normal memorial service plans
Before his death, Boswell Kennard had already put together a detailed plan for his funeral arrangements. He had plenty of time to consider them, after all. Kennard, a retired dairy farmer who spent his whole life in the Oktoc community of Oktibbeha County, passed away on March 30, less than two months before what would have been his 102nd birthday. "He had everything planned," said his son, Everett Kennard. "He wanted only a graveside funeral." Kennard was laid to rest at Oddfellows Cemetery in Starkville on April 1 with the graveside service he asked for, with just a few of his immediate family, including Everett and his two brothers, attending. It may have been the kind of understated, no-fuss arrangements he had insisted on. But for the family, his send-off was not what they imagined or hoped for. Kennard was born in the year of one great pandemic -- The Spanish Flu of 1918. His passing came during another, one that altered the family's hopes for the sort of send-off the family patriarch and much-loved community member was due. "I don't know how many people would have gone to his funeral," Everett Kennard said. "A bunch. Everybody knew him. People loved him." For the better part of a month, the Kennard family's story has been more or less the same story for everyone who has lost family members. Under Mississippi's shelter in place guidelines, businesses that remain open must limit gatherings to 10 or fewer and observe the social distance order (people are required to stay at least six feet apart). Those two measures have meant, in many cases, funerals have been limited to graveside services with only immediate family.
Two-mile wide Mississippi tornado Sunday was state's largest on record
One of the two vicious tornadoes that terrorized southeastern Mississippi on Sunday has been confirmed as the state's widest tornado on record. The EF4 vortex with winds topping 170 mph was as wide as two miles across as it carved a 67-mile-long path. The tornado, which was on the ground for 1 hour and 17 minutes as it plowed down vegetation and demolished structures between Mississippi's Jefferson Davis and Clarke counties, caused EF4 damage in the community of Moss. The majority of damage elsewhere was found to be in the EF2 to EF3 range, commensurate with winds between 111 and 165 mph. Perhaps more remarkable than the violent EF4 winds was the wedge tornado's enormous width of "at least 2 miles," according to the National Weather Service in Jackson, Miss. That puts the twister into an elite tier of extreme wedge tornadoes. Sunday's twister was so destructive, its scar on the land surface was visible from space.
Statewide burn ban is no longer in effect
Less than a week after first instated, the statewide burn ban for Mississippi has now been lifted. This news comes after two brush fires occurred in Jackson County, with one of the fires spanning 460 acres. The other fire deemed to be less of a threat and was completely contained by the Mississippi Forestry Commission that same day. Wednesday evening, the Mississippi Forestry Commission posted news of the burn ban on their Facebook page and gave Mississippians a reminder of how to burn responsibly. "Effective immediately, the statewide burn ban has been lifted. Mississippians are encouraged to continue to use caution when burning outdoors. The Mississippi Forestry Commission reminds you that you are responsible for fire and smoke damage caused by a fire you set. Don't burn on windy days," the Mississippi Forestry Commission said.
COVID-19 not seen as serious setback for Vicksburg's 'transformational' innovation center
The emergence of the COVID-19-19 pandemic has so far caused only slight delays for a years-long public-private effort to transform high-tech ideas born in Vicksburg for military and homeland security purposes into job-creating commercial uses. The virus crisis could also create slowdowns or even funding losses of money pledged from state and local partners for the $22 million project, though the federal government's desire to ease economic distress could open up more opportunities for obtaining economic development tax credits, project planners say. The work delay comes as the first phase of renovating the project's home, the historic Mississippi Hardware Building at 1622 Washington St., nears the three-quarter completion mark, say principals of the public-private initiative launched by the Warren/Vicksburg Economic Development Foundation. The planned Thad Cochran Center for Technology & Innovation grew largely from Dr. Jeffrey Holland's conclusion that the U.S. Army Engineer Research & Development Center he led until his retirement there years ago represented a gold mine of innovative ideas, as did the regional headquarters of the Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg. These ideas and innovations carried the potential to create a high-performance economic engine for Vicksburg and the rest of Mississippi through technology transfers, he decided.
Vicksburg District to prepare SEIS for Yazoo Backwater Pumps Project
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District announced on Thursday that it will prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for the Yazoo Area Pump Project in the Yazoo Backwater Area in Mississippi. The public is invited to read the notice of intent for the SEIS, which is published on the Federal Register website. According to USACE, new data indicates that the environmental impacts to wetlands and other natural and aquatic resources caused by a pumping plant would be substantially less than originally calculated in the 2007 Reformulation Study and Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. "The Vicksburg District is committed to the safety and wellbeing of the communities within the Yazoo Backwater Area," said USACE Vicksburg District Commander Col. Robert Hilliard. "Recurring flooding has demonstrated the need to complete the Yazoo Backwater Area Pump Project feature, and this notice of intent is the next step to move things forward to minimize flooding and preserve natural resources in the south Delta."
Gov. Tate Reeves creates task force to 'Restart Mississippi' after coronavirus
Gov. Tate Reeves has created a private-sector task force to help Mississippi economically recover from coronavirus pandemic. About half of the task force members played a role in his campaign or have other ties to the governor. The task force is supposed to make economic recommendations to Reeves, though it's unclear when and how the ad hoc group will meet, whether those meetings will be accessible to the public and how soon they will make those recommendations. Reeves did not mention a specific date to reopen the economy, noting, "I hope and pray that it is very, very soon." When asked how he chose members of the task force, Reeves said they are among the "best and brightest minds" of Mississippi's business community. The new council's chairman is Joe Sanderson, CEO of the poultry company Sanderson Farms and chairman of several other state and national business associations.
