Wednesday, August 12, 2020   
 
Cooperate with contact tracing inquiries
Students returning to universities, colleges and grade schools in the era of COVID-19 may eventually get calls or messages as part of a process called contact tracing. Contact tracing and case investigations are disease control techniques health professionals use to determine how someone may have contracted the coronavirus and notify people who could have been exposed to it through that person. "The point of this process is that you would give anyone who comes in contact with someone who has tested positive an opportunity to be tested themselves, treat it if needed and quarantine so they don't infect others," said Will Evans, head of the Mississippi State University Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion. Case investigations may also be conducted for some who test positive for the virus. In these scenarios, health officials work with a patient to determine where they were when and after they began feeling sick and to identify people they have been around so they can be warned. "That language -- case investigation -- sounds scary, but it shouldn't be. Just think of it as a conversation to help keep your friends, family and neighbors safe," said David Buys, state health specialist with the MSU Extension Service.
 
Why Misinformation Goes Viral
H. Colleen Sinclair, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Mississippi State University, writes for PsychologyToday.com: In the continued war on misinformation, LinkedIn and Facebook just removed millions of posts containing misinformation about the coronavirus. And it is believed that is but a fraction of the posts. When John Oliver tackled the flood of misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, he mentioned the "proportionality bias" -- that big events beg big explanations -- to explain why misinformation, particularly conspiracy theories, have had a heyday with the current crisis. However, the science suggests that it is more than just the proportionality effect at play making this crisis exceptionally fertile grounds for seeds of misinformation. ... For starters, our evolutionary heritage leads us generally to pay more attention to negative information than to positive information. ... Ultimately, this means that if something bad is happening, it's got our attention.
 
More than 2,600 students opt for traditional school, 1,700 for virtual at SOCSD
With less than two weeks until school starts back for students in Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, questions about virtual versus in-person learning dominated discussion at Tuesday evening's board of trustees meeting. Roughly 1,724 students are currently signed up for virtual-only classes, according to numbers SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant provided the board. Another 2,647 will attend school in person amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 298 students have opted for a hybrid learning environment, a mixture of online and in-person classes available only to students in grades eight or higher. Peasant said as of Friday, there were still about 1,000 students whose parents or guardians had not chosen between traditional and virtual learning. Though principals are in the process of reaching out to those parents, he said, those students will automatically be marked down for traditional learning if they don't reach them. Parents initially had until July 23 to notify the district of their decision. Peasant also said he is continuing to work with community partners such as local churches to set up internet access for families who want their children to attend school virtually but who don't have internet at home.
 
Food for the soul: Casserole Kitchen adapts to continue its mission
Key to navigating these months of global pandemic has been adaptability. It's been vital for the workplace -- and in nonprofit organizations as well. Everywhere, heads and hearts behind charitable efforts have had come together to find a way. That's true at the Casserole Kitchen in Starkville. For the past 11 years, churches and other volunteers have collaborated in the mission of serving a hot meal three times a week to anyone in need, at no charge. Originally established at Starkville's First Presbyterian Church, the program has been based at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection for the past two years. Until March, guests coming for meals were able to sit down, dine together at tables and share a bit of fellowship. "But we've adapted a lot over the past few months," said Rex Buffington, who co-leads the outreach ministry with Loren Zimmerman. An all-volunteer core of 17 churches, as well as groups such as Starkville Kiwanis, Wesley Foundation and various departments of Mississippi State University participate in the community ministry that currently offers to-go plates Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m. from the hall.
 
Direct support available to catfish producers affected by pandemic
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith praised a decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make farm-raised catfish producers eligible for direct relief for losses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Catfish is now among the list of commodities now eligible for the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The final rule in May to implement CFAP outlined direct payment details for a variety of agricultural producers but did not include details for catfish farmers. The USDA announced the inclusion of this Mississippi commodity, in addition to extending the CFAP application deadline to September 11th. Mississippi is the nation's leading catfish producing state, with 208 operations and eight processing plants. In 2019, the industry generated $172 million value of production, according to the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry, and Veterinary Medicine.
 
Toned-down summer furniture market set to start Thursday
It's been seven months since the last major furniture trade show, setting up what should be, under normal circumstances, a pretty good Summer Market at the Tupelo Furniture Market. But 2020 has been anything but normal. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking root in March, which led to shutdowns of businesses and schools for weeks, the economy still is trying to recover. And while there's been evidence to show consumers are buying again, it will take some time to recover. So the question confronting the Tupelo Furniture Market, which starts its Summer Market this week, is who will show up? "It's shaping up pretty good actually," said V.M. Cleveland, the chairman of the market. "We've had people calling in who haven't been here in years because their stores are doing well and they can't get product, so they're coming here to source their stores."
 
