Tuesday, May 5, 2020   
Director Kristen Campanella: Oktibbeha EMA 'did everything we could' to prepare for COVID-19
2020 was already a "very busy year" for the Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Agency before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, EMA Director Kristen Campanella told the Starkville Rotary Club at its virtual Monday meeting. The Oktibbeha County Lake Dam looked like it might burst in January, and severe weather caused flooding throughout the county in January and February. Then on March 3, before Oktibbeha County or anywhere else in Mississippi had its first confirmed COVID-19 case, Campanella held the first meeting with county first responders to discuss plans to prepare for the virus. "We were kind of getting (plans) in place for when it did hit our county, because we knew it was going to be a matter of when, not if," she said. Mississippi State University's John C. Longest Student Health Center has administered 90 COVID-19 tests, and six came back positive, though some of those students have likely gone home to other counties and states, Rotary President and MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter said.
Celebrate the Unsung Heroes of Mississippi's Local Governments
Jason Camp, an instructor with the MSU Extension Center for Government and Community Development, writes: Mississippi's 298 municipalities -- cities, towns and villages -- provide essential services to communities and citizens. ... History tells us the municipal clerk holds one of local government's oldest public offices. ... Municipal and deputy clerks serve the changing needs of their communities. In recognition of their valued service, municipal clerks throughout the United States, Canada and 15 other countries will celebrate the 51st Annual Professional Municipal Clerks Week from May 3 through May 9, 2020. For more than 40 years, the Mississippi State University Extension Service Center for Government and Community Development has offered the state's municipal clerks an opportunity to achieve both state and national certification in their positions through the Mississippi Certified Municipal Clerk (CMC) Program.
Oktibbeha supes owe MDEQ data on county lake dam
Oktibbeha County will provide the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality with data on the county lake dam and a schedule to complete several studies by July 31, as requested by MDEQ at the county board of supervisors' meeting on Monday. The data requested includes an evaluation of the probable maximum flood if the dam were to breach, a survey to identify structure failures and a radar assessment of the emergency spillway, said William McKercher, the head of MDEQ's dam safety division. "These studies will be considered part of a multi-step process in order to successfully conduct a potential failure mode analysis and provide support for requests for construction funding," McKercher said. The lake's structural issues go back decades, and MDEQ has been notifying the supervisors since 1985 that the emergency spillways are too small, the slopes on both sides of the levee are too steep and the box culvert under the County Lake Road bridge is cracking and coming apart, according to MDEQ and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inspection reports.
Books-a-Million announces permanent closure of Leigh Mall store
The Books-a-Million store at Leigh Mall in Columbus has closed, the company told customers in an email Friday. On Monday morning, a sign on the store's front door said the store was temporarily closed "at the direction and guidance of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and local health authorities." Books-a-Million did not return messages from The Dispatch seeking comment. Hull Property Group, which bought Leigh Mall in 2019, also did not return messages. Original anchors JCPenney and Sears had already vacated the mall when it was purchased by Hull, but Hobby Lobby, Planet Fitness and other tenants remain.
Mississippi set to ease some pandemic rules for restaurants
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that he will ease some of the restrictions that he imposed on restaurants and outdoor gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and that the new rules will take effect Thursday. "The threat is not gone. ... We all want to move on, but we must stay vigilant," said Reeves, a Republican. Restaurants will be allowed to open their indoor dining rooms and outdoor seating areas, with each at no more than 50% capacity and with no more than six customers per table. Servers must wear masks, and customers entering restaurants will be asked if they have shown any signs of the virus or have been exposed to anyone who has it. For more than a month, restaurants have been restricted to takeout or delivery.
Gov. Tate Reeves allows restaurants and parks to reopen, slams Legislature over spending fight
Gov. Tate Reeves announced steps to reopen restaurants and parks on Monday, in the latest step to lift coronavirus restrictions in Mississippi after a nearly month-long lockdown. Reeves has been pushing for Mississippi to reopen its economy for weeks, citing businesses and residents that are financially struggling during the coronavirus crisis. He and other state officials have said the number of cases in the state are plateauing, even as Mississippi saw 397 new cases and 20 deaths -- record-high numbers -- confirmed on Friday. During Monday's news conference, Reeves also railed against Mississippi legislators for blocking him from spending $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief money. He challenged the legitimacy of the a bill passed almost unanimously by the Legislature during a hastily called session on Friday. "This is power politics at its worst," Reeves said Monday. "While they may think they're attacking me, while they may think they're hurting me ... I believe it's you, the people of Mississippi who are being attacked. It's you, the people of Mississippi, who are being harmed by this action."
Gov. Tate Reeves further reopens state economy, including restaurant dine-in service
Despite two of the last four days showing the highest daily COVID-19 case counts to date, Gov. Tate Reeves announced Monday he is further reopening the Mississippi economy. Restaurants can begin Thursday serving in-house meals under strict guidelines, Reeves announced Monday afternoon during his daily news conference. The governor also is re-opening state and local parks. State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs, who participated in the news conference with Reeves, said looking at data over a period of time it appears the state's cases and hospitalization rates are no longer increasing and that a plateau had been reached. The daily reports are impacted in part by the number of tests performed and when those test results are reported, Reeves said. Dobbs and Reeves stressed that Mississippians still must practice social distancing, wear a mask in public, stay six feet apart and avoid groups of more than 10.
