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Getting high-speed internet to Mississippi’s rural areas becomes a little more real

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The cost of running new lines for broadband service can be prohibitive for electric cooperatives.

For many of us, having access to reliable, fast internet service is critical for our homes and businesses. For those in Mississippi’s urban areas—areas that encompass most of the state—getting that service is far from reality.

Now, a new consortium of companies has announced its intention to solve the rural “digital divide” in the state.

When it comes to having broadband service in rural Mississippi, the Magnolia state is close to the bottom among all states, at no. 46. Implementing rural broadband services in the state has been a long time coming, though, and it will likely be some time to come.

During the last legislative session, lawmakers signed the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act to allow the state’s electric cooperatives to offer high-speed internet to their rural customers. But build out remains complicated and difficult.

When Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn investigated the rural broadband issue last year, he learned that a big issue for any utility company, regardless of the service offered, is the cost of running new lines.

Gunn illustrated the problem to an audience at last April’s Stennis Institute luncheon reported the Jackson Free Press.

“An employee told me he was assigned a task by a boss one day to figure out how much it was going to cost to provide service to six houses down the road,” Gunn said.

The employee came back to the boss with two proposals: Pay $300,000 to run the lines to the sparsely populated country area, equal to $50,000 a house, or pay $200,000 to move the houses to town.

“It was cheaper to move the houses to the service than to take the service to the houses,” Gunn said.

Yesterday, July 17, Ridgeland, Miss., based wireless phone provider C Spire, in partnership with Microsoft and other wireless equipment providers, announced it has taken up the gauntlet to bridge the daunting rural “digital divide.” The consortium of companies launched a website and published a white paper “ to tackle “the rural broadband access problem” and continue “research and development of several potentially disruptive service solutions,” C Spire said in a statement.

“Mississippi, with almost 28 percent of its residents lacking any broadband connectivity and less than 18 percent using broadband, is the primary focus of the group’s work as nearly half of its 3 million residents live in rural areas. The state ranks 46th nationwide in broadband access and 47th in urban population.”

Having fast and reliable internet service impacts the state’s economic wellbeing, C Spire indicated.

“A 2017 Mississippi State University Center for Technology Outreach study found that the state’s rural counties lose millions of dollars a year in deferred economic benefits due to lack of availability and slow internet speeds, a further indication that findings from the consortium research and testing could have a profound impact on the state’s economy,” the company said.

The reasons for and benefits of rural broadband outlined in the C Spire’s whitepaper include:

  • Internet usage is common at college and even K-12 education is increasingly online. An understanding of computers and the internet as well as coding are fundamental and should be required for students to learn before graduating high school.
  • As people enter the workforce, even non-technical jobs require internet access and a certain level of fluency. And searching for a job increasingly occurs online, with some companies requiring applicants to take tests online.
  • Local businesses that don’t have an online presence lose business. Amazon has made online shopping easy, and other businesses need to offer that option to remain competitive.
  • In rural areas, clinics and hospitals can be an hour or more away, and primary care doctors and specialists may be many hours away, which may prevent rural residents from seeking treatment when they should. Broadband can support telehealth initiatives to address this issue.
  • Precision agriculture can reduce costs and maximize yields but requires internet connectivity.

“Our work is focused on developing technology solutions that can be easily, quickly and affordably implemented to scale to boost broadband adoption and affordability in several rural areas of Mississippi with few choices or no options,” C Spire Chief Innovation Officer Craig Sparks said in the statement. “No rural community should be left behind in today’s new digital economy.”

To learn more about the consortium’s work and access the white paper, go to www.cspire.com/rural-broadband-consortium

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COVID-19

Warren County reports 35 new COVID-19 cases Saturday; Mississippi reports 1,942

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New COVID-19 cases continued in double digits Saturday in Warren County with 35 cases reported.

Mississippi is reporting the 11th consecutive day of reporting more than 1,000 new cases per day, with three days of reporting more than 2,000 new cases. The state’s seven-day average of new cases is now over 1,900 per day, with 13,518 new cases reported in the last week. The highest seven-day average in July was around 1,360 for the week ending July 30.

Hospitalizations are nearing the July high of around 1,250. Unlike the July surge, however, more patients are hospitalized with confirmed cases than ever before in the state.

Nationally, the cumulative cases in the U.S. have soared to over 14.5 million. At least 2,637 people died of the virus Friday and 229,077 new cases were reported. While some progress in lowering case numbers has been seen in the Midwest recently, slowing the rate of increase across the nation, cases continue to surge almost everywhere else in the country. As expected, however, the rate of deaths continues to increase steeply, with a 42% increase just in the past two weeks. The number of people hospitalized across the nation now exceeds 101,000.

In Warren County, MSDH reported 35 new COVID-19 cases Saturday and no new deaths. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,930, and the county’s death toll is 59. The seven-day average of new cases in the county has risen to 23.1, more than four times higher than in early November when the average was about five cases per day.

Statewide, MSDH reported 1,942 new COVID-19 cases Saturday, bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 163,458. The seven-day average of new cases is 1,931.1 per day, about 1,174 cases higher than the seven-day average a month ago, when the state’s numbers were already on the rise. The current averages exceed the numbers seen at the height of the last surge in July.

At the beginning of the crises, the age group with the most COVID-19 cases were those over 65. Now, most new cases are seen in younger people who are more likely to survive the virus than those 65 and older. In September, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi were 18 to 24 years old. That has shifted to a slightly older group. In November, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi are from 25 to 39 years old followed by those 50 to 64 years old.

