A1 A1
State to ban fake urine

New laws beginning July 1 will make it harder to buy fake urine and easier to buy alcohol.

These two bills highlight a slate of measures recently approved by Gov. Tate Reeves.

Senate Bill 2569 will set penalties for selling, marketing or giving away real human urine or fake urine to try to produce clean results on drug tests.

Lawmakers have been working to get such a law passed for several years.

In 2018 and 2019, Rep. Nick Bain of Corinth co-authored the “urine trouble” bill to ban synthetic human urine.

“It’s crazy that such an item can be purchased,” he said two years ago.

During this session, he supported the bill that the governor signed.

According to Bain, a local attorney, fake urine products are sold mainly in truck stops for around $18 for a vial of liquid.

“It contains many of the same chemicals found in human urine and is packaged with instructions on how the user can keep it at body temperature,” Bain said.

Several states, including Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Oklahoma, have already banned synthetic urine.

The new law says punishment for a first offense is a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. For a second offense, it is a $2,000 fine and up to a year in jail. A third or subsequent offense is punishable by up to $5,000 and three years in prison.

House Bill 1135 will make home delivery of alcohol legal in Mississippi.

Starting this summer, the state will allow home delivery of liquor, beer, wine or light spirits from local package stores or retailers.

Buyers will have to prove they are at least 21, delivery people will have to be at least that old and deliveries cannot be made to any person who “appears intoxicated.” Deliveries also cannot be made to dry counties or cities.

The bill specifies that deliveries may only be made within 30 miles of the store selling the alcohol, so Mississippi residents still will not be able to receive bottles from out-of-state wine clubs.

top story
Aggies in Vegas!
KHS Senior Showcase set for weekend

The Kossuth senior class of 2021 wanted to do something different for their annual talent show.

From a brainstorming session of fresh ideas came “What Happens in Vegas” – the theme of this weekend’s Senior Showcase set for nightly performances at the Corinth Coliseum on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.

Kossuth High School educator Angi Wilhite took the show director position this year at the request of her graduating son and class president, Wyatt.

“We started working on this year’s Senior Showcase before Christmas. I wanted to use something that had a storyline from start to finish,” Wilhite told the Daily Corinthian. “Our opening song is ‘Waking Up In Vegas’ by Katy Perry, a favorite of the kids. From there the entire show has a Vegas theme.”

Wilhite said 51 seniors are participating in the show featuring an array of skits including Family Feud, national finals rodeo, wedding crashers, old Vegas street performers, comedy club and drag queens. The song “Burlesque” by Christina Aguilera is another song featured in the show.

According to Wilhite, this year is more special because of the pandemic.

“We didn’t get to have a Senior Showcase last year, so we were really excited that we could have it this year,” she said. “This is one of the most memorable experiences for seniors and the time they spend together laughing and having fun during practices are unforgettable.”

Tickets are still available for all three performances however, Wilhite said seating for the Saturday night show is limited.

Tickets are $12 each can be purchased at the door or online by using the password AggiesInVegas! at khsseniorshowcase.com.

No COVID-19 restrictions will be in place at the performances said Wilhite.

Free summer classes provide do-over for students

When COVID-19 hit Mississippi last spring, students at Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville flooded Michelle Baragona’s office to withdraw from their classes.

They cited similar reasons, said Baragona, the college’s vice president of instruction. Their parents were laid off, so they needed to work. They no longer felt safe attending class in-person.

As the year wore on, withdrawal requests kept coming in as students struggled to overcome pandemic-related academic challenges. In the fall semester, Baragona said one student requested to withdraw because his grades had suffered after he was exposed to COVID and quarantined four times.

In a bid to get these students back, several community colleges across the state are doing something they’ve never done before: making summer classes free.

The colleges are paying for the free summer classes with money from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), the portion of the federal stimulus package that’s set aside for colleges and universities.

Nearly $150 million in HEERF funding has poured into the coffers of Mississippi colleges and universities since last March. At least half of the funds must be spent on emergency financial aid grants for students. The rest is meant to cover institutional expenses related to the pandemic, like upgrading computers for distance learning or purchasing hand sanitizer stations and masks.