Sanderson Farms CEO Joe Sanderson will lead virus recovery
Sanderson Farms CEO Joe Sanderson has been appointed to lead a commission to safely re-open Mississippi in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Tuesday, which includes some prominent Madison County leaders. Reeves said Mississippi has seen a nearly 9,000% increase in unemployment claims and that small businesses are struggling to stay afloat. The Governor's Commission for Economic Recovery will look at the impact on every industry, geographical region and community and help the governor formulate a plan for safely getting back to business. "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," said Reeves.
Mississippi one of nine states where unemployment claims rose again
Mississippi unemployment claims rose for the fourth straight week, according to federal data, with at least 130,000 residents filing for assistance since the coronavirus crisis began. In a normal week, Mississippi unemployment claims hover under 1,000. About a month ago -- after the state reported its first coronavirus cases and some businesses shut down -- claims grew to 5,500. The next week, they shot up to 32,000, then once again to nearly 46,000. Last week 46,160 Mississippians applied for benefits, according to U.S. Department of Labor data, and 5.2 million applied nationally. Mississippi was one of nine states to see claims rise again this week. The Magnolia State has already surpassed one estimate that said it could lose 110,000 jobs by the summer due to the coronavirus. Nationwide, 22 million have sought benefits since the crisis began, the worst period of job losses on record.
Mississippi reports 264 additional cases of COVID-19
Mississippi reported an additional 264 cases of COVID-19 and 7 deaths Thursday morning, leading to a total of 3,624 cases and 129 deaths. In Northeast Mississippi, Monroe County now leads with 54 cases. Monroe County also reported an additional death for a total of 3 deaths. It is followed by Lee County, which reported 2 new cases for a total of 48 cases, and Tippah, which remains at 45 reported cases and leads the region with six reported deaths. Other counties in Northeast Mississippi that reported additional cases include Calhoun, Chickasaw, Itawamba, Lafayette, Marshall, Oktibbeha and Pontotoc.
Gov. Tate Reeves announces two programs to help families impacted by coronavirus
Gov. Tate Reeves on Wednesday announced two new initiatives to help families impacted by the coronavirus. The first program will provide short-term help with mortgage payments for Mississippians who have been laid off or lost income because of the pandemic. Residents can apply for aid from the Hardest Hit Fund online at Scott Spivey, executive director of the Mississippi Home Corporation, explained that the funds were distributed by the federal government after the 2008 financial crisis and are set to expire next year. Spivey said the organization moved $10 million intended for blight elimination to help with mortgage assistance instead. The second program announced Wednesday is called the Childcare Crisis Assistance in Isolation Response Plan and will be run by the Mississippi Department of Human Services. The goal is to provide childcare services to essential workers, such as sanitation workers or nurses, by setting up temporary, emergency childcare facilities throughout the state.
Legislators could grapple with expanded early voting when session resumes
Recently Wisconsin Republican Robin Vos appeared decked out in full and much coveted medical personal protection equipment at a polling place. A video of Vos, the speaker of the state assembly, saying those voting and working at the polls at last week's Wisconsin election faced "very minimal exposure," has garnered considerable national attention. Ironically, Vos was among the officials arguing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic should not be a reason to delay the election or to expand mail-in voting to protect the safety of Wisconsin voters. For Mississippians, the video could portend the November general election. Everyone hopes that by November the state and country will have returned to a semblance of normalcy and that concerns about the coronavirus have subsided. But if they have not, Mississippians could face more voting obstacles than many in other states because Mississippi has some of the nation's most restrictive regulations on absentee and early, in-person voting. When the Legislature returns from its coronavirus-forced recess -- presumably in May -- Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, hopes lawmakers will take up and pass a proposal to expand the early voting options, at least during emergency situations such as a pandemic.
Fraudsters target senior citizens as stimulus checks arrive, Mississippi auditor says
Financial fraud schemes are showing up across Mississippi amid the coronavirus outbreak, putting thousands of residents at risk of being scammed out of their federal stimulus checks, the state auditor said. In a statement Tuesday, State Auditor Shad White warned that financial scams are common in times of emergency. White urged residents to keep their eyes peeled for fraudsters and released information on how to avoid falling victim to a sham. "As a Certified Fraud Examiner, I'm alarmed by the number of schemes we're seeing pop up around Mississippi and on social media," he said in a press release. "Everyone needs to stay vigilant and use common sense in times like these." White said what's most troubling is that scammers appear to be targeting older residents. Scams involving fake testing kits and promises of a coronavirus "cure" have also become cause for concern, according to the Office of the State Auditor.