Legislature protects companies from Covid-19 lawsuits
The state legislature has passed legislation protecting Mississippi from Covid-19 infection lawsuits, Scott Waller, president and CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) told the Rotary Club of North Jackson on Tuesday. Led by the MEC, Business and Industry Political Education Committee (BIPEC) and the Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA), the legislature raised the standard of business liability to "clear and convincing evidence of malice" and "willful intent" to successfully sue a business of causing a Covid-19 infection. Waller said, "It's impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of this virus. This should give our businesses a lot of comfort." Waller displayed a chart that showed that over half of Mississippi businesses decreased employment as a result of the coronavirus. Waller described Mississippi as a state primarily made up of small businesses. As a result, Mississippi had a very high rate of successful Payment Protection Program loans from the federal government.
 
Co-ops get second round of broadband grants
Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley announced on Monday that 13 north Mississippi electric cooperatives have received more than $5.9 million in a second round of funding from the Mississippi Electric Cooperatives Broadband COVID-19 grant program. Presley recently announced that the co-ops would get $65 million the grants in the first round of funding. The program was established by the Legislature to increase expansion of high-speed Internet service to underserved areas. The grant program will enable recipients to begin construction in certain census blocks not covered with broadband service as defined by the Federal Communications Commission (25 mbps download, 3 mbps upload). The cooperatives must first agree to match every dollar of grants with private money and provide certain speeds in the area. The portion of each project funded by the grant program must be operational by Dec. 30.
 
Agency swats down prospect of mosquito flag for Mississippi
Mississippi will not put a huge mosquito on its new state flag. The state Department of Archives and history said Tuesday that a design featuring the blood-sucking insect had slipped through the screening process and should not have been among the finalists posted online Monday. "The mosquito flag advanced to Round Two due to a typo in a list of flag numbers submitted by one commissioner," the agency said in a statement Tuesday. "That commissioner has requested that the flag be removed from the Round Two gallery, and MDAH staff has complied." Many of the remaining designs have magnolias and stars. Some have wavy lines that could represent the waters of the Mississippi River or the Gulf of Mexico. On Friday, the nine commissioners will choose the final five. By early September, they will agree on a single design to put on the Nov. 3 statewide ballot.
 
Mississippi among worst states for childhood COVID-19 infection rates
As most schools reopen this month, a new report shows that children across Mississippi carry more COVID-19 per capita than nearly every other state. The report shows Mississippi has one of the highest rates of children diagnosed with COVID-19 in the U.S., dovetailing with increased community spread among all age groups and tracking with the state's overall high infection rate. After Gov. Tate Reeves allowed most schools to resume as scheduled this month, State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs has reiterated that community spread is the largest indicator of cases among children, adding Mississippians' adherence to masking, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings will determine how successfully schools reopen. "If we're very diligent about this we can make it much more likely that we'll have a successful school start if there's less coronavirus in the community," he said Monday. Reeves echoed Dobbs this week, saying Mississippi was at a "critical point" to further control the virus spread, adding the state's average number of cases has started to decline.
 
Mississippi lawmakers leave without Marine Resources budget
Mississippi legislators left the Capitol on Tuesday without setting a budget for the state Department of Marine Resources. The agency will continue to operate by using federal money, as it has since the state budget year started July 1. Talks between the House and Senate stalled over questions of who has the authority to spend millions of dollars the state receives for oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. In the past, the governor has controlled the money. But, Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said the Mississippi Constitution makes clear that legislators have the power to set budgets. "It's not right for one person to have $40 million to pass out like he wants to," Gunn told reporters Tuesday. As legislators left Tuesday, it was not immediately clear when they would return to finish the Marine Resources budget.
 
During another fight with Gov. Tate Reeves, lawmakers leave without passing DMR budget
The Mississippi Legislature, as it did in July, left Jackson on Tuesday without passing a Department of Marine Resources budget, remaining at loggerheads over Gov. Tate Reeves' spending authority. "We believe it's not right for one person to have $40 million to pass out like he wants to, no matter who that person is," House Speaker Philip Gunn said Tuesday. Lawmakers, for now, adjourned what has been an on-again, off-again 2020 session since January because of the COVID-19 pandemic and an outbreak among legislators. DMR's budget, which includes only $1.4 million in state general funds, is not at issue. But spending control of about $46 million in Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act money is. GOMESA is a revenue sharing program for offshore oil and gas producing states in the Gulf. Since its inception in 2006, then-Mississippi Govs. Haley Barbour and Phil Bryant controlled approval of GOMESA projects vetted by DMR as the revenue started out small but continued to grow.
 
Bill, Scott Walker still owe thousands for their crimes, but stopped paying, records show
As of August 1, Bill Walker still owed almost half a million dollars in restitution and fines for the crimes he committed while serving as executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, court records show. And he stopped making monthly restitution payments in February, even though a federal judge has already sent him back to prison once for failing to pay $5,000 per month set out in a court order. Walker's son, Scott Walker, was supposed to pay at least $750 a month after conviction in the conspiracy with his father. But Scott Walker has not paid monthly restitution from February through at least Aug. 1. Any payments made after Aug. 1 may not have appeared yet in court ledgers. Neither of the Walkers could be reached to comment on the payments. While he headed DMR, Bill Walker misspent federal money so a nonprofit group could buy property his son owned. Bill Walker also illegally diverted state and other funds intended for DMR to a nonprofit corporation he set up. After 11 years as DMR director, he was fired at the end of 2013 amid federal and state investigations that would lead to a five-year prison sentence.
 