So far, three community colleges are using HEERF funds to cover summer tuition and some other expenses for students: East Mississippi Community College (EMCC), Northeast Mississippi Community College (NEMCC) and Hinds Community College.

Baragona hopes the free classes will provide a do-over to the students who left the college due to COVID-19. So far, that appears to be happening. NEMCC has seen 957 students register for summer classes since it opened enrollment on April 1 – about 200 more than they’d normally expect this time of year, Baragona said.

EMCC also saw its enrollment tumble after COVID-19 hit. Last fall, the college’s executive cabinet used some of its HEERF funds to try and fortify its three campuses against the virus, investing heavily in sanitation supplies, masks, plastic dividers and hands-free door handles. The executive cabinet hoped these safety measures would bring students back to campus, but enrollment “did not rebound as much as we had hoped,” said Julia Morrison, EMCC’s director of external relations.

Morrison and other EMCC cabinet members looked for other ways stimulus funding could be used to increase enrollment and eventually settled on offering free classes.

“Historically, community college students are facing some financial barriers, and that has all been heightened by the pandemic,” Morrison said. “We wanted to craft an initiative that helps students where they’re at.”

The increased financial aid is also removing barriers that existed for some before the pandemic. Candace Bradley, a single mother, dropped out of community college in 2015 because she didn’t have enough time or money to be a full-time student and provide for her son.

Bradley has wanted to finish earning her associate’s degree ever since, but going back to school meant taking out loans. Bradley had already paid off the student debt from her first go at college, but the process was so stressful that she wasn’t willing to put herself in debt again.

The combined boons of the direct payments from the stimulus bills and the HEERF financial aid have changed that. She’s applied for admission at Hinds and plans to register for the maximum 12 credit hours of HEERF covered courses to get the most bang for her buck.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” Bradley said. “Something like this just doesn’t happen for people like me.”

Registration is still open at NEMCC and EMCC; neither schools are limiting the number of students they accept this summer term. Cathy Hayden, the director of publications and media liaison at Hinds, said the college has signed up “all the students we want right now” after opening summer registration on April 12.

At EMCC, Morrison is looking forward to seeing students back on campus. Teachers have reported being stopped at church or in meetings by community members asking about classes. The excitement around free classes has created “a new energy” after a traumatic year, she said.

“It almost feels a little bit like a rebirth,” Morrison said.

County records another COVID death

After holding at 63 deaths through most of March, Alcorn County has recorded another five COVID-19 deaths during April.

The Mississippi State Department of Health added another to the count on Wednesday. The death occurred between Friday and Tuesday.

In a talk with reporters Wednesday afternoon, State Epidemiologist Paul Byers said he is keeping a close eye on some recent uptick in the number of cases across the state.

“Although we have been in declines in our case numbers for a number of weeks, we are starting to see minimal increases,” he said.

The seven-day average for the state is up to about 240, rising slightly from earlier in the month. On Wednesday, the state reported 334 new cases with five new fatalities. Magnolia Regional Health Center reported five patients hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning. The number has been as low as two in the past week.

Deaths, meanwhile, continue a downward trend for the state as a whole.

“If you look at the deaths that we have reported over the last two weeks that actually occurred in that two-week time frame, none of those individuals were completely vaccinated,” said Byers.

It was vaccine developments that prompted Wednesday’s press conference, with the Mississippi State Department of Health having given the signal the prior evening to resume use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the state. Mississippi’s resumption followed by a few days the CDC’s clearance.

State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said there are about 40,000 doses of the one-shot vaccine currently available in the state. It has been a minor player thus far with only about 90,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine received in Mississippi.

MSDH issued guidance to clinics and doctors who have the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to make sure patients are counseled on the risk associated with it, especially if they are female and under the age of 50; to advise patients of the Pfizer and Moderna options; and to give patients the fact sheet on the risks.

The probability of the clotting side effect now stands at about 1.9 per million. To put that in context, Dobbs said, the risk of death from COVID-19 in the 25 to 39 age group is 1.9 per 1,000.

MSDH is making a push to reach home-bound people with vaccines through partnerships with other agencies, such as county emergency management agencies, or through visits from MSDH personnel. To request a shot for a homebound individual, send an email to covidhomebound@msdh.ms.gov.