Multiple waves, mass deaths and a $5 billion economic hit: Inside Mississippi's pandemic playbook
It was designed for the flu, but the coronavirus put it into motion. More than 10 years ago, Mississippi health and government officials began developing a comprehensive plan in preparation for a pandemic of a novel influenza strain -- not a coronavirus strain -- for which there is no human immunity, vaccine or treatment. Commissioned in 2009 by former Gov. Haley Barbour and completed in June 2019, the final 447-page document is serving as a playbook for health experts, emergency management officials and dozens of state government agencies. Though the plan's workflow considerations have been closely adhered to, health officials have had to scrap much of the plan because of the inherent differences in an influenza pandemic and a coronavirus pandemic. "With influenza there's a subset of people who are already immune, but with coronavirus we don't have any of that. So that's a bigger challenge," said State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs, who sat on the committee that developed the pandemic plan.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker: Country needs 'every bit of stimulus we can afford'
As direct payments to the American people began to hit some bank accounts Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker hopes to eventually focus bipartisan attention on an infrastructure and recovery bill designed to stoke the country back to full economic health. Wicker, a Tupelo Republican, commands an influential position atop the Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act on March 27 following what Wicker called "a pretty amazing accomplishment in the history of the republic" to draft the bill and pass it through the U.S. Congress. "This is a natural disaster like a hurricane that is come to us in the form of a tiny virus," Wicker said. Wicker also said he supports ending state and other mandates halting elective surgeries. The Tupelo senator said these procedures could ease "cash flow problems" for healthcare providers that can safely provide them without risking patient health or exhausting protective equipment supplies. "We need to trust our doctors and administrators to take the necessary precautions to protect people," Wicker said. "If they think they can do that, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt."
Too much meat, hungry Americans: Tough choices in food supply
Hog farmers are considering euthanizing animals to deal with the backlog of pigs after several major meatpacking plants shut down due to coronavirus outbreaks in facilities. The morbid decision on the minds of some pork producers is just one example of the paradox of the coronavirus pandemic: Too much meat is waiting in the pipeline even as millions of Americans are in desperate need of food after facing job losses. It also illustrates the conflicting challenges of keeping employees on the front lines in close quarters healthy while keeping food flowing to grocery stores, food banks and other distributors. The agriculture industry is reassuring shoppers that there's no indication food will become scarce -- disruptions right now only affect farmers and factory workers. But if outbreaks worsen and more plants are forced to shut down, consumers could see emptier shelves at grocery stores. "Thing are changing very quickly," said Patrick Westhoff, an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri. "A few days ago, I might have said that having one or two plants close temporarily would not seriously disrupt the supply of meat to consumers, and that any impact on producer or retail prices would be minor and temporary."
Department of Homeland Security gives farmers latitude in hiring foreign workers
The Homeland Security Department, reacting to what it called an "unprecedented crisis," will allow farmers facing delays in getting approval for petitions for foreign agricultural labor to hire farmworkers holding H-2A visas and already in the United States. How many farmers this will help is unknown. The temporary final rule announced Wednesday comes after mounting pressure from agriculture groups for access to H-2A workers primarily to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables. The organizations said farmers might find themselves short-handed as the State Department maintains COVID-19 protections, such as social distancing, for embassy staff as it reviews new and returning H-2A applicants. Segments of U.S. agriculture rely on a mix of largely undocumented workers living in the U.S. and seasonal workers admitted under the H-2A visa program into the country for limited periods. In 2019, U.S. agriculture employed an estimated 250,000 H-2A guest workers.
Companies Embrace Innovation to Fight Coronavirus, in Echo of World War II
True Value Co. heard from its more than 4,500 affiliated hardware stores last month that hand sanitizer was flying off the shelves, leaving store staff with none for themselves. At the company's factory in Cary, Ill., which makes cleaning products and paint, John Vanderpool, the company's divisional vice president of paint, recalled asking, "What can we do to help here?" After a tip from his wife, a pharmacist, he consulted with the Food and Drug Administration, then huddled with his maintenance team and engineers over two weekends to retool two paint-filling lines to produce jugs of FDA-approved hand sanitizer. Starting this week they are being shipped free to stores for their own use. The product will go on sale to the public eventually. The changeover at True Value's factory from paint to hand sanitizer is one of countless private-sector initiatives that comprise an underappreciated asset in Americans' fight against the coronavirus. It is a 21st century version of the "Arsenal of Democracy," the mobilization of industrial might that helped win World War II, only this time to make personal protective equipment, ventilators, tests and vaccines instead of uniforms, ammunition, tanks and bombers.
Mississippi med center conducting clinical trials on virus
University of Mississippi Medical Center leaders said Wednesday that physicians and researchers there will conduct several clinical trials on potential treatment options for people infected with the new coronavirus. "This is important for the country, it's important for our state and mostly it's important for the patients to have that understanding of what actually would be valid and important and helpful treatment modalities," said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, a physician who is the medical center's top executive. The clinical trials at UMMC are in partnership with other institutions and with the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes for Health. The medical center will be one of 44 sites to test hydroxychloroquine, a drug that modulates the immune system and has long been used to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
UMMC Begins Clinical Trials for COVID-19 Treatments
There are no current treatments for COVID-19, but doctors at The University of Mississippi Medical Center have joined 44 nationwide sites in running clinical trials to find ways to save lives. Dr. Richard Summers, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, says the trials will include a variety of patients in every state of the disease. "And will include everything from therapies for patients in the intensive care unit, and will also have patients who are early in the course of their infection. It will also include both adult and pediatric patients." The studies will work to answer one of two things: Will treatment kill the virus, or will treatment prevent severe symptoms? Among the 9 studies being conducted, the hospital will be testing the drug hydroxychloroquine. Dr. Alan Jones, Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine is leading the study comparing the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine to normal treatments. "And that's instituted early in the course of COVID-19 at the time of admission to the hospital. And the goal is to determine if it prevents death and respiratory failure from patients who have COVID-19 if it's instituted early in their course." Dr. Gailen Marshall, Chair of Allergy and Immunology, is leading two additional studies. One study will take donor antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients and give them to critically ill patients. He hopes to begin those trials next week.