Time ticking on voter registration for 2020 general election
We are less than 180 days from the 2020 general election. From the Presidential race to a new flag vote on the ballot, Secretary of State Michael Watson wants to get word about the importance of registering to vote. But, time is ticking. "You talk about the future of Mississippi and the future of our country and the best way to have an impact on that is to have your voice heard at the polls." And for those who are not registered to vote for this 2020 election, you may want to hurry. The deadline to register to vote is October 5th. "There are four ways you can register. First you can download the form from our website and send it in to your circuit clerk or your municipal clerk. The second one is to go in-person to the clerk's office, your circuit clerk or your municipal clerk. The 3rd is if you want to get your driver's license with the DPS, you can register there. The fourth is if you are going to any government agency that provides help and you can register at one those. Again, we want to make it as easy as possible."
 
Secretary of State speaks to statewide county supervisors about upcoming election
November's general election was the focus of Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson on Tuesday. Watson spoke at the Mississippi Association of Supervisors' annual meeting at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center. The Secretary of State shared how the vote will look in the state with not only COVID-19 but a host of important items on the ballot. "A big election, not only for the history of our nation but also the direction of Mississippi," Watson said. "We've got, obviously, the presidential, we've got U.S. Senate, the Congressional races, we've got Supreme Court races. Then we've got some initiatives on the ballot. We've got I-65, which is dealing with medical marijuana. You've got the way that we select our statewide elected officials, and the last one would be the new flag that will be on the ballot as well," Watson said. In addition, a new temporary disability absentee mail-in option was added this year by the state legislature. "There's one for temporary disability in current law. What the legislature said was that will include those who are ordered by a physician to quarantine due to COVID-19 or someone who's caring for someone who has been ordered to quarantine by a physician. So, those are the two exceptions that they added to absentee voting this year by mail. You can also absentee in person with those excuses as well," he said.
 
Lawsuit: Clarify Mississippi provision on COVID, absentee voting
The American Civil Liberties Union and Mississippi Center for Justice have filed a lawsuit asking a judge to clarify that voters concerned about COVID-19 can vote absentee for the November election. ACLU and MCJ filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Hinds County Chancery Court seeking to ensure that absentee voting is more accessible to Mississippians during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most states allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot. Mississippi, however, has long required voters to choose from a list of "excuses" to do so. One of the allowable reasons is for a "temporary or permanent physical disability." The Legislature recently amended the law to state that a "temporary physical disability" includes any voter who is "under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19 during the year 2020 or is caring for a dependent who is under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19." The lawsuit said there is no written definition of "physician-imposed quarantine," likewise no written definition of who qualifies as a "dependent."
 
Upcoming events could increase COVID-19 spread after summer surge
A confluence of potential events in the coming weeks and months could exacerbate the spread of coronavirus infections following the summer surge, public health experts warn. Some football programs might allow thousands of fans to attend games in massive stadiums. In Washington, D.C., people from across the country will likely attend a demonstration commemorating the original March on Washington and cap off a summer of protests for racial justice. And while the presidential nominating conventions will be mostly remote, many smaller political events are poised to occur and many people will likely be voting in person. America's leaders are pushing to get the country back to normal after months of lockdowns and economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But if all of those things happen at once, with many states unable to bring down COVID-19 infection rates to manageable levels, experts fear that the dire situation in the United States can only get worse. "This is not going to be a linear explosion of disease," said American Public Health Association Executive Director Georges Benjamin. "It will be exponential."
 
Gov. Tate Reeves: Mississippi can't afford jobless benefit supplement
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves says the state cannot afford $100 per recipient, per week, to bolster unemployment payments during the coronavirus pandemic. But, the Republican governor is praising President Donald Trump for proposing that states provide the money. The federal government's $600-a-week jobless benefit supplement recently expired. That prompted Trump on Saturday to bypass the nation's lawmakers and claim the authority to replace the expired benefit with a lower amount, with the federal government paying $300 a week and the states paying $100 a week. Critics question the validity of the order. Reeves said Monday that Mississippi had $706 million in its unemployment trust fund in early March. Last week, the fund had $489 million. That included $181 million that came from the federal government through a coronavirus relief act. Mississippi is currently spending about $22 million a week from its unemployment trust fund, and the Trump proposal would double the state's weekly expense, Reeves said.
 
