Friday, May 15, 2020   
Rebuilding Mississippi: COVID-19 costs to colleges and universities
Football in the South. Some say it's almost a religion. Game days mean packed stadiums for schools and big money. In some cases, universities depend on the millions of dollars in revenue. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, no one can really count on anything happening like it always did. That includes having students on campus and fans in the stands. "How can we provide that safe environment for the fans that we have. And at the same time, be sure we are able to have athletics that are so important," said Dr. David Shaw, Provost at Mississippi State University. Shaw is chairing a task force that includes representatives from Mississippi's eight public universities. The task force's goal is to decide on how to reopen safely in the fall. "There is a great deal of conversation going on right now about athletics and the role it plays, both for the standing point of the financial revenue, but also from the standpoint of just the university experience," stated Shaw.
Mississippi State has a lot to consider as it plans for in-person classroom instruction this fall
Mississippi State University's task force team is making plans to bring students back in the fall semester. MSU plans for in-person classroom instruction this fall, it announced Wednesday. What's currently a quiet, empty campus could be filled with thousands of students and faculty members in a few months. "You got a lot of things on the table right now," Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter said. He said there are a lot of things to consider when it comes to repopulating MSU's campus. "How does housing work? How does our cafeteria and dining service work?" Several leaders of the COVID-19 task force team represent different groups at the university. The team is focusing on ways to social distance, increase cleanings and making face coverings available for everyone.
MSU, MUW plan to bring students back to campus for fall semester
Officials at both Mississippi State University and Mississippi University for Women are making plans to have students back on campus for the fall semester. Both universities have formed task forces made up of committees of administrators, faculty, staff and students to help implement new policies to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines for social distancing and keep students, university employees and others on campus safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. MSU Chief Communications Officer and Director Sid Salter said the MSU's task force -- which is made up of 12 members including the director of university health services and student association president -- is coming up with contingency plans for a variety of scenarios, including what to do if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in a university dormitory. "All those contingencies are being considered," Salter told The Dispatch. "Safety is our No. 1 priority, and it will be throughout the process."
Mississippi State shares tips for a cyber security conscious workforce
Mississippi State University was already prepared in many ways for the pandemic with a cyber security conscious workforce and a significant number of faculty and staff who travel and work remotely. "This was something that has not happened overnight, but rather is a security awareness culture we have tried to cultivate at Mississippi State University over time," said MSU Chief Information Officer Steve Parrott. Parrott said assuring cyber security at MSU takes action on a number of different fronts. A remote workforce highlights the importance of two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication adds a second layer of security. There has been significant press about the increased incidents of "Zoom-bombing" and other security issues related to video conferencing. Many of these issues are related to wide open configuration settings. The MSU solution is integrated with a cloud-based learning management system and starts with more locked/secure defaults in classroom settings. "The essence of much of cyber security training is that common sense is your best protection," Parrott said. "If an email, phone call or online message seems odd, suspicious or too good to be true, it could well be an attack."
MSU risk expert: 'Invisible threat' of COVID-19 requires collective caution
Public sentiment toward scientists during a crisis tends to be one of blame, and people historically claim scientists failed to warn them enough of the risks and dangers, but that hasn't been the case during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, said Davide Orsini, an assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University. "Sometimes the scientific community has been blamed for adopting a precautionary stance, saying the risks of (interpersonal contact) are much higher than you think or you shouldn't relax the measures yet because it's dangerous," Orsini told an audience of about 30 during a livestreamed interview on Facebook with Julia Osman, the director of MSU's Institute for the Humanities. "I'm quite interested in understanding what kind of factors play into this different vibe." Disagreement between scientists is frequent and encouraged, Orsini said, but it usually happens behind closed doors instead of "onstage" and in public view, as has been the scientific discussion of COVID-19 risks and prevention measures. Orsini and Osman both said this display can encourage conspiracy theories and false information since people tend to try to explain away things they do not understand.
Extension offers professional development courses free online
The Mississippi State University Extension Service is offering 10 of its online professional development courses free of charge through June 30. Those who enroll in any of the self-paced classes will have three months to complete all course materials from the time they start the course. The courses are Personal Finance, Individual Excellence, Managing Customer Service, Creating Web Pages, Creating WordPress Websites, Keys to Effective Communication, Marketing Your Business on the Internet, Twelve Steps to a Successful Job Search, Small Business Marketing on a Shoestring Budget, and Fundamentals of Supervision and Management. "These are great classes for those who may be looking for work or those wanting to gain new skills to advance in their career field," said Dixie Cartwright, manager of the MSU Extension Center for Continuing Education. "These courses are open to everyone and can be taken at a pace that is convenient for them."