Could the vaccine for COVID-19 be discovered right here in Mississippi?
Could a vaccine or a cure for the coronavirus be discovered right here in Mississippi? Physicians at UMMC are working toward that goal with clinical trials involving patients with COVID-19. Wednesday, officials at the University of Mississippi Medical Center announced they are conducting trials to treat the respiratory virus. The academic medical facility will launch nine trials in the next two weeks. One will focus on the anti-malarial drug Hydroxychloroquine. "It modulates the immune system, and there were some early reports that it may have some good effects on patients with COVID-19," said UMMC's Chairman of Emergency Medicine Dr. Alan Jones. "Recently there have been several reports that have suggested that maybe it does not. Perhaps even it's detrimental. We do know that there are some side effects associated with it," he continued. Pediatric and adult patients will participate in the clinical trials. The testing and research will involve those positive for COVID-19 from the early stages to ICU patients. "Just as we did in assisting with off-site sample collections, developing our own in-house testing capabilities we want these treatment trials to serve as a resource for the healthcare services of the entire state," said Dr. Richard Summers, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research.
Jackson State University waiving ACT/SAT test requirements for incoming freshmen
Jackson State University is waiving the ACT/SAT test requirements for the 2020-2021 academic year. The ACT/SAT score waiver is in response to changes made during the COVID-19 pandemic. "At JSU, we are now positioned to provide greater college access to students," said Cheryl Pollard, associate vice president for Enrollment Management. "Many students who have not taken the standardized test or did not perform well are now eligible for admissions to JSU based solely on their high school academic performance." "The minimum grade-point average requirement is still applicable. Students are also required to successfully complete the College Preparatory Credits." Students who do not meet the 2.50 grade-point average requirement for full admissions will be admitted conditionally into the JSU Students Trained for Academic Readiness and Success (S.T.A.R.S.) program for fall 2020. Upon completion of the S.T.A.R.S. program, or obtaining a qualifying ACT score of 16 or SAT equivalent score, students will gain full admissions.
Coronavirus in Mississippi: Some students in health professions unable to complete clinicals
Some students studying for careers in health care at Mississippi community colleges are having a difficult time completing the spring semester because of the coronavirus pandemic. Jana Causey, vice president for Forrest County Operations at Pearl River Community College said the students were able to complete their coursework online, but scheduling clinical work has become a challenge. "Right now a lot of our clinical sites have basically said it's because of the situation with the virus that they're not taking students," she said. Some, not all, facilities have had to cancel having students work with medical professionals in a clinical setting to focus on the immediate needs of the ongoing health care crisis. "We totally respect the decisions that they are having to make in the crisis we are in," Causey said. "We believe they are doing all they can to help our communities. We'll be following their lead when they allow us to put our students back on the sites, and do whatever is we need to do to be helpful." PRCC is not the only college in Mississippi that is faced with the dilemma.
Itawamba Community College President Jay Allen on possibility of Fulton campus becoming care site
During a recent briefing, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency executive director Greg Michel hinted at the possibility of using Itawamba Community College's Fulton campus as a medical shelter if needed. "We did answer the call from the state of Mississippi," ICC President Dr. Jay Allen said on Tuesday's episode of The JT Show. "We are fully committed." The campus would only be needed if Mississippi ran out of regular hospital beds. However, Governor Reeves noted that the current numbers are showing that extra hospital beds will not likely be needed.
Mississippi Community College Foundation Receives $310,000 Grant from Woodward Hines Education Foundation
The Mississippi Community College Foundation has received a grant of $310,000 from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation to help qualifying Mississippi community college students impacted by COVID-19 stay on track towards graduation. "These are difficult times for students who are trying to adjust to the many personal and educational challenges brought on by COVID-19," said Dr. Ronnie Nettles, Executive Director of the Mississippi Community College Foundation. "We are delighted to partner with the Woodward Hines Education Foundation to help these students." The grant will establish student relief funds at all 15 Mississippi community colleges. Money can be used to help students with the costs associated with in-home internet access, fuel cards, credential fee stipends, to establish campus tablet or computer loan programs, or other costs that may be a barrier to college completion. Itawamba Community College President Dr. Jay Allen said he plans to use the money to ease the transition to online instruction for his students.
State focus shifts to distance learning as schools remain closed for semester
There is a renewed focus on online and distance learning after Gov. Tate Reeves announced Tuesday that school buildings will remain closed through the end of the semester. Students are expected to continue learning, though, and the Mississippi Department of Education is working to ensure that happens. "This is not an early summer vacation," state superintendent Dr. Carey Wright said on Wednesday. "This is a time that we have to shift gears in the way we provide education." A survey was sent to all 146 districts in the state last week to gauge how many are conducting distance learning solely online versus physical packets and other methods, Wright said. The majority of districts are doing a combination of both. Mississippi is set to receive $174.4 million in K-12 funding from the CARES Act, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The state is also expected to receive more than $34 million for governors' emergency education relief grants.