Auditor: Brett Favre received welfare money for no-show speeches
A nonprofit group caught up in an embezzlement scheme in Mississippi used federal welfare money to pay former NFL quarterback Brett Favre $1.1 million for multiple speaking engagements but Favre did not show up for the events, the state auditor said Monday. Details about payments to Favre are included in an audit of the Mississippi Department of Human Services. State Auditor Shad White said his employees identified $94 million in questionable spending by the agency, including payments for sports activities with no clear connection to helping needy people in one of the poorest states of the U.S. The audit was released months after a former Human Services director and five other people were indicted on state charges of embezzling about $4 million. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial in what White has called one of Mississippi's largest public corruption cases in decades.
Welfare scandal audit: Money went to cars, family, paying Brett Favre for speeches he never gave
Money meant to help poor Mississippians was instead used to buy expensive cars, sponsor a college baseball tournament, hire family members of a top state official and pay Brett Favre for speeches he never gave, according to a new report from State Auditor Shad White. The 104-page audit of the Mississippi Department of Human Services released Monday shows how federal welfare grant funds flowed from DHS into two nonprofits, which then frequently spent the cash in inappropriate or suspicious ways. More than $94 million in welfare money spending was "questioned" by auditors, according to the report -- alleging either outright misspending or lack of documentation showing it was spent properly. In a statement, White said the report "shows the most egregious misspending my staff have seen in their careers at the Office of the State Auditor." He added that "if there was a way to misspend money, it seems DHS leadership or their grantees thought of it and tried it."
Millions in Mississippi welfare funds misused on vehicles, concert tickets, Brett Favre: state audit
An audit released Monday by Mississippi's state auditor found that officials had misused millions of federal dollars intended for the state's neediest families. The report, from Mississippi's Office of the State Auditor, found that $94 million in total could either not be accounted for or had been spent on questionable purposes, more than 90 percent of what the state has received over the last three years. One of the prime beneficiaries of the misused money, according to the audit, was Nancy New, the founder of a chain of private schools who used the funds to pay a speeding ticket and received as much as $6 million from the program, which her family used for a wide range of purposes including the purchase of three trucks. TANF money was also reportedly used to advertise during an NCAA game and to purchase tickets to a college football match.
Money for Welfare Instead Funded Concerts, Lobbyists and Football Games, Audit Finds
The state of Mississippi allowed tens of millions of dollars in federal anti-poverty funds to be used in ways that did little or nothing to help the poor, with two nonprofit groups instead using the money on lobbyists, football tickets, religious concerts and fitness programs for state lawmakers, according to a scathing audit released on Monday. According to the report, released by the state auditor's office, the money also enriched celebrities with Mississippi ties, among them Brett Favre, a former N.F.L. quarterback whose Favre Enterprises was paid $1.1 million by a nonprofit group that received the welfare funds. Other large sums went to a family of pro wrestlers whose flamboyant patriarch, Ted DiBiase, earned national fame performing as the "Million Dollar Man." In a news conference on Monday, Shad White, the state auditor, said it was possible that many recipients of the money did not know it had come from the federal welfare program. Mr. Favre could not be reached for comment Monday. Mr. DiBiase declined to comment.
'Increasingly absurd expenditures': Newly-released audit questions $94 million in DHS spending
John Davis worked his way up to executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services after nearly thirty years with the welfare agency and had begun publicly crafting a new vision for how the state helps the poor. But by the time he took the helm of an agency that administers over $1 billion in public assistance program in 2016, "he saw it as an opportunity to build a kingdom over there," State Auditor Shad White said Monday just before releasing a 104-page letter outlining the ways the agency misspent millions. Under the Davis administration, federal funds intended to serve the poor instead enriched his family and friends and paid for lobbyists, luxury vehicles, religious concerts, expensive getaways, publicity events with famous athletes and even a speeding ticket, the state audit published on Monday reveals. "Once you talk yourself into ignoring the laws and the regs around how to spend the money, it's easy to talk yourself into increasingly absurd expenditures over time," White said.
Auditor says Family Resource Center misused some federal grant money
Unveiling more details about his investigation into the spending of federal money intended to help the needy, State Auditor Shad White claims that the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi improperly used federal grant money or failed to adequately document the use of that money. On Monday afternoon, White released an annual audit of state agencies, including the Department of Human Services. This audit details abuses at MDHS that White called "the most egregious misspending my staff have seen in their careers at the Office of the State Auditor." Former MDHS Director John White was indicted and arrested in February, with law enforcement alleging that Davis and five others embezzled money from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The criminal case against Davis and his alleged conspirators remains ongoing, but Monday's audit findings provide additional details about the alleged misspending of funds by the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi, located in Tupelo, and the Mississippi Childhood Education Center, based in Hattiesburg.
