Friday, May 22, 2020   
IHL votes to reopen university campuses this fall
The Board of Trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning voted to reopen campuses this fall during a meeting on Thursday morning. The board unanimously approved a resolution directing the state's eight public universities to "make plans to resume traditional operations on their campuses in the Fall of 2020." That includes offering as many in-person classes as possible while taking into consideration guidance from the federal government, Mississippi State Department of Health and any executive orders from Gov. Tate Reeves. MSU President Mark E. Keenum said recently that the university is "fully committed" to welcoming students back to campus this fall, and specific new operating guidelines are being developed. In addition to IHL's task force, the university has created its own COVID-19 task force that is focused on fostering a safe environment for the return of MSU students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus within the confines of federal and state government guidance and the leadership of public health agencies.
Mississippi universities plan to reopen campuses in fall
The state College Board passed a resolution Thursday that it plans to resume traditional operations on campuses for all eight public universities in Mississippi this fall. The resolution provides direction for the universities to offer as many in-person classes as possible while considering the guidance from the Mississippi Department of Health, the federal government and complying with executive orders from Gov. Tate Reeves. Ford Dye, president of the IHL Board of Trustees, said in the resolution that providing a safe environment for all students and employees is paramount. "We urge the universities to take prudent precautions in planning for resuming traditional operations and make adjustments as needed based on recommendations from health experts." The Safe Start Task Force, established by commissioner of Higher Education Alfred Rankins Jr. on April 28, has been working to develop a system-level plan for starting and completing the Fall 2020 semester in the safest way.
Colleges and universities will resume 'traditional operations' in the fall
Colleges and universities will resume "traditional operations" in fall of 2020, the Board of Trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning voted on Thursday. The IHL Board, which oversees all of Mississippi's eight public colleges and universities, passed this resolution unanimously and without discussion. Commissioner of Higher Learning Alfred Rankins Jr. proposed a resolution to the board that said the board recognizes, "that providing a safe learning and living environment for the students it serves is paramount ... [and] that providing a safe work environment for the system employees ... is equally paramount." Governor Tate Reeve's commended IHL's decision to start planning for in-person classes in the fall. "We do believe that it is likely that the virus is going to come back in the fall at some level, and we're going to have to be prepared for that," Reeves said during his daily press conference. "We're going to have to slow the spread of the virus again, but I also believe that we cannot shut down businesses. Nor can we shut down universities or schools for years and years on end ... and expect them to be able to rally back with the snap of a finger."
IHL: All eight public universities should resume normal operations this fall
The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning passed a resolution at a meeting recently stating the Board's intention that the campuses of all eight public universities make plans to resume traditional operations on their campuses in the Fall of 2020. "Providing a safe environment for all students and employees is paramount," said Dr. Ford Dye, President of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning. "We urge the universities to take prudent precautions in planning for resuming traditional operations and make adjustments as needed, based on recommendations from health experts." The resolution includes direction to the universities to plan to offer as many in-person classes as possible, while taking into consideration guidance from the Federal Government and the Mississippi Department of Health and complying with any Executive Order from the Governor then in effect.
Governor supports IHL moving forward to reopen campuses this fall
Gov. Tate Reeves supports the state college board's decision to begin planning to resume classes in the fall at Mississippi's public universities. The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning passed a resolution at its meeting Thursday with the intention of resuming traditional operations on the campuses of all eight public universities in the fall of 2020. The resolution includes direction to the universities to plan to offer as many in-person classes as possible, while taking into consideration guidance from the federal government and the Mississippi State Department of Health and complying with any executive order from the governor. "I don't believe that the campuses are going to look exactly in Sept. 2020 like they looked in Sept. 2019," Reeves said. "Because of that, every university has to make the necessary adjustments to make that happen."
MSU clinic doctor highlights challenges facing planned fall campus reopening
Dr. Clifton Story knows he's living in a historic time. "It's like we're living in the middle of a documentary," said Story, a physician at Mississippi State University's John C. Longest Student Health Center. "You can go to Netflix and watch something about the Spanish Flu. One day, we will have our own documentary. Five years, 10 years or even 50 years from now people will look back on COVID-19 and how we handled it." Thursday, Story participated in a Facebook Live question-and-answer session hosted by MSU's Institute for the Humanities. Questions came from both the moderator, MSU associate professor of history Julia Osman, and the general public. During the hour-long session, a viewer asked Story to outline his opinion of what the best- and worst-case scenarios for MSU opening in the fall for in-person classes could look like. The university already announced plans to be open for on-site courses earlier this month.
SOCSD adjusts credit recovery program for distance learning
Starkville High School students who need to take summer courses in order to advance can complete those courses virtually after the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously for its credit recovery program to accommodate distance learning. Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Christy Maulding said about 80 SHS students have not passed certain foundational classes in order to move to the next grade. She told The Dispatch she does not know if distance learning for the last nine weeks of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic had any effect on the number of students in need of credit recovery. Peasant said the district is still preparing to open its school buildings as soon as it is deemed safe to do so, and the school year in August might be a "soft start." "Unless something happens, it looks like we can just open school up," Peasant said. "But even if we do that, we know there are going to be many parents who decide not to send their students to school in August and prefer to continue distance learning, so we're going to try to be prepared for that."
