Friday, July 31, 2020   
Atmos expands service in Starkville to Mississippi Horse Park, residents
Atmos is expanding its natural gas service in Starkville to the Horse Park and at least 50 residents. In addition, the service will be extended to another 200 planned homes. Atmos was joined by Public Service Commissioners Brandon Presley and Dane Maxwell as well as Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum at the Mississippi Horse Park to make the announcement Thursday. The project is part of Atmos Energy's rural expansion program. The Horse Park is a multiuse facility that supports Mississippi State University, Oktibbeha County and the City of Starkville. "MSU is extremely appreciative of the efforts of Atmos Energy and the Mississippi Public Service Commission in facilitating this extension of service that will greatly benefit the university, Starkville and Oktibbeha County," said Keenum. "We are particularly grateful to Commissioner Maxwell and Commissioner Presley for their presence here in support of this project. Together, this expansion will be of great value to MSU and the surrounding community for years to come."
Atmos expanding natural gas service south of Starkville
Representatives from Mississippi State University, the Mississippi Public Service Commission and Atmos Energy gathered Thursday to announce a nearly $500,000 expansion of natural gas service south of Starkville. The project is part of Atmos Energy's rural expansion program and will benefit the Mississippi State Horse Park and 50 current Oktibbeha County residences, plus an additional 200 planned homes. The horse park is a multi-use facility that supports MSU, Oktibbeha County, and Starkville. Sixteen low-intensity gas radiant heaters will be used at the horse park, which MSU President Mark Keenum said will lower energy costs by 50 percent. Because of the savings accumulated from switching to natural gas, Keenum estimated MSU could pay off the cost of the heaters within five years. "The economic benefits will be way more than what we put in over a long period of time," Keenum said. "I'm very excited." The 16 heaters for the horse park are expected to be operational by November.
Natural gas expansion to benefit Starkville, MSU, Oktibbeha County
Atmos Energy announced Thursday it'll expand natural gas service to further benefit Starkville, Mississippi State University and surrounding areas. The company, along with Public Service Commissioners Brandon Presley and Dane Maxwell, Oktibbeha County Supervisor Bricklee Miller, and MSU President Mark Keenum, announced the project at the Mississippi Horse Park. Natural gas service will be made available to more than 50 current residences and another 200 planned homes. "This project is a great example of the positive things that can happen when public entities and the private sector work together," Presley said. "Around 50 homes will now have access to natural gas service and the MSU Horse Park will see dramatic cost savings on their energy bills in the near future. This project also presents the opportunity for future gas expansion to more than 200 new customers in the area. This project, overall, will benefit Mississippi State University and the residents of Starkville and Oktibbeha County for many years to come."
Bad seeds? Drop them off at a MSU Extension office near you
Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson announced that residents receiving unsolicited packages of seeds from China, or any foreign country, can now drop off the seeds at the Mississippi State University Extension Office located in their county. "I want to thank MSU Director of Extension Dr. Gary Jackson and the MSU Extension Offices in each county for providing assistance with seed collection during this time. We are continuing to get calls from across the state. We have had 82 reports of these seeds from 45 counties. We ask that the public hold on to the mailing label and place the seeds and packaging in a plastic bag prior to dropping off, if possible" said Commissioner Gipson. Visit to find an MSU Extension Office near you.
MSU Extension Offices Now Accepting Unsolicited Seeds Drop Off
Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson announced that residents receiving unsolicited packages of seeds from China, or any foreign country, can now drop off the seeds at the Mississippi State University Extension Office located in their county. "I want to thank MSU Director of Extension Dr. Gary Jackson and the MSU Extension Offices in each county for providing assistance with seed collection during this time. We are continuing to get calls from across the state. We have had 82 reports of these seeds from 45 counties. We ask that the public hold on to the mailing label and place the seeds and packaging in a plastic bag prior to drop off, if possible" said Commissioner Gipson. "The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce is continuing to work closely with the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on this issue."
A voters' guide to combating misinformation ahead of the election and beyond
With state primary elections ongoing and the November general election a few months away, you can expect to be inundated with posts, comments, attack ads, and all types of election-related content if you haven't already. The number one piece of advice experts give is to recognize when a piece of content elicits a strong emotional response. A post might incite strong feelings that make you want to share it, but you should pause before doing so. "If something you see online causes intense feelings -- especially if that emotion is outrage -- that should be a red flag not to share it, at least not right away," writes H. Colleen Sinclair, an associate professor of social psychology at Mississippi State University. "Chances are it was intended to short-circuit your critical thinking by playing on your emotions. Don't fall for it." Experts recommend doing some research on the post before retweeting, sharing, liking or commenting.
COVID-19-preparedness How parents can help prepare children for new rules at school
Parents can help children understand how to stay healthy at school amid the COVID-19 pandemic as they prepare for the start of the academic year. "Parents are children's first teachers, and it is important for them to reinforce the benefits of safe practices when returning to school or participating in any public activities," said David Buys, Mississippi State University Extension Service health specialist. "Children need to know the risks of COVID-19, and we have to devote time to giving them developmentally appropriate messages and explaining the importance of preventive behaviors like good hand hygiene, wearing a face covering, physical distancing and others," Buys added. Many children going back to the classroom will be required to wear face coverings. Explaining why this is important is just part of the process, especially for young children, said Melissa Tenhet, director and instructor at the MSU Child Development and Family Studies Center. "This process isn't just about discussion, but actually preparing," Tenhet said. "Children have to be able to put on and take off masks by themselves. So, they need to practice at home."
Starkville to resume two-day garbage pickup
Starting Monday, Aug. 3, the city of Starkville will return to two-day-a-week garbage pickup. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the furlough of 47 city employees garbage has been picked up once a week, on Monday or Tuesday depending on the neighborhood. Now, with favorable sales tax numbers and furloughed city employees returning to work in the next pay period, normal garbage pickup will resume. Garbage will be picked up on Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday, depending on the route. Garbage must be on the curb by 6:30 a.m. on collection days.