Victory Sports Foundation owner says he'd never taken DHS funds if he'd known they were TANF
One of the entities receiving some of the money meant for the poor was Victory Sports Foundation. Founder and owner Paul Lacoste tells 3 On Your Side he never would've taken the contract had he known TANF funds were being used. "This is something I've dreamed of and worked hard for since I finished playing football." Paul Lacoste's post football years have been dedicated to battling obesity and fitness coaching. He has even trained state lawmakers in a program called "Fit For Change." He said many of his programs were self-funded through private sponsors. The participants are usually charged a fee... but not state lawmakers. Lacoste said, "And never did we ever, last year, did we use the contracted money from the state to train state legislators. That's always been done through other sponsors and other partners that have been with us for over ten years where we've done that program serving our state legislators." As for the $1,200 spent at a steakhouse listed in the state auditor's complaint: "At the end of all of our 12-week training programs, we have end of the 12-week parties for everyone involved in the programs and we put on big events and that's part of the programs," said Lacoste. Lacoste said he was offered the contract by then DHS director John Davis in 2018 to implement his fitness program statewide.
USDA to buy $470M of produce, dairy and seafood
The Agriculture Department said Monday that it will spend $470 million to buy more surplus food amid the widespread disruption to the food supply as a result of the coronavirus. The move comes a week after POLITICO reported the department had been slow to make such purchases even though demand at food banks has surged. The purchases will target fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy and seafood -- which have seen their markets turned upside down as restaurants and other food service businesses have closed. A large portion of the money will be used to buy surplus dairy ($120 million), followed by potatoes and turkey products ($50 million each) and strawberries ($35 million). Chicken, catfish, Alaska pollock, asparagus, sweet potatoes and orange juice are also among the purchases outlined by the department. Shipments on the newest round of food purchases is expected to begin in July, USDA said Monday.
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) praises USDA purchase of $30 million in surplus farm-raised catfish
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Monday expressed confidence that Mississippi catfish producers and processors will benefit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture plan to purchase $30.0 million in surplus food for distribution to food banks and community support programs. Hyde-Smith, as she has in previous years, recently pressed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to use his authority to purchase surplus U.S. commodities for distribution to domestic food assistance programs. The USDA on Monday announced it will purchase $470 million in surplus food, including catfish, poultry, sweet potatoes, and other goods. "The coronavirus has depressed the market for catfish and other commodities, and Secretary Perdue is right to exercise his power to use an existing program to purchase surplus food that can be directed toward food banks," said Hyde-Smith, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. Mississippi is the nation's leading catfish producing state, with 208 operations and eight processing plants. In 2019, the industry generated $172 million value of production, according to the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine.
'Like Petri Dishes for the Virus': ICE Detention Centers Threaten the Rural South
When Dan Gibson, a local pastor and bed-and-breakfast owner, kicked off his current mayoral campaign in Natchez, he ran as a community man -- someone with connections, someone who knows people. Natchez, a small town of 15,000 set on a bend of the Mississippi River, is the kind of place where news travels fast, and, in late March, Gibson's phone began ringing nonstop. Alarmed townspeople all had the same concern: In the midst of a pandemic, the federal government was bringing some 200 people from around the country into their otherwise relatively isolated community. Adams County, where Natchez is the county seat, is best known for its Civil War-era mansions, but it also houses a massive, privately run Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center. Over the past three years, the Trump administration has drastically expanded the use of rural ICE detention centers, especially in the South. For the administration, remote locations are cheaper to staff and operate than facilities in big cities. The ICE contracts have aided local communities, too, bringing hundreds of jobs and millions in administrative fees and property tax revenue. But now Adams residents were concerned the ICE detention center might be bringing something else into their town: the coronavirus.
Lawmaking in the time of coronavirus: The Senate returns to work, warily
In eerily quiet hallways, with masks and disinfectant wipes aplenty, the Senate started to forge its new normal Monday -- assembling en masse in Washington for the first time in five weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic. The adaptations made by what is perhaps Washington's most hidebound institution were unmistakable, if uneven. Most staff members kept masks on as they worked on the Senate dais and ringed the ornate chamber. Meanwhile, senators did not always follow health experts' guidance to reduce the risk of spreading the deadly disease. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) quickly set the tone for the Republican majority, announcing on the floor that, after weeks of telework, "the time has come for us to continue conducting our nation's business in ways that are only possible with senators here, in the Capitol." He pointed to the need to process national-security-related nominations and reauthorize key foreign surveillance authorities.
Minorities hit hard by COVID-19. Trump taps SC's Tim Scott to guide black outreach
Under pressure to help minority groups that have been hit hard by the coronavirus, President Donald Trump directed a White House council focused on revitalizing urban areas to shift its attention to economic disparities in African American communities. He has tapped Tim Scott of South Carolina -- the U.S. Senate's only black Republican -- to help his administration develop a plan. That plan is still forthcoming, but in an interview with The State, Scott said he would make a presentation at the White House this month that would include "some ideas on ways to address the systemic issues that are confronting vulnerable as well as minority communities." Scott said he will call for pouring more resources into expanding "connectivity" in areas of the country that don't have reliable internet access. The so-called "digital divide" has excluded large swaths of the population from being able to work and learn from home during the pandemic, as well as from benefiting from telemedicine.