End of an era? President Trump says he won't hold rallies with empty seats
The Trump rally may be a thing of the past. At the least, the signature stew of tribal politics, showmanship, insults, outrage, humor and hero worship that propelled Donald Trump's improbable victory four years ago and that has punctuated his presidency with the trappings of a perpetual campaign, is on a break. Trump appeared to declare the end of the rally era Tuesday. He said the events -- the success of which he has always measured by the size of the crowd and the "ratings" -- are a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. Or more exactly, of the dispiriting optics that proper social distancing would mandate. "You can't have empty seats," Trump said in an interview with Fox Sports Radio. "You know, if I had five empty seats -- for instance, they said, 'Would I do a rally, sir?' The reason I won't do them [is] because, 'You can have one seat and then seven around that seat, sir, have to be empty.' " "Oh, that'll look great," he added sarcastically. "You know, you have one person and everything's empty around them. You can't do that."
 
How Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris: Inside his search for a running mate
Gretchen Whitmer wanted out. The Michigan governor had caught the interest of Joe Biden and his vice presidential vetting committee, who were drawn to her prominence in a crucial battleground state and her aggressive response to the coronavirus outbreak there. But by late spring, the nation was in the midst of a reckoning over race and inequality following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. Whitmer sent word to Biden's team that while she was flattered, she no longer wanted to be considered for the running mate slot, according to a high-ranking Democrat familiar with the process. She recommended Biden pick a Black woman. But Biden still wanted Whitmer in the mix, and he personally called her in mid-June to ask if she would continue on to the second, more intensive round of vetting, according to the official. Whitmer agreed. But forces in the country, and within the Democratic Party, were indeed pushing Biden toward a history-making pick.
 
With VP Pick Kamala Harris, Joe Biden Gets a Digital Juggernaut
On Tuesday, following weeks of speculation, Joe Biden's campaign texted supporters to let them know that he'd selected Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. The news was hardly a surprise, but it marked an important moment in history: Harris is the first woman of color on a presidential ticket. But that isn't the only first of this election cycle. As the US continues to struggle to get the coronavirus under control and in-person events remain limited, this is also the first presidential campaign that will take place almost entirely online, making it all the more important that Biden's running mate bring with her a strong digital presence. By all accounts, Harris is well suited for the task. The Biden campaign already has its own fundraising and digital infrastructure in place, of course, but experts who spoke to WIRED suggested that Harris is a valuable addition. Much like everything else right now, the hallmark events of an election cycle -- like the conventions and debates -- will not look as expected. Harris will address the Democratic National Convention next week after a virtual delegate vote, and it seems likely that the October 7 vice presidential debate will take place without an in-person crowd.
 
Kamala Harris Has Battled For-Profit Colleges
While Senator Kamala Harris, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's choice for vice president, doesn't have an extensive record on higher education issues, she is known for having sued Corinthian Colleges while she was California's attorney general, accusing the for-profit chain of false and predatory advertising, intentionally making misrepresentations to students, securities fraud and unlawful use of military seals in advertisements. The 2014 lawsuit helped contribute to ECMC Group, a nonprofit organization, not including Corinthian's California properties when it purchased 56 campuses from the crumbling chain in 2014. And in 2016, Harris won a $1.1 billion federal court judgment from the now-bankrupt Corinthian. While that lawsuit was underway, she asked a federal court to prevent Corinthian from enrolling new students. As attorney general and a Democratic senator from California, Harris has pushed for debt cancellation for former Corinthian students. In April, she and 16 other Democratic senators urged congressional leaders not to allow for-profit colleges to receive coronavirus aid aimed for higher education.
 
Oxford Police Department welcomes back UM students
The Oxford Police Department welcomed back returning University of Mississippi students for the fall semester on Friday with a reminder of safety measures and warning to those violating social gathering order. OPD wants to remind students returning to school about the safety measures put in place by the City of Oxford. The City has implemented several safety measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic as part of their Serving Oxford Safely recovery plan. "We must all do our part to take care of our community," the press release said. OPD also wanted to remind students that they will be citing hosts of gatherings and parties that violate the social gathering order. "We want everyone to have a safe and enjoyable semester during these unique times," the release said. "If we all work together we can come out of this stronger for Oxford and the University of Mississippi."
 
JSU's William McHenry earns Presidential Award for Excellence for being major STEM mentor
The White House recently announced that Jackson State University's Dr. William E. McHenry, the executive director of the Mississippi e-Center Foundation, is among 11 individual honorees to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. McHenry, who leads the Mississippi e-Center@JSU, is the only recipient from Mississippi. He earned the recognition for influencing tens of thousands outside of the traditional classroom setting, thus preparing them to enter the future workforce in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. McHenry earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Southern Arkansas University and a doctorate in chemistry from Mississippi State University.
 
