Wednesday, May 6, 2020   
Virtual reality campus visits let students connect with colleges during COVID-19
Carol Cutler White, as assistant professor of community college leadership at Mississippi State University, writes for The Conversation: When I first envisioned a phone app to replace the physical college campus tour, it was a way to enable rural students and those who aren't wealthy to visit campuses without having to travel to get there. As state director of a federally funded initiative that helps young people prepare for college, I realized virtual reality was a way to transport students to colleges throughout the state even if they didn't have the time or money to do a regular in-person tour. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced colleges and universities to shut down, virtual visits such as those accomplished through the app -- known as GEAR UP VR for North Carolina and Get2CollegeMS -- have taken on a more important role, and not just for students who lack the means to visit a college in person. ... An app may never replace a friendly face, but it can be an alternative for a campus visit and help students and families choose a college that they believe is best for them, especially at a time like this when there really is no alternative.
Toyota Mississippi taking special steps before reopening plant
A black Corolla sits at the edge of the inspection line, where it and scores of other Corollas have been motionless for seven weeks. But Monday, work resumes at the plant, and the cars should be rolling off the assembly line again. Like automotive plants across the globe, Toyota Mississippi shut down operations in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold. During that time, a skeleton crew maintained the plant in anticipation of reopening, and plant management put in a motion a plan to welcome back its 2,000 team members. "We think we're ready for their safe return," said Toyota Mississippi President Sean Suggs. "And it starts from the parking lot all the way in." Mississippi First District Congressman Trent Kelley took part in the tour of the plant Tuesday and lauded the efforts of the automaker. "They're ready to reopen, they're doing it safely, and they've been such greet community partners from day one," he said. "The amount of dedication they have to keep their employees safe ... it's a great process. They've really thought it out and gone to a lot of hard work to make sure."
Swift, deep declines ahead for Mississippi economy but rebound seen for 2021
The spring 2020 outlook for Mississippi's economy is for a dire near-term future as the coronavirus pandemic continues its ghastly spread. By the time Mississippi rings in the New Year, around 73,000 of its residents will have lost jobs, for a 6.3 percent increase in overall unemployment and a decline of 5.8 percent in real GDP for the year. The genuine shock is in the forecast of a 30.4 percent decline in Mississippi's GDP for the second quarter that began April 1. The forecast is not entirely awful, however. The outlook is for economic growth to begin a rebound in the final two quarters of 2020 that would continue into 2021 and beyond. The downside is that the expected GDP growth of 3 percent next year would be half that of the national economy, says the spring 2020 Outlook report produced by the University Research Center of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. As unnerving as the 2020 forecasts for the state and nation may be, they are hardly at depression levels, says Darrin Webb, Mississippi's state economist. "When you look at the projections for the national economy, we are nowhere near what was seen in the Depression," Webb said in an email Tuesday.
Mississippi businesses hurting: Survey offers look at impact of coronavirus
Nearly 88% of business leaders surveyed in Mississippi say their businesses have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, with some reporting revenue drops of up to 60%. The joint survey was conducted by the Mississippi Economic Council, the state's chamber of commerce group; Mississippi Manufacturers Association and Mississippi Economic Development Council to gain insight from business leaders and owners. More than 1,000 respondents representing a wide cross section of sectors and all geographic regions of the state answered questions regarding COVID-19 and its impact. About 60% of the respondents were small businesses. The research was conducted by Godwin, a Jackson-based communications and research firm, in late April. Mississippi Economic Council President Scott Waller said in a statement the survey quantifies that COVID-19 had -- and continues to have -- a sweeping impact on the economy and state's business climate, from large manufacturers to Main Street.
Gov. Tate Reeves was confident casinos would open by Memorial Day. Now he's not so sure.
With high COVID-19 case and death counts, Gov. Tate Reeves sounded less certain Tuesday about reopening casinos by Memorial Day and said gambling floors will probably look different when they are back in business. Reeves had hoped to open casinos by May 25, but he and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs have also acknowledged this week that the COVID-19 curve has not flattened. The state reported 332 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday and recorded 32 deaths, with 14 of those from coroner's reports the Mississippi State Health Department is just now counting. Mississippi has a total of 8,207 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 342 deaths. A reporter at the news conference mentioned that Memorial Day, the anticipated opening date for casinos, is only 18 days away and asked if reopening will happen then. "It's certainly possible," Reeves said. "It is something that I am interested in looking into and doing." But he said two days seems like an eternity in the face of the pandemic and 18 days away is a lifetime. In other words, it's just too early to tell. He is in frequent touch with casino executives and Mississippi Gaming Commission, he said, but also is taking cues from Dobbs and the MSDH.