Virus-afflicted 2020 looks like 1918 despite science's march
Despite a century's progress in science, 2020 is looking a lot like 1918. In the years between two lethal pandemics, one the misnamed Spanish flu, the other COVID-19, the world learned about viruses, cured various diseases, made effective vaccines, developed instant communications and created elaborate public-health networks. Yet here we are again, face-masked to the max. And still unable to crush an insidious yet avoidable infectious disease before hundreds of thousands die from it. In 1918, no one had a vaccine, treatment or cure for the great flu pandemic as it ravaged the world and killed more than 50 million people. No one has any of that for the coronavirus, either. Modern science quickly identified today's new coronavirus, mapped its genetic code and developed a diagnostic test, tapping knowledge no one had in 1918. That has given people more of a fighting chance to stay out of harm's way, at least in countries that deployed tests quickly, which the U.S. didn't. But the ways to avoid getting sick and what to do when sick are little changed. The failure of U.S. presidents to take the threat seriously from the start also joins past to present.
A mutant coronavirus has emerged, even more contagious than the original, study says
Scientists have identified a new strain of the coronavirus that has become dominant worldwide and appears to be more contagious than the versions that spread in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study led by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The new strain appeared in February in Europe, migrated quickly to the East Coast of the United States and has been the dominant strain across the world since mid-March, the scientists wrote. In addition to spreading faster, it may make people vulnerable to a second infection after a first bout with the disease, the report warned. The 33-page report was posted Thursday on BioRxiv, a website that researchers use to share their work before it is peer reviewed, an effort to speed up collaborations with scientists working on COVID-19 vaccines or treatments. The Los Alamos study does not indicate that the new version of the virus is more lethal than the original.
NBC News chief Andy Lack out; Telemundo's Cesar Conde takes top job
NBC News chief Andy Lack is out following a corporate restructuring announced Monday that places Telemundo executive Cesar Conde in charge of NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC. Lack's departure was revealed when Jeff Shell, new NBC Universal CEO, outlined a new corporate governance plan. Besides Conde's elevation, Shell is giving broad new powers over NBC's entertainment properties to Mark Lazarus, who has overseen NBC Sports. The 72-year-old Lack has had two runs as head of NBC News, the first as NBC News president from 1993 to 2001, and he rejoined the company as news chairman in 2015. NBC News' flagships, "NBC Nightly News" and "Today," generally run second to ABC in viewership but are stronger among the lucrative young advertising demographic. MSNBC has gained popularity, often second only to Fox News Channel as the second most-popular cable news network each week.
Ole Miss pharmacy school ranks in top 25 again
The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy again ranked in the top 25 nationally in the 2020 U.S. News and World Report survey of best pharmacy schools. UM tied at No. 23 among public institutions and No. 24 overall in the most recent release. The rankings are based on peer assessments from all accredited pharmacy schools and published every four years. "Our top 25 ranking is a testament to the dedicated faculty, staff, students, alumni and other partners we are fortunate to have at Ole Miss pharmacy," said David D. Allen, dean of the pharmacy school. "We continue to have exceptional classroom and experiential learning experiences along with outstanding research opportunities that prepare our graduates to be health care leaders." The school rose to sixth in the nation in external research funding for 2018, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.
Mississippi still hasn't seen the worst of COVID-19, UMMC official warns
Mississippi isn't quite "on the other side" of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vice chancellor for the University of Mississippi Medical Center warned Monday. In a tweet, Dr. LouAnn Woodward said the coronavirus has yet to peak in the state. "The numbers of COVID-19 positive patients, hospitalizations, and deaths are increasing," Woodward wrote in a Twitter post accompanied by visual data from the state's Department of Health. "We have not hit our peak. We are not on the other side of this. Stay safe, Mississippi!" As of Monday morning, UMMC reported 54 coronavirus-positive patients and 16 persons under investigation (PUIs) for the highly contagious virus. In all, the Level 1 medical center has conducted over 5,250 COVID-19 tests with 643 returning positive results, according to the infographic shared by Woodard. Woodard's warning comes less than a week after COVID-19 hospitalizations in Mississippi reached an all-time high, reporting close to 430 coronavirus patients in hospital beds, according to local station WAPT. With cases still on the rise, State Health Officer Thomas E. Dobbs said now isn't the time for Mississippians to "let our guards down."
Alcorn State University holds virtual graduation ceremony
As the names of Alcorn State University Class of 2020 graduates were read, audience members offered congratulatory cheers and messages of encouragement for the graduates. "Congratulations Nephew Jarius Patten and Latonya Smothers Bell!! !!" one such message said. Those cheers of support and encouragement were not audible, however, and the onlookers were not gathered in an arena. Instead those cheers of support featured exclamation points and emojis and were displayed in a chat box on the side of a YouTube video screen streaming ASU's graduation ceremonies. Approximately 1,050 people logged on to YouTube at 9 a.m. Saturday to watch the live stream commencement ceremony for ASU's Class of 2020. Such is life in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 50-minute ceremony featured faculty members reading the names of 466 students earning degrees, including 73 graduate degrees, and students who have earned academic honors.