This week on 'Sunday Morning' (May 17)
From tidal waves consuming New York City to toilet paper nightmares, reports of apocalyptic, frightening or just plain bizarre pandemic-driven dreams are everywhere. Correspondent Susan Spencer talks about anxiety-fueled dreams with Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett, who has collected thousands of pandemic dreams and nightmares as part of a study of our sleep-state responses to coronavirus; Mississippi State University professor Michael Nadorff; and poet Jackie Wang and artist Sandra Haynes, whose dreams have provided metaphorical stories of fear and triumph.
Walk-On's Sports Bistreux taps franchisees for Starkville, Tupelo
Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux, a popular Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based chain, has more than 100 locations under development in 15 states, and Mississippi is one of its prime targets. Earlier this week, company co-founder Brandon Landry tweeted that Eddie and Allen Gant became franchisees for Starkville, Tupelo and Meridian. Currently, the Hattiesburg store is the only Mississippi location. The company's website also says it has sold franchise locations in Jackson, Biloxi/Gulfport, Southaven and Oxford. Officials haven't yet said when any of the new franchised locations will open. Walk-On's founders Brandon Landry and Jack Warner were walk-ons on the LSU basketball team in early 2000, and they opened Walk-On's Bistreaux & Bar in the shadows of LSU's Tiger Stadium. in 2003. In 2012, ESPN named Walk-On's the No. 1 Sports Bar in America. Three years later, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees became a co-owner in the company.
Yokohama furloughs workers days after reopening
Yokohama Tire Corporation has furloughed some of its employees at its West Point manufacturing plant until further notice, according to an internal email from the company obtained by The Dispatch Wednesday evening. The furlough came days after the plant reopened on April 27 following a month-long shutdown. The company currently employs roughly 700 at its West Point plant, The Dispatch previously reported. Plant representatives would not disclose to The Dispatch Thursday how many employees have been furloughed. Addressing its furloughed employees in a Wednesday email, the company cited the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and stated its operations were "disrupted significantly," which prompted a change in its operations schedule. The email, a copy of which The Dispatch obtained from an employee who wished to remain anonymous out of job security concerns, also says it is unclear how long the furlough would last.
Mississippi casinos to reopen before Memorial Day weekend
The Mississippi Gaming Commission said Thursday that casinos in the state can start reopening May 21 -- more than two months after the commission closed them because of the coronavirus pandemic. The reopening is allowed just before the Memorial Day weekend, which usually marks the beginning of the summer tourist season. Gaming Commission executive director Allen Godfrey confirmed the reopening date to WLOX-TV and the Sun Herald. He said the commission will release an order Friday with safety guidelines, which are expected to include requirements for social distancing between customers and frequent cleaning of slot machines and other equipment. Several casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast have been moving slot machines and table games to meet social distancing guidelines.
Wicker-led committee probes rural broadband access
A U.S. Senate committee chaired by Mississippi's Roger Wicker examined the challenges posed by inadequate broadband internet access in rural areas and probed the best way forward. Wicker, Mississippi's senior senator and a Republican, convened the Wednesday morning hearing as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to distribute some federal money earmarked for the construction of additional broadband infrastructure in underserved areas. Wednesday's hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee began with a reminder by Wicker of how severely the COVID-19 crisis has stressed rural education, healthcare and business due to inadequate internet access. Social distancing, Wicker said, "has caused a huge uptick in the use of broadband. One estimate shows that average broadband usage is up by 47 percent since the pandemic began."
Gov. Tate Reeves: Virus relief grants will aid 'Main Street, Mississippi'
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday that he expects to sign a bill to create grants for small businesses by using part the state's coronavirus relief money. The governor's staff was involved in negotiations that led to the bill that the Republican-controlled state House and Senate passed with broad bipartisan support late Wednesday. Reeves said his staff will review the bill, and he will sign it if all the details are as expected. "Wall Street is going to be just fine," Reeves said Thursday. "Main Street is where my concern is -- Main Street, Mississippi." The aid package was crafted days after Reeves and legislative leaders set aside a feud over whether the governor or legislators have the power to spend the $1.25 billion that Mississippi is receiving from the federal government for virus relief.
Gov. Tate Reeves and legislative leaders, at bitter odds last week, pat each other on the back over small business relief program
Before the House and Senate negotiators signed an agreement late Wednesday night to provide $300 million in grants to small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, they allowed Gov. Tate Reeves' chief legal counsel David Maron time to review the bill. The governor's staff being involved in the negotiating process of the deal is notable considering that a week earlier, the Legislature and governor engaged in a heated public debate over who had the authority to appropriate the funds. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn, who argued successfully a week earlier it was the Legislature and not the governor who had authority to appropriate the federal funds, said on Thursday that the governor's staff was involved during the final days as legislative leaders hammered out the program. The $300 million program for small businesses was created with a portion of the $1.25 billion in federal funds Mississippi received to help pay costs associated with the coronavirus. In his own press conference on Thursday, Reeves praised legislators for passing the proposal. He suggested he would soon sign the bill into law, though he said he needed time to study it.
