A1 A1
County launches litter removal effort

It’s a sight that has been absent for some time: Inmates on the roadside picking up trash.

It is back now with a new program in Alcorn County putting state inmates on the county roads to remove trash. While past programs for litter pickup have gone away for various reasons, the problem of litter has been an increasing concern for the county.

“We’re going to try to have six to eight inmates out there every day,” Sheriff Ben Caldwell told the Board of Supervisors during Monday’s meeting.

The county is currently working four inmates on the litter detail and has requested more from the state.

The effort started recently on Salem Road and County Road 405 and will be moving through the county. The sheriff asked the supervisors to report any hotspots where extra attention may be needed.

Thus far, the cleanup has been well received. Some residents who are happy to see the beautification effort have offered water and food to the inmates, he said.

“I think it’s going to help,” said Caldwell, although, “it’s not going to stop people from throwing out litter.”

Supervisor Jimmy Tate Waldon said it seems to be a generational issue, and he would like to see an educational program targeting the litter problem.

The board approved moving an employee from inmate transport/correctional officer to trash removal supervisor.

In other business:

Magnolia Regional Health Center CFO Mark Nakagawa reported on the hospital’s latest audit. The pandemic resulted in lower volumes and revenue during the past year, and ERs across the country continue to see patient volume down 20 to 30 percent, he said.

The board approved the hiring of Brandon Weber as a full-time deputy and Patricia Pierce, who recently retired, as part-time circuit court bailiff.

Supervisors approved moving the correctional facility’s meal service from Summit Food Services to Trinity Services Group. The county will save a few cents per meal but is mainly seeking more responsive customer service.

The board accepted Trustmark’s financing bid of 1.05 percent on a $500,000 note.

Airport Manager Donna Sowers discussed a $9,000 grant coming to the facility for coronavirus relief.

The three-year-old golden egg winner was a happy hunter at Crossroads Regional Park on Saturday. Hundreds of young egg hunters gathered at the park for the return of the annual community egg hunt and searched for the more than 3,500 eggs hidden on the grounds. More than 198 prizes were handed out, as well as candy, taffy and toys for all.

Hundreds attend egg hunt

Program offers boost for parents in need of child care

Eleven years, four kids, two degrees.

That’s how long Keronique Davis of Robinsonville has been taking classes at Coahoma Community College, how many children she has and the number of degrees she’ll be graduating with in May.

“I’ve had so many jobs – I can’t even count on my fingers how many jobs I’ve had to leave because I didn’t have a babysitter, or I had a babysitter but something happened,” she said, describing how her daughter began having seizures at four months old.

But she kept coming back to school, and she now works in customer support for Verizon.

She said she was able to juggle it all with the help of the Child Care Payment Program, part of the federal Child Care Development Block Grant. The program defrays the cost of private child care tuition for families that earn 85 percent of the state median income and meet certain work requirements. Families who receive the voucher pay a co-payment based on income.

According to current data, 98 percent of those served by the program are single parents.

But until now, many more people qualify for the program in Mississippi than there have been funds to cover. But the two latest federal COVID-19 stimulus packages include a big boost for the program and will result in nearly $330 million flowing to Mississippi to give more families access to assistance.

Carol Burnett, executive director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, said this will increase the number of eligible families in the state.

Once the money flows in and gets used, the result is going to be “a lot more moms are going to be able to go to work,” said Burnett.

“There has been a need for this funding even before the pandemic,” she continued, though the pandemic has “really worsened that situation.”

Child care providers have closed and lost significant amounts of revenue after having to reduce their capacity to abide by social distancing guidelines, purchase more cleaning equipment and hire additional staff. The stimulus package also included a portion of funding going directly to child care centers to offset the negative impact.

“The need is so great. The benefit of getting help paying the costs of child care is humongous for a single mom,” said Burnett. “It makes a huge difference to her.”

It made a difference for Davis, who said it was a challenge juggling work, school and her children. Her current job allows her to work from home, but dealing with customers on the phone with four children in the background was impossible.

“Now that the day care is back up and running, I can send them to day care and be able to work, then get them when I get off at 5 o’clock,” she said.

The program covers care during the day for young children, in addition to after school and summer care for school-age students up to 12 years old. It also allows parents to choose their providers so they can select one with the hours and services they need.

And the funds are particularly impactful in Mississippi, the state with both the highest child poverty rate and a high percentage of women who work in low-wage jobs. Twenty-two percent of women work in low-paid jobs, according to the National Women’s Law Center, which categorizes low-paid jobs by looking at the 40 lowest paying jobs as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The funds must be obligated by 2023 at the latest and spent by 2024.

Parents eligible for the program can apply for assistance at mdhs.ms.gov.

Sentences given in circuit court

Numerous defendants recently entered pleas in Alcorn County Circuit Court.

Additional sentences handed down during the term, according to court records, include:

Jonathan Blankenship, 33, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon – Ten years to serve in custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and a $500 fine. In a separate indictment for jail escape, he received a suspended five-year sentence with four years of probation and a $500 fine.

Johnny Franks Sr., 51, burglary of a building – Suspended seven-year sentence with a $1,000 fine. He also pleaded guilty to burglary of a dwelling and received five years in the house arrest program in lieu of a 25-year sentence in MDOC custody. The sentence includes five years of probation and a $1,000 fine.

Sheena Jo Campbell, 36, child endangerment – Suspended five-year sentence and a $1,000 fine. She also pleaded guilty to a separate three-count indictment for child endangerment with a child testing positive for a controlled substance and received a net sentence of one year in the house arrest program with five years of probation and a $1,000 fine.