Pandemic creates new learning experience for JSU students
Jackson State University students are moving back onto campus at a time when COVID-19 concerns are seemingly at an all-time high. The pandemic has created a new type of learning experience for students and new concerns for parents. JSU students can attend class in person, virtually or a little of both. The dorms have check-in devices that students must use at least once a day. University officials admit it won't be easy to keep students apart. "I don't know. If I had the answer to that, it would be great, because they are teenagers," said Susan Powell, associate vice president of JSU student affairs. "We realize when they get on campus they will want to go and visit friends," Powell said. "We are going to stress that over and over again to take precautions and be safe." The first day of class is Monday.
 
Co-Lin to offer tuition-free Workforce Education through ReSkillMS
Copiah-Lincoln Community College Workforce Education will offer short-term training through the new ReSkillMS program which will be free of tuition fees until mid-December. While the training is free of charge, attendance will be required and a supply fee may apply, depending on the program. Gov. Tate Reeves recently announced the new program designed to help individuals who have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to find jobs and to support employers who want to hire and train new employees on the job. The state legislature appropriated $55 million for ReSkillMS from the $1.25 billion received in federal funds through the CARES Act. Areas of training include: Emergency Medical First Responder Certification, Welding, Certified Nurse Assistant Training, Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, Forklift Certification, Emergency Medical Technician, First Aid/CPR, Drone Operation, Entrepreneurial Business Certification, Google Classroom (Basic, Intermediate, Advanced), Basic Technology for Educators, Supervisor Training: Safely navigating social diversity caused by COVID-19 pandemic impacts, and Microsoft Applications for Educators.
 
AU move-in: Freshmen express confidence in Auburn's protocols
Auburn University's freshmen and their parents seem pretty laid back about the dangers of COVID-19 exposure, if Tuesday morning's move-in crowd is any indication. Most of them expressed confidence in Auburn's coronavirus protocols, including mask wearing, social distancing, medical check-ins, special quarantine dorms and the rest outlined in the university's A Healthier U plan. Housing officials report that, some nine days into the move-in process, most everyone has been wearing masks and sticking to the rules posted around campus. Freshman Alex Peck said his move-in was pretty smooth, despite the muggy conditions and sun pushing temperatures in the upper 80's by mid-morning. "I think, given the measures being taken by the university, I'm fine with it," said Peck, who made the trek down Interstate 85 from Atlanta with his dad Steve. Auburn housing staffers know they will deal with students who refuse to wear masks or respect the other protocols. They hope to be able to educate such students and get them to do what they reasonably can to check COVID-19 spread.
 
Is LSU ready to house 7,000 incoming students on campus? A former RA doesn't think so
As college students move into dorms for a fall semester starting next week for some, the week after for others, questions are being raised about whether the state's largest campus is ready to handle problems if their charges start testing positive for COVID-19. For most of the 7,000 or so incoming students at LSU, their first and most frequent point of contact for services will be fellow students hired as residential advisers, called RAs. Three of the roughly 250 RAs abruptly resigned in the past week largely because, said one who quit, LSU officials couldn't answer real-world questions about its extensive pandemic housing plan. "It seems like, so much, they're wandering through it as we go along and hoping everything will be OK," said McKay Stevens, a Lafayette senior who quit her RA job at the end of last week. LSU stands behind its plan but doesn't comment on personnel matters, so had nothing to say about the RAs quitting.
 
UGA faculty group considering voting no-confidence in University System chancellor, Regents
A University of Georgia faculty group may be heading toward a vote of no confidence in University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley and the state Board of Regents over reopening plans for the university. The Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Senate did not take a formal vote on the resolution in a Tuesday Zoom meeting, but a large majority of voting members Tuesday said they wanted to move toward a vote on a resolution in a meeting next week -- though it might differ from the original resolution. In a show of digital hands, 18 voted to go forward, and two voted against it. But it wasn't entirely clear how much support the vote of no confidence had, since nine senators didn't vote either way. The proposed resolution does not mention UGA President Jere Morehead because decisions about responses to the coronavirus pandemic are coming from the University System offices in Atlanta, not from individual college presidents. But some in the meeting thought Morehead should be named as well as Wrigley and the Regents.
 
Texas A&M students move into campus housing amid coronavirus precautions
Tuesday proved to be one of the busiest days in months on Texas A&M University's flagship campus as more than 760 freshmen began their journeys as part of the Corps of Cadets, while other students moved in to residence halls and scoped out classrooms and other on-campus resources -- all in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Memorial Student Center held a steady stream of traffic Tuesday afternoon. Michael Stephenson, an incoming freshman who will be part of the Corps, took a break inside the MSC with his parents, Heidi (A&M class of 1994) and retired Col. Brant Stephenson. The three wore masks as required on the A&M campus. "I think we're both excited and thankful that the university has decided to start," Heidi Stephenson said. "Especially for the freshmen who have never been on campus, it would be so difficult to start virtually -- so we're appreciative that the school is making great efforts to socially distance the kids and have as many classes in-person as possible." More than 11,000 Texas A&M students will live in Residence Life facilities; students living on campus are moving in by appointment only over an 11-day time frame.
 