Seniors prepare for virtual graduations during coronavirus pandemic
For many 2020 college students walking across the stage is a milestone, but coronavirus takes that opportunity away from them. One of those students is Jackson State Senior Thomas Lee, who became an internet sensation this spring. Colleges are now doing virtual graduation to honor graduates like Lee. It was a deep three pointer from Thomas Lee or the man they call "Snacks" that made the crowd go wild at a Jackson State game. It also turned the long time Jackson State student manager into an overnight national sensation. "My experience at Jackson Stare has been like no other. Coming in as a college freshman and being able to participate in the SWAC championship and going into my senior year and being in a divisional one basketball game, it most definitely has been a great experience," said Lee. He has been on both local and national stages, even making an appearance on the Today Show. But the stage that means the most to the college senior -- he won't walk across. Many graduation ceremonies have been canceled or postponed across the country due to coronavirus including here at Jackson State. "I most definitely was hurt when I found out we won't be able to walk across the stage, actually the graduation date was the date of my mother's birthday and she really wanted me to walk across the stage, so that would've been a special moment." Acting JSU President Thomas Hudson understands that disappointment Lee and the more than 900 other grads are feeling right now.
Camp War Eagle will be a bit different this year
Incoming Auburn University students are used to sleeping in a dorm, meeting other freshman and registering for classes, all on campus for Camp War Eagle. This year, however, things will need to be conducted remotely. Camp War Eagle is Auburn's introductory program for students starting at Auburn. In-person instruction and other programs were canceled for Auburn beginning mid-March and running through June. This means Camp War Eagle will be conducted in a completely unique fashion -- each student in his or her own home, attending breakout sessions remotely. Students will still have the opportunity to be sorted into groups with other freshman virtually, led by Camp War Eagle Counselors. "Tiger-Talks are small group meetings with eight to ten incoming freshman where you'll learn about Auburn and many of the resources that are here for you," said Melissa Dunn, assistant director of orientation programs. Camp War Eagle hopes to hold a special one day, in-person session in July, pandemic pending.
UAB cuts pay, adds furloughs to battle shortfall topping $230 million
The University of Alabama at Birmingham will furlough employees and UAB Medicine will cut salaries of some employees in response to massive monetary losses brought on by the coronavirus outbreak. UAB Medicine alone estimates a $230 million shortfall by September 30. The extent of these cuts includes salary reductions for at least the remainder of the fiscal year for UAB Medicine and temporary furloughs taken May 10 to July 31 for approximately 325 university staff who cannot work effectively in a remote setting, according to the UAB website. The cuts come just weeks after UAB announced it was losing $70 million monthly because of the loss of elective surgeries in the health system. UAB Medicine has projected a possible $230 million budget shortfall by the end of September, according to the website. In addition to trouble in the health system, each of the UA system campuses - the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, UAH and UAB - have lost around $40-$50 million, said Finis E. St. John IV, UA System Chancellor, last week.
U. of Arkansas System trustees OK campus classes for fall semester
Arkansas institutions of higher learning are beginning to announce plans to have in-person instruction on campuses in the fall, ending prohibitions on face-to-face learning enacted to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, covid-19. University of Arkansas System trustees approved Monday, without opposition, a resolution directing system leaders and campuses to work together to prepare campuses to "reopen to students, faculty and staff" in the fall. University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt has already convened a task force, which is meeting via video conferencing, to determine how campuses can reopen. He said there are more "unknowns" than "knowns" about what reality will be in a few months. The University of Arkansas System has 15 campuses and four other physical academic units, including the Division of Agriculture.
South Carolina colleges plan for fall semester, brainstorm ways to resume classes amid pandemic
Now that college students are finishing their final exams and wrapping up their semesters virtually, universities across South Carolina and the nation face pressures to reopen their doors in the fall. Not doing so would likely cost schools millions of dollars in lost revenue, adding to the millions many have already lost as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These institutions are now left with a daunting task: creating plans for how to safely reopen campuses in time for fall classes while juggling the public health uncertainties caused by the coronavirus. As a result, many schools have established committees tasked with modeling various reopening scenarios and making contingency plans. Making things harder: Many epidemiologists and health experts have said the U.S. should brace for a second wave of coronavirus cases in the fall. University of South Carolina President Robert Caslen previously estimated that the college would make an announcement by May 15. The college's Future Planning Group is hoping to make policy recommendations between May 15 and June 15.