U. of Alabama System chancellor talks process for reopening classrooms, football games
Questions, at this point, still far outpace answers. The coronavirus remains a puzzling crisis with leaders at all levels grasping to at least pencil in a roadmap to awakening the nation. The University of Alabama System is setting the groundwork for how it will repopulate its three campuses with a task force of health and campus leaders. UA System chancellor Finis St. John appointed UAB medical school dean Dr. Selwyn Vickers and UA system counsel Katie Osburne to lead the task force. In a rare interview, St. John spoke by phone Wednesday with to discuss this new initiative and a number of issues facing the universities related to the coronavirus pandemic. St. John answered questions ranging from accommodating large crowds at football games to the finances of the system and impact it may have on the 70,000 students and 45,000 employees.
Student services fees at Auburn to be waived for summer 2020 semester
Auburn University announced on Tuesday afternoon that it will waive fees for student services during the summer 2020 semester because of financial challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. "The student services fees are typically assessed each semester to provide for student activities that include organizations, on-campus programs, recreation, transportation, student governance and various other student-related projects," the University said. The University stated that this suspension means students enrolled in summer courses will see savings of up to $838. It also reminded students that registration is currently open through May 20. The summer 2020 semester will occur over three sessions: a 10-week session from May 20 to July 31; a five-week session from May 20 to June 23; and an additional five-week session from June 29 to July 31. The first two sessions are to be delivered online through remote instruction.
U. of South Carolina to decide by June whether to re-open Columbia campus in the fall amid coronavirus pandemic
The University of South Carolina will decide by June 15 whether it will reopen its Columbia campus to students for the fall semester as the coronavirus pandemic continues to claim victims across the Palmetto State. But the number of students on campus will probably be less than the record high enrollment of recent years. USC thinks it will likely see a decline in student numbers as virus-related job losses and empty bank accounts make affording tuition more difficult. Deposits being collected from incoming students for the fall semester have slowed, USC President Bob Caslen told a Board of Trustees committee Wednesday. An exact number of deposits received to date was not provided. "It's still a good stream, just slower than what they normally would have been," said Dennis Pruitt, vice president for student affairs. He's holding out hope for a late surge as the payment deadline has been extended to June 1.
U. of Tennessee issues over $15 million in refunds to students
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has issued more than $15 million in refunds to students after the university moved to all online classes for the spring semester. In March, the university announced it would move from in-person classes to an online format for the rest of the semester. Campus events, including graduation ceremonies, have been postponed. Students were asked to move off campus if possible. Because most students moved off campus, UT is giving prorated refunds for on-campus housing, dining, study abroad fees, transportation fees and parking permits. Refunds were distributed to 21,800 students, university spokesman Owen Driskill said Tuesday. In fall 2019, there were 23,290 undergraduate students enrolled at UT Knoxville. The university has set up a Student Emergency Fund to provide financial assistance for students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students can apply for funds on the Dean of Students website, with the maximum amount a student can receive in one academic year set at $1,500.
Proposal would let first responders quarantine at U. of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus
A draft agreement provides quarantine housing on the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus for city firefighters and police officers exposed to the coronavirus. The university is also in talks about providing temporary emergency housing for "a few other entities," a UA spokesman said Wednesday. The Fayetteville City Council on Tuesday will consider a memorandum of understanding on the matter that, if approved, would extend through June. The city and university would review the agreement for a possible extension by June 17. The city's first responders "collectively anticipate that they may require Emergency Housing" on "a rolling basis, over the course of the COVID-19 health crisis," the draft agreement states. About five to 24 Fire Department employees and about six to 30 police officers are estimated on a "rolling basis" to possibly need such housing, the agreement states.
Growers of Georgia's famous Vidalia onions wary of virus effects
Growers of Vidalia onions battled too much rain this winter, causing some losses of the signature Georgia crop. Now, as the official first day of shipping arrives Thursday, farmers are keeping an eye on the coronavirus. Many are worried about how the pandemic, which over the course of five weeks has disrupted almost every phase of ordinary life, will affect the 2020 season. Seasonal workers from Mexico were delayed by travel bans, but are beginning to arrive in the 20 counties of southeast Georgia where Vidalias can be grown, easing fears of a manpower shortage. "Some of the workers are coming in OK, and some ain't got here yet," said Johnny Beasley of Beasley Farms in Uvalda. Farmers also are anxious to see how sales go after the problems experienced by vegetable farmers in south Florida. Others are optimistic. Bob Stafford, the director of the Vidalia Onion Growers Council, said there is a small shortage of other onions that could help Vidalia sales. And, as people cook at home more, onions are a basic ingredient for many dishes. Farming is Georgia's biggest industry, and farm products bring $13.7 billion to the state, according to the University of Georgia.
12 cases of COVID-19 at U. of Florida's Oak Hammock retirement facility
Officials from the University of Florida-affiliated Oak Hammock retirement facility say there are 12 positive COVID-19 cases among its residents and staff members -- all of them linked to the memory care unit. Spokeswoman Nickie Doria gave The Sun a written statement that said the cases include six residents and six staff members in the unit, which has 24 spots. The employees have not returned to the campus since their test results about five days ago and are said to be self-isolating. "We have notified residents, family members and staff of each positive case and continue to provide daily updates. The safety and well-being of our community members is our top priority," the statement read. Alachua County Commission Chairman Robert Hutchinson, whose parents have lived in the UF-affiliated complex since 2004, said his impression is that the cases are contained, but hopes the cases serve to warn people how easily the virus can spread, even when someone is asymptomatic. "I've been impressed with (Oak Hammock's) routines and practices," he said. "I only hope the other facilities are doing the same now."