Contractor pleads guilty to fraud in Second Baptist construction project
The owner of a Long Beach construction company that allegedly failed to properly construct a Starkville church's new sanctuary pleaded guilty Thursday to a fraud charge from four years ago. Donald Crowther, owner of TCM Companies, wrote in his plea that he "prepared and submitted false invoices" of checks paid to contractors, which were later erroneously reported to Second Baptist Church. He was arrested and charged in April 2016, and his trial in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court had been scheduled for Monday but was postponed. TCM Companies and Second Baptist Church have been embroiled in legal issues since December 2015, when church trustees filed a civil lawsuit in circuit court against TCM, Pastor Joseph Stone Jr. and Head Deacon Terry Miller. The suit alleges Stone and Miller negotiated the May 2013 contract to build a new sanctuary without the board's approval and withheld money collected through church offerings from the trustees. Stone maintains he and Miller did nothing wrong.
Mississippi faring better than some other states according to economist
Mississippi's economy is holding up better than officials thought it would several months ago according to Corey Miller. The economic analyst with the Mississippi Institution of Higher Learning says during the statewide shutdown unemployment spiked to 16.3 percent in April. In June it dropped to 8.7. He says it won't get much better than that. "I think the real issue is when you have a recession that was caused by a virus, the way to fix that is with a cure for the virus. Until that happens, I don't think Mississippi's economy or the national economy's going to come all the way back," said Miller. But Miller says Mississippi is faring better than other states like Hawaii and Nevada, which rely on tourism. The state's leisure and hospitality industries have suffered job and revenue losses according to the analyst, but manufacturing and the government sector haven't seen a sharp drop in revenue. He says sales tax collections are higher this month than the same time last year. Miller thinks the $600 federal unemployment pandemic supplement may be behind the increase. "I think if you look at some of our sales tax numbers, those have been surprisingly strong. In the past two or three, four months, and that may have something to do with it. That's a question I think economist around the country are asking," said Miller.
Mississippi governor extends mask mandate to 8 more counties
Mississippi is continuing to see a sharp increase in reported cases of the new coronavirus, and Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday that he will put eight more counties under restrictions that include mandatory masks in public. "We are in the middle of the worst time that we've had to deal with," Reeves said, speaking of Mississippi's rising caseload during the pandemic. Republican Reeves has resisted ordering a statewide mask mandate, saying he thinks targeted restrictions are more effective. The restrictions are already in place in 29 of the 82 counties, covering more than half of the state's population. Those are being extended until Aug. 17. The eight counties that will be added Monday are Carroll, Coahoma, Jones, Lee, Leflore, Lowndes, Noxubee and Pontotoc. The state epidemiologist, Dr. Paul Byers, said Thursday that Mississippi has "astoundingly high" numbers of people hospitalized with COVID-19.
Thursday: Another record day with 1,775 cases and 48 deaths reported
Mississippi's total of presumptive cases of COVID-19 now stands at 57,579 after the Mississippi Health Department reported a single-day high of 1.775 newly identified cases on Thursday. It was the 13th time in the last 16 days there have been more than 1,000 cases in a day. In addition, hospitalizations are at an all time high at 982, nearly 300 more than just 20 days ago. Cumulatively thus far, Hinds County has the most cases with 5,001, followed by Desoto County with 3,062, Madison County with 2,211, Rankin County with 2,048, Harrison with 1,982, Jackson with 1,820 and Jones County with 1,674. Counties with the most deaths are Hinds with 97, Lauderdale with 88, Neshoba with 85, Leflore with 59, Jones with 57, Madison with 50, Forrest with 50, Monroe with 49 and Holmes with 45.
Governor adds Lowndes to list of counties under mask mandate
Gov. Tate Reeves has added Lowndes County to a list of counties under state-ordered mask mandates and other restrictions aimed to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under Executive Order 1515, citizens in Lowndes and more than 40 other Mississippi counties are required to wear masks in public and limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people indoors and 20 or fewer people outdoors, according to press releases from Reeves' office. Initially Reeves issued the order for 13 counties with higher-than-average rates of the virus earlier this month. He has gradually added counties to the list depending on its increasing case numbers. "We are throwing everything that we can at the hospital crisis in our state, and we are going to continue working to ensure the integrity of our health care system," Reeves said Thursday when he announced Lowndes and seven other counties would be added to the list. "I want to underscore again: Even if you do not personally fear coronavirus, the overwhelming of the system affects everybody. If you get in a car wreck, you don't want to be treated in a tent like we saw in other parts of the country. You want to get the best possible care."
Lee, Pontotoc counties now under stricter COVID-19 safety measures
Gov. Tate Reeves on Thursday announced he is issuing an executive order that adds two Northeast Mississippi counties to the total list of counties in the state that are under a mask mandate and stricter social distancing guidelines. Under the newest order, residents in Lee County and Pontotoc County will be required to wear a mask or face covering indoors and outdoors when unable to maintain a proper social distance between others. The order contains several exemptions for situations where people are not required to wear a mask such as when exercising, eating or giving a speech to an audience. The latest executive order now brings three counties in Northeast Mississippi under the purview of stricter measures. Calhoun County was added last week. State and local law enforcement in the impacted counties have the authority to enforce the provisions in the executive order and issue fines to people who do not comply with the orders.
Legislators don't need Gov. Tate Reeves to call a special session to return to the Capitol, sources say
Lawmakers do not have to wait for a special session called by Gov. Tate Reeves to return to Jackson to deal with his veto of more than $2.2 billion in funding to the local school districts, according to various legislative sources. Legislators could reconvene on their own under the conditions of the resolution they passed extending the session until Oct. 10. "If he (Reeves) decides not to call us back, we would have to consider all options available," said House Pro Tem Jason White, R-West, when asked about the possibility of coming back on their own. "The education budget is more than a little bit significant. The education folks are concerned – rightfully so. They want some finality to their budget." Reeves has said he is waiting to call legislators back into special session to deal with the education veto and the lack of funding for the Gulf Coast-based Department of Marine Resources until the COVID-19 outbreak amongst legislators is quashed. In recent days legislative leaders have said most of their members have recovered and they are ready to return to the Capitol in early August to deal with the education budget, the Marine Resources budget and other issues.