Texas A&M's Bush School of Government and Public Service opening teaching site in Washington, D.C., in fall
Texas A&M's Bush School of Government and Public Service is expanding its footprint to Washington, D.C., with a new teaching site set to open in the fall. The first classes in the graduate program's new site are scheduled to begin in early 2021, pending approvals, according to a press release from the university. The site will offer courses toward the master of international policy degree. Other university programs such as law, health care and food security are being considered as well. "The expansion of Texas A&M and the Bush School into Washington, D.C., is consistent with the vision of the school's founder and namesake, the late President George H.W. Bush," Bush School Dean Mark Welsh said in the release. "President Bush believed that public service is a noble calling. The opportunity to educate future leaders in our nation's capital allows us to reach so many more students who are following, or seeking to follow, that noble calling."
Public higher education in a 'worse spot than ever before' heading into recession
State funding for higher education remains below pre-recession levels and will likely stay that way, a new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers association shows. The fiscal 2019 State Higher Education Finance report was well underway before the coronavirus pandemic tore through higher education budgets. But Sophia Laderman, senior policy analyst at SHEEO and lead author of the report, considers it a useful tool as higher education braces for a recession. "Think of this year's report as the next baseline for the recession we're coming into. Public funding for higher education has never been so low going into a recession," Laderman said. State funding nationwide is nearly 9 percent below pre-Great Recession levels and 18 percent below where it was before the 2001 tech bust. Per-student education appropriations increased 2.4 percent between fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019, but 2019 marks the "likely end" to post-recession recovery funding, the report states.
The 'Public' in Public College Could Be Endangered
Public colleges and universities are in trouble. Campuses may not reopen this fall, potentially gutting tuition and dormitory revenues. Endowments have been hit by the falling stock market, and alumni donations may dry up. Institutions without a financial cushion will struggle to survive. Looming ahead is an even bigger problem, one that will last for years after the pandemic itself is over. The severe economic contraction is pummeling state tax revenues. Moody's Analytics projects a 20 percent decline in state receipts next fiscal year. If historical patterns repeat, public college and university budgets will be slashed, sending tuition and student loan debt skyward. Some institutions will be so starved of funding that they will effectively cease to be "public" at all. Others will have a greatly diminished ability to help students learn. Now states are facing a budget crisis that could be even worse than the one caused by the Great Recession. What happens if public higher education takes it on the chin once again?
Why public colleges and universities need help from Congress now
The University of Michigan, one of the country's great public institutions of higher education, is moving to save money by, among other things, instituting freezes on hiring and salary, offering voluntary furloughs and reduced hours, postponing construction projects, and suspending nonessential expenditures. At the University of Texas at Austin, officials are taking their own steps to mitigate financial troubles caused by the covid-19 pandemic, including changing hiring and purchasing policies to save money. The University of California at Berkeley has said it expects that the negative impact of covid-19 on the campus budget will be around $200 million, while the University of Georgia system, with its 23 campuses, must develop a new spending proposal for fiscal 2020 that includes a 14 percent reduction of the base budget. Those are just a few examples of what is happening at public colleges and universities, which educate nearly 75 percent of all college students and which are facing unprecedented pressure in the wake of the closure of schools to try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Incoming College Students Could Take Gap Year Over Covid-19 Uncertainty
Never have the words gap year seemed more appropriate. Typically taken by a handful of students who want time to grow and explore before they start college -- and who can afford to do so -- it usually includes an international travel experience, an internship or participation in a wilderness program. This year, interest in the option is exploding. There's been a 60% increase in searches for the term "gap year" on Google since the first week of March in the U.S., and the question "What is a gap year?" shot up 180% in the last week of April, according to Google. College counselors and gap-year consultants are being flooded with calls -- mostly from parents anxious about courses going online and worried the quality of the education might not be worth the price. Most are still only exploring the possibility, since colleges haven't yet announced whether campuses will open in the fall, or if they will reduce tuition if classes remain online.
Unimpressed by online classes, college students seek refunds
They wanted the campus experience, but their colleges sent them home to learn online during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, students at more than 25 U.S. universities are filing lawsuits against their schools demanding partial refunds on tuition and campus fees, saying they're not getting the caliber of education they were promised. The suits reflect students' growing frustration with online classes that schools scrambled to create as the coronavirus forced campuses across the nation to close last month. The suits say students should pay lower rates for the portion of the term that was offered online, arguing that the quality of instruction is far below the classroom experience. Colleges, though, reject the idea that refunds are in order. Students are learning from the same professors who teach on campus, officials have said, and they're still earning credits toward their degrees. Schools insist that, after being forced to close by their states, they're still offering students a quality education.
Admissions Field's New Leader Hopes to 'Reinvent Enrollment and College Access'
The National Association for College Admission Counseling on Monday named Angel B. Perez as its new chief executive, placing an outspoken proponent of education equity at the helm of the organization during an unprecedented enrollment crisis that could permanently change the way many students apply to college. Perez, currently vice president for enrollment and student success at Trinity College, in Connecticut, will succeed Joyce E. Smith, who is retiring after more than 30 years of leadership in the association, known as NACAC. The group's 15,000-plus members include admissions officers, high-school counselors, college-access advisers, and independent educational consultants. In an interview with The Chronicle on Sunday, Perez said he intends to lead a collaborative effort to "reinvent enrollment and college access in America and across the globe." He also described his hope that NACAC could convene a global conversation on rethinking the admissions profession and its role. Perez will start his new job in July, in the middle of what promises to be a summer of continuing turmoil within his profession.