Charles Bradley Bonee, 44, possession of a weapon by a felon – Two years in the house arrest program in lieu of 10 years in MDOC custody with five years of probation and a $1,000 fine. He also pleaded guilty to a count of felony fleeing and received a suspended five-year sentence.

Megan Rhodes, 29, possession of methamphetamine – Five years in the house arrest program in lieu of 20 years in MDOC custody with five years of probation and a $1,000 fine. She also pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine and received a suspended eight-year sentence and $1,000 fine.

Addison Spencer, 20, grand larceny – Spencer pleaded guilty to a criminal information and received a suspended 10-year sentence with five years of probation and a $500 fine. The sentence includes restitution of $550. Spencer also pleaded guilty to a criminal information for possession of methamphetamine and received a suspended three-year sentence and $500 fine.

Jason Wesley Dummitt, 40, burglary of a building – Suspended seven-year sentence with five years of probation and a $1,000 fine. Dummitt entered an open plea.

James Whitten, 40, burglary of a building – Suspended seven-year sentence with five years of probation and a $1,000 fine

European countries scramble to tamp down latest virus surge

BOCHNIA, Poland — European countries scrambled Monday to tamp down a surge in COVID-19 cases and ramp up vaccinations, hoping to spare hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by the pandemic’s latest deadly wave of infections.

The crush of coronavirus patients has been relentless for hospitals in Poland, where daily new infections hit records of over 35,000 on two recent days and the government ordered new restrictions to prevent large gatherings over the long Easter weekend. France’s health minister warned that the number of intensive care unit patients could match levels from a year ago.

But in a sign of the disparities from one country to the next, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that barbers, gyms and outdoor bar and restaurant patios would be able to open next week after the country reported progress with vaccines and its recent lockdown. Meanwhile, the U.S. vaccination campaign kept accelerating, with 40 percent of the nation’s adult population receiving at least one dose.

On Sunday, coronavirus patients filled almost all of the 120 beds at the County Hospital of Bochnia, 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of the southern city of Krakow. One patient, 82-year-old Edward Szumanski, voiced concern that some people still refuse to see the virus that has killed over 2.8 million people worldwide as a threat. About 55,000 of those deaths have occurred in Poland.

“The disease is certainly there, and it is very serious. Those who have not been through it, those who do not have it in their family, may be deluding themselves, but the reality is different,” he said.

The more contagious and more aggressive virus variant identified in Britain is fueling much of the increase in Europe. Meanwhile, voters in many countries are angry at the European Union’s strategy but also at their own governments’ handling of the pandemic and the failure to prevent repeated spikes in infections.

France’s health minister, Olivier Veran, warned Monday that the number of COVID-19 patients in the country’s intensive care units might match the level of the first crisis a year ago. Speaking on TF1 television, he said the country could approach the ICU saturation levels of April 2020, when French ICUs held more than 7,000 virus patients, many of whom were in temporary facilities because demand far outstripped the country’s pre-pandemic ICU capacity.

Veran expressed hope that France’s new infections could peak this week thanks to new partial lockdown measures. After long resisting calls for a new lockdown, the French government closed schools and shuttered all non-essential stores nationwide and imposed travel restrictions for four weeks.

“We will manage,” Veran said.

The British government announced Monday that all adults and children will be able to have routine coronavirus tests twice a week as a way to stamp out new outbreaks. The tests are being introduced as Johnson announces the next steps in the country’s road map out of its three-month lockdown.

Britain has recorded almost 127,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe. But both infections and deaths have fallen sharply during the lockdown and since the start of a vaccination campaign that so far has given a first dose to more than 31 million people, or 6 in 10 adults.

Authorities in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, introduced tighter lockdown restrictions following a recent spike in virus cases. All schools in the city of 3 million people will be closed for the next two weeks, and only people with special passes will be allowed on public transport.

“The hospitals are almost full. The situation is difficult,” Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.

Elsewhere, North Macedonia has delayed mass immunization amid vaccine shortages as its hospitals fill up following record new COVID-19 infections and deaths last week.

In Greece, which is struggling to emerge from a deep recession, most retail stores were allowed to reopen Monday despite an ongoing surge in COVID-19 infections. Lockdown measures have been in force since early November, although shops opened briefly around the Christmas season. The prolonged closures piled pressure on the economy.

Serbia also has eased measures against the coronavirus despite high numbers of infections and a slowdown in vaccinations. The government on Monday allowed bars and restaurants to serve guests outside at reduced capacity and with respect of social distancing rules.

In the U.S., a top public health official said young people are driving the latest uptick in COVID-19 cases, as the increasing rate of vaccination in older Americans prevents the most serious cases among seniors.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cited the increasing spread of variants as well as a rise in youth sports and extracurricular activities as factors contributing to the steady increase in cases over the last four weeks.

But Walensky pointed to positive developments among seniors, who are the most vulnerable age group. Senior virus deaths have fallen to their lowest level since the early fall. More than 75 percent of those age 65 or older nationally have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 55 percent are fully vaccinated.

“What we’re seeing is both a decrease in emergency department visits as well as hospitalizations associated with that demographic,” she said Monday.

More than 23 percent of all adults in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

Many states are making vaccines available to younger demographics. Starting Monday, any adult in Florida is eligible to receive the vaccine. In addition, the state announced that 16- and 17-year-olds also could get the vaccine with parental permission.