Gov. Tate Reeves: Replenish state's unemployment trust fund with CARES money or small businesses will suffer
Gov. Tate Reeves urged lawmakers to consider using some federal CARES Act money to restore the state's unemployment insurance trust fund amid soaring unemployment claims and tens of millions in claims paid out thus far. Reeves made the remarks after being asked about whether the state's trust fund was in good shape after the impact from the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders. "It's not in as good a financial shape as it was 8 weeks ago," Reeves said. "220,000 Mississippians have filed for unemployment in the last eight weeks. That's 220 times or 22,000 percent more than filed the week before we received our first case in Mississippi." A 3 On Your Side analysis of the current fund balance suggests it would take at least $23 million to restore the trust fund to pre-pandemic levels, though that figure is nearly four weeks old. The process operates in much the same way as other states: employers pay into Mississippi's unemployment trust fund, which then pays out unemployment benefits to those who file claims.
Governor to host virtual graduation ceremony for Class of 2020
Gov. Tate Reeves is trying to brighten the day for the class of 2020. The governor announced on Twitter that he will be hosting a statewide graduation ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday live on his Facebook page. "It's a small thing, but I hope this will help make this milestone special," Reeves said in the tweet. Graduating seniors who wish to have their names called during the virtual commencement are asked to submit a form online. "Our 2020 graduates have worked hard for years and accomplished great things. They deserve every minute of celebration and to be recognized for their achievements," Reeves said. "I am truly sorry that they will not get to walk across that stage as their families and friends cheer them on."
Feds: Mississippi must replace all misspent or stolen welfare money with state funds
Once it identifies exactly how many millions of federal dollars Mississippi misused within its welfare program over the last several years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will require the state to use its own funds to replace them. A state audit conducted on behalf of the federal government and published in early May officially questioned $94 million in Mississippi Department of Human Services spending mostly from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, including many purchases the auditor called absurd. Other purchases may have helped needy families but the auditor could not obtain documentation to discern whether they were legal expenditures. The audit only examined spending in fiscal year 2019 and any earlier purchases the office may have identified in the course of the audit, such as though a contract that spanned multiple years. Officials have not determined the number of dollars that were misspent or stolen.
China Threatens to Sanction U.S. Politicians for Coronavirus Criticism
Legislation introduced by a series of China hawks on Capitol Hill, along with lawsuits filed by the attorneys general of Missouri and Mississippi, amount to an "abuse of litigation by the U.S. against China over the COVID-19 epidemic" and has prompted Chinese officials to mull "punitive measures" including sanctions, according to a report published in China's Global Post Thursday morning. The post does not expressly say who China would sanction and how, but does reference "four GOP lawmakers" and "two U.S. entities." It cites pieces of legislation introduced by Republicans Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas and Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey that would allow Americans to sue China. It also references lawsuits brought by the Republican attorneys general of Missouri, Eric Schmitt, and Mississippi, Lynn Fitch, seeking damages for deaths caused by the virus. "While China has not typically threatened individual U.S. lawmakers or states with economic punishment, in the current environment I would not be surprised to see commerce between China and these districts suffer as a result," says Jessica Chen Weiss, a professor at Cornell University and China specialist, "even if Beijing leaves room for plausible deniability."
Special Report: Immigrant Couple Face Double Jeopardy in U.S. Coronavirus Epidemic
The Koch Foods chicken-processing plant dominates the small town of Morton, where even the sides of the roads are dotted with feathers. For more than a decade, the lives of Pedro Vasquez and Zoila Orozco have revolved around the plant. It set the stage for some of their greatest joys: They fell in love there, had a little boy and eventually saved enough money to buy a small house in town, far from their native Guatemala. It also has been the source of some of their most profound sorrows: Zoila claims she was the victim of an abusive supervisor there years ago, and last August, Pedro was swept up in a massive raid at the plant targeting immigrants working in the United States illegally. Nine months later, he's still being held. Now, more than 150 miles apart, they both tested positive for the novel coronavirus within a week of each other as their lives intersected with two hotbeds for the pandemic in the United States: immigration detention centers and meatpacking plants.