Mississippi legislators to consider virus aid to businesses
Mississippi legislators will be back at work Thursday to consider proposals to help businesses that have been hurt by the coronavirus outbreak, House and Senate leaders said Tuesday. It will be the second time in less than a week for legislators to return to the Capitol after putting their session on hold in mid-March because of the pandemic. They passed a bill Friday to give the Legislature control over spending $1.25 billion that Mississippi is receiving from the federal government in a massive coronavirus relief package. During a news conference Tuesday, Reeves mentioned the possibility that he would veto the bill, setting up further confrontation with lawmakers. Overriding a veto takes a two-thirds margin. Legislators would easily have that based on Friday's vote, which was unanimous in the House and nearly unanimous in the Senate. But, it's not unusual for lawmakers to change their minds.
Amid spending feud with governor, Legislature reconvening session on Thursday
The Mississippi Legislature will reconvene its 2020 session at 1 p.m. on Thursday to begin crafting legislation to help small businesses deal with the economic impact of COVID-19, according to a press release from House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann. "The backbone of our economy in Mississippi is our small businesses, and now they need our support," Gunn, R-Clinton, said. "The two chambers will act together to provide relief as quickly as possible this week." The return of the lawmakers comes at a time when the Legislature is feuding with Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on who has the authority to spend more than a billion dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds. The state lawmakers briefly returned to the Capitol on Friday, where they passed a bill that removed Reeves of his power to be the sole official responsible for disbursing $1.25 billion in federal relief funds. The move drew sharp criticism from Reeves, who has repeatedly said that the lawmakers were "stealing" the money and he should be the person responsible for disbursing federal funds during a time of emergency. Reeves has until Thursday night to veto the proposal, and he has indicated in press briefings that he intends to do so.
Gov. Tate Reeves: No time for corona power grab with $1.25 billion at stake
Lawmakers shredded the state Constitution and ignored their own rules when they took control of $1.2 billion in federal coronavirus relief, Gov. Tate Reeves said on Monday. He characterized the hastily-arranged vote as "rushed" and the move itself as "power politics at its worst." Republican State Sen. Jenifer Branning voted with the overwhelming majority in the Senate in favor of Senate Bill 2772, which changed how the state will process and distribute the $1.25 billion in federal funds from the CARES Act passed by Congress. "I support and appreciate Gov. Reeves and the good job he's done," Branning said Tuesday. "I think he's done a great job in leading Mississippi through this crisis so far, but after looking over (the CARES Act), it's evident on its face that he has the authority to accept the money on behalf of the state, but not spend it." Branning added that her decision to support the bill boiled down to her legal interpretation, as the law applies. Republican Rep. Scott Bounds voted with all 112 of his colleagues in support of the amendment, said he made his decision on the bill based on his interpretation of the law. "The law says clearly that the legislature appropriates money," Bounds said Tuesday. "We are the elected voices of the people, and the people should have a say in how that money is spent."
After stripping Gov. Tate Reeves of COVID-19 relief spending authority, lawmakers will convene this week to begin spending the money themselves
As legislative leaders continue to spar with Gov. Tate Reeves over who has control over coronavirus stimulus funds, lawmakers will return to the Capitol Thursday to begin allocating them. The Legislature was scheduled to return on May 18 to resume the 2020 session, but on Tuesday afternoon leaders announced they would return on Thursday at 1 p.m., according to a release sent out from the offices of House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann. The two leaders are working together on legislation to help small businesses affected by COVID-19. Details were not immediately available, but the legislation would "set parameters and allocated funds to a state agency to administer," according to the release. The announcement comes amid a disagreement between the Legislature and Gov. Tate Reeves concerning the governor's spending authority of $1.25 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. Both Gunn and Hosemann's office said they are working to establish protocol for visiting and working inside the Capitol.