U. of Missouri official: Food and financial insecurity may linger post-COVID
Food insecurity caused by financial insecurity will be among the issues lingering after the coronavirus pandemic has passed, Marshall Stewart, University of Missouri vice chancellor for extension and engagement, said Wednesday during a virtual town hall. The event, aimed at the general community, was the second virtual town hall presented by MU officials, with around 600 online viewers. A Tuesday town hall, for faculty and staff, had more than 4,300 viewers. A third virtual town hall, for students and families, is scheduled for next Wednesday. All MU courses have been moved online since March 11 and that will continue through the summer. Stewart was asked a question about the most important issues facing the state after the COVID-19 pandemic passes. "One of those is food insecurity," Stewart said. "It's out there. We're seeing that." Lines at food pantries and empty store shelves show the impact of the virus on the economy. Another area that must be looked at as a major concern is education, he said. Missouri schools are closed for the remainder of the spring term, with learning continuing at home on the internet.
U. of Missouri System president: Families may be 'rethinking their strategy' for fall
The University of Missouri is carefully monitoring fall enrollment for new and returning students, UM System President Mun Choi said Wednesday at a virtual town hall meeting for community members. Enrollment is the area of revenue in which MU has the most direct control, he said. "Thus far, we are higher in both categories for first-time college and transfer students in terms of acceptances for the fall term compared to 2019," he said. MU does expect that families struggling financially may be "rethinking their strategy for the fall," said Choi, who is also MU interim chancellor. Last week, Ryan Rapp, the system's chief financial officer, told the UM System Board of Curators the fall enrollment situation could range from "severe to very severe." He said the best-case scenario would be students returning to their campuses but in fewer numbers.
How universities are developing COVID-19 solutions in real time
Dorms are empty and classroom lights are off at the vast majority of America's colleges and universities, but that hasn't stopped many in academia from jumping in to help try to meet the massive need for innovative treatments, vaccines, personal protection equipment (PPE) and medical devices in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Engineers, doctors, scientists, researchers, doctors, and college students across the country have quickly shifted gears and are applying their skills and knowledge to fighting the virus, which has infected more than a million people around the globe. The federal government and most states with stay-at-home orders have designated researchers focused on the outbreak as "essential critical infrastructure workers," allowing them to continue working in labs and offices. "Researchers at academic institutions, non-traditional manufacturers, communities of makers, and individuals are banding together to support and fill local and national needs," an FDA spokesperson wrote in a statement to the PBS NewsHour.
College Board and ACT announce plans to continue testing in the fall
The College Board and ACT said Wednesday that their admissions tests will soon be back. But with more colleges going test optional on admissions, the testing organizations clearly wanted it known that they will return. The College Board canceled the SAT for June 6 because "it wouldn't be safe," CEO David Coleman said at a press briefing. But he said if public health officials permit, the SAT will be back in August and a September date will be added. That means, he said, that the SAT will be offered every month (it already had testing dates in October, November and December) through end of 2020. If the schools where the SAT is taken are not open in the fall, he said, an at-home version of the test would be offered. He said it would be secure and safe but that his preference is for in-school testing. Meanwhile, the ACT has announced changes in its schedule but has not canceled a June test. "Our primary concern at this time is the health and safety of students and our testing staff," said Ed Colby, a spokesman for ACT. "As CDC and local guidelines for safety allow, in addition to our planned June 13 and July 18 test dates, we will be offering new test dates on June 20 and July 25 to provide students with options to schedule and reschedule their registration," he said.
How Will the Coronavirus Impact Enrollment For Rural Students?
Students from rural areas historically struggle with college access. And as the coronavirus has shut down high school and college campuses across the country, educators are anxious about their enrollment rates. Approximately 3 million Americans live more than 25 miles from a public university and lack access to high-speed internet, according to a 2018 Urban Institute report. Meanwhile, about 30% of adults ages 18-24 enrolled in postsecondary education come from rural areas, latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows. "I worry a lot about losing those young people," said Dreama Gentry, executive director of Partners for Education at Berea College in Kentucky. Rural high school graduates were already at a disadvantage "because of a lack of access, geographic isolation and a lack of investment in rural schools in general." In many ways, Gentry's program, which focuses on rural academic success in the Appalachian Mountains, is on the front lines of what the coronavirus might mean for incoming rural college students.
Counting on Employer-Paid Tuition Is Hardly a Safe Strategy Anymore. What Now?
The number of people newly unemployed in the United States in the past three weeks is 17 million -- and still climbing. That's raising important questions about colleges' and society's reliance on employer-paid tuition programs as a way of serving working adults now that millions of them are suddenly cut off from their jobs. Losing an income and health-insurance benefits is certainly their more immediate worry, but the loss of a tuition benefit could derail many students' educational plans. The staggering levels of unemployment have also heightened the need for additional policies aimed at helping students pay for postsecondary education, especially those who were already in the work force. Some interesting ideas are already emerging on that front, including a proposal from leaders at the Markle Foundation calling for unemployment insurance to include benefits specifically for education and training.
College groups release joint guidelines for accepting credit during coronavirus
Six major higher education groups issued a set of principles Thursday for accepting academic credit during this tumultuous time. The statement, drafted by the American Council on Education and signed by the leaders of groups representing public, private nonprofit and community colleges, highlights eight practices institutions should follow to best help students navigate the transfer of credit process -- which is difficult to negotiate in the best of times -- during the coronavirus pandemic. Students often find that some or many or their academic credits from one college aren't accepted when they try to transfer to a different institution, especially if they are attempting to move from two-year to four-year colleges, or from nationally accredited colleges to those accredited by regional agencies. At the center of each principle is the acknowledgment that this is an unprecedented time that calls for institutions to respond in unprecedented, flexible ways, said Ted Mitchell, president and CEO of ACE. Institutions also need to put their students at the center of their decisions and remember that this situation is only exacerbating existing inequities in higher education.