Ex-LCSD superintendent to run for District 37 House seat
With less than a week before the qualifying deadline, former Lowndes County School District Superintendent Lynn Wright is so far the only candidate to file qualifying paperwork to run for the House District 37 special election. The election is set for Sept. 22, and the qualifying deadline is Monday. There are no party primaries for the nonpartisan election. Wright, who led LCSD as elected superintendent for eight years, is vying to complete Gary Chism's unexpired term in the Legislature. Chism (R-Columbus) retired June 30 due to family health issues, less than a year after being elected to his sixth term, which will expire at the end of 2023. For the open District 15 Senate seat, Starkville businessman Bart Williams has joined what is now a two-candidate race. So far, only he and District 4 Oktibbeha County Supervisor Bricklee Miller have filed qualifying paperwork for the Sept. 22 special election for that seat, which also has a qualifying deadline set for Monday. Miller announced her intent to run June 30. Both are vying to fill the unexpired term of Gary Jackson (R-French Camp), who retired in June. His term runs through 2023. The district covers western and southern Oktibbeha County and parts of Choctaw, Webster and Montgomery counties.
New commission formed to study future fate of alcohol distribution system
A study committee formed to examine Mississippi's state-owned alcohol distribution system could recommend keeping the status quo, transition it to a public/private corporation like the Mississippi Lottery Corporation or even completely privatize it. State Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said all three possibilities will be scrutinized when the study committee meets in the fall. "This is a large sector of our private economy and currently, we're not doing as well as we can. We owe the citizens to look at how we can improve and what's the best structure for doing that," Lamar said. "We've got to get a handle on what the need is and look at all the possibilities. We'll examine whether this is a business that government needs to be involved in or not." Proponents of reform of the state's distribution system, such as Sen. Scott Delano, R-Biloxi, say the delivery issues are an admission by the DOR that it might not be able to run a multi-million wholesale delivery system.
MDOC names new Parchman superintendent and interim leader of SMCI
The Mississippi Department of Corrections announced Thursday its appointment of two leaders at two Mississippi prisons. Burl Cain, MDOC commissioner, appointed Timothy Morris as superintendent at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and Andrew Mills as interim superintendent at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville. Morris has served as the acting superintendent at the state's oldest prison since late April after the retirement of Marshal Turner. He worked at the MDOC over 30 years in several leadership roles that included serving as the warden in Parchman in 1989. Mills has worked with the MDOC for 25 years. His most current role was serving as deputy warden at SMCI. Mills other experience includes serving as security threat group coordinator, commander, and warden. "Mr. Morris and Mr. Mills share more than half a century of corrections experience," Cain said. "Their records show they know how to run a prison. Both have worked their way to the top after starting as correctional officers."
Former Sen. Bob Dearing dies at 85
Area residents and state leaders are mourning the death of former Mississippi State Sen. Bob Dearing, who died Thursday in Natchez at the age of 85. Dearing served 36 years in the Mississippi Legislature, first being elected to office in 1979 as a Democrat and serving for eight terms until he was defeated in 2011 by Republican Melanie Sojourner. Four years later Dearing defeated Sojourner to recapture the seat he once held. Dearing announced his intention to retire and not seek reelection to the senate in January 2019, saying he was ready to retire and Sojourner subsequently reclaimed the seat. Despite being a lifelong Democrat, Dearing was successful at working with colleagues across the aisle. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., served in the state Senate with Dearing in the late 1980s. "Bob Dearing was my first chairman as a state senator in 1988," Wicker said. "We have been friends ever since. We've worked on many issues and shared many laughs. I will miss him."
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith supports release of coronavirus emergency funding for rural physician training
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today advocated the release of coronavirus emergency funding intended to support physician training programs to strengthen and maintain a healthcare workforce in rural communities. Hyde-Smith and eight of her colleagues issued a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar warning that without assistance, rural hospitals struggling to handle increased coronavirus cases may be forced to end physician training programs. "The Mississippi Office of Physician Workforce supports the release of these resources, which will help us meet the growing need for doctors who serve in rural areas of our state now and into the future. Mississippi needs every doctor we can get right now, so we shouldn't allow COVID-19 to disrupt these training programs if at all possible," Hyde-Smith said. In their correspondence, the Senators ask Azar to release approximately $100 million from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund to support rural hospitals that train physicians, and to commit to maintaining training programs for at least three years.
No 'skinny' deal on coronavirus relief in late-night meeting
Democratic leaders late Thursday said they rejected a short-term proposal offered by top White House negotiators to replace lapsed unemployment benefits while broader coronavirus relief measures are left for later. "We just don't think they understand the gravity of the problem," Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said after a two-hour meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. It was the fourth meeting in as many days between the four principals, which haven't included the top Republicans on Capitol Hill, who for now are leaving the negotiations to Trump's deputies. More talks are set for Friday and possibly Saturday as well, Mnuchin said. Senate Republicans did get the procedural gears turning Thursday to set up potential votes on partially reviving expanded unemployment benefits, and potentially other COVID-19 relief measures. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a procedural move Thursday to get a House-passed bill, intended to be the legislative vehicle, pending before the Senate.
Anthony Fauci Explains Why the US Still Hasn't Beaten Covid
Dr. Anthony Fauci's new normal is less normal than anyone's during this year of the coronavirus. As the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases---and perhaps the most widely trusted voice on the White House Coronavirus Task Force---he has been revered and reviled, sometimes by his own boss, President Donald Trump, the sixth president he has served under. Just in the past seven days, he threw out the first pitch of the baseball season and was featured on a Topps baseball card. A vaccine that his lab helped develop went into a Phase III trial, the last stage of human clinical testing. And Trump attacked him again, retweeting a charge that the meticulously honest Fauci serially "misled the American public." Just another week for the scientist who has been fighting outbreaks since leading the government response on HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. On Tuesday evening, Fauci found time to speak to WIRED about why the US has done so poorly in combating Covid-19, whether schools should open, and why no amount of abuse from Trump will make him leave his post.
