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How to tell whether it’s fact or fiction

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So, you read something on Facebook about COVID-19. How can you tell if it’s true or not?

Unless you know who is providing legitimate and trustworthy information, it’s easy to get fooled—and frightened—by rumors and half-truths. And sharing bad information can lead to completely avoidable panic.

That said, here are seven good sources for information. Chances are that unless one of them confirms what you’re reading and hearing, it’s not true. The list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but these are some gold-standard providers that you can trust.

The Mississippi State Department of Health. The COVID-19 hotline number is 877-978-6453 and is available 24/7 to answer your questions. You can also go to the MSDH website for tons of information about what’s going on in Mississippi, including tips on how to stay healthy during this crisis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the central repository for information and updates on a national level. Like the MSDH website, the CDC website probably has more information than you’ll ever need. The MSDH frequently links to the CDC site.

One of the topics on WHO’s myth buster page. Click to enlarge the image.

World Health Organization. If you’re looking for information and data on an international scale, head to the WHO website. The myth busters page is a good place to start to investigate what works and what doesn’t.

Warren County Emergency Management Agency. Director John Elfer and his staff have been incredibly generous with their time to make sure we get information in a timely way. You will frequently see updates from them on our Facebook page, but the best way to know what WCEMA is up to is by liking and following their Facebook page.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. The MEMA website is a good source of statewide COVID-19 information that isn’t necessarily related to health (although they cover some of that, too). That includes disaster declarations that affect business, statewide testing sites (see the interactive map) and tips for building your supply kit.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency. The FEMA website provides information on the federal response to the crisis. It just recently launched a Rumor Control page, which is another good place to start your search on whether what you heard is true or not.

Johns-Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard. Run by the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering, this online data dashboard provides frequently updated information on COVID-19 worldwide. The application allows you to zoom in on any area of the world quickly and easily.

COVID-19

Chief of UMMC urges Gov. Reeves to re-issue statewide mask mandate

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Dr. LouAnn Woodward, the vice chancellor of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, at a press conference at UMMC. (photo courtesy UMMC)

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, who leads the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the state’s only academic health center and largest hospital, directly called Monday for Gov. Tate Reeves to re-issue a statewide mask mandate.

Reeves became the first governor in America to rescind a statewide mask mandate on Sept. 30, and COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have steadily climbed since that date. Since the statewide mandate expired, however, Reeves has issued more than a dozen county-by-county mask mandates — a piecemeal approach that has received some criticism from medical experts.

“We do very much believe we should have a statewide mask mandate,” Woodward said Monday at a press conference. “… I think we have reasonable evidence to believe the county-by-county approach is not working. It’s not doing what we need it to do. It is not turning these numbers around for us.

“With the governor being the highest level of state official, I think that sends a big signal for that position to say, ‘We are at a critical point, people. We need to have a statewide mask mandate.’ That sense of urgency is rapidly becoming much more intense and powerful. And what we have been doing hasn’t turned us around.”

Woodward was also vocal in the days leading up to the governor’s first statewide mask mandate in early August. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, who leads the state’s health department, has recently posted to social media information about the effectiveness of mask mandates.

The rise in COVID-19 cases in Mississippi — a surge only topped by the record spread in July and August — has persisted for nearly two straight months. On Saturday, the state health department reported a single-day record of 1,972 new cases. The seven-day rolling average reached 1,294 over the weekend, which is the highest mark since July 31.

The state health department also reported close to 900 total hospitalizations for people with the virus. That mark is at its highest point since Aug. 26. Health officials on Friday warned the public about managing spread in the cold months and during the holiday season.


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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MS high school students encouraged to compete in cyber-security games

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(photo by councilcle from Pixabay)

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced the state’s participation in CyberStart America Tuesday. CyberStart is an innovative, online cybersecurity talent search and competition sponsored by the National Cyber Scholarship Foundation and the SANS Institute.

Mississippi high school-aged students are encouraged to explore their aptitude for cybersecurity and computer science by participating in the program. Participants can win prizes, scholarships and recognition for their schools.

The CyberStart America program is a series of 100% online challenges that allow students to act as cyber protection agents, solving cybersecurity-related puzzles and exploring related topics such as code breaking, programming, networking and digital forensics. The program can be assigned as part of homework, can form the basis of an extracurricular club or students can just try it on their own.

Participating students and their teachers do not need knowledge or experience in information technology or cybersecurity to take part. Everything they need can be learned in the game. The program is free for schools and students, and all Mississippi students in grades nine through 12 are invited to participate. Building on the success of last year’s Girls Go CyberStart program, this year’s CyberStart Game is open to all high school students. Anyone who reaches level 5 in the game will qualify for the national competition to win scholarships. To encourage participation of young women and JROTC cadets, specific communities have been established for those groups, offering additional support and community-specific awards within the overall scholarship competition.

The National Cyber Scholarship Foundation anticipates awarding scholarships worth $2 million for use at any accredited college to 600 high-scoring students across the nation who participate in the competition in 2021. Students compete for state-specific and community-specific prizes, as well as national championship status. There will also be incentives for Mississippi high schools to encourage more students to reach the qualifying level in the CyberStart game, including exclusive access to additional cybersecurity education resources and recognized cyber skills mastery badges for their students.

“The CyberStart America Program is an excellent and fun opportunity for students who think they may be interested in cybersecurity to determine if they have the passion and aptitude to pursue it as a career,” Reeves said in a statement. “Mississippi high schools have competed and placed well in this competition the last several years, and I cannot wait to see our students go even further.”

Find complete details about the program at www.cyberstartamerica.org. High school students can register for the program and invite their friends to join them through Feb. 28, 2021. Students will be informed if they qualify for the CyberStart National Scholarship Challenge Round as soon as they have achieved sufficient progress, but they can continue playing and learning to build skills that will be useful to them in the Nationals. To see the types of challenges students will face in the games, visit https://go.cyberstart.com.

“This program supports computer science education and its growing importance in our schools and our economy,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “I encourage all Mississippi high schools to share the CyberStart America opportunity with their students and to support their participation. There is no limit to what students can achieve when they are provided with challenging opportunities that give them the chance to excel.”

In a pilot test of CyberStart America targeted to young women during the last school year, 146 students from Mississippi high schools participated and seven succeeded in reaching the national finals. With CyberStart America now open to boys as well as girls, Mississippi hopes to triple the number of students participating and reaching the scholarship round.

“Cybersecurity is the new frontier for protecting infrastructure, personal information and financial data,” said Lora Hunter, interim director of the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security and state coordinator for the program. “The Mississippi Office of Homeland Security deals with these critical areas every day. Mississippi needs a pipeline of talented cybersecurity professionals to help protect our way of life.”

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MS Highway Patrol begins Thanksgiving enforcement period Wednesday

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The Mississippi Highway Patrol begins its 2020 Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Enforcement Period Wednesday, Nov. 25, at 12:01 a.m. and concludes Sunday, Nov. 29, at midnight.

State Troopers will be patrolling on all state, federal and interstate systems to combat reckless driving along with speeding and distracted driving issues. Safety checkpoints will be conducted throughout the period to enforce child restraint and seat belt laws while also removing impaired drivers.

“We are reminded that Thanksgiving 2019 was a particularly deadly travel period, and with the approach of Thanksgiving 2020, we are asking all motorists to use good driving habits as we try to reduce fatalities and injuries this year,” said Colonel Randy Ginn, Director of MHP, in a statement. “Our goal is for you and your family to safely reach your destination so that you may have a truly happy Thanksgiving.”

During the period in 2019, MHP investigated 185 crashes with 10 fatalities and made 95 DUI arrests on state and federal highway systems.

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