After Coronavirus, Colleges Worry: Will Students Come Back?
For years, Claire McCarville dreamed of going to college in New York or Los Angeles, and was thrilled last month to get accepted to selective schools in both places. But earlier this month, she sent a $300 deposit to Arizona State University, a 15-minute drive from her home in Phoenix. "It made more sense," she said, "in light of the virus." Across the country, students like Ms. McCarville are rethinking their choices in a world altered by the pandemic. And universities, concerned about the potential for shrinking enrollment and lost revenue, are making a wave of decisions in response that could profoundly alter the landscape of higher education for years to come. Lucrative spring sports seasons have been canceled, room and board payments have been refunded, and students at some schools are demanding hefty tuition discounts for what they see as a lost spring term. Other revenue sources like study abroad programs and campus bookstores have dried up, and federal research funding is threatened. “I think it’s a greater systemic shock” than either the financial crisis of 2008 or the terrorist attacks of 2001, said Susan Fitzgerald, a Moody’s analyst. “We don’t know how long it’s going to go on or the multiple impacts.”
Stunned by coronavirus, a college town slowly awakens to a surreal new normal
Spring break beckoned, flights were booked. But with one official email after another, it all began to crumble. At Indiana University's flagship campus, with more than 30,000 undergraduate students, classes moved online. Students hastily packed and moved home to their parents, their newfound freedom jerked away. Some were left stranded and far from home. There's something transitory, anyway, about a college town. It's a four-year bubble between childhood and responsibility, but the moments and memories inside it last forever. College is, more than anything, a communal experience. It's a place of mentorships and marriages, fraternities and teams. When the coronavirus pandemic ruptured that bubble, heartbreak took over the town in a wave. The town didn't just shut down, it emptied out.
Will the Pandemic Usher in an Era of Mass Surveillance in Higher Education?
After college students joined the swarm of 200 million daily Zoom users this semester, experts bashed the company over privacy breaches and concerns about data sharing with third parties. That prompted Zoom executives to start a three-month re-evaluation of the videoconferencing platform's encryption and licensing. But online learning and meeting apps are just one aspect of privacy in higher education brought to the fore by the Covid-19 pandemic. Some academics fear the spreading crisis will be used to justify accelerated growth in intrusive observation of faculty members and students, further eroding individual rights in the name of education and public health. The pandemic will hasten a "race to the bottom to a surveillance society, with very little indication that it's going to make people safer," said Chris Gilliard, a professor of English at Macomb Community College, in Michigan, who studies privacy and digital policy. Privacy issues run deep during this period of expanded remote learning, but they might run even deeper as new protocols and technologies accompany the return to campuses, whenever that may be.
Underrepresented scholars outperform majority peers in terms of novel research
Diverse voices and perspectives bring innovation to their organizations, but the people offering them don't necessarily get credit or support for doing so. Business scholars have been studying this phenomenon for years and making the case that investing in diverse talent boosts an institution's bottom line. A new study makes the same argument about academe: diversity is good for business. But instead of profit, the metric of choice here is research innovation. The findings are at once promising and sobering. Scholars from underrepresented groups, as a whole, achieve higher rates of scientific novelty, the study says. Yet novel contributions by gender and racial minorities are less likely to be taken up by their peers than are novel contributions by those in the majority. Contributions by gender and racial minorities are also less likely to result in successful scientific careers. "We reveal a stratified system where underrepresented groups have to innovate at higher levels to have similar levels of career success," the paper says. And too often their careers end "prematurely, despite their crucial role in generating novel conceptual discoveries and innovation."
Millsaps College Staying Strong During COVID-19 Pandemic
Robert W. Pearigen, president of Millsaps College in Jackson, writes: Like every college and university in the country and beyond, Millsaps College is facing the challenges of adapting to the restrictions brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Our students went on spring break in early March but were not able to return to campus, and have now shifted to remote instruction. Reports indicate that although things are certainly different, our faculty continue to deliver an exceptional educational experience and our students maintain their commitment to learning. Several students have said to me that being together in a virtual classroom is far better than learning alone. ... Yes, there are challenges for us now -- challenges with regard to finances, enrollment and operations. But with those challenges come opportunities, and I am confident we will make the most of those before us and create new ones on our own.

Former Mississippi State forward Chloe Bibby transferring to Maryland
Former Mississippi State forward Chloe Bibby will finish out her college career on the East Coast. After entering the transfer portal on April 6, it was announced Wednesday via Twitter that Bibby will play her final year of collegiate competition under Brenda Frese at Maryland. "I would like to thank all the universities and coaches who took the time and effort in contacting me during this process," she wrote. "I am excited to announce that I will be continuing my education and basketball journey at the University of Maryland. Go Terps! I also want to say a massive thank you to Mississippi State University and the bulldog family, I will be forever grateful for the love and support you showed me as a person and player."