OCH Regional Medical Center to allow in-person services June 1
All clinics at OCH Regional Medical Center will re-open for in-person services on June 1. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, doctors have relied on telemedicine to see their patients. Now patients have the option to see their doctors in-person. However, things will look a little different beginning on June 1. "All of our workers and patients wear masks," Dr. Chip Wall said. "We don't allow family members in the clinic." He said patients at the Breast Health and Imaging Center will notice its waiting room has changed. Dr. Cameron Huxford, who is a pulmonary critical care physician, said his clinic is implementing the same procedures. "Before the coronavirus thing, we were probably averaging 35 patients a day; during the initial onslaught and fear from it, we were seeing maybe two or three and some days none," Huxford said. But now that the clinic is reopened for a full day for in-person appointments, Huxford said about 20 patients come in.
Some Mississippi casinos reopen after 2-month virus hiatus
Some casinos in Mississippi reopened Thursday for the first time in two months, following state guidelines to try to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus. At least three dozen people stood in line waiting to get into WaterView Casino in Vicksburg as it opened. A manager came outside to do a countdown until opening. Customers were allowed to enter one at a time. They were screened for COVID-19 symptoms and were offered masks, although many already had their own. Notes were attached to video games and slot machines, reminding customers and staff to sanitize the machines before each use. Stickers placed on the floor to tell people to remain at least 6 feet apart. Plastic shields have been installed around cashiers' stations. The state Gaming Commission limits the numbers of players for blackjack and other table games. Casinos are required to set up hand sanitizing stations.
Lines of people waited as Coast casinos opened their doors after coronavirus shutdown
The 12 Coast casinos closed March 16, unsure of what was ahead, and they began reopening at 8 a.m. Thursday with management and customers still not knowing what to expect. Golden Nugget Biloxi was one of the casinos that opened at 8 a.m., the first time allowed by the Mississippi Gaming Commission. People were already waiting at the door at 5:30 a.m. "It feels great," Pat Cress of Ocean Springs said as she came in through the main entrance and gazed around. She and Linda Bailey walked across the Biloxi Bay Bridge, as they typically do, on the way to the casino. The hotel had opened Wednesday night and Golden Nugget General Manager Chett Harrison said they had around 100 rooms booked. "The pent-up demand's there," he said. He was encouraged as hundreds of people were in the casino soon after it opened, one man from New Jersey, a woman from Florida among the first customers. People were already at the restaurants that were open, while others played the slots. Some of the machines are grouped in pods so people aren't sitting next to each other. The slot machines in rows have some of the machines turned off to keep the new social distancing regulations from the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
People line up for Magnolia Bluffs Casino reopening Thursday
Magnolia Bluffs Casino reopened on Thursday morning in Natchez after being closed for two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A long line of customers waited outside the casino on the end of Roth Hill Road waiting for the doors to open standing six feet apart, many with masks on. When the casino opened at 8 a.m., customers one-by-one approached the doors to have their temperature taken and to be asked a series of questions in order to be allowed inside. Kevin Preston, co-owner of Magnolia Bluffs Casino, said more than 200 people visited the casino by noon after it reopened at 8 a.m. Preston said casino management and employees hand no problems following the guidelines the Mississippi Gaming Commission put in place for casinos. "We did some training ahead of time and everybody knew what they had to do and what things to cover," Preston said. "The training worked out really well."
Hundreds of workers return as Mississippi casinos reopen to gamers
Hundreds of workers were back on the job after several Mississippi casinos reopened Thursday. But it wasn't just the workers who were excited about the return. Before the sun began peeking out folks were coming out to the Fitz Casino along Lucky Lane in Tunica. "I am thankful they are back open. Zack Murphy arrived around 3 a.m. even though Fitz Casino didn't reopen until 8 a.m. He said the drive from Illinois and the five hour wait was well worth it. "Get out of the house. It's just a generalized fun thing to do." Murphy said this was his first time in Tunica, but certainly not his first time trying to win big. It's casino enthusiasts like Murphy Tunica's General Manager Tony Scudiero is hoping will come out in full force. "Best case scenario is we are tremendously busy; and there's a waiting line at the door to come in." That was the case as dozens patiently waited for the grand re-opening. But you can bet -- pun intended -- things will look and operate a bit differently.