USDA gives few new clues on farm aid
The Agriculture Department, in a webinar for ag producers, offered few details on how it plans to dole out $16 billion in aid in the coming weeks. The department hosted a webinar on Thursday for ag producers to learn more about applying for its $16 billion direct aid program. Given the massive interest among farmers and ranchers who are throwing out crops and euthanizing livestock, attendance on the Zoom call hit maximum capacity. But the webinar lasted less than 15 minutes and offered little new information. USDA officials largely ticked through a list of forms that applicants will need to fill out and took just four questions submitted by farmers. The brief session left farmers scratching their heads and grousing about the lack of new information. As one industry member put it, USDA is guarding details of the program "like it's the nuclear football."
'I could hear the bullets whizzing past my face': Survivors remember the shootings at Jackson State
Fifty years ago today, two African-American men were killed and at least a dozen other people were injured in a hail of gunfire at Jackson State University. "I hadn't done anything. I was just stepping out of my dormitory," said Gailya Porter. In May of 1970, Porter was a sophomore majoring in Sociology at the then called Jackson State College. The Monticello native lived in Alexander Hall, which was the women's dormitory on Lynch Street where the shootings took place. "Someone on the hall yelled 'the corner boys are burning a vehicle down the street,' said Porter. "My roommate said to me 'well let's just see what's going on.' So we did." Porter suffered injuries from glass, concrete and other debris. She says her roommate was shot in the arm during the seconds of gunfire that led to the deaths of 21-year old Phillip Gibbs, a Junior and 17-year old James Earl Green, a Jim Hill High School Senior. Porter says tension on Jackson State's campus had been mounting for some time, but not over Vietnam. The issue was something much closer to home -- racism. Porter says she later learned some students started fires on campus after a false rumor spread of the death of civil rights activist Charles Evers. The fire department responded and requested police backup.
Belhaven Giving Scholarship and Grants to Students Staying Close to Home
Belhaven University recently announced that it is guaranteeing a minimum of $12,500 in scholarships and grants to Mississippi class of 2020 high school graduates and community college transfers to support students who are staying close to their homes due to the COVID-19 crisis. "The Haven Promise" program will give all entering freshmen a minimum of $50,000 in scholarships and grants over four years. The program is open to class of 2020 graduates at any Mississippi public, private or charter high school; class of 2020 home school graduates who are Mississippi residents; and transfer students from any Mississippi community or junior college. All program recipients must enroll during the fall 2020 semester at the Jackson residential campus and be seeking their first bachelor degree. The scholarship is not available for students enrolling in online programs or adult and graduate programs in Jackson, DeSoto County, Chattanooga or Dalton.
Itawamba Community College implements Summer Edge program designed to save students money on classes
With current restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Itawamba Community College has implemented its Summer Edge program, which is designed to save students money on classes offered from now through July. All summer courses have transitioned to online opportunities in June, and there is no registration fee for May, June and July classes. In addition, financial aid is available for those who qualify. According to Dr. Michelle Sumerel, vice president of instructional services, ICC plans to provide a combination of online, live streaming and face-to-face opportunities in July. "We will have face-to-face Zoom sessions with tutors all summer to assist with all of our courses," Sumerel said. "Since many students and families are facing financial hardships as a result of the health crisis, we wanted to do our part with the implementation of the Summer Edge program," said ICC President Dr. Jay Allen. "It is an unprecedented opportunity for students to get an edge in online classes at ICC, which are half the average cost per hour of those offered by universities. We provide greater value as well as quality instruction for all students to advance their education. That is our continuing commitment."
Haas Foundation awards Meridian Community College $250K for center lab
The Gene Haas Foundation has awarded a $250,000 grant to Meridian Community College. The grant will complete the funding of the all-new CNC learning lab for their Precision Machining Program, to be named the Gene Haas Advanced Manufacturing Center. It will be a catalyst to offering training and industry growth throughout the region. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Gene Haas Advanced Manufacturing Center is tentatively scheduled in August. The lab will feature nine Haas CNC machine tools and 14 Haas CNC simulators. The centerpieces for the lab include a 5-axis Haas UMC-500SS and Multitasking Haas ST-30Y turning center with Y-axis and live tooling. Four additional Haas mills, two additional Haas CNC lathes, a Tsugami B205 Swiss turn lathe, Zeiss CMM and numerous manual lathes, mills, drill presses and band saws will round out the lab. "We're extremely grateful to the Gene Haas Foundation for this generous gift," said Brian S. Warren, division chair of Industrial Technology and Precision Machining Program instructor at MCC.