Postal Service backlog sparks worries that ballot delivery could be delayed in November
The U.S. Postal Service is experiencing days-long backlogs of mail across the country after a top Trump donor running the agency put in place new procedures described as cost-cutting efforts, alarming postal workers who warn that the policies could undermine their ability to deliver ballots on time for the November election. As President Trump ramps up his unfounded attacks on mail balloting as being susceptible to widespread fraud, postal employees and union officials say the changes implemented by Trump fundraiser-turned-postmaster general Louis DeJoy are contributing to a growing perception that mail delays are the result of a political effort to undermine absentee voting. The backlog comes as the president, who is trailing presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in the polls, has escalated his efforts to cast doubt about the integrity of the November vote, which is expected to yield record numbers of mail ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic. The upheaval inside the Postal Service has sparked condemnation from top Democrats. Speaking on Thursday at a service memorializing the late representative John Lewis, former president Barack Obama decried "those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting . . . even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that's going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don't get sick."
John Lewis: A Founding Father of a better America: Three former presidents, thousands of admirers mourn 'Boy from Troy'
Three American presidents showed up Thursday to laud a man born 80 years ago in a three-room shotgun house to sharecroppers in rural Alabama. A fourth president's regards were read to attendees that included Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, members of Congress and civil rights icons who marched with Lewis and to those listening to the national broadcast from Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. "What a gift John Lewis was," said former President Barack Obama. "We were all so lucky to have had him walk with us for a while. And show us the way. I am proud that John Lewis was a friend of mine. He was a good and kind and gentle man and he believed in us. Even when we don't believe in ourselves." Former President George W. Bush spoke of Lewis' famous compassion and forgiveness and referred to a time when Republicans like himself and Democrats like Lewis could share common ground. "Listen, John and I had our disagreements of course," he said. "But in the America John Lewis fought for and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action," said Bush.
From Bloody Sunday to Black Lives Matter, the role of the Black church is shifting
John Lewis was eulogized Thursday afternoon at the same historic Atlanta church that Martin Luther King Jr. once presided over, a nod to the centrality of the Black church for Lewis and other Civil Rights leaders of his generation. The church's role is now changing. Even as they inherit Lewis' mantle, Black Lives Matter organizers say the Black church does not serve as the organizing hub, haven and heartbeat for their movement that it did in the 1950's and 60's. It's yet another sign that the Civil Rights movement is undergoing a generational transformation, and is taking on the characteristics of the young, less traditional and decidedly less religious organizers now filling the streets. The tension is emblematic of a larger, ongoing conflict between activists, religious centers and age groups. Some organizers feel alienated by parts of the Black church's doctrines and people of faith are grappling with how to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement and all of its members.
MUW making changes for students living on campus in light of COVID-19
Move-in day is just a few weeks away for those choosing to live on campus at the Mississippi University for Women. But students should be aware of some changes. "We have assigned all students a room to themselves which typically we do have doubles we do have singles," said Andrew Moneymaker, Director of Housing at MUW. "But for their safety, we have given everybody a double room to practice the social distancing. We've gone through all of our common areas. We've wrapped up furniture and put it in storage again to space it out to eliminate those large gatherings." And for those moving in on campus? "Our move-in is going to be pretty much contact-less," said Moneymaker. "Students will come in, come up to our check-in window where the RA's will already have their stuff together. They will basically slide their packet to them with all their information in there their room key, so there's no like real physical contact with that."
USM COVID-19 Oral Histories
Students at the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage at the University of Southern Mississippi recently put together a collection of oral histories concerning the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on people in the state. Kevin Greene, director of the COHCH, assigned the project to students in the USM Oral History graduate course late in the spring 2020 semester as the pandemic began to worsen, anticipating a shelter in place order and a need to switch to online instruction from traditional methods for the course, a release from USM says. Students used skills associated with the course, such as formal interviews and transcription, to compile stories on people the virus heavily impacted, such as health care workers, law enforcement and first responders, as well as people who contracted the virus and recovered. The COVID-19 oral history project has compiled one dozen oral histories from Mississippians so far and is set to continue even after the pandemic has passed, the release says.
JSU officials explain how social distancing will work
Jackson State University officials said the campus is ready for students to return. The school is implementing measures to keep students safe from COVID-19. The plan consists of options for both virtual and hybrid classes, with in-person classes at 25% capacity to follow social distancing. "For students who choose to remain remote, we're going to provide educational opportunities for you to do so," said JSU Acting President Thomas Hudson. Hudson said dorm life will be different as well. Students are expected to perform self evaluations and there will be temperature scanning stations in each building. They're even using technology to help fight the spread. Hudson says at the end of the day their plan will only work if students and staff take precautions, and if an outbreak were to happen, Hudson said steps are in place to handle it.
Acting JSU president discusses reopening plan
Jackson State University will begin classes on August 17, 2020. The university will be honoring all academic, athletic and band scholarships. Acting JSU President Thomas K. Hudson said by all accounts, this fall will look different. He said the university has worked hard to make sure students have the opportunity to complete their education, get their credits and be in a safe environment. Double occupancy dorms have been re-configured to allow for more social distancing. The university is also offering more single occupancy rooms. When asked about classes, Hudson said, "We are really offering a variety of options. So, yes we do have some in-person instruction, but that is going to be really limited. Most of the instruction will be online, it will be virtual. Students can beam in from their laptops, their desk computers. But of course, we do have to offer some in person options. Some classes are more appropriate for that face-to-face traditional. But even then for those classes, social distancing, you have to wear your mask at all times and of courses, professors are going to be very diligent in enforcing those directives."
Tougaloo College delays students' return to campus
Tougaloo College is delaying students' return to campus. In a statement released late Thursday night, leaders cited the rising COVID-19 rate in Mississippi as the reason for the decision. Classes will begin virtually next Thursday, August 6. In-class and hybrid instruction starts nearly a month later on September 9.