Gov. Tate Reeves announces new workforce development push
Gov. Tate Reeves announced a new leader for the State Workforce Investment Board on Tuesday and outlined plans to push more money toward workforce training as Mississippi's economy seeks to rebound from the coronavirus shutdown. Patrick Sullivan will lead SWIB, the agency whose job is to expand workforce training, Reeves announced at a Thursday news conference. Sullivan has led the nonprofit Mississippi Energy Institute for nearly a decade, as well as a regional oil and gas association. Before that, he served in senior roles in former Gov. Haley Barbour's administration. Reeves proposes making a "substantial investment" in workforce training in coming months, relying on CARES Act funding provided by the federal government. Such an investment will require legislative approval, and echoes a promise Reeves made on the campaign trail last year. "We have to focus on raising the wages of our workers, not simply getting them back to work," Reeves said. "The best way to do that is through workforce training, investing in Mississippians to help them earn more on the job."
Gov. Tate Reeves wants to see an investment in workforce training
Governor Tate Reeves is discussing the state's next phase of rebuilding the economy and it involves getting folks back to work and with better pay. More workforce training was on Governor Tate Reeves' priority list for the federal CARES Act money early on. And now, he'll ask lawmakers to put it on theirs. "The reality is we should not be looking at plans simply to spend the CARES Act funds," said Reeves. "We must develop plans to invest the CARES Act funds." Reeves says many companies do on-the-job training tailored to their needs. "For those employers willing to start employees at an attractive wage, frankly a wage that competes with these new federal unemployment benefits, I am proposing to partner with these companies and cover a portion of the wages during the on-the-job training period through the end of 2020," explained Reeves. As part of the way to achieve those goals, he's appointing Patrick Sullivan as Chairman of the State Workforce Investment Board. Sullivan was most recently the President of the Mississippi Energy Institute.
Neshoba County Fair still on
Every year, thousands of people come to Philadelphia to celebrate the Neshoba County Fair. As of May 21, the fair is still on and is set for July 24 through July 31. At Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing, Governor Tate Reeves addressed the fair saying it's an event he looks forward to and has attended every year since 2003. Reeves said because the fair is still two months away, it's a little early to make a call. Gilbert Donald, President of the Fair Association says, "We have had no communication with the Governor's office in regard to his comments Wednesday and accordingly cannot comment on his remarks."
Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians declares state of public health emergency
Amid growing concerns about the rise in COVID-19 cases, The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians on Thursday declared a state of public health emergency. The Tribe reported 373 positive cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Wednesday, with 168 cases in the Pearl River Community. The order, signed by Tribal Chief Cyrus Ben, is "in response to an occurrence or imminent threat of an illness or health condition that is believed to be caused by an Infectious and/or Communicable Disease and poses a high probability of widespread illness or a large number of deaths or serious or long-term disability among persons." The order further states: "The aforesaid conditions of public health are expected to worsen due to the person to-person transmission throughout Mississippi and MBCI's tribal lands. Said conditions will significantly impact the life and health of tribal members as well as economy of the Tribe and warrant and necessitate a proclamation of a State of Public Health Emergency in order to provide for the health and safety of the tribal citizens, employees and visitors."
How Gov. Tate Reeves picked Burl Cain, the controversial former Angola warden, to oversee Mississippi prisons
Before Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Wednesday that he had appointed Burl Cain, the 77-year-old former warden of the notorious Angola State Prison in Louisiana, as the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, he'd been handed a list of three finalists. Reeves appointed a seven-member committee in January to conduct a national search and help him pick the next prisons chief. In total, the committee received about 55 applications for the job, said Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs, the chairman of the search committee. The committee narrowed the applicant pool down to three finalists, including Cain, and sent the names to Reeves. "Once we gave him the three finalists, we did not have any influence on the process," Flaggs, a former chair of the state House Corrections Committee, told Mississippi Today this week. "But I stand behind the work of the committee and the governor's prerogative to appoint whomever he wanted." For his part, Reeves downplayed the allegations and doubled down on his support for Cain this week.
Emails show Phil Bryant, Brett Favre ties to company linked to welfare embezzlement scandal
Weeks before the leaders of a Mississippi nonprofit allegedly embezzled state welfare money to invest in a Florida drug company, the company organized a dinner with then-Gov. Phil Bryant. Emails obtained by the Clarion Ledger through a public records request show Bryant and other state officials were in contact with Prevacus, a Florida company developing concussion treatments, in December 2018. A month later, the company received the first of several illegal payments that would total more than $2 million, prosecutors say. The company continued to be in contact with Bryant into 2019, sending him an investment presentation that said the company expected to receive funding from the state's welfare agency. Bryant championed the nonprofit whose leaders allegedly embezzled welfare money to make personal investments in Prevacus. He appointed the state agency leader who oversaw the distribution of welfare money, who was indicted on separate charges. And he advocated for the medical complex where Prevacus planned to relocate. But Bryant says he was not involved in the plan to invest welfare money into Prevacus, a deal that has now led to criminal indictments. Bryant has not been accused of any misconduct in the ongoing investigation.