University of Florida's President Kent Fuchs: Students likely to return for fall semester
Though University of Florida officials have said they will announce plans for fall semester by July, President Kent Fuchs said he's optimistic that through rigorous testing and screening, students can return for in-person instruction. At a city of Gainesville town hall meeting Wednesday night, Fuchs said he's come to terms with the idea that COVID-19 is here to stay in Alachua County and the university will need to figure out how resume operations safely. And students, he added, are determined to come back to campus. "Even though we've told our students it's not until July that we're going to be announcing what instruction looks like, they've said that they're tired of having their mothers tell them to make their beds and they're coming to Gainesville," he said. He warned that massive furloughs will come if students and faculty continue to stay away, adding that officials are already preparing for a $40 million loss through the summer. UF also hopes to have as many employees safely return to work, and tested, as it can by July 1. The school's human resources department has sent surveys to employees asking whether they would like to continue working from home or return July 1.
U. of Tennessee enrollment 'well positioned' for the fall semester, despite national trends
Enrollment at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is on track to be up for the fall semester, despite the pandemic and declining national trends. Enrollment indicators for undergraduates are looking positive for the fall 2020 semester, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Kari Alldredge said on Wednesday. UT Knoxville also had a record number of applications for first year students: over 25,000. At the chancellor's advisory board meeting on Wednesday, board members heard an enrollment update from Alldredge. While numbers could still fluctuate before the June 1 enrollment deadline, UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said she's hopeful for the fall semester. National trends indicate that enrollment will likely be down across the country. Plowman said holding enrollment numbers steady would be considered a win. "We have time that the numbers could look even better," Plowman said. "Staying flat would be a big win when everyone else in the country is bracing for a big decline."
U. of Kentucky reveals campus reopening options and asks for public feedback
University of Kentucky administrators offered the public a first glimpse at the university's potential fall restart plans in a campuswide email sent Wednesday night. Three planning teams -- comprised of administrators, faculty, staff and students -- have been meeting to consider four different scenarios: Starting in-person classes on the original date; delaying the start of the semester; starting classes online and moving to in-person later in the semester; and having a fully online semester. The plans for each of the different scenarios were described in an email from President Eli Capilouto. The plans are subject to change and the university has opened a public comment period on the plans through Friday at 5 p.m., Capilouto wrote. After the public comment period, the plans will be furthered refined, and university teams will produce a "final planning document" that will be opened up for another public comment period later this month. The “normal” restart plan would begin with in-person classes on the original first day -- Aug. 24 -- but the semester would be significantly shorter, an online edition of the plan showed. The proposed schedule would eliminate fall break and see the semester end at Thanksgiving, with students taking their final exams, either online or in person, the week before the holiday.
Texas A&M epidemiologist, other panelists discuss state's COVID-19 response, outlook
Three Texas-based public health experts, including a Texas A&M epidemiologist, had an hourlong forum midday Thursday to provide data and insight into COVID-19 modeling and testing in the state. The panelists discussed the nature of projection models, the importance of continued education about best health practices and talked about the potential dangers of reopening the economy -- and society -- too quickly. Rebecca Fischer, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Texas A&M's School of Public Health, said recent studies indicate a need for continued public health education on the nature of transmission and why measures such as masks and thorough hand-washing are vital in mitigating the spread. "Those will inform things like how are we safely able to be in a restaurant or a store with individuals. That will inform how business owners approach distancing their employees and sanitizing the facilities," Fischer said. "Fortunately, we've learned a lot through this first lockdown. When we first shut things down, we didn't know any other way. ... What we've now learned is that we have some ways that we can still operate an economy and consumer-based society [by] being creative and exercising caution."
Mun Choi describes U. of Missouri reopening to chamber group
The University of Missouri will welcome students back to campus in August, with the ability to pivot back to online courses if there's a resurgence of COVID-19. That is how Mun Choi, UM System president and interim MU chancellor, described plans to reopen campus in a "Lunch with a Leader" talk with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce on Zoom. There were around 100 participants. Compared with this week last year, MU has registered 1,855 more first-time students, 496 more returning students and 117 more transfer students, Choi said. He attributes the potential enrollment gains to "pent-up demand from high school students stuck at home." "These are very good indications we're going to have a very successful fall semester," Choi said. Before students return, the university will conduct a phased reopening starting Wednesday in what is being called the "Show Me Renewal" initiative. The university will have testing available and the ability to conduct contact tracing, should the virus return, he said. A dorm may be set aside in case there's a need to quarantine students.