Pandemic takes heavy toll on physics
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip the US, scientists are beginning to feel impacts that could reverberate for years to come. Surveys of the damage across research institutions estimate that the costs for this year alone will run well into the tens of billions of dollars. Research community leaders now have stepped up their appeals to Congress for relief funds that would help to restart labs, cover the costs of project delays, and stave off financial devastation for institutions with tenuous resources. Federal science agencies are also measuring the costs to their programs and considering how to prioritize funds should any relief money not fully cover losses. Speaking at a virtual workshop convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine last month, the president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Peter McPherson, projected its 246 members will face around $45 billion in lost revenue and additional expenses this year.
 
UNC-Chapel Hill launches fall in person despite coronavirus
Six masked students joined a masked professor this week in a small seminar room at Carroll Hall for the debut of a course on interactive media. Rolling chairs were set several feet apart in a floor plan specially marked to deter anyone who might feel the rule-breaking impulse to scoot around and sit next to a classmate. Thirteen more students, unmasked, were linked in simultaneously through cameras from elsewhere in the United States and as far away as Singapore and China. Their faces hovered in an array of Zoom boxes projected onto video screens. "This is a unique day," Steven King told his class Monday at the outset of a fall term unlike any other in the long history of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "We all know things are different." So different that the university must reckon with whether the mere act of holding classes such as this, part remote and part in person, will hasten the spread of the novel coronavirus. Alex Berenfeld, 20, a junior from Charlotte, said afterward she was elated to be back in Chapel Hill. "This is doable," she said. "I learned today." This is an early glimpse of what higher education looks like in Pandemic America at a prominent state university that insists on getting large numbers of students back to campus months after the coronavirus forced them to scatter.
 
U. of Maryland to start fall classes online, asks students to stay inside, citing covid-19
Three weeks before the fall semester starts at the University of Maryland, the school's president announced that classes would begin online. The state flagship school had planned to hold in-person classes in the fall. But Darryll J. Pines, the new president of U-Md., announced Monday that undergraduate classes would be held virtually until mid-September because of the prevalence of the coronavirus in Maryland and Prince George's County, where the College Park campus is located. The most recent seven-day positivity rate in the county is the highest in the state at 5.4 percent, Pines said in a message to the campus. The president asked that all students -- those living on and off campus -- stay in their homes as much as possible in early September. "It is our fervent hope and expectation that we will resume in-person and blended instruction on September 14," Pines wrote.
 
College students want in-person classes despite pandemic, poll finds
New polling data suggests American college students are more likely than the general public to believe universities should bring at least some students back to campus. The latest findings also show that people who saw their work disrupted by the pandemic are now more likely to want to enroll in education or training, though only half feel they can access the training they need. The polling is the latest Public Viewpoint study, which surveys a group of more than 1,000 respondents about their feelings on education, the pandemic and the workforce. The survey sample is nationally representative in terms of race, age, gender, educational attainment and nine geographic census regions. The surveys were given and released weekly from March 25 to May 29, and have since gone biweekly. In this week's data, college students were less likely than other respondents to say they thought universities should hold an online semester. Only 26 percent of college students said offering "only online classes" was the right way to go, while 40 percent of non-student respondents said they felt that way.
 
College towns fear super-spreader semester as students descend
Across the country, it's move-in season for colleges, and while universities are desperately trying to save their academic year and preserve the finances of struggling schools, local officials are bracing for a virus explosion among young people who live in tight quarters, don't follow social distancing rules and often behave as though they are young and invincible. Colleges and universities have long struggled to wrap their arms around the party culture off campus that has resulted in deaths from binge drinking, Greek life hazing and more. If getting students to abide by public health and safety rules when it comes to partying is difficult, getting them to abide by strict social distancing guidelines could prove to be an impossible challenge. Now, colleges and universities say they've got the partying issue figured out. Since the infamous spring breakers case, UT Austin banned parties altogether, for example. UGA is limiting gatherings, but will allow some, like fraternity and sorority rush activities, to go on virtually. Local politicians are left without many options.
 
Covid starting to decrease in Mississippi
Mississippi newspaper publisher and columnist Wyatt Emmerich writes: Good news! Mississippi COVID-19 cases (seven-day average) are down 30 percent from the July 26 peak. Deaths are down 17 percent from the August 5 peak. These numbers indicate a slight silver lining around the COVID dark cloud. The whole state is nervously waiting to see what happens when school starts back. It's a scary time. There is more good news. Before this latest state surge, COVID-19 deaths per case was five percent. More recently the deaths per case has been running at 2.5 percent. Within just a few months the COVID-19 case fatality rate has been cut in half. This is a great testament to the ability of our medical system to learn and improve rapidly. ... All of this gives me hope, but state epidemiologist Thomas Dobbs wasn't so upbeat during his Stennis Institute talk with journalists Monday.
 