MSMS plans hybrid schedule for upcoming school year
During the COVID-19 pandemic, public schools have faced a complex challenge in keeping their students safe for the roughly eight hours a day they are in their charge. For Germain McConnell and the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, the challenge is increased by a factor of three. As a residential high school, MSMS is responsible for the safety of its 241 students, 24/7. McConnnell, the school's executive director, said plans for the upcoming school year focused heavily, but not entirely, on that challenge. MSMS, which accepts students from all over the state, will open Aug. 10 with a hybrid plan that not only includes in-class and virtual learning, but for the first-time non-residential learning as well. "The plans were developed to minimize risks as we deal with COIVD-19," McConnell said. Juniors will move in on Aug. 8, begin classes on Aug. 10 and remain on the MSMS campus for the first 4 1/2 weeks of the 9-week term before returning to their homes to finish the term. Seniors will arrive on campus after the juniors leave campus, having participated in virtual learning the first 4 1/2 weeks. The two classes will rotate on that schedule through the end of the school year next spring.
U. of Alabama explains decision to hold indoor graduation, how to do it safely
There's a countdown on the University of Alabama's webpage dedicated to their summer commencement ceremonies. Days, hours, minutes and seconds tick down to a graduation weekend unlike any in the past. Beginning at 9 a.m. Friday, nine ceremonies will span the next three days inside Coleman Coliseum as coronavirus infection rates remain high in Tuscaloosa and around the state. While peer universities like Auburn postponed graduations set for early August, a UA official said they are confident in their plan to stage nine events over three days. A hallmark of a commencement is the walk across the stage punctuated by a handshake from the university president. That greeting from UA president Stuart Bell will not be part of this weekend's graduations. "Instead, graduates will be handed their diploma cover by a gloved staff member prior to walking across the stage," Bradley said. "They will be greeted and verbally congratulated in a socially distant manner on stage by Dr. Bell and the dean of their respective college and pose for a photo."
Safety plan in place for U. of Alabama graduation
This weekend's combined University of Alabama spring and summer commencement will not only allow graduating students to gather one more time -- in sanitized, mask-wearing, socially distant-spaced settings -- to celebrate pomp and circumstance, but could also help patch economic gaps left by spring cancellations. Numerous restaurants and retailers have noted that, while fall football season in Tuscaloosa is certainly a boon, April is their biggest month, from visiting graduates' families, festivals and other fair-weather events. Though it comes too late for restaurants and bars forced to shut doors since the pandemic's economic tsunami crashed through, every boost helps, said Don Staley, president and CEO of Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports. "I am thrilled we're able to combine summer and spring graduation together, to help us create the economic impact for our community, in hotels, retail and restaurants," he said. The emotional value of the ritual's less quantifiable, during a harrowing year in which students left for spring break, then were ordered not to return to campus.
Auburn University updates COVID testing information
In an email this week, Auburn University outlined important changes to its plan to test all students coming to campus this fall. The chief change announced in the email was that not all students will have to receive a COVID-19 test before returning to Auburn. However, they will still be required to get a test before classes start on August 17. "Many students will not be tested until arriving in Auburn," the email stated. "That is OK, even if you are tested after arriving on campus or in town. If you wish to take a test from a private health care provider, you may do so any time before classes begin." Much of the information around testing for in-state students remains the same; the same 14 testing sites across the state remain, and in-state students are able to set up a free test through emails sent by GuideSafe/Stay Safe Together. However, out-of-state students now have the ability to get tested once they arrive on campus.
'Masks are about compassion': UT-Knoxville to distribute 50,000 masks to students and employees
To help the University of Tennessee, Knoxville community comply with new mask requirements, the university is assembling 50,000 kits to distribute to students, faculty and staff. Wellness kits include a UT mask, gaiter that can be worn around the neck or as a mask, and a health information card for each staff member and student. Student kits also include a thermometer, which students will be asked to use when they self-test each time they are on campus. Masks will be required on campus and in face-to-face classes. UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman joined the assembly line on Thursday morning, assembling kits that will be passed out over the next several weeks. "We have been from day one, trying to do this in a way that was flexible, creative and compassionate," Plowman said. "Masks are about compassion." Students living on campus will receive the kits when they move into dorms. Commuter students will be able to pick up their kits through a drive-thru before the semester starts.
U. of Florida sororities, fraternities plan socially-distanced rush for Fall
UF sororities and fraternities have chosen to socially-distancing their rush week this Fall to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Although the semester begins in a month, many chapters still haven't received guidance from their councils on how to keep recruitment safe. More than half of rush week will be conducted online under the UF Panhellenic Council's new rush week guidelines. For the in-person components, participants will be asked to maintain a social distance and wear masks. Greek recruitment, or rush week, will be divided into four rounds from August 20 to 27 according to the Panhellenic Council's plan. The rounds typically consist of potential new members visiting all sorority houses and getting to know the members who belong to each. But this rush week, new safety precautions have forced the first three rounds online, with only the final round occurring in person. Carlie Schelhorn, a 19-year-old UF telecommunication senior, found her sorority, Chi Omega, in 2018 during rush week when she walked into the last house of the day and felt at home, she said. Schelhorn said she's concerned that without the physical contact that rushing brings, future sisters will have a hard time finding which sorority is best for them.
UGA researchers develop system to track harmful algae known for dog fatalities
When a couple from Marietta, Georgia, noticed their dog behaving strangely after swimming in Lake Allatoona in Bartow County last year, they immediately rushed her to an ER. But even 30 minutes after such a great day of playing, it was too late. The dog died from exposure to toxic algae. Outbreaks of harmful algae have increased in recent years due to warming trends and longer summer seasons. Also called cyanobacterial algal blooms or CyanoHABs, these large-scale ecological disturbances are often caused by increased urbanization, nutrient pollution, poor waste management and warming weather. The algae can produce toxins that are harmful to humans, pets and aquatic ecosystems. The CyanoTRACKER project, a collaboration between University of Georgia researchers, collects and integrates community reports, remote sensing data and digital image analytics to detect and differentiate between regular algal blooms and CyanoHABs. It is the first early reporting system of its kind.