Coronavirus: 6 Ways College Might Look Different In The Fall
What will happen on college campuses in the fall? It's a big question for families, students and the schools themselves. A lot of what happens depends on factors outside the control of individual schools: Will there be more testing? Contact tracing? Enough physical space for distancing? Will the coronavirus have a second wave? Will any given state allow campuses to reopen? For all of these questions, it's really too early to know the answers. But one thing is clear: Life, and learning for the nation's 20 million students in higher education, will be different. "I don't think there's any scenario under which it's business as usual on American college campuses in the fall," says Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist and physician at Yale University. So why are so many colleges announcing they will be back on campus in the fall?
House Republicans probe Chinese funding
The ranking Republicans on seven congressional committees wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Monday to request information on the department's investigations of foreign funds flowing into American universities. The letter asks for documents and preliminary findings related to the inquiry into U.S. universities' compliance with federal reporting requirements for all gifts and contracts from foreign sources valued at $250,000 or more. The letter expresses concerns "about the potential for the Chinese government to use its strategic investments to turn American college campuses into indoctrination platforms for American students." It further raises the question of whether U.S. colleges "receiving federal taxpayer dollars should be allowed to accept funds from China, the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], or other affiliated organizations." The Education Department has opened investigations into foreign gifts at at least nine different universities, most recently requesting documents regarding the University of Texas system's relationship with a virology lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan that U.S. officials are investigating as a possible source of the coronavirus outbreak. (There is no publicly available evidence to support the theory that the outbreak originated at the lab.)
Republicans seek information on Chinese ties to US universities
House Republicans are seeking information from the Education Department on China's ties to leading U.S. universities, as tensions mount between the two countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Republicans, led by House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Monday asking for details on what he characterized as the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) efforts to influence American colleges. The Department of Education has launched an investigation of its own into at least one major school system. The agency is looking into ties between the University of Texas and the Chinese lab being investigated by U.S. intelligence officials for potentially being linked to the COVID-19 outbreak. A university official told The Hill they would cooperate with the investigation. Jordan tied the COVID-19 tensions between Washington and Beijing to his concerns over Chinese influence on U.S. universities and colleges.

Mississippi State's Robert Woodard II jams on and off the court
One of the most under-the-radar musicians in the Golden Triangle splits his time between Columbus and Starkville throughout the year. He enjoys performing renditions of Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits or Prince's iconic Purple Rain. Despite keeping a relatively low profile when it comes to music, this Columbus native might consider starting a band with his friend once they both feel comfortable. He also might be selected in the NBA draft next month. Meet Mississippi State standout Robert Woodard II. The valedictorian of his graduating class at Columbus High School, Woodard II has always been regarded as a highly touted basketball player. A four-star recruit, he elected to stay home and play for Mississippi State. After completing his sophomore year with the Bulldogs, Woodard II very well could be the first Columbus native taken in the NBA draft since Sedric Toney in 1985, with one mock draft slotting him as high as pick No. 23. But he's far from just a talented athlete. Music has always been a passion for the 6-foot-7 forward.
State Games competitions to be spread out through rest of year, opening ceremonies canceled
State Games of Mississippi plans to host as many of its 37 sporting events as possible through the rest of 2020, but currently no firm dates are set for any competitions. The organization sent out a press release Monday saying its events were on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year's Opening Ceremonies, previously scheduled for June 5, have been canceled. Competitions were set to begin later this month but will now be delayed until it is safe for them to resume. "While we love to do everything in one month, that is not possible this year," State Games Executive Director Carolyn Smith said in the press release. "We will offer opportunities later this year for our athletes to come together for the excitement and joy of competition. And, most important, we will keep safety of all participants, spectators, volunteers and staff at the forefront of our decisions." The release goes on to say State Games will work "closely with the governing bodies of the various sports, following the recommendations of Gov. Tate Reeves and local officials, and consulting its Rush Medical Advisory team for guidance."
SEC's Greg Sankey: Focus is to get everyone back to playing football in the fall
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey speaks daily with his fellow commissioners from the Power 5 conferences. Sankey said the conversations have been invaluable while the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. But his suggestion the SEC could go its own way and play college football in the fall if other conferences weren't ready raised a few eyebrows. "There is room for different conferences to make different decisions," Sankey said during an appearance on Jacksonville radio station 1010 XL Thursday morning. "If there's a couple of programs that aren't able, does that stop everyone? I'm not sure it does. But the ability for us to stay connected will remain important." Sankey said most people who reacted to his quote that was shared widely on Twitter didn't hear everything he said earlier in the interview. "What's interesting is that tweet, that little segment missed the paragraph that preceded and the paragraph that proceeded [when I] spoke of the increased connection between myself and my colleagues among the five conferences -- ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12," Sankey told the Orlando Sentinel on Monday.