States, companies set up their own COVID-19 legal shields
States and some companies aren't waiting for Congress and the White House to work out a possible liability shield and are instead taking steps to insulate businesses on their own from lawsuits in the coronavirus era. Many states have granted some form of liability immunity to health care workers and facilities. Utah and North Carolina have gone the farthest, passing laws that offer the strongest immunities yet for a range of industries as stay-at-home orders and business closures are eased. At least six states -- Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, South Carolina, and Wyoming -- have introduced legislation that would also shield more than just health care workers and facilities, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Experts note that even if U.S. lawmakers reach a deal on a liability shield, states may be in a stronger position than Congress to adjust state tort laws, which provide remedies for civil wrongs and injuries. One U.S. law firm suggested coronavirus litigation could be "the new asbestos," referring to a wave of personal injury litigation in the 1970s and 80s related to the carcinogenic material that was once commonly used in building construction.
President Trump lashes out at scientists whose findings contradict him
"A Trump enemy statement," he said of one study. "A political hit job," he said of another. As President Donald Trump pushes to reopen the country despite warnings from doctors about the consequences of moving too quickly during the coronavirus crisis, he has been lashing out at scientists whose conclusions he doesn't like. Twice this week, Trump has not only dismissed the findings of studies but suggested -- without evidence -- that their authors were motivated by politics and out to undermine his efforts to roll back coronavirus restrictions. Trump has long been skeptical of mainstream science. It's part of a larger skepticism of expertise and backlash against "elites" that has become increasingly popular among Trump's conservative base. But undermining Americans' trust in the integrity and objectivity of scientists is especially dangerous during a pandemic when the public is relying on its leaders to develop policies based on the best available information, said Larry Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor who is an expert in public health.
Virus 'does not spread easily' from contaminated surfaces or animals, revised CDC website states
The coronavirus primarily spreads from person to person and not easily from a contaminated surface. That is the takeaway from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which this month updated its "How COVID-19 Spreads" website. The revised guidance now states, in headline-size type, "The virus spreads easily between people." It also notes that the coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, "is spreading very easily and sustainably between people." The CDC made another key change to its website, clarifying what sources are not major risks. Under the new heading "The virus does not spread easily in other ways," the agency explains that touching contaminated objects or surfaces does not appear to be a significant mode of transmission. The same is true for exposure to infected animals. "Direct contact with people has the highest likelihood of getting infected -- being close to an infected person, rather than accepting a newspaper or a FedEx guy dropping off a box," said virologist Vincent Munster, a researcher in the virus ecology section at Rocky Mountain Laboratories, a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases facility in Hamilton, Mont.
NOAA sees busy hurricane season, as pandemic strains emergency services
Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned on Thursday they expect a busy hurricane season this year, potentially sending a higher-than-normal number of storms across the Atlantic and straining U.S. emergency services that are already stretched thin because of the coronavirus pandemic. NOAA forecast the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season that runs from June through November will include 13 to 19 named storms, with six to 10 possible hurricanes. Three to six of those could become "major" hurricanes of Category 3 or higher, with top winds of at least 111 mph and the potential to trigger major disasters. An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, with 6 becoming hurricanes, according to NOAA. Already this year, one named storm, Arthur, has developed ahead of NOAA's outlook. The outlook for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season also comes as researchers at NOAA and the University of Wisconsin-Madison identified a link between the growing intensity of tropical storms and human-driven climate change, mapping out the growing strength of hurricanes and typhoons over the past four decades.
UMMC reaches milestone: 10,000 COVID-19 tests and counting
In early March, the beginning days of the coronavirus outbreak in Mississippi, a team at the University of Mississippi Medical Center embarked on an ambitious project. Led by Dr. Timothy Allen, chair of the Department of Pathology, it included administrators, pathologists, microbiologists, academics and lab staff at the center. Their task? Simple. To do something that hadn't been done before. The team set out to create an in-house COVID-19 testing ability, which could assist the state Department of Health and private labs with coronavirus testing as cases began to surge. It was clear then it would be essential to test as many people as possible in order to enact strict quarantine measures. Those tests would save lives. Thirteen days later, as the outbreak in the state showed no signs of slowing and threatened to overwhelm hospitals, the team made the break-through, and became one of the first hospitals to conduct in-house testing. The accomplishment came well before the normal four-month process for such a test. And by Monday morning, UMMC reached a significant milestone and performed its 10,000th COVID-19 test.
Flathau's feeds USM international students
Flathau's Fine Foods was on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi on Thursday feeding international students left stranded at the school due to the coronavirus pandemic. The company gave out plates of red beans and rice along with its signature candy snaps. The meals were served curbside, in front of the USM Wesley Foundation building. "We really appreciate it. Just during this hard time, you guys don't understand how many of us there are of international students that can't go home, and I feel like we're a forgotten group. People really don't think about us that much," said Maegan Williams, a Southern Miss student from Jamaica. "Just the idea that someone is out here doing this for us, we really appreciate it and we can't thank you enough," Williams added. Flathau's is based in Petal and has been serving first responders, frontline heroes and others in the community since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Itawamba Community College launches free module to assist with career exploration, resumes and interviews
Itawamba Community College has launched a free module that will allow individuals to explore their career interests, view available ICC training programs, update their resumes and learn how to excel in an interview. "Career Connect will be a way for the general public to access tips on how to build a résumé and learn about the interviewing process," said Josh Gammill, ICC pathways coordinator. "Since we found ourselves in this pandemic, we've decided to add the career exploration module that will allow those looking for work to see what type of careers they may be interested in and the education programs that ICC offers that will allow them to pursue those careers." Participants can submit a resume for critique and feedback as well as have an option to meet virtually with an ICC representative to learn more about educational opportunities as part of Career Connect.