What It's Like to Teach With Covid-19
Phillip W. Stokes is 36 years old. He eats healthfully and exercises regularly. Even so, when Stokes, an assistant professor of Arabic at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, came down with Covid-19 in mid-March, he got sicker than he had ever been. His story sheds light on aspects of Covid-19 that haven't always been front and center in public discussions about reopening campuses. What happens if professors are too sick to teach for a long time? What happens if they infect their students -- or vice versa? Stokes started out with gastrointestinal symptoms but also suffered from fatigue, nausea, headaches, a cough, and pneumonia, as he recounted in a recent column for Knox News. He experienced anxiety and had panic attacks. When I spoke with Stokes last week, nearly two months into his illness, he told me he still gets headaches that make him dizzy. He's still not breathing normally. As the pandemic continues, Stokes's experience highlights some of the challenges colleges will face when professors become infected -- whether they're teaching in person or not.
Colleges seek protection from lawsuits if they reopen
Wednesday afternoon, 14 college presidents from around the country gathered in front of their computers. On their screens they saw their peers, along with Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who asked what they needed to reopen their campuses in the fall. The presidents spoke about the need to be able to do more testing for the coronavirus, according to those who were either on the call or were knowledgeable about the conversation. But the presidents also said they needed to know their college wouldn't get sued if anyone got sick, which is almost inevitable. "They were mostly in listening mode, wanting to hear what the federal government could do to be helpful," said University of Texas at El Paso president Heather Wilson, who was on the call. One way it can help, said Wilson, a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico and secretary of the Air Force, "is to have some kind of liability protection." Coming as President Trump encouraged governors in Colorado and North Dakota on Wednesday to reopen schools as an important step toward returning to normalcy, businesses' fears of being sued are being picked up by the Senate's Republican majority.
Size of state budget cuts becomes clearer
Seemingly daily lately, officials in states around the country have announced the need to make major cuts that could hit colleges and universities. And Thursday was no exception, as California governor Gavin Newsom said the state would have to cut higher education by $1.7 billion to close a mammoth $54.3 billion budget hole caused by the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, state budget and higher education experts predicted that colleges and universities, already facing their own financial problems during the pandemic, would face the additional blow of state budget cuts. States nationwide are seeing tax revenue drop as they have to pay additional costs -- everything from testing for the virus to providing medical care during a pandemic. But it was hard to tell how bad it was going to be. States, though, are now beginning to see the impact the outbreak is having on tax collections, and they being able to put a number to the cuts they will have to make in the upcoming budget year -- which, depending on the state, will begin in the next few months.
Open or Closed for the Fall? Colleges Begin to Decide, and Make Different Calls
Colleges are beginning to decide whether they will try to hold classes again in person in the fall or continue the unprecedented shift to all-online teaching when the new academic year starts. And different campuses are making different calls on how to carry on as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. One of the most vocal proponents of the stay-open approach has been Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue University, who explained his decision in a message to the university community in April. "Closing down our entire society, including our university, was a correct and necessary step," he wrote. "It has had invaluable results. But like any action so drastic, it has come at extraordinary costs, as much human as economic, and at some point, clearly before next fall, those will begin to vastly outweigh the benefits of its continuance. Interrupting and postponing the education of tomorrow's leaders for another entire semester or year, is one of many such costs. So is permanently damaging the careers and lives of those who have made teaching and research their life's work, and those who support them in that endeavor."
Colleges push viral testing, other ideas for reopening in fall. But some worry about deepening the health crisis.
One afternoon this week, Celeste Torres, a sociology student at the University of California at San Diego, stopped by a self-serve testing station to perform a five-minute ritual that could hold the key to reopening college campuses nationwide amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Torres, who's 27 and identifies with plural pronouns, used a cellphone to scan a code on the testing kit and link their name to it. Then Torres swabbed inside their nose to obtain a secretion sample, put the swab into a tube, slipped the tube into a plastic bag and dropped the whole thing into a collection bin. From there, the contents would be sent to a laboratory to check for the virus. Torres wants the university to teach in person in the fall and has no problem with taking viral tests to help make that happen. "If they give us a little peace of mind, that kind of helps," Torres said. Many colleges and universities are pushing to bring students back to campus in the fall, pledging an all-out effort to overcome the extraordinary challenges of housing and teaching them during a public health crisis. The UC-San Diego experiment is one of many data-gathering initiatives advocates say are needed to reopen.
Covid-19 wreaks havoc on US universities leaving their finances in disarray
Major research universities in the US are facing unprecedented challenges and perils as they deal with the fallout from the ongoing pandemic. Out of 436 US higher education institutions rated by S&P Global Ratings, 117 have been downgraded from stable to negative. The credit agency also downgraded another 10 schools from positive to stable. In total, the share of colleges and universities with negative outlooks has more than quadrupled since the pandemic began. The restart costs for US universities will be considerable once the lockdown ends and labs reopen. 'We know that for labs to resume their work on the federal research grants, they are going to need to get their staff back to campuses or to their facilities, and in many instances they are going to need to recreate cell lines that had to be destroyed or frozen over the course of the suspension, which is going to take time,' explains Lizbet Boroughs, AAU'S associate vice president for federal relations.