U. of Missouri medical students lead efforts to diversify curriculum
University of Missouri medical students will notice some differences this semester. No, not only mandated masks and socially distant public areas - something a little less noticeable. In the months since MU Health Care resident Venkata Gupta helped organize a demonstration against police brutality and systemic racism in health care, he's been working with a group of MU medical students to address racism within health care and how it manifests in the medical school curriculum. It started with a series of round table discussions among medical students faculty in the weeks after George Floyd's death in Minnesota. "Everyone says they aren't a racist but, we aren't able to define what racism is within the medical field in that how it affects us and how does it affect our patients," Gupta said. "It's very minor things that might seem to other people like it's not racism."
U. of Memphis to begin 'virtual and remote' this fall, set to release phased re-entry plan
The University of Memphis will begin the fall semester with "predominantly virtual and remote" coursework, President M. David Rudd said Thursday during a faculty conversation broadcast online. The university will implement a phased reopening plan for the fall due to community conditions of COVID-19, Rudd said. Some limited face-to-face coursework could occur for laboratories, clinical training, engineering and performing arts classes, he said. Every 30 days, Rudd said, the university will evaluate a "host of data" to inform forward decisions. At the first evaluation in September, return to campus would be voluntary at that time if it is deemed safe to do, Rudd said. "The latest available data indicates unacceptable risk in Shelby County and Memphis for an immediate transition to a dense campus environment," Rudd wrote in an email sent to campus on Thursday. "At this point this is clearly the only right decision," Tom Nenon, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said in the faculty conversation.
Under ICE rules and visa complications, a semester with no new international students awaits
Raven Liu always thought that she had a chance, however slim it was, to travel from Beijing to the University of Southern California to attend her first semester in person, even during a pandemic. "It's meaningless to learn online because I study film production," the newly enrolled graduate student said. "I can't collaborate with my teammates for shooting, and my first year of production courses can be wasted." Liu booked the dormitory and even researched how to travel to the U.S. by circumventing travel restrictions. By last Friday, though, it became clear that her travel plans were off. That's when Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that newly enrolled international students, such as first-year undergrads and graduate students, will not be allowed to enter the U.S. if their classes are taught fully online. The rule doesn't apply to students who already had been pursuing a degree in the U.S. The guidance is the latest development in a saga that has left international students and their institutions scrambling to firm up fall plans.
Colleges reverse decisions to open in person
Late this spring, colleges and universities issued a wave of announcements: they would be opening -- er, intending to open -- their campuses this fall. Plans were laid for early departures, scheduled showers, small group cohorts and a half-full campus. Plexiglas was bought and tents erected. Now, many universities are reversing their plans, announcing both online courses and closed campuses. College presidents in their announcements have pointed to rising cases, quarantine requirements for their states and restrictions by governors as reasons for their turns to online learning. In some jurisdictions K-12 schools are likely to be remote, creating childcare concerns for staff members with children. Behind the scenes, faculty have been waving red flags about their own participation on campus, with many professors insisting that they should not be forced to teach in person. That is not to say that every university has changed course. Boston University, Colgate University, Cornell University, Tufts University and Radford University are among those still insisting that they can bring nearly all students back safely
Faculty members in new coronavirus hot spots want a remote fall or delayed opening
With T-minus one month until fall, faculty groups in new coronavirus hot spots are asking their institutions to go all in on remote instruction. Some institutions in one-time virus hot spots are also facing challenges getting their instructors to teach in person. Perhaps nowhere is faculty anxiety greater than in Florida, which set -- and broke -- new state records for single-day coronavirus deaths this week. Intensive care units at hospitals there are reportedly close to capacity. California set its own dismal record this week, too, but colleges and universities there have been much quicker to cancel in-person instruction. Florida, by contrast, has allowed state colleges and universities to come up with their own plans for fall. The individual campus plans fall along a spectrum, from mostly remote to mostly in-person courses. Texas is another coronavirus hot spot moving forward with planned face-to-face fall instruction. The state doesn't have faculty unions, but the statewide Texas Faculty Association this week called on Governor Greg Abbott to delay in-person college and university start dates until Sept. 8.
Colleges lease hotels and apartments to reduce housing density this fall
In an effort to reduce on-campus housing density, colleges are leasing apartments and hotel rooms to house students this fall. The arrangements are an added cost for colleges when budgets are already tight, but the rooms come at no additional expense for students and will hopefully reduce coronavirus spread on campus. In Boston, Northeastern University will lease rooms at the Westin Copley Place, the Midtown Hotel and a handful of nearby apartment buildings. "We understand that lowering density is going to help us keep everybody safe and healthy and have a successful academic year," said Kathy Spiegelman, vice president and chief of campus planning and development at Northeastern. Northeastern is renting out some meeting rooms at the Westin to use as classrooms for afternoon and evening seminars. The university will also install laundry facilities in the hotels and conduct mail service. The university will "master lease" the apartment buildings, Spiegelman said. Instead of having students find and sign their own leases, Northeastern will lease collections of units, and students will pay the university a housing fee.
Students, alumni clamor to take care of U. of Vermont's cows
When the coronavirus pandemic forced the University of Vermont to close and send its students home, the alarm spread: What would happen to the cows? The university's beloved herd of about 100 dairy cows is normally tended by students taking part in the Cooperative for Real Education in Agricultural Management program, or CREAM. And without those students, the fate of the cows seemed to be in jeopardy. In no time, dozens of CREAM alumni and students clamored to spend their spring and summer caring for the Holsteins. "I would rather do nothing else than this over the summer," said recent graduate Claudia Sacks, of Macungie, Pennsylvania. On a recent hot weekday, she rose in the dark to help milk the cows at 3:30 a.m. By early afternoon she was shoveling out the calves' stalls. When she sees her favorite cow, Lazlo, she hugs her around the neck and gives her a kiss. "I've learned so much from them," she said. The other six students are passionate, too, about the animals and hope to go to veterinary school.

