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I-20 River Bridge closures to begin Monday Jan. 20

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(photo by Renelibrary - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76201376)

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is starting its $27.7 million Interstate 20 bridge project on Monday, Jan. 20.

From Jan. 20 through Friday, May 15, 2020, westbound lanes of Interstate 20 across the Mississippi River Bridge at Vicksburg will experience lane closures, allowing contractors to resurface the roadway, install new lighting and make structural repairs to the bridge.

Throughout the project, the construction will restrict vehicles to the following maximum widths:

  • 10-foot maximum width with the following exception:
  • 16-foot maximum width Fridays 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

No formal detours have been established for this work.

LDOTD appreciates your patience and reminds you to please drive with caution through the construction site and to be on the lookout for work crews and their equipment.

“Ensuring these integral crossings over the Mississippi River are properly maintained and modernized is crucial to growing the state’s economy,” said LDOTD Secretary Shawn D. Wilson, Ph.D. in a statement. “This project will extend the service life of this bridge for decades to come, an example of strategically investing in our existing infrastructure with our available funding and maximizing the use of those dollars.”

Built in 1973, the two-mile-long I-20 bridge connects Madison Parish, La., to Warren County, Miss., and provides one of the few interstate roadway crossings over the river.

The nearly 50-year-old bridge will receive a facelift and modern structural improvements.

The old deck will be resurfaced with new concrete to improve traction and preserve the structural aspects of the bridge flooring. The current electrical circuits will be replaced, in addition to the replacement of nearly 100 roadway lighting fixtures with a modern LED system.

Roadway fiber optics will also be replaced with new cameras and radar, which will integrate the system into Mississippi’s IT network.

Additionally, the steel structural connections at certain locations on the bridge will be modified to improve resilience against all loads and conditions.

New navigational lighting and aerial beacons will also be installed, along with improvements to the bridge monitoring system and enhancements to the inspection access walkways.

During construction, single-lane closures will be required, though there will be no lane closures conducted in both directions at the same time in order to maintain traffic flow as much as possible.

LDTOD anticipates work on the project to wrap up in early 2021, with progress dependent on weather conditions.

COVID-19

Dr. Woodward: ‘Wear a damn mask’

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(Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash)

Dr. LuAnn Woodward’s frustration is palpable in a tweet she has pinned at the top of her Twitter page.

“Wear a damn mask. Wash your hands. It’s not a big deal. It’s not political. Just do it!” she wrote in July as the first of four bullet points.

Whatever was relevant in July is even more so in November as cases and hospitalizations rocket past July’s numbers.

Woodward is the vice chancellor of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, a place that is intimately familiar with the challenges of providing health care in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of this week, UMMC was out of critical care beds, similar to all of the big hospitals in Mississippi.

“As of 6:46 am today, UMMC’s bed status is -31 beds, which means that 31 people are admitted but waiting for a bed to become available,” she wrote Wednesday in another tweet. “Who will be #32 or #33 or #34?”

Not all of those beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, but the growing influx of critically ill virus patients means there aren’t beds for people suffering in car crashes, from heart attacks, severe asthma and a host of other potentially life-threatening conditions.

“Those of us in health care are numb, frustrated and so very tired,” she wrote.

Woodward isn’t the only health care leader in Mississippi loudly ringing alarm bells to get people’s attention about the pandemic.

“Our hospitalizations are growing at a rate that is absolutely terrifying,” said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, who heads up the Mississippi State Health Department, in a media briefing Wednesday.

“Without a doubt, I think we’re headed into the darkest period of the coronavirus for Mississippi.”

Dobbs issued guidance Wednesday urging Mississippians against not to attend any unnecessary gatherings, including Christmas parties, just as he asked people to avoid large Thanksgiving celebrations. Other gatherings to avoid include family gatherings outside of the household or nuclear family, weddings, funerals (other than close family and preferably outdoors), sporting events and in-person church services.

Dobbs and State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said they are concerned that high school athletic activities are spreading the virus.

“Dr. Byers and I have long advocated for a delay or limitation on high school athletics, especially in situations where people can’t be socially distant and safe, and I think part of that is we’re paying the price for that right now,” Dobbs said.

The guidance from the nation’s top health care officials around the country mirror what Woodward, Dobbs and Byers have been advocating for months: Wear a mask in public. Avoid groups of people. Observe social distancing. Wash your hands. None of it is difficult and none of it is political, despite those who would have you believe otherwise. The same advice is coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University and many more.

To date, Gov. Tate Reeves has not issued another statewide mask mandate, despite the urging of health officials. He remains convinced that his