U. of Arkansas System approves tighter budgets; no rise in tuition or fees set for fall
University of Arkansas System trustees Thursday approved reduced budgets at most campuses for next year, the result of cautious planning for lower state revenue and shrinking enrollment. After years of increasing tuition and fees to cover rising operating costs, system schools are keeping those rates the same while instituting or continuing hiring freezes and reducing spending on supplies and services. Most have said they aren't currently planning layoffs. Gina Terry, system vice president of finance and administration, said planning for next year's budgets was the most challenging effort of her career. "Just the uncertainties that are out there right now with housing and enrollment and athletics," she said. "It really challenges each campus to try to figure out how to manage and try not to have layoffs, if they can help it." At the flagship institution, the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, cuts amount to just more than 2% of last year's approved expenditures.
UGA enrollment could be up this summer, down in fall
College officials across the country fear enrollment declines because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but enrollment this summer at the University of Georgia may actually be up while most classes will be online only. Indications for freshman class enrollment this fall also look "strong," according to a lengthy memo UGA president Jere Morehead and other top administrators sent to UGA faculty and staff Thursday. Forecasts for graduate student enrollment this fall, particularly of international students, are not so good, they wrote. Some programs may be cut, and some layoffs are likely, they also warned. "We are pleased to report that summer enrollment is going well," the administrators wrote. "In fact, enrollment appears to be slightly higher than this time last year." Facing state budget cuts, UGA will do more cutting in administrative and support functions than instructional, public service, research and instructional support, according to the message.
U. of Kentucky President Volunteers for Pay Cut
After nearly a decade on the job, the University of Kentucky's president wants to extend his tenure while volunteering for a pay cut as the school deals with financial fallout from the coronavirus. The school's board chairman said Thursday he hopes to have a deal in place soon to keep Eli Capilouto at the university's helm beyond next year. The upcoming academic year is the last year of Capilouto's contract. He informed the school's trustees that he wants to continue in the job beyond then, UK board Chairman Robert Vance said in an email to the campus community. "The last nine years, I believe, have been a period of unprecedented progress for our institution," Vance said. "Extending that leadership, and providing a steady sense of continuity at such an uncertain and unsettling moment, is critically important." Capilouto asked that the board reduce his annual salary this coming year by 10%, with those funds allocated to an employee assistance fund, Vance said. The cut would amount to about $85,000 of Capilouto's $838,334 annual salary.
U. of South Carolina's Robert Caslen is projecting a 10% enrollment loss in 2020-2021 because of coronavirus
The University of South Carolina is bracing for a 10% reduction in enrollment for fall semester, President Robert Caslen said at a Thursday board of trustees committee meeting. That drop in enrollment is expected among all students, whether they're freshmen or graduate students, Caslen said. The reduction in enrollment has the potential to devastate the budget at the Palmetto State's largest school, as tuition dollars are the top source of USC's revenue. It is unclear just how much money the coronavirus pandemic will cost USC next fiscal year. However, USC is set to be better off than many other schools, which could lose more than 20% of their enrollment, Caslen said. On top of the projected revenue losses from enrollment, USC is not expecting increased funding from the state, while it will likely see increased costs from buying personal protective equipment (PPE), declining athletic revenue from a likely abnormal football season, reduced revenue to dining and housing and more, Caslen said. However, USC will receive a total of $17.6 million from the CARES act that the school can use to balance its budget, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency could refund 30% of certain PPE purchases, according to documents presented at the board meeting.
Key U.S. senator expresses optimism about physically reopening campuses this fall
Colleges and universities around the country will have sufficient testing capacity and are taking the needed steps to safely reopen their physical campuses this fall, the head of the U.S. Senate's education committee said in a discussion with reporters Thursday. He also vowed that Senate Republicans would ensure that colleges receive liability protection from potential lawsuits by students or employees who get sick if they return to campus -- if Congress passes more legislation regarding COVID-19. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who is retiring this year, said he viewed the opening of schools and college campuses this fall as essential to restoring the American economy and society to a "sense of normalcy." "The surest sign that we're beginning to regain the rhythm of American life will come when 70 million students go back to school and to college this fall," Alexander said. The senator said he held a call Thursday morning with leaders from 90 of Tennessee's 127 postsecondary institutions and that "all of them are planning to resume in-person classes in August" and are "using a variety of techniques to make sure their campus is safe."