Federal immigration enforcement efforts in state remain a whack-a-mole affair
Syndicated columnist Sid Salter writes: Whack-A-Mole was a popular arcade game back in the mid-1970s which required players to use a mallet to strike randomly appearing toy moles back into their holes. The game's heyday has come and gone, but the game's concept remains a part of the nation's lexicon in problem-solving. In no venture is a round of whack-a-mole more descriptive than in the nation's attempt to deal with the nuances of illegal immigration – as repeated efforts to resolve the problem are futile and produce new and varied reoccurrences. The politically correct who read this are likely to shriek that I'm comparing immigrants to "moles." No, not in the least. I'm comparing the federal government's effort to deal with the entire process of immigration enforcement as being like a kid at a carnival game flailing blindly. There are two primary truths on a constant collision course.


SPORTS
 
Gov. Tate Reeves: 'College football is essential'
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves described college football -- even amid the coronavirus pandemic -- as "essential" Tuesday, his comments echoing a tweet President Donald Trump posted the day before and coming on the same day his Republican counterpart in Florida also pushed for games to be held this fall. "What do opponents of football think, these kids will end up in a bubble without it? You can get COVID anywhere," Reeves tweeted Tuesday afternoon. "There are forces who want to cancel everything to avoid risk at all societal costs. It's foolish. We have to balance risk & costs." Two of college football's five power conferences, Big Ten and Pac-12, announced Tuesday that teams won't play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19. Reeves lamented that decision, saying that in Mississippi, officials have been working with big football schools including Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi to design a season that does not compromise the safety of players or fans.
 
Is college football 'essential?' Gov. Tate Reeves explains why he thinks the answer is yes
As conferences and schools around the country are making the tough decision to cancel and postpone the 2020 college football season, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves is labeling the season "essential." Reeves posted on Twitter Tuesday describing college football as "essential" and calling the push to cancel the 2020 season in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic "foolish." Reeves added in a follow-up tweet that he thinks the way to play college football this year is to mitigate risk by limiting crowd sizes and letting the players play. At his press briefing later Tuesday afternoon, Reeves further clarified his tweets. "I personally believe that we can play college football," Reeves said. "I don't believe we can do it in a stadium that has 100,000 people in it. That certainly doesn't make any sense. But we've been working with Mississippi State and Ole Miss and Southern Miss and some others looking for a potential agreement on what it would look like."
 
'College football is essential.' Gov. Reeves joins President Trump in voicing support for fall season
As the Big Ten and Pac-12 made the decision Tuesday to forego college football this fall due to COVID-19, the SEC and other conferences that have members in the South are still holding out hope to begin play in September. Count Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves among those politicians rallying to the cause of playing college football this fall. Prior to his Tuesday press conference, the first-term governor sent out a tweet questioning those who think playing football in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is a bad idea. Reeves and state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs have repeatedly said they can't foresee large crowds at high school or college games in the coming months, but the governor believes a cap on capacity in stadiums will allow games to be played at Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss. "I personally think we can play college football," Reeves said. "I don't think you can do it in a stadium of 100,000. We've been working with universities, looking at the potential of an agreement and what it would look like. There are no easy decisions at this point, but we're also not going to ever completely minimize the risk and mitigate the risk to zero."
 
East Mississippi Community College opts out of fall football season because of virus
East Mississippi Community College won't be playing football this fall, the school announced Tuesday afternoon. In the wake of the decisions made by the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences Tuesday to cancel fall sports, including football, EMCC issued a statement saying it had chosen not to participate in the sport during the fall semester. The Mississippi Association of Community Colleges is currently set to begin play Oct. 1 for a six-game regular season, and the Lions are the first team to opt out of fall competition. EMCC said it will honor scholarships for its student-athletes and that they will remain enrolled in classes and retain access to facilities and support services. The school acknowledged playing football in the spring remains uncertain should the MACC postpone its season by a semester. The National Junior College Athletic Association announced July 13 it would move the college football season to the spring, but the MACC held out for a fall season after shortening its slate from nine games to eight and then to six.
 
Big Ten, Pac-12 Postpone Football. Will the Rest Follow?
The Big Ten and Pac-12 Conferences voted on Tuesday to postpone college football and other fall sports because of the coronavirus pandemic, a move that could begin the final unraveling of a lucrative season that collegiate sports officials have labored for months to save. "As time progressed and after hours of discussion...it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall," said Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren in a statement. The Big Ten, founded in 1896, has never postponed or canceled an entire football season. Its schools have played through two world wars and the 1918 flu pandemic. Since early March, the Big Ten's Warren has insisted that the "health, safety and wellbeing of our student athletes is the first priority." His own son plays football at Mississippi State.
 