Once locked out of some SBA loans, agriculture now has edge
The U.S. Travel Association is crying foul after the Small Business Administration decided for now to take applications just from farmers and agricultural businesses for the $50 billion Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. SBA's action is a reversal of fortune for many segments of agriculture that were ineligible for the program when Congress appropriated COVID-19 emergency funds for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program in a March economic relief bill. Aquaculture or fish farming, plant nurseries and agricultural cooperatives qualified under the narrow definition on the books at the time. Farm groups pushed for a broader definition of agriculture to apply to any new Economic Injury Disaster Loans and grants. The broader definition was included in the most recent relief bill, but there is no language in the law giving a preference to agriculture. SBA spokeswoman Carol R. Wilkerson said the agency is trying to meet several priorities with its decision on the economic injury money.
Researchers hypothesize that a highly contagious strain of the coronavirus is spreading, but other experts remain skeptical
A research paper from scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, not yet peer-reviewed, reports that one strain of the novel coronavirus has emerged in Europe and become dominant around the planet, leading the researchers to believe the virus has mutated to become more contagious. The bold hypothesis, however, was immediately met with skepticism by many infectious-disease experts, and there is no scientific consensus that any of the innumerable mutations in the virus so far have changed the general contagiousness or lethality of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Francis Collins, director the National Institutes of Health, said in a brief email that officials there are aware of the paper, and that it "draws rather sweeping conclusions" about the mutant strain. The consensus has been that strains of the coronavirus are functionally the same, even if they look genetically different. The fact that the coronavirus is mutating is unsurprising, because all viruses mutate as they replicate. So far, this virus appears relatively stable, according to virologists, but the vast extent of the spread of the coronavirus has given it ample opportunity to evolve.
ERDC delivers augmented reality solutions in the fight against COVID-19
"The ERDC team is forward thinking in terms of how immersive computing can be applied to solve real-world engineering science and defense-related challenges," said Jonathan Boone, an ITL research civil engineer. Using live-streaming and mixed-reality overlays, smaller groups of engineers located on-site have the capability to share information with subject-matter experts working remotely. In addition to the safety benefits of leveraging the technology, real-time collaboration of assessment results has expedited the delivery of information to FEMA. Currently five USACE districts are prototyping the technology, with two more districts planning to use the technology soon. "Facility assessments are critical to the success of the ACF mission," Boone said. "Having reachback, live-stream capabilities allows engineers and architects who are leading efforts from a 'boots on the ground' team perspective to get virtual support from other USACE subject-matter experts."
A new study shows just how badly black Americans have been hit by Covid-19
Counties across the country with a disproportionate number of African American residents accounted for 52 percent of diagnoses and 58 percent of coronavirus deaths nationally, according to a new study released Tuesday. The study, conducted by epidemiologists and clinician-researchers at four universities in conjunction with the nonprofit AIDS research organization amFar and PATH's Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access, attempts to fill in the blanks as states report piecemeal data on race and ethnicity. The study -- performed by a dozen scientists and researchers from six organizations and universities, including Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center -- is one of the first to capture the impact on African American populations nationally.
Alumni group contributes to U. of Alabama student fund
A fund designed to help University of Alabama students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic has earned a $50,000 donation. The executive committee of the University of Alabama National Alumni Association decided to give the money to the Tide Together Student Support Fund, according to a news release. The fund provides short-term help for UA students who have needs related to housing, technology, travel and other necessities. "We thought it was important to step up and aid our students during their time of need, which is extensive at the moment," said Calvin Brown, director of alumni affairs at UA.
Auburn tutoring programs worked remotely to help students online
During Auburn University's move to remote instruction, students unaccustomed to online classes may have faced difficulties in keeping track of their coursework. Tutoring services like the Miller Writing Center and the Tiger Tutor program for student athletes were still available by appointment to provide guidance for assignments. Miller Writer Center tutors were already familiar with remote tutoring because of the service's existing online option during regular campus operations, but they were not required to continue working after campus closed in mid-March. Despite this, the MWC said many were more than willing to lend a hand to their fellow students in unfamiliar times. "Our tutors have handled the transition with care and professionalism," said Christopher Basgier, acting director of the Office of University Writing. Though the University said recently that it plans to hold face-to-face courses in the fall, Basgier said remote appointments will continue over the summer and beyond if necessary. "We are going to remain fully remote during the summer rather than change course midway when our consultants may have already made plans to work remotely," he said.