Sen. Lamar Alexander: Reopening schools depends heavily on increased COVID-19 testing
Increasing the amount of COVID-19 testing is necessary for classes to resume this fall, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander said on Thursday. Alexander said he is optimistic about the number of tests that will be available in the fall following information he received at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing last week. He estimated that four to five times the number of tests will be available by the time schools and universities resume classes. "All roads back to school, back to college, back to work, lead through testing," Alexander said at a virtual press conference Thursday. "Fortunately, it looks like we're going to have a lot of tests in August and September." In Tennessee, schools and universities are planning to reopen this fall. Alexander said he's been in contact with university administrators from across Tennessee and across the country, and "I'm very encouraged by what I hear." While universities and schools will have to take precautions when reopening, doing so will help return to normal. Alexander is a Maryville, Tennessee, native and was the president of the University of Tennessee System from 1988 to 1991. He is currently the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.
Scientists: Testing capacity may be adequate for colleges to open this fall
Test and trace, test and trace, test and trace. So goes nearly every college announcement that campus will be open for students in the fall. "We intend to know as much as possible about the viral health status of our community," Mitch Daniels, Purdue University's president, wrote in a letter to the campus community announcing an intention to reopen. "It will include a robust testing system during the school year." The American College Health Association included in guidelines to institutions that a "return to an active on-campus environment will depend upon widespread testing, contact tracing and isolation/quarantine of ill and exposed individuals both on campus and in the community." But can colleges get access to the those diagnostic tests, or even afford them? The answer is complicated. Earlier this year, as the pandemic was making silent headway into American bloodstreams, the testing regimen in the U.S. was obviously not optimal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first sent out faulty tests, and then none at all. Craig Roberts, an epidemiologist emeritus at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, a consultant for ACHA and a member of its COVID-19 task force, said capacity to test has grown since that time, and for the most part should not be an issue for colleges in the fall.
Colleges faced with whether to increase endowment spending as finances grow more dire
The Yale Endowment Justice Coalition is calling for Yale University to help ease the economic burden of the pandemic on students, faculty, staff and the surrounding city of New Haven, Conn. The group of students and New Haven residents is focused on the university's $30 billion endowment, which is the third-largest endowment in the country behind Harvard University's and the endowment for the University of Texas system, according to recent data from the National Association of College and University Business Officers. So far, Yale has not indicated it plans to increase its endowment spending rate in response to the pandemic, Cohen said. The coalition's request and Yale's response illustrate a looming question facing well-endowed colleges across the country: Should colleges leverage their endowments to patch temporary revenue holes and prevent pandemic-necessitated cost cutting, or should they hold spending rates steady to ensure endowments' long-term strength? The answer, like those to most college finance questions, varies greatly by institution and investment philosophy, and experts come down on both sides.
Golden State Blockbuster: U. of California Will Replace ACT and SAT With New Test -- or None at All
In the span of 117 seconds, the national conversation about standardized tests changed, perhaps forever. The University of California's Board of Regents on Thursday unanimously approved a plan to suspend its ACT/SAT requirement for admission until 2024. In 2025 the system would either introduce a new college-entrance exam for in-state applicants -- or eliminate its standardized-testing requirement for all California students. The move could have far-reaching implications. As the nation's biggest market for college-entrance exams, the Golden State has long driven higher education's discussions of the ACT's and SAT's benefits and drawbacks. And two former UC presidents -- Clark Kerr and Richard C. Atkinson -- played key roles in the tests' evolution. The UC system's ground-shaking plan arrives as colleges throughout the nation have been rethinking their own testing requirements because of Covid-19. The pandemic led to the cancellation of ACT and SAT exams this spring, and uncertainty looms over test administrations scheduled for later this year. No one could ever call a university board meeting entertaining. Still, though grueling and tedious, this one was, in its own way, dramatic.

Academics come to the forefront as coaches, counselors and athletes enter 'uncharted territory'
At Mississippi State, when the SEC canceled the rest of its spring sports seasons March 17, Assistant Director of Athletic Academic Support Services Sawyer Bowering saw a switch in focus from the Bulldogs' affected student-athletes. "The kids weren't playing their sports, so academics was kind of the star of the show, so to speak," said Bowering, who serves as the academic advisor for Mississippi State's softball and men's basketball teams. She said the softball players hold team study halls via Zoom a few times a week, while the men's basketball players typically meet with advisors one on one. Regardless, though, Bowering said the Bulldogs' athletes have done a good job of "hitting a curveball" in regards to the sudden upheaval of normalcy they've faced. "I think there are challenges that come with face-to-face classes and playing in the SEC and being in college," Bowering said. "You're always gonna be facing challenges."
Abdul Ado returning for senior season
The Mississippi State men's basketball team received some encouraging news on Thursday with the return of center Abdul Ado. Ado will come back for his senior season with the Bulldogs according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. The 6-foot-11, 255-pounder from Nigeria initially declared for the NBA Draft on April 24 but did not hire an agent in order to maintain his college eligibility. Ado has started 97 of 98 career games over the past three seasons averaging 6.2 points and 5.9 rebounds. He started all 31 games this past year putting up 5.7 points and grabbing 6.7 boards. Underclassmen Reggie Perry, Nick Weatherspoon and Robert Woodard II also declared for the draft with Woodard also leaving the door open for a possible return to MSU.