Top ACC Medical Advisor Says Football Can Be Played Safely
The ACC still is planning to play football in '20, and a Duke doctor who is advising the conference believes it can be done safely. Dr. Cameron Wolfe, a Duke infectious disease specialist who chairs the ACC's medical advisory team, confidently said he expects the conference to continue its steady march toward a football season. While the unpredictable coronavirus poses a risk, Wolfe said doctors have learned enough over the last six months to understand how to manage that risk. "We believe we can mitigate it down to a level that makes everyone safe," Wolfe told THE DAILY exclusively. "Can we safely have two teams meet on the field? I would say yes. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. But I do believe you can sufficiently mitigate the risk of bringing COVID onto the football field or into the training room at a level that's no different than living as a student on campus." Wolfe, as chair of the ACC's medical advisory team, has a pipeline to the conference's leadership of Commissioner John Swofford, university presidents and ADs. What they have heard him say is that "the virus isn't going away." Wolfe: "We have to co-exist with COVID."
 
Big Ten and Pac-12 postpone 2020 fall sports
Chaos, division and confusion about the fate of fall sports at the country's top college football programs this week culminated in two influential Division I conferences postponing fall athletics for the remainder of the year Tuesday, both citing uncertainty about the short- and long-term health complications that the coronavirus could have on college athletes. The Big Ten and Pac-12, which include powerhouse and profitable Division I football teams such as Ohio State and Pennsylvania State Universities and the Universities of Oregon and California, Berkeley, announced on Aug. 11 that fall sports competition will be on pause until at least 2021. The Pac-12 went one step further, barring all teams from competing until next year, which also means no basketball games, Larry Scott, the conference's commissioner, said during a live streamed news conference. Three remaining "Power Five" conferences, the Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Southeastern Conferences, as of Tuesday still plan to move forward with modified football schedules. The looming decision by officials in these leagues, and the Big Ten and Pac-12 choice to call off the football season, has become a battleground for COVID-19 politics, fueled by comments by President Trump and other politicians who encouraged college leaders to push forward.
 
SEC firm on stance, in no rush
All eyes in college football turned to the three remaining Power 5 conferences -- the SEC, Atlantic Coast and Big 12 conferences -- on Tuesday after the Big Ten and the Pac-12 announced they were calling off all fall sports due to the coronavirus pandemic. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, who has preached patience since the beginning of the crisis in mid-March, said his conference will not be rushed into making a decision on whether to play college football this fall. "I look forward to learning more about the factors that led the Big Ten and Pac-12 leadership to take these actions today," Sankey said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "I remain comfortable with the thorough and deliberate approach that the SEC and our 14 members are taking to support a healthy environment for our student-athletes. "We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around covid-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day." Sankey was interviewed Tuesday on "Good Morning America" by host T.J. Holmes, a West Memphis native and University of Arkansas graduate.
 
How might the Big Ten and Pac-12's decisions to postpone football affect the SEC?
The first major college football conferences fell to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, when the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced they won't play their seasons in the fall after days of speculation. The outcome veered toward that monumental ending a day after multiple reports of the cancellation emerged, even after large groups of coaches and players joined a national outcry under the "We Want To Play Movement" in an attempt to continue playing football in the fall. Commissioner Greg Sankey said Tuesday morning on the Dan Patrick Show that the league wouldn't be guided by another conference's decision -- a point he echoed in a statement released after the Big Ten and Pac-12 news broke. That doesn't necessarily mean the SEC would be comfortable being the only conference playing college football, if either or both of the two other Power Five leagues, the Atlantic Coast and Big 12, decide to cancel. "I don't think that's the right direction, really," Sankey said on Patrick's show. "Could we? Certainly... I'm not sure that's the wisest direction."
 
Big 12 keeps plans for fall kickoff, saves college football for now
Here's to the Big 12. *beer mugs clank* Thank you for saving college football. Let me rephrase: Thank you for saving college football, for now. The Big 12's decision Tuesday night to trudge onward with a 2020 fall football season has kept alive the hope, maybe faint, that there will be college pigskin action in autumn. Hours after the Big Ten and Pac-12 called it quits, the Big 12, with a chance to shut down and bring maybe all of college football with it, stood firm. The league's top decision-makers were determined to continue marching toward a September kickoff. A group split and on the fence entering the day, Big 12 leaders settled on the side of their neighbors to the east and southeast, ACC and SEC, instead of the ones to their north and west. For now, the Big 12 saved the sport, slowing a domino effect that could have further crippled the industry.
 
Spring college football: When? How much? Who plays?
Back in April, not long after the pandemic canceled the NCAA basketball tournament, the idea of moving the 2020 college football to the spring of 2021 was already being tossed around. A last resort is what it was called by conference commissioners and athletic directors. When it looked as if the U.S. might be winning its fight against COVID-19, the idea of a spring season mostly fell by the wayside. "We broached it very little in our AD meetings and really haven't gotten serious about it at all," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said Tuesday. "I had one AD from another league call and just talk about it a little bit." Time to start talking about it a lot. The Big Ten and Pac-12 postponed fall football Tuesday, hoping to salvage a spring season like the Mid-American Conference and Mountain West plan to do. What that looks like is anybody's guess.



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