What SEC schedule announcement means for Mississippi State football
The Mike Leach era at Mississippi State will have to wait a little longer to officially get underway, but it is scheduled to start this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic nonetheless. The SEC announced Thursday afternoon its intention to play a 10-game, conference-only football schedule starting Sept. 26. Mississippi State was supposed to start its 2020 season on Sept. 5 against New Mexico at Davis Wade Stadium. That game won't happen, but barring a worsening COVID-19 situation in the United States, the Bulldogs will still get to showcase what they've learned from Leach and his staff this summer. Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen released a lengthy statement in response to the SEC's announcement. He said the conference's decision was a bittersweet one. "Health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff remain the first and foremost priority of both the SEC and Mississippi State," Cohen said in his statement. "While we are disappointed that we won't be able to engage in a traditional non-conference schedule for our fall sports, we fully support today's decision and plan by the SEC, which is an important step toward providing our student-athletes with the opportunity to resume competition this fall."
SEC adopts 10-game, conference-only schedule
The Southeastern Conference will play a 10-game, conference-only football schedule this fall. The presidents of the 14 SEC schools met on Thursday and agreed to the schedule changes, Sports Illustrated first reported on Twitter -- a report soon confirmed by the SEC. Reports of the possible change started to surface on Wednesday after the conference's athletic directors held a virtual meeting. The league will begin its college football season on Sept. 26, which is three weeks later than the original Sept. 5 start date. Teams will continue to play a six-game inter-division schedule, and then will play four opponents from the opposite division. The winners of the two seven-team divisions -- SEC West and SEC East -- will meet in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 19. The SEC announced that it will release the new schedule as well as safety standards and regulations regarding tailgating and other activities at a later date. Decisions on fan attendance will be made in communication with governors in each state. Earlier this week Gov. Tate Reeves speculated that fan attendance in Mississippi stadiums could be as low as 10, 20 or 35 percent of capacity given the state's current COVID-19 climate.
SEC moves to 10-game, conference-only football schedule for 2020 season
The Southeastern Conference received as much clarity as it has in months on Thursday regarding its football season, announcing it will go to a 10-game conference-only schedule for the 2020 campaign in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The conference also noted it will release a revised schedule for its 14 member institutions at a later date. It's unclear at this time how those opponents will be selected. Of note, multiple sources told The Dispatch Thursday following the SEC's announcement that it remains to be seen whether the Egg Bowl will be moved off its usual slot on Thanksgiving Day. Though it remains to be seen who will be added to MSU's schedule, the Bulldogs will now no longer play previously scheduled nonconference games against North Carolina State, Tulane and New Mexico. The Bulldogs game against Alabama A&M that was originally scheduled for Nov. 21 was dropped earlier this month after the Southwestern Conference announced it would move football to the spring.
SEC's 10-game, league-only schedule is simply a best case scenario
Mississippi sports columnist Rick Cleveland writes: So the news of the day is that the Southeastern Conference has decided to play a 10-game, conference games-only football schedule this fall. Opening day is scheduled for Sept. 26. The SEC Championship game is moved back two weeks to Dec. 19. We'll see... This news comes a day after the Atlantic Coast Conference announced that league will play an 11-game season that will include 10 league games and one non-conference game. Furthermore, the ACC setup will include Notre Dame as an ACC football team for the 2020 season. ... What we all must understand is that all this is tentative. Nothing at all is certain. Right now, a 10-game schedule, all SEC games, is simply a best case scenario. I say that because if you lay a map of the Southeastern Conference's 11-state imprint over a map of the country's region hardest hit by the pandemic, it's almost a match. Florida leads the nation in per capita COVID-19 cases. Mississippi is No. 2, followed by Louisiana and Alabama. Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina are all in the top 10 – a top 10 in which nobody wants to be included.
Southern Miss AD reacts to SEC switching to conference-only schedule, losing Auburn game
The Southeastern Conference announced its members will play a 10-game, conference-only schedule this season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With the change, Southern Miss lost its originally-scheduled opponent on Sept. 26, Auburn. Golden Eagles' athletic director Jeremy McClain released a statement on Thursday regarding the SEC's decision. "I appreciate Auburn AD, Allen Greene, reaching out this afternoon to let me know that the SEC has decided to move to a 10-game, conference-only format for the 2020 season," the statement read. "Obviously, this affects our contracted game at Auburn on Sept. 26. I am disappointed for our student-athletes and our fans that this game will not happen, but we will make every effort to find a quality opponent to add to our schedule. Although the situation is fluid, we look forward to continuing to prepare for our season and will be communicating health and safety protocols for The Rock to our fan base over the next few weeks."
How much money can Ole Miss save without playing a non-conference football schedule?
Not playing non-conference football games against Georgia Southern, UConn and Southeastern Missouri could end up saving Ole Miss $3.35 million in 2020. The SEC made an announcement on Thursday it will be moving to a 10-game conference schedule for the 2020 football season with no non-conference games. This means Ole Miss will have to cancel its games against Baylor, Georgia Southern, UConn and Southeastern Missouri. According to contracts obtained by the Clarion Ledger, Ole Miss is supposed to pay Georgia Southern $1.4 million and is supposed to pay Southeastern Missouri $450,000. Based on the wording in these contracts, the Ole Miss athletic department should be able to wiggle out of these agreements. There's also the matter of how much Ole Miss stands to lose without a non-conference season. Set aside for a moment the fact that Ole Miss will play five home games instead of seven this year and that attendance numbers will likely be limited because of social distancing guidelines. More simply, there's the matter of Ole Miss' scheduled season opener against Baylor.
SEC Plans to Play a 10-Game Conference Football Schedule
The powerful Southeastern Conference said Thursday it would eliminate nonconference football games and play a delayed 10-game conference schedule, the latest move by college football's powers as they scramble to stage a season amid the coronavirus pandemic. The late-July wave of scheduling chaos sets up an unprecedented college football season in which flexibility trumps tradition. With the season just weeks away, the hoped-for season is still not in focus, with the major conferences taking different and sometimes conflicting stances. SEC teams will kick off their season three weeks later than normal on Sept. 26, a delay that came on the advice of public health officials who have recently watched new coronavirus infections skyrocket in the southeastern U.S. This all comes with one big caveat: the 2020 college football season could be rendered moot as early as next week. The NCAA Board of Governors will decide next week whether to cancel fall championships for all sports save the top tier of football, which it does not control. The race to the College Football Playoff could go on without any other NCAA sports, but the public health picture may prove that a contact sport with hundreds of players is not feasible in the time of a pandemic.