Mississippi high school sports officially canceled for spring
It is officially over. On Wednesday afternoon, the Mississippi High School Activities Association announced its decision to cancel all sports and activities until the start of the 2020-21 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The MHSAA executive committee voted on the decision Wednesday morning. "This is an extremely difficult day because we know how much work, dedication and sacrifice these students, coaches and their families have put into these sports and activities that are unable to finish their spring seasons," MHSAA executive director Don Hinton said. "We join all of our schools in anticipation of a successful return to sports and activities in the fall of 2020. The MHSAA thanks everyone involved for their patience and understanding throughout this process." The vote was made a day after Gov. Tate Reeves announced all public schools would be closed for the remainder of the academic year.
College commissioners to VP Mike Pence: No football before campuses re-open
The commissioners of the major college football conferences told vice-president Mike Pence on Wednesday there would be no football this fall until campuses were deemed safe for students following the coronavirus pandemic. The 10 commissioners -- representing the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, Conference USA, Sun Belt, American Athletic, Mid-American and Mountain West -- as well as Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick spoke to Pence via a 30-minute conference call. The call took place as part of the government's exploration of when it might be safe to "re-open" to nation's economy. "(We) made the point we were concerned and wanted to get back to having kids attending college and opening up our colleges and universities," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told the Associated Press. "That until that happened we weren't going to be having any sports."
Sources: Mike Pence Holds 'Productive' Intro Call With College Athletic Leaders
Vice President Mike Pence, in a phone call with college athletic leaders on Wednesday, expressed optimism for a college football season this fall, thanked them for swift action in adhering to federal virus-preventing guidelines and arranged for future such communications, those with knowledge of the call told Sports Illustrated. Though nothing substantive emerged, the fact the Trump administration held such a call with college-level decision-makers -- and is scheduled to hold more --is news enough. President Donald Trump earlier this month spoke with commissioners of the major professional sports organizations, with no leaders from the NCAA or college world involved. Pence's call Wednesday morning was with the College Football Playoff Management Committee, encompassed of the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick. "It was the opening of communication between college football and the White House," says one administrator briefed on the call.
President Trump convenes sports commissioners in hopes of filling stadiums
President Trump on Wednesday spoke with the heads of major sports leagues to solicit their thoughts on reopening parts of the economy during a pandemic that has cast doubt on whether sporting events will resume this year. The president convened more than a dozen advisory groups covering different sectors of the economy. Among them was a sports-focused council that featured commissioners of the NBA, WNBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, Major League Soccer, UFC, the PGA and the LPGA. Other participants included New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones -- both Trump donors -- as well as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Vince McMahon, CEO of WWE and husband of former Trump administration official Linda McMahon. The group held its first call on Wednesday afternoon and discussed the feasibility of restarting or holding sporting events in the coming weeks and months. The sports executives on the call offered "innovative input on social distancing guidelines," the White House said in a readout.
John Bel Edwards says if football returns this fall, fan experience won't look the same
Gov. John Bel Edwards didn't want to speak just yet on whether fans will be in attendance for New Orleans Saints and college football games this fall, but he did say Wednesday afternoon that if sporting events are back in session, the fan experience will be different because of the coronavirus pandemic. Edwards, notably a fan of the Saints and LSU, said he has personal aspirations of games returning this fall, but he's "just not prepared at all to go down that road to talk about what the situation will be this fall" when he's speaking on April 15. If the games resume and fans are in attendance, Edwards said the fan experience is "still not gonna look exactly the same. There are gonna have to be some precautions taken and what those might look like, I don't know." Edwards' message from Wednesday was similar to the one New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell gave on Tuesday. On Tuesday, Cantrell recommended that all large festivals in the city be pushed back for 2021, but she came short of recommending the same for New Orleans Saints games.
UGA fans answer question whether to renew season tickets during pandemic
For more than 30 years, stretching from the Ray Goff era to Kirby Smart now, Clay McKemie has purchased Georgia football season tickets that put him at the 25-yard line in Sanford Stadium's section 129. Before that, his father had a pair of tickets going back to Vince Dooley's third season in 1966. Re-upping for season tickets this year came with a measure of hesitation for McKemie. He let the initial March 31st deadline pass after Georgia extended it to April 6. "I certainly thought about it quite a bit," McKemie said. "The only thing that gave me any pause, 'What will happen if they do cancel the season? Will I get my money back?'" Loyal college football fans like McKemie are facing spring deadlines this year nationwide with the novel coronavirus pandemic causing 26,119 deaths in the U.S. as of noon Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, as well as economic hardships like layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts. Georgia season ticket holders have renewed at a 95 percent rate, athletic director Greg McGarity said. He called that "very encouraging even in these times. We feel very good about that and it's a tribute to our fans and their loyalty and dedication throughout the years."
MLB To Test Thousands Of Players, Employees In National Coronavirus Study
We've been hearing about possible plans for restarting Major League Baseball after its coronavirus shutdown. Now the league is joining the fight against the virus in a way that could help society get going again. Of the league's 30 teams, 27 are taking part in a nationwide study involving up to 10,000 people who will be given tests to detect COVID-19 antibodies. Those antibodies appear as part of the immune system's response to the coronavirus. The test results, if positive for antibodies, can show if people were infected but didn't show symptoms -- and, possibly, if they're now immune to the disease. Researchers say the study will help provide important data about the infection rate of COVID-19. "It's very hard to set public health policy without knowing the infection rate," says Dr. Daniel Eichner, who is involved in the study, "and so this will contribute to that important information. You hear people, governors and other politicians talking about getting more information to understand the infection. Well, this will specifically address that."

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