ADs map out start of football season
University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek laid out on Monday a best-case plan for starting football on time this fall that included a June 1 reopening of weight room and training room facilities on campus for student athletes. Yurachek discussed the scenario during a video conference meeting with the University of Arkansas System trustees and his fellow football-playing athletic directors Chris Peterson at University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Padraic McMeel of the University of Arkansas at Monticello. "On the heels of the governor's announcement to open health clubs across the state of Arkansas today ... we are working on a plan to open our strength and conditioning rooms, as well as our training rooms on June 1 on our campus for voluntary workouts for our student-athletes who live in the area," Yurachek said. The SEC has been operating since mid March under a suspension of all athletic-related activities on member campuses through May 31. The Razorbacks are scheduled to open their football season on Sept. 5 against Nevada at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, and both Yurachek and Coach Sam Pittman have expressed hope Arkansas can open its season on that date.
Mizzou begins slow reopening with limited athletics operations
The University of Missouri began the first steps in a potential campus reopening process Monday, as Memorial Stadium's South End Zone building started to resume operations. The athletic facility's soft reopening comes as the university continues to work on a plan to "repopulate the campus," according to MU spokesman Christian Basi. The timeline on that plan is still uncertain. Those coming to the South End Zone will be both verbally screened and take a temperature test, according to Nick Joos, MU deputy athletics director of communications. Social distancing measures will also be enforced. The training facility, which opened in 2019, was selected to begin initial operations in part because student athletes are still in Columbia getting treatment for injuries, according to Joos. It is possible by the end of the week, two other facilities could "come back online," and the rest would follow, he said. Those facilities would follow the same safety procedures. The Southeastern Conference has suspended all athletic activities until at least May 31. Athletics is working with campus leadership to "get some of the coaches and staff back working in anticipation that, on June 1, the student-athletes will be able to come back and work out," Joos said, though that date is subject to change.
UGA president Jere Morehead optimistic for 'relatively normal' college football season
A day after University of Georgia president Jere Morehead told local radio station WGAU that the school's "hope" and "expectation" was for a full football season with fans in the stands in Sanford Stadium, he expanded some on his comments when asked for further details. Morehead also said developments related to the novel coronavirus pandemic could affect the timeline in the months ahead. He was asked by the Athens Banner-Herald how confident is he that there will be football games this fall, a 12-game season and does he expect it to start on time? "The SEC Commissioner, SEC Presidents, and SEC Athletic Directors are in constant discussions about the fall football season," Morehead said in a statement through his spokesperson. "We are operating under the hope and expectation that we will have a full football season, under relatively normal conditions. However, that depends upon progress against the virus. I expect we will have answers to many questions in the coming weeks. I remain personally optimistic."
Tennessee suspends sports camps, source of $1 million annual revenue
Tennessee's sports camps website featured a new message Monday. "Our summer camps have been cancelled through July 31, 2020," the site read. UT followed an SEC decision, which the league announced Friday, to suspend the "hosting or conducting of all in-person camps and coaches clinics" due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. The SEC previously suspended all in-person athletic activities through May 31. "Tennessee plans to issue refunds for all registered campers minus Ryzer card processing and convenience fees," Tennessee athletic department spokesman Tom Satkowiak said in a statement to Knox News. UT asked for patience in the refund process, which could take several days due to the volume. Tennessee relies on its summer camps for kids and teens mainly for recruiting and revenue. The revenue helps benefit operations staffers and volunteer coaches, including baseball's Ross Kivett. Athletes who work camps are paid as hourly employees. Tennessee has netted an average of nearly $1.1 million in revenue from its sports camps over the past five fiscal years from 2015-19.
College athletes adjust quickly as first-year nurses in coronavirus pandemic
Belmont volleyball players Maggie Mullins and Tori Simmons shifted into position on the court as soon as the ball took flight. It was their senior season in the fall of 2018, when their communication and instincts merged so well that that they knew exactly where their teammates needed them to be. They had no idea that teamwork was preparing them to work as nurses during the coronavirus pandemic. "This is definitely not how I expected my first year of nursing to be," said Mullins, a first-year intensive care nurse at Saint Thomas West Hospital. "There's already a learning curve in year one, and then a pandemic gets thrown in. Simmons, Mullins' former college roommate, is a first-year neonatal nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Her overnight shifts have resembled the grind of Belmont volleyball practices, school work and nursing clinicals. "You may be tired, but you have no choice but to keep going," Simmons said. "You have to push through, just like you did as an athlete." It's a unique experience for recent Division I athletes who started caring for coronavirus patients not long after starting their nursing careers. Teamwork, communication and stress management have helped them transition.

The Office of Public Affairs provides the Daily News Digest as a general information resource for Mississippi State University stakeholders.
Web links are subject to change. Submit news, questions or comments to Jim Laird.
Mississippi State University  •  Mississippi State, MS 39762  •  Main Telephone: (662) 325-2323  •   Contact: The Editor  |  The Webmaster  •   Updated: May 5, 2020Facebook Twitter