Enrollment decreases likely to cost the U. of Kentucky millions, leaders say
University of Kentucky officials anticipate fewer incoming freshmen and a drop in investment revenue in the coming months -- decreases compounded by millions in revenue losses incurred as the university has adapted to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. "We expect our freshman class is going to be a lot smaller than anticipated," Eric Monday, the executive vice president for finance and administration, told the Board of Trustees on Tuesday, while adding that the university is doing what it can to recruit more enrollees. Pre-pandemic estimates forecast an incoming freshman class of 5,750 this fall, Monday said, but the number of freshman is likely closer to 4,500 students. That drop -- combined with other likely enrollment decreases in other classes -- means a $27 million decrease in the university's projected revenue. UK's expected enrollment drop is the largest chunk of the estimated $73 million budget shortfall facing the university in the next fiscal year after the university lost $62 million in revenue in the past three months.
U. of Tennessee-Knoxville names new vice chancellor for student life
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has named Frank Cuevas as the vice chancellor for student life. Cuevas has held the role as interim vice chancellor since January, after Vince Carilli announced he was leaving the position. The vice chancellor for student life oversees student activities and opportunities, including student organizations, university housing and fraternities and sororities. Prior to taking on the interim role, Cuevas was assistant and then associate vice chancellor for student life. Starting in 2010, he oversaw student housing at UT for seven years. "I am deeply honored to serve UT as the Vice Chancellor for Student Life. I am passionate about both education and the student experience, so I am very excited to get to work on behalf of our students," Cuevas said in a statement. Cuevas is also an adjunct associate professor in education leadership and policy studies. He was the only finalist for the position from a national pool of candidates, according to a news release from the university.
LSU, Southern, school leaders say buildings reopen to students in fall -- but it's unclear how much
Leaders of LSU, Southern, BRCC and the East Baton Rouge Parish school system said Tuesday they intend to resume face-to-face instruction this fall, but they are still figuring out how much they will offer versus the digital instruction they were forced to shift to thanks to the new coronavirus. "Will it be exactly like it usually is? Probably not," said LSU Interim President Tom Galligan. "We're talking about larger classes perhaps continuing online. We're talking about smaller classes that will be in bigger rooms. We're talking about maybe having some capacity restrictions in some of our bigger buildings." Dorms will be a particular challenge. Galligan is hoping it will be safe for students to have roommates if they live on campus, but if federal guidelines require students to live alone, LSU will shift to no-roommate housing, though that would be costly. "All of those things are on the table right now," Galligan said.
UL System schools drop price of tuition by nearly 45% for adults returning to school
In an initiative to encourage adults who didn't complete their degree to return to school, the University of Louisiana System will immediately lower its tuition across its nine schools to a flat-rate price of $275 a credit hour for returning adults. UL System President Jim Henderson announced Tuesday the tuition change, which is almost a 45% decrease in price, is part of the system's "Compete Louisiana" program, an initiative that was formed last year to boost the percentage of Louisianans with a college degree to 60% by 2030. A system study found 653,000 adults in Louisiana have taken some college coursework but earned no degree. Tuition price, Henderson said, was the main reason these former students were driven out, and the students might return and finish school if there were an incentive. Tuition prices for regular students remain unchanged, and the Compete Louisiana students must meet three qualifications to receive the lower tuition rate: they must be a Louisiana resident, have earned some college credit but no degree, and they must be out of school for at least two years.
$15.5 million will go to U. of Florida students for federal emergency aid
University of Florida students who qualify for emergency financial aid were notified of their eligibility in an email Monday. The U.S. Department of Education provided UF with about $31 million through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. More than $15,523,000 will be dispersed in the form of emergency financial aid grants. Details about the additional financial aid can be found on students' One.UF page, a student portal for class and financial information, the email stated. In order to receive the aid, students must prove their need for aid is "related to the COVID-19 pandemic" by filling out an online form through their One.UF page. Students must report their expenses, such as housing, food and technology and describe how they have been affected by COVID-19. Documentation, such as bills or receipts, to support claims will also need to be submitted, according to the application.