As labs move to reopen, safety worries abound
Russell Hopcroft spent much of April hunkered down in Fairbanks, Alaska, plotting how he'd return to research once the state ended its lockdown. On 23 April, he finally got the call---or rather, the Zoom: Over a video link, an official from the National Science Foundation said it was granting Hopcroft, a biological oceanographer at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, permission to set sail on his ecological expedition to collect data on critical Gulf of Alaska fishing grounds. It would be a voyage like no other. When the vessel left port last week, it held only three researchers, instead of the typical 24. "It will not be easy," Hopcroft said before he embarked. Still, he added, "I'm considering us pretty lucky." Around the world, scientists are facing similar challenges in restarting their research. The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on science, shuttering laboratories, aborting field projects, and costing researchers months -- if not years -- of work. Now, as many national and local governments ease lockdown restrictions, some lab- and fieldwork is starting to resume.
Researcher Qing Wang Arrested, Allegedly Failed To Disclose China Ties
A former Cleveland Clinic Foundation doctor was arrested Wednesday and appeared in court on Thursday on charges of wire fraud and making false claims to obtain millions in federal grant funding. It is the latest move in a federal crackdown on alleged participants in China's Thousand Talents Plan. The government believes the program may recruit U.S.-based scientists and researchers to steal intellectual property and scientific advances paid for with American funding. The FBI claims Qing Wang, a U.S. citizen born in China, lied to receive more than $3.6 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health while also collecting money for the same research from the Chinese government. "This is not a case of simple omission," FBI Cleveland Special Agent in Charge Eric Smith said in a statement. Wang knowingly withheld information that he was employed and served as Dean of the College of Life Sciences and Technology at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, according to Smith.

SEC seeks guidance on return to sports from medical task force
The Southeastern Conference is looking to its medical experts for guidance as it attempts to map out a plan for the eventual return of sports. The Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force, comprised of medical professionals from each of the 14 universities in the conference, has been meeting via video since April. "As the Southeastern Conference Office continues to closely monitor and learn about COVID-19 and associated public health information, this task force of medical professionals has begun to provide the guidance necessary to make decisions related to the return to athletics activities for SEC student-athletes and to assist in our collaboration with colleague conferences in determining a safe return to athletics competition," said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. "The expertise of these medical professionals is playing an important role in our continuing focus on the health and well-being of SEC student-athletes." Members of the SEC's Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force include Dr. Marshall Crowther, University of Mississippi, Medical Director/Sports Medicine Physician and Dr. Cliff Story, Mississippi State University, Director of University Health Services.
Alabama, Auburn team physicians join SEC's virus task force
Auburn team physician Mike Goodlett and Alabama's team physician and medical director Dr. Jimmy Robinson have been named to a task force assembled by the SEC and charged with guiding the conference toward a return to athletics activities, per a Thursday release from the SEC. The group brings together medical professionals from all 14 member schools. It's meant to prepare members to make upcoming decisions about the potential for in-person meetings and activities amid the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement states that the task force began meeting by video conference in April and has been offering updates from these meetings to school presidents, chancellors and athletics directors. Goodlett has been team physician at Auburn since 1993, overseeing all aspects of sports medicine and care for all student-athletes in the athletics department. The SEC has suspended all in-person activities, including practices and team workouts, through at least May 31. Thursday's release indicated that timeline was subject to adjustment based on public health information. The SEC has also ceased operation of camps and coaches clinics through at least July 31.
LSU's Verge Ausberry: SEC presidents to vote on whether players will return to campus on June 1 or June 15
The Southeastern Conference university presidents will vote on an undetermined date whether players will be able to return to campus on either June 1 or June 15, LSU Executive Deputy Athletic Director Verge Ausberry told the Louisiana Economic Recovery Task Force Thursday. Ausberry, who also serves as LSU's Executive Director of External Relations, told the task force that the athletic department is aiming to return its players to campus on June 1, something athletic director Scott Woodward had also said in the department's virtual Coaches Caravan Wednesday night. "The presidents are going to take a vote in the SEC," Ausberry told the task force, a unit of private sector business leaders who advise lawmakers on the economy's recovery amid the spread of coronavirus. "Do we come back? Do we bring the students back on June 1 or June 15?" When reached for comment, SEC spokesman Herb Vincent said in a text message: "We are in continuous conversations about athletics activities related to COVID-19 and will make decisions appropriately."