Brandon Woodruff working to stay sharp during MLB shutdown
Brandon Woodruff's budding Major League career has been interrupted again. His 2019 breakout season with the Milwaukee Brewers was derailed by an oblique injury suffered in July, just a few weeks after pitching in the All-Star game. Woodruff, a former Wheeler High School and Mississippi State standout, returned two months later but logged just four innings in two outings. He finished the season with an 11-3 record and 3.62 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 121 2/3 innings. Despite the injury, Woodruff's first full season in the bigs showed he belonged as a starting pitcher. "What got me to that point last year was 2018. Pitching in the playoffs and that September leading into the playoffs in 2018 really gave me the confidence to go out and know that I could do it at the highest level and do it in some big situations," Woodruff said. "I carried that over to last year and got on a good roll." Woodruff, who lives in Saltillo, has been working out with Chris Stratton, a Tupelo native who pitches for the Pirates. He also has a throwing partner in his wife, Jonie, who is six months pregnant.
MHSAA gives green light for June 1 return to play with restrictions
Mississippi's public high school athletics programs were cleared Thursday to return to play on June 1, more than two months after sports were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the Mississippi High School Activities Association executive committee met via teleconference for more than five hours Thursday, the MHSAA released a statement allowing for athletics and fine arts activities to resume summer practices and workouts June 1. All activities and athletics had been suspended through that date as of April 15, with March 16 marking the first day sports were suspended in the state. But the upcoming return to play comes with significant restrictions as the MHSAA tries to mitigate the spread of the virus. For one, teams will not be allowed to play against each other this summer, as all intrasquad competition will not be permitted until schools start up again this fall. Schools also may not travel to summer programs or camps and must adhere to national, state and local restrictions for any on-campus programs or camps.
Southern Miss athletics expects to lose $1.5M in quarter due to pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has affected every industry, and the Southern Miss athletic department is no exception. Southern Miss has already lost nearly $1.5 million in revenue this quarter, athletic director Jeremy McClain said. Most of the funds came from NCAA distribution, which took a hit from the men's basketball national tournament being canceled. The NCAA originally budgeted to distribute $600 million to Division I members to specifically focus on supporting college athletes. Most of those funds came from television and marketing rights of the basketball tournament. In March, NCAA presidents agreed to distribute $225 million to programs instead, approximately $375 million less than originally budgeted. Despite the losses in revenue, the department was able to save expenses because teams were not traveling, McClain said. "We've slowed down some projects and different things we had planned," McClain said. "It's just a matter of trying to regroup as quickly as you can and limit that exposure as quick as you can in a short amount of time."
College Football's Game of Chicken With State Officials
The most intense event in college athletics right now is a game of chicken among conferences, universities and state officials over whether they will reopen campus in the fall -- and therefore unlock the ability to begin a football season. It's a game that is playing out in wildly different ways across the country, suggesting that a chaotic runup to the 2020 season is ahead. Football programs, which generate big money and please boosters, are trying to charge ahead. But the decisions rest not with athletic directors, but university presidents and their bosses -- the governor of each state. None of the game's organizing bodies -- the NCAA and big conferences -- has the power to dictate a consistent outcome. No one wants to be responsible for stopping the season. Some clear national trends are also emerging. Schools in the south and middle of America -- largely red states that are less dense, have generally been less ravaged by the virus to date -- have been more eager to ease social distancing measures and more eager to resume play.
Which fans can attend a CFB game this fall? Can social distancing work?
With growing optimism a college football season will happen this fall, attention has turned to the next big hurdle: Will fans be allowed inside stadiums? NASCAR and golf have both restarted without fans, and the NBA and MLB are expected to do the same, at least initially. College football isn't scheduled to start until August, but there has already been a steady drumbeat of college athletics leaders pointing out how important fans are to the operation. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick has said for weeks he couldn't see a season without fans. Others have focused on a compromise: A limited capacity stadium that factored in social distancing to minimize risk. If some form of social distancing is enforced inside a stadium, it'd substantially cut down capacity. When you are an SEC program like Alabama and Texas A&M, which regularly have more than 100,000 fans in attendance at more than 99 percent capacity, that creates significant logistical challenges, namely, who should get the tickets?
Premier Power Five Coaches Unveil 'New College Baseball Model'
A College World Series in mid-July. An NCAA tournament beginning in early July. A college baseball season beginning the third weekend of March. Those are all things that will happen beginning with the 2022 season if a set of recommendations assembled by a five-coach panel of Power Five coaches gets approval from other Division I coaches and passes at the highest levels of the NCAA in the coming months. The panel who put together the proposed "New Baseball Model" includes Michigan head coach Erik Bakich as the headliner and a host of other Power Five head coaches. There also have been Zoom discussions with plenty of other coaches, including Big Ten coaches, Virginia's Brian O'Connor, Ole Miss' Mike Bianco, Cal Poly's Larry Lee, East Carolina's Cliff Godwin, Oklahoma State's Josh Holliday, UC Irvine's Ben Orloff and Sacramento State's Reggie Christiansen. The group also has included world-renowned orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, on some of their calls.