Texas A&M divisions, academic colleges plan for possible budget cuts
Texas A&M University divisions and academic colleges have been tasked with making plans to reduce their budgets by 7.5%, in case the need to make cuts arises. No budget cuts have been formally requested by the state, A&M Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Jerry Strawser said in a Monday email to employees, but he emphasized the importance of preparing for the possibility. In his message, he said leaders anticipate challenging state budget conditions and that the economic impacts of COVID-19 will continue to affect university resources. "I just think it's good to plan ahead," Strawser said in a Tuesday interview with The Eagle. "It would be fantastic if we went through this exercise, and the economy was great and we got no cuts from the state. ... But the bottom line is you always want to think about what might happen in the future and plan for it accordingly, and that's the whole purpose of this."
U. of Missouri freshman enrollment deposits steady for now, deposit deadline extended
Despite the pandemic, University of Missouri freshman enrollment deposits are comparable to last year's numbers. By May 1, or what's known around the country as "decision day," more than 5,400 incoming students paid their enrollment deposits, MU spokesperson Christian Basi said. "We consider this to be a very stable, flat number at the moment," Basi said. "Given the current situation, we're very pleased with where we're at right now." Last May, MU announced an unofficial freshman enrollment of 5,460 following decision day. By the fall, that number had changed to 5,431, a 16% increase from fall 2018 freshman enrollment. MU has also pushed back its enrollment deposit deadline from the usual May 1 to June 1. Inside Higher Ed reported Friday that more than 400 colleges had announced a similar extension.
CUPA-HR report details gaps for women and minority professionals in higher ed
Professionals who are women or members of racial or ethnic minority groups remain underrepresented in all higher education leadership areas except one, according to a new report whose lead author says much of the disparity is due to insufficient hiring pipelines and gaps in pay. The annual report, released today by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, known as CUPA-HR, examines data from 1,114 higher education institutions covering more than 250,000 employees in 396 midlevel positions. The report includes data on midlevel professionals, breaking out factors like salary, race and ethnicity, gender, age, and years employees have held their position. Pay for higher ed professionals over all went up in the last year. Higher education professionals received a median salary increase of 2.66 percent from 2019 to 2020, the report shows. The highest increase was among employees at associate's degree-granting institutions, with an increase of 3.05 percent.
Federal Work-Study students paid at the discretion of colleges
Federal Work-Study is a financial aid program funded and administered by the U.S. Department of Education, which provides about $1 billion in funding to help colleges provide students with paid jobs. It is designed to help needy students pay for costs associated with attending college. The program requires institutions to match up to 50 percent of the department's allotment in most cases, according to DOE. The department has said colleges can continue to use federal funds to pay students who had work-study jobs before the pandemic, even if campus closures are preventing them from performing those jobs, said Megan Coval, vice president of policy and federal relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, or NASFAA. These are "optional provisions," and colleges and universities are following them in various ways, whether that's paying student employees for the time they would have worked or providing partial payments or telework options, Bridget Schwartz, president of the National Student Employment Association, said in an email.
Coronavirus Leaves Students and Colleges Playing Waiting Game
Many colleges and universities have made fairly rosy projections in recent weeks, telling prospective and current students that they "plan to" or "intend to" begin the fall term with face-to-face instruction on campus. Setting the expectation of some semblance of normal operations next term may help entice families to commit. But most schools don't know for sure. And that uncertainty leaves some families making agonizing, expensive decisions with incomplete information. "I feel like a fool," said one mother who sent in a deposit on May 1, not knowing whether her daughter would actually get to move to campus at the end of the summer. That college, a liberal arts school in the northeast, hadn't extended its deadline. School officials are bracing for high levels of so-called summer melt, with students who had seemed a sure thing just not showing up once classes begin. "I don't know how we're going to predict it,'" said Roger J. Thompson, vice president for student services and enrollment management at the University of Oregon. "I just don't know how this one's going to play out."
Biggest gap year ever? Sixteen percent of high school seniors say they'll take a gap year
Even as she was applying to college last fall, high school senior Taylor Fang was thinking about taking a year off first to find herself. But her parents didn't think it was a good idea. Now, she said, because of the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus, her parents don't need much convincing to let her take that gap year. "Especially with the possibility of having college online, they are actually a lot more on board," Fang said. If she can't go to classes in person, she said, "I would definitely want to take a gap year. It is such an investment, and I just feel like I would be missing out on a lot." Get ready for what early indications suggest could be the biggest gap year ever. Roughly one in six high school seniors say they definitely or most likely will change their plans to attend college in the fall because of the coronavirus, according to a survey of 1,171 students conducted April 21 through 24 by the higher education market research firm Art & Science Group. Of those, 16 percent say they will take a gap year.