Greg Sankey talks SEC's conference-only format, bye week plan, says formula for opponents next
Greg Sankey said there was "discomfort" with the idea of playing a full college football schedule this upcoming season in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The SEC commissioner appeared on "The Paul Finebaum Show" on Thursday after the league announced a 10-game conference-only schedule that shifted the start of the season back to Sept. 26. "There was discomfort," he said. "Discomfort for me, discomfort from a number of our programs --- not universal. This is an act of bringing people together. It's one of those times where your and my friend, Mike Slive, was great at that, and I'm grateful for those learning experiences because we've had to come together and make some really difficult decisions. The reality is, for the last four months, we've been in this hard decision-making mode, really as your referenced as I joined (the show). And I think as we look forward we can get through kind of what's happening in the public health domain. We need to see improvement, we need people to stay healthy. We need the positive testing rates to go down. We're not going to eliminate COVID but we can address the public health issues to allow our young people to be educated and to allow our young student-athletes to be in football and other fall sports, is our desire."
South Carolina-Clemson football game won't happen under SEC's conference-only schedule
On Wednesday, the ACC cleared the way for Clemson to play South Carolina in football this season. One day later, the SEC appears to have said no. The SEC announced its coronavirus-affected football schedule on Thursday, calling for a strict 10-game season against only conference teams. As it stands, the decision by the SEC presidents will bring an end to one of college football's longest-running rivalries. The USC-Clemson game has been played every year since 1909 and is the second-longest uninterrupted streak in the country. "I am disappointed that we will not play our in-state rival this year," USC athletic director Ray Tanner said in a statement. "The pandemic has created many challenges and forced us to make adjustments. I look forward to renewing the rivalry in 2021." "Throughout discussions with other SEC presidents and chancellors, I took the position that we should continue to play our in-state rival, but I support the ultimate decision to have conference-only play," USC President Bob Caslen said in a statement. USC is also still developing a plan for reduced capacity at Williams-Brice Stadium. The school continues to update its ticketing procedures but has cautioned everyone that the traditional season ticket fulfillment will not be possible.
Missouri AD Jim Sterk: SEC schedule changes provide needed flexibility
Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk believes a 10-game, Southeastern Conference-only football schedule is the best way for the Tigers to have a fall season. The SEC announced Thursday the move to scrap all 14 league members' nonconference matchups but increase each team's number of conference games from eight to 10. "Delaying the season's start, kicking back the championship game a couple weeks gives us flexibility to deal with things that may happen during the season," Sterk said. "... Campuses will start to fill up in the middle of August, and if there are outbreaks, that gives an opportunity to settle those down and get it under control." For Missouri, its SEC West matchups against Arkansas and Mississippi State stay intact, as well as its annual contests against the other six SEC East teams. Sterk confirmed that fall camp is still expected to begin for the Tigers on Aug. 7, allowing for a seven-week preseason, making up for lost practices during the spring.
LSU will go cashless with concessions, merchandise in venues for 2020 athletic events
The LSU athletic department has announced it will only accept credit card and mobile payments for merchandise and concessions this fall. It is the school's second move this week to reduce the risk of transmitting coronavirus at events. The decision to go cashless in 2020 comes a day after LSU announced it will use mobile ticketing for the football season, a move aimed to create contactless transactions at Tiger Stadium. Within a news release Thursday, LSU announced fans at its athletic events will be able to purchase concessions and merchandise using all major credit cards, Apple Pay and Android Pay. Tiger Cash can only be used for concessions. LSU said it is working on a prepaid card purchase option for people who don't have one of the four payment types available. Both moves show LSU is still planning to play its sports with fans inside its facilities, including Tiger Stadium, during a pandemic that has recently hit a surge in Louisiana.
Alabama fan Harvey Updyke, poisoner of Auburn trees, dead at 71
Harvey Updyke, the Alabama football fan who made national headlines when he poisoned trees at Auburn University's Toomer's Corner in 2010, has died. His son Bear Updyke told that his father died Thursday afternoon of natural causes in Louisiana, where he had been living. He was 71. Harvey Updyke became a household name among Alabama sports fans in 2011 when he called into the Paul Finebaum radio show claiming to have poisoned Auburn's iconic trees after the Tigers' win in the Iron Bowl the previous November. He later pleaded guilty in 2013 to a felony charge of criminal damage of an agricultural facility and spent more than 70 days in jail. Updyke, a former Texas state trooper, was ordered to pay $800,000 in court-ordered penalties and restitution, but had only paid about $6,900 by last October.
NCAA to allow uniform patches for social justice causes
College athletes can now wear patches on their uniforms to honor causes they support, including social justice initiatives, the NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel announced on Thursday. Under current rules, patches are either banned or unaddressed in Division I sports. The new rule will permit one patch on the front of a player's uniform and one on the back. On the front, the patch must not exceed 2¼ inches and may be used as a "commemorative/memorial patch (names, mascots, nicknames, logos and marks) intended to celebrate or memorialize people, events or other causes." Players can also replace their last names on the backs of their jerseys to honor a cause they support. The new rule is subject to conference and school approval for each athlete. The announcement follows an energized stretch of activism that has followed the death of George Floyd in May. Collegiate athletes have been engaged in protests and publicized their views through social media.
Colleges explore esports opportunities and others face budget cuts
While the coronavirus pandemic has caused uncertainty about whether college athletics programs will be able to compete this fall, it has also spurred some colleges to more aggressively market their competitive esports teams. But the pandemic has also stalled plans by some institutions to expand or create esports programs. At a time when in-person gatherings and high-contact sports are discouraged by public health experts, esports can easily operate in a remote setting. All that's needed for students or fans to watch or participate in esports in most cases is a computer and internet connection. The cancellation of spring athletics and the postponement of the fall season by many intercollegiate athletic conferences have sparked more interest in esports from institutions that sponsor strong traditional sports programs, said Michael Brooks, the executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Esports, or NACE, a nonprofit organization that provides resources, governance and competition structure for colleges with varsity esports teams or those looking to create one.

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