With summer leagues canceled or delayed, college baseball coaches search for open spots
When the Cape Cod Baseball League canceled its season for the first time since 1946 last month, Eddie Smith grabbed his phone. Smith, LSU's hitting coach, coordinates summer league placement for the Tigers. LSU had nine players scheduled this summer in the Cape Cod League, one of the premier collegiate summer baseball organizations. Smith needed to find new destinations for the players while spots evaporated. Using connections he had built throughout his career in college baseball, Smith called summer league coaches. He phoned one manager looking for a spot only to get referred to another team with an opening. He spent hours on the phone. He cold-called coaches. He tried to reassign everyone. Smith found new teams for all nine players, but over the last month, he has moved players multiple times as leagues canceled or delayed because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Though some leagues have maintained hope they can play this summer, many start dates remain tentative.
Georgia Southern AD Jared Benko talks return plan, social distancing and finances
Behind locked gates, Paulson Stadium sits empty Thursday. Like every college athletics facility in the country, no activities are allowed to happen at the Georgia Southern football grounds. But Eagles' athletic director Jared Benko doesn't believe that will be the case for very long. The NCAA Division I Council voted Wednesday to allow voluntary on-campus athletic activities for football and basketball players beginning June 1. Benko says Georgia Southern is currently developing a plan to allow for Eagle athletes to return to campus. "I think responsibly we're going to have to look at a phased-in type plan," Benko says. "When you look at all the precautions and everything we're going to look at taking, you're going to have to scale people in and see what works and what doesn't. You always have to be adaptable." As for Eagle football this fall, Benko fully plans for Southern to play. He says the plan is to host their September 12 season opener as scheduled. But he admits the school must move forward with the expectation of social distancing guidelines still being in place when kickoff arrives. Benko says no plans are set in stone, and they will continue to follow CDC, Department of Public Health, and state of Georgia guidance.
Professor: Some colleges are 'using pandemic as an excuse' to eliminate athletics programs
Sports programs are starting to fall like dominoes as college athletics departments face unprecedented financial challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. The baseball programs at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and at Furman University in South Carolina, which were eliminated this week, are the latest casualties among more than a dozen Division I athletics teams to have been cut nationwide since last month. B. David Ridpath, associate professor of sports business at Ohio University and interim president of the Drake Group, a national nonprofit advocacy organization, said he believes some college leaders are conveniently using COVID-19's economic impact as a reason for trimming sports, instead of implementing other cost-cutting measures. "There's a lot of fat that can be cut before sports being dropped," said Ridpath, a former wrestling coach at Ohio University who previously served as an athletics administrator at Weber State University. "I think dropping sports is basically a knee-jerk reaction and many of the schools are using the pandemic as an excuse for something they already wanted to do. There may come a time where dropping a sport is a viable solution, but it should be the last one and based on many different things."
NFL studying helmet face guard that works like surgical mask
With an eye toward getting back on the field during a pandemic, the NFL is working on a helmet face guard that might provide the same sort of protection as a surgical mask. Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, who heads up the league's competition committee, said the issue was raised during a conference call about a month ago. "A lot of players have played with a clear shield to protect their eyes," McKay said Tuesday during a video conference call with Atlanta media. "This would be extended even further." Thom Mayer, the medical director of the NFL Players Association, said league engineers and sports equipment company Oakley are testing prototypes of a modified face mask that might contain surgical or N95 material. Oakley is already contracted by the NFL to provide visors that some players use on their face masks. The company also has developed durable eyeglasses for the military that are designed not to fog up -- technology that may prove useful in its latest project.
How lingering fears from the pandemic could change the way we watch and play sports
Taiwan's pro baseball league rebooted operations in mid-April with robot spectators filling the bleachers. A month later, Major League Baseball dropped a 67-page document outlining a plan for bringing back the game. No hugs. No high-fives. No spitting. No showering. No fans. And lots of testing. But the creative ways that leagues are trying to defibrillate their fanbases and keep money flowing in can't mask the fact that the sports industry is in a tailspin. Only about half of all sporting events that were originally scheduled for 2020 will likely take place. And while play for some sports may resume in the foreseeable future, their long-term outlook remains unclear. To what extent will residual concerns about COVID-19 shrink participation and fandom in the months to come? Will some moms and dads think twice before sending their sons and daughters off to soccer camp? When the gates finally open, how many fans will prefer watching from the safety of their couch? As a social psychologist, I wonder if this might lead to a shift in the sports we watch and participate in, with high-contact sports taking a back seat to athletic activities more conducive to social distancing.

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