“We’ll make sure they are connected with the resource or we’ll do it ourself,” said Dobbs. “We will get to every homebound person that wants to be vaccinated.”

AP analysis: The expected COVID baby boom may be a baby bust

NEW YORK — When most of the U.S. went into lockdown over a year ago, some speculated that confining couples to their homes – with little to entertain them beyond Netflix – would lead to a lot of baby-making. But the statistics suggest the opposite happened.

Births have fallen dramatically in many states during the coronavirus outbreak, according to an Associated Press analysis of preliminary data from half the country.

The COVID-19 baby boom appears to be a baby bust.

Nationally, even before the epidemic, the number of babies born in the U.S. was falling, dropping by less than 1 percent a year over the past decade as many women postponed motherhood and had smaller families.

But data from 25 states suggests a much steeper decline in 2020 and into 2021, as the virus upended society and killed over a half-million Americans.

Births for all of 2020 were down 4.3 percent from 2019, the data indicates. More tellingly, births in December 2020 and in January and February 2021 – nine months or more after the spring 2020 lockdowns – were down 6.5 percent, 9.3 percent and 10 percent respectively, compared with the same months a year earlier.

December, January and February together had about 41,000 fewer births than the same three-month span a year earlier. That’s an 8 percent decline.

“When there’s a crisis, I don’t think people are thinking about reproduction,” said Dr. John Santelli, a Columbia University professor of population and family health who reviewed the AP’s analysis.

The analysis included 24 states that provided data on births to residents. Joining them in the analysis was California, the most populous state, which provided data on all births that happened in the state, including among visitors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to provide a national picture later this year. But the data for the 25 states is not expected to change substantially; preliminary birth numbers usually end up being pretty close to the final counts, experts say.

The AP’s findings echo projections by researchers at the Brookings Institution and elsewhere, who have predicted a sizable drop in births this year.

“The widespread consensus is there is going to be a decline,” said Hans-Peter Kohler, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who focuses on fertility and health.

It didn’t look that way to some around March 2020, when much of America was cooped up inside. Some figured that couples had more time together and that some men and women might find it harder to run out and get birth control, leading to at least a small uptick in births.

For Bryan and Katie Basamanowicz, it was more complicated than that.

The couple had planned to try to have a baby last summer to provide their son, Simon, with a younger sibling, but then came COVID-19 and the lockdown.

For a time “it was so intense and scary” that the couple thought they would have to put off trying to conceive, said Bryan, 39, a managing editor at a small publishing house who lives in Ventura, California.

But then a lull occurred in the early summer, as the first wave of COVID-19 illnesses waned and lockdowns were eased. The couple decided to try after all. Then cases started surging again.

“We decided: ‘Let’s put this on hold,’” said Katie, a 32-year-old teacher. But it turned out to be too late: A pregnancy test came back positive in early July. “We were already pregnant,” she said.

Fritz Basamanowicz was born last month, on March 6. The pregnancy was a worry-filled experience because expectant mothers run a greater risk of severe illness from the virus.

“I’m very thankful that we made it through,” Katie said.

New York, the deadly epicenter of the U.S. outbreak in the spring of 2020, was not part of the analysis. Its Health Department said the figures were not available.

A majority of the babies born in 2020 were, of course, conceived in 2019, before the virus took hold in the U.S., so the numbers partly reflect the pre-existing downward trend.

But births in December 2020 declined in 23 of the 25 states from the same month a year earlier, the exceptions being Alaska and Wyoming. They dropped about 11 percent in Massachusetts and Virginia; 10 percent in California; and 7 percent in Florida, Illinois, Indiana and Nevada.

Declines were even more dramatic in January 2021 in many of the 25 states.

Still, Emily Newell, 31, who lives in Portland, Maine, with her husband, Ben Keller, said she witnessed the opposite phenomenon during the outbreak: “We know so many people who decided to have kids.”

The couple married in January 2020 and were eventually forced to work from home. They saw a certain appeal in going through a pregnancy with both partners at home, said Newell, a 31-year-old assistant professor of sports management at the University of Southern Maine.

“It gives us a little more flexibility in terms of care” for the baby, she said.

Their son, Manuel, was born two months ago.