Tents and immunity testing: U.S. colleges weigh return to campus life
Colleges emptied dormitories and moved classes online in March as the pandemic worsened -- a decision that left many students clamoring for partial refunds. Facing budget shortfalls, several colleges have said they are putting infrastructure investments on hold, freezing hiring, and furloughing employees. Now, universities are exploring creative, once-implausible approaches to make sure students can return to campus in the 2020-2021 academic year. The selling point of residential colleges is campus life and the sense of community it fosters, said Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College in Minnesota. When classes are online, private schools cannot make money from housing and dining services, and they struggle to justify tuition costs, Rosenberg said. Because the virus spreads more easily in confined spaces, Stanford University in California is considering holding classes outdoors in large tents, a university spokesman said. Questions also remain about whether students on packed college campuses, known for partying and athletic culture, will adhere to social distancing and other safety measures.
Obamas announce they will deliver virtual commencements
Former President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he and former first lady Michelle Obama will deliver several virtual commencement addresses in the coming weeks as high schools and universities across the nation are forced to hold their ceremonies online due to the coronavirus pandemic. "I've always loved joining commencements -- the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice," the 44th president wrote on Twitter, announcing the dates of the speeches. "Even if we can't get together in person this year, Michelle and I are excited to celebrate the nationwide Class of 2020 and recognize this milestone with you and your loved ones." Obama gave several commencement addresses while he was president, but these addresses will be his first since he left office. His successor, President Donald Trump, plans on delivering the 2020 commencement speech at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, in an in-person ceremony on June 13, bringing approximately 1,000 graduating cadets back to campus to attend the event.
Analysis: Gov. Tate Reeves' stance in 2016 'demon chipmunk' case could conflict with his claims in fight over COVID-19 funds
Bobby Harrison writes for Mississippi Today: A stance Gov. Tate Reeves made in the 2016 "demon chipmunk" case could conflict with the position he is now taking on whether the Legislature followed the state constitution last Friday when they passed a bill to ensure that the governor does not have sole spending authority of $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds. Reeves himself has not denied that the issue could end up in court in what is shaping up as a contentious and high-stakes battle between the executive and legislative branches. The 2016 "demon chipmunk" case originated from the constitutional mandate that any legislator has the right for a bill to be read before a vote. To meet that mandate, the House leadership used computer reading software and set it to an unintelligibly high speed – which jokingly became referred to as "the demon chipmunk." Then-Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, filed a lawsuit to stop the reading at demon-chipmunk speed, saying it was making a mockery of the constitutional mandate.
State's restaurants face precarious future even after Gov. Tate Reeves' new executive order
Mississippi sports columnist Rick Cleveland writes: Greek immigrants opened Jackson's venerable Mayflower Cafe, now a downtown mecca of broiled fish, as a hamburger stand 85 years ago. This week, the Mayflower offers something that it hasn't since that very beginning in 1935: curb service. In Oxford, James Beard Award-winning chef John Currence has rolled his four restaurants into two in recent weeks, packing family meals into Cryovac bags and also selling groceries. In Hattiesburg, restauranteur Robert St. John's six restaurants and two bars sit mostly empty of customers with three of the six providing meals on the go. Governor Tate Reeves Monday issued an order allowing Mississippi restaurants to open beginning Thursday morning for in-house meals under strict guidelines. But many are still restricted by city ordinances and others say they don't feel safe opening under conditions in the current pandemic. Mississippi's restaurants, which employ approximately 122,000 people representing about 10 percent of the state's workforce, face a precarious future. Some, surely, will not survive.
End the shutdown
Mississippi newspaper publisher and columnist Wyatt Emmerich writes: Ok. We gave it the old college try. Now it's time to get back to work and move on. Restaurants need to open. Functions need to resume. We need our normal social lives to return. Sixty days. That's how long it takes COVID-19 deaths to start up and then come back down. It's called Farr's Law. It's almost exactly the same in every single country throughout the world. If you don't realize this, please educate yourself by going to one of the COVID-19 statistical websites. I recommend This 60 days is remarkably consistent regardless of public lockdown policy. It was 60 days in Italy with its strict lockdown. It was 60 days in Sweden with its limited social distancing policy. Here in Mississippi, we've had lock down for 60 days. That's enough. Time to move on. ... Using the CDC's total all-cause mortality stats, the total death rate in the U. S. so far this year is about the same as the five-year average. It will take years, to understand what has really happened. In the meantime, we have lives to live and an economy to rebuild.