MSDH reported Saturday that 33 more Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,949. The state’s rate of deaths to confirmed cases is about 2.5%. This rate has dropped as the number of cases are going up faster than the number of deaths at this time.

Deaths are a lagging indicator. While July saw the highest number of new cases since the crisis began, August saw the highest number of deaths. The highest number of deaths in any one day in Mississippi was 67 reported Aug. 25.

Of the 33 deaths MSDH reported Saturday, 24 occurred between Nov. 28 and Dec. 4 in the following counties:

County Deaths reported Saturday
Alcorn 2
Attala 1
Coahoma 2
Covington 2
Desoto 1
Forrest 2
Hinds 1
Lauderdale 1
Leflore 1
Madison 1
Marion 2
Panola 1
Pearl River 1
Pontotoc 1
Rankin 1
Winston 3
Yalobusha 1

An additional nine COVID-19 related deaths occurred between Oct. 22 and Nov. 25 and were identified from death certificate reports.

County Deaths identified from death certificate reports
Calhoun 1
Chickasaw 1
Clarke 1
Desoto 1
Hancock 1
Harrison 1
Jones 1
Lafayette 1
Tishomingo 1

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4. MSDH usually reports statistics on the COVID-19 coronavirus each day based on the previous day’s testing and death reports.

The primary metric concerning state health officials are the numbers of people hospitalized, and that number rose steadily with the rise of new cases in July and August. On June 6, the number of Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 was at 358. Hospitalizations tripled by late July.

Hospitalizations then steadily dropped through Oct. 3 when they began rising again along with increased cases. The last week in October, hospitalizations began levelling off; however, since Nov. 4 hospitals have seen a steady rise in COVID-19 patients once again.

The number of Mississippians hospitalized for the virus as of 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, was 1,188, 99% of the late July peak of about 1,200. The number includes 1,068 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 120 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 276 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 156 were on ventilators.

Source: MSDH

MSDH has estimated the number of people who can be presumed recovered from COVID-19 in Mississippi. That number is 128,746 through Sunday, Nov. 29. It represents about 78.8% of the cumulative 163,458 cases reported as of Saturday, Dec. 5.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Saturday, Nov. 14, was 1,649, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,590, or about 82.4% of the 1,930 cumulative cases reported as of Saturday, Dec. 5. The county has an estimated 281 active cases.

These estimates are based on MSDH’s guidelines for calculating estimated recoveries when hospitalizations are not known, using the number of cases 21 days ago, less known outcomes (deaths).

The total number of Mississippians tested for COVID-19 (PCR and antigen tests identifying current infections) as of Saturday, Nov. 28, is 1,315,279 or about 44.2% of the state’s 2.976 million residents. MSDH reports statewide test results once a week. Without daily updated numbers of tests, it is impossible to accurately calculate Mississippi’s positivity rate (positive results to tests, seven-day average); however, the estimated rate was 27.2% Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The national rate is 10.3%, and 5% or lower indicates adequate testing.

The total number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities is 200 Saturday, an increase of six since Friday. About 37.5%, or 1,482, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities. The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in LTC facilities is 8,015, less than 5% of the state’s total cases.

A total of 27 deaths in Warren County were residents of LTC facilities.

MSDH is no longer reporting outbreaks in individual long-term care facilities in Mississippi and has replaced it with access to a database from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. You can access and search the data by provider here. The latest data available is for the week ending Nov. 22.

For additional information, visit the MSDH website.

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Events

Reindeer Run 5k brings out crowds on Catfish Row

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(photo by Keith Phillips)

Runners and their supporters braved the cold Saturday morning for the annual Reindeer Run 5k.

The event, which began at 8 a.m., is in support of Paws Rescue, a Vicksburg no-kill animal shelter.

The run began and ended at Catfish Row next to LD’s Kitchen, and was followed by a pet parade.

Organizers helped the run start off smoothly, and they had plenty of assistance from the Vicksburg Police Department and the Warren County Sheriff’s office.

(photo by Keith Phillips)

These competitors are having fun with their masks. (photo by Keith Phillips)

(photo by Keith Phillips)

Some runners came dressed up in the spirit of the season. (photo by Keith Phillips)

Santa and Mrs. Claus confer with the the reindeer. (photo by Keith Phillips)

(photo by Keith Phillips)

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News

Search on the Mississippi enters third day; volunteers asked to coordinate with law enforcement

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Search efforts are being coordinated over a wide area. (photo by Thomas Parker)

Search efforts have entered a third day for two young men missing on the Mississippi River near LeTourneau Landing.

The young men, Gunner Palmer, 16, from Copiah County, and Zeb Hughes, 21, of Wesson, Mississippi, went out on a boat Thursday with their dog to find a good spot for duck hunting near Davis Island. They have not been heard from since Thursday.

Multiple police and fire agencies in the region have responded to a request for assistance for overland search and rescue, and the effort is being coordinated over a large search area.

Private individuals who are volunteering to search must also coordinate with law enforcement to ensure public safety and to preserve any evidence. Volunteers wishing to assist should coordinate through the incident command located south of LeTourneau Landing or contact Warren County Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs at 601-218-9911.

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Vicksburg
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Feels like: 54°F
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Humidity: 62%
Pressure: 30.15"Hg
UV index: 0
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