SEC decision set for May 22
SEC chancellors and presidents are scheduled to meet through a video conference on May 22 to determine whether to open on-campus facilities on June 1. The SEC is currently operating under a suspension of all on-campus athletic activities through May 31. University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek informed the UA Board of Trustees early last week that the SEC was planning to present the June 1 opening date, using all existing covid-19 safety measures, to chancellors and presidents soon. Under the plan, the weight room and training facilities on SEC campuses would be open on a voluntary basis to student-athletes who live off campus.
UGA football players could return to campus in June
Georgia football players left for spring break March 6 and haven't worked out on campus since due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. That could change in June with players returning to the school's weight room and practice fields for voluntary workouts. Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said SEC presidents and chancellors are expected to discuss the issue on May 22. "The first task is determining when voluntary workouts could resume on campus," McGarity said. The SEC's ban on athletic activity now runs through May 31, but the presidents could choose not to extend that. If the league allows athletes to return as soon as June 1, LSU athletic director Scott Woodward told The Advocate they will be back on campus in Baton Rouge then. Georgia seems unlikely to return that early. UGA president Jere Morehead touched on the issue when the campus might reopen and what safety measures would be in place then in a public letter to faculty members Thursday. "As we move forward, we will continue to prioritize the safety of our faculty, staff, and students and to ensure timely and transparent communications as new information becomes available," he said.
Governor describes what's needed for U. of Kentucky to play football, fill stadium during COVID-19
The chance that the University of Kentucky's Kroger Field will be filled this fall with football fans depends on whether a vaccine or effective treatment is found against COVID-19, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday. Beshear's comment was gloomier than UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart's message to football season ticket-holders this month that UK is planning for football games to be played in the fall. The first home game is Sept. 5 against Eastern Michigan. Beshear talked about college, high school and summer sports in a 20-minute interview on the Kentucky Sports Radio network with host Matt Jones. He also said he feels "good" public schools will reopen this fall if current trajectories on the incidences of the virus hold and there are no spikes. "That's my goal," he said. Jones asked Beshear about UK football this fall, acknowledging that Beshear will not make the final decision on whether it will happen. The Southeastern Conference and colleges will determine that.
AD Jim Sterk hopeful about Mizzou having fall sports
While it's still uncertain as to what a college football season will look like this fall, or if games will even take place at all, Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk is hesitant to make any major decisions on that as of right now. The NCAA announced this week that individual conferences and states will mandate when sports return to campuses amid the coronavirus pandemic. Different timelines and plans could apply in different parts of the country. As far as Missouri and the Southeastern Conference, the plan remains to have football and other fall sports play as scheduled, though plans could change in the coming weeks and months, Sterk said. "Anything of an opinion right now is a guess and it's most likely going to be wrong," Sterk said during a Zoom call with reporters Thursday afternoon. "So we're going to wait until the middle of July before anyone makes a decision about the fall. We've got a couple months yet to go and see where things are and then make the best decisions possible by that time."
U. of Florida could host pro sports
Imagine the possibilities. NFL football on Sundays in The Swamp. NBA basketball games, maybe even playoff games, in Exactech Arena. The Yankees or Braves or multiple other Major League Baseball teams christening the new Florida Ballpark, playing games this summer before the Gators get their chance next spring. It all sounds and seems so surreal. But, maybe, just maybe, it could become reality. The day after Gov. Ron DeSantis said that the state would welcome any professional teams to practice and play their games in Florida if they can't do it in their own states, UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said he was open to the idea of making the school's stadiums available to the pros if the health conditions are right. Stricklin sent that message directly to DeSantis on Thursday. "I reached out to remind him that UF and Gainesville have world-class health facilities, an iconic football stadium, a state-of-the-art basketball arena and a brand-new baseball ballpark within two hours of cities with professional franchises," Stricklin said.
'We've gotta be patient': Sooners coach Lincoln Riley pushes for restraint in college football return
OU coach Lincoln Riley wants football back badly and says it will happen. But Riley says he's pushing against his own competitiveness during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. "I think it's our job as football coaches to look way, way beyond what's competitively (best) for our own team," Riley said. "For a lot of coaches, that's hard. We're wired to try to do everything we can to help our teams win. This is different, though." In contrast to comments made by other coaches over the last two months, Riley pushed for patience. Riley said it was important to wait as long as possible to bring the team together to allow for advancements in treatment and prevention. "In my opinion, we need to bring them in as late as we possibly can before we play a season," Riley said. "Every day early that we bring them in is a day we could have gotten better. It's a day we could've learned more about the virus. It's a day PPE maybe gets better. It's a day closer to a vaccine. It's a day that our testing equipment and testing capabilities get better, and it's just not worth it. So we've gotta be patient. We get one shot at this, and we've gotta do it right."

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