COVID-19 crisis school closings expose Mississippi's rural broadband deficiencies
Syndicated columnist Sid Salter writes: In 2019, Corona was a popular beach beer rather than a deadly respiratory virus, and no Mississippian had really ever seriously contemplated a development in which public schools, community colleges and universities would be closed, and academic content would be delivered through online means. But for years prior to 2019, rural Mississippians had fumed over molasses-slow internet speeds and the inability to shop, communicate, stream or enjoy full use of technology due to the lack of rural broadband. Enter Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, a distant cousin of singer Elvis Presley and an unabashedly proud populist Democrat from Nettleton. Presley orchestrated something just short of a political miracle. With Republicans firmly in control of the Mississippi House of Representatives, State Senate and the Governor's Mansion, Presley seized on the pent-up frustration of rural Mississippians aggravated by the fact that they didn't have strong and reliable internet access while their more urban neighbors and relatives had internet choices that were both less expensive and faster.

Difficult decisions ahead for Mississippi State AD John Cohen, SEC
With basketball's March Madness and the remainder of the college baseball season canceled, many fans are eagerly anticipating football season in the fall and a return to some semblance of normalcy. Mississippi State's John Cohen is talking with other athletic directors around the Southeastern Conference and officials from the league office multiple times a week in an effort to map out a plan to insure that football season takes place in the safest way possible. "There are some really smart people at the conference and national level that are looking at this," Cohen said this week. "It's really important to know that this is a safety-first situation and we don't want to put anyone in jeopardy. That's our main area of importance. "We all want to have football, we all want to start on time and we want people in the stands." A myriad of scenarios are being explored including pushing the start date back, playing an abbreviated schedule and possibly limiting the number of fans in attendance. "Not much escapes (SEC commissioner) Greg Sankey," Cohen said. "The brilliance of Greg Sankey is keeping every option on the table in terms of fans in the stands, scheduling itself and in terms of starting times. I feel really good that as we get more information moving forward that time will allow us to make a much more predicable outcome."
Analysis: Breaking down Mississippi State's defensive back depth chart heading into the summer
With Spring Commencement at Mississippi State now officially passed, summer has arrived in Starkville. And while the MSU football team has yet to endure their usual regimen of spring practices due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there remains a growing optimism a 2020 football season will be played -- though when that would happen and the logistics behind such an occurrence. Over the next week-plus we're going to dive into the Bulldogs' depth chart heading into the summer and what it might look like once competition is allowed to begin. With that said, let's get things started with the MSU defensive backs.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey: NCAA image, likeness pay issues far from resolved
Days after canceling the SEC men's basketball tournament in March, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey turned to a familiar outlet to help deal with stress related to the growing coronavirus outbreak. Sankey, who's known for his passion for fitness, developed a new routine. "My workout gym had closed down and I didn't put myself on a regular schedule, but I knew I had to," Sankey said. "I hadn't done a lot of running in more than a decade. I aggravated my Achilles when I was running a lot of marathons. I finished 41 marathons. The last 10 or so, my Achilles did not appreciate those experiences. So, I started doing workouts differently. I get up at 6 in the morning and I've been running for the past six or seven weeks now. I've gotten up to a level where I can do five or six miles without stopping. That has given me a win every morning." In the eight weeks since the NCAA announced it was canceling all winter and spring sports activities, Sankey and his staff have been working to help meet the needs of the conference's athletes while facing a growing list of questions about how to play football and other sports in the fall.
Longtime official Mike Eades to oversee SEC basketball officiating
The Southeastern Conference on Tuesday appointed Mike Eades as its coordinator of men's basketball officials. Eades is a 24-year college basketball official who has worked in three Final Fours, most recently in 2017. He replaces Mark Whitehead, who resigned the post last month. The SEC's officials coordinator is responsible for selecting, training, evaluating and assigning officials for games at SEC arenas. SEC basketball officiating was under scrutiny during the 2019-20 season. Prior to the final week of the season in March, the Montgomery Advertiser reported there were 39.6 fouls per game called in SEC games, compared to between 33.1 and 35.4 fouls averaged in ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 games. SEC teams collectively ranked higher in total fouls and free throws attempted.
What does Donald Trump think of LSU Coach Ed Orgeron? Nothing but great things
Just like the rest of Louisiana and LSU fans, President Donald Trump had a couple of "great" things to say about football coach Ed Orgeron while being interviewed by a Lafayette-based conservative radio host last Thursday. Trump joined the Moon Griffon Show a day after his visit with Gov. John Bel Edwards to discuss the coronavirus response, the return of sports and his total admiration for Coach O. "I've become very friendly with him," Trump said to Griffon. "He's just a great coach. He's a great guy and a great coach." Trump told Griffon that he and Edwards called Orgeron during the president and governor's meeting on coronavirus in Louisiana. During last Wednesday's meeting, Edwards praised Trump for making 200,000 COVID-19 test kits a month available to the state, which the governor said sets up a possibility for Louisiana to reopen in mid-May. The President followed his gushing over LSU's coach with recollections of the crowded Alabama-LSU game in Tuscaloosa.
Georgia adjusts game plan to connect coaches to donors virtually
The weeks after Georgia's spring football game usually finds coach Kirby Smart hopscotching around the Southeast to hobnob with donors. They've written checks that helped speed up the construction of the indoor football practice facility, the new locker room and recruiting lounge on the West End zone of Sanford Stadium and the now under construction football operations center of an expanded Butts-Mehre building. That up-close-and personal connection through private dinners and a couple more traditional speaking stops, like so much, has been disrupted by the novel coronavirus. Instead, Smart hooked up with members of The Hedges---the exclusive group for those who donate $100,000 a year -- from his home for three one hour "Chalk Talk" Zoom sessions last month. "We're trying to stay creative," said Georgia Bulldog Club president and deputy director of development Matt Borman.
Texas A&M's Ross Bjork hopeful football season will start on time
Some Texas businesses opened last week, raising optimism that the coronavirus pandemic is nearing an end. The fresh hope includes Texas A&M student-athletes possibly returning to the practice field. A&M chancellor John Sharp said last week the plan is to have students taking classes on campus in the fall with the stands at Kyle Field full for football games. Aggie athletic director Ross Bjork also is encouraged those things will happen. "I think there's great data in terms of how our health care system is holding up here in the state of Texas, and we hope those trends continue," Bjork said Tuesday on a Zoom conference. "We know that as we do re-open we'll have to monitor this very closely and follow all the news out there. But I'm optimistic and very hopeful that we're going to play [and] we're going to play a full season. We want fans in the stands, and that's how we're looking at this whole thing." The optimism remains bridled because the Southeastern Conference has suspended all team and individual practices and meetings through May 31.
Memphis AD Laird Veatch 'optimistic' that football season will happen
It's too early to tell whether the Memphis Tigers' football season will start on time, athletic director Laird Veatch said in a video released by the school on Tuesday. But he's optimistic that the season will take place. And he said that maintaining a flexible approach is the key to making the proper adjustments to ensure it happens. "I am optimistic that we will have a football season. It's just a matter of what it looks like," Veatch said. "It may very well look different as I've shared before as well and we may have to be willing to adjust in whatever way that may be whether that's start times or configurations of stadiums." He said that new coach Ryan Silverfield has been working with the AAC and its football oversight committee to model scenarios for when the season can get started. But plans could change because of COVID-19. "I think for the most part rational folks out there recognize that everything is beyond everyone's control right now. That's the world we're living in," Veatch said.
Vice President Mike Pence: College athletic association talks included requests for elderly alumni to skip events
Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday said that talks with college athletic associations about possibly reopening events involved the possibility of requesting elderly alumni to skip sporting events. Pence told "The Hugh Hewitt Show" that he participated in conversations with commissioners of major university and college athletic associations "not long ago" regarding potential guidelines recommending older individuals avoid these events. "We talked about that they might consider asking some of the elderly alumni to consider taking a pass on some sporting events should they restart in the summer or in the fall," Pence told Hewitt on his Tuesday show. "But ... we would leave those decisions to businesses, to state governors, to what we would determine to be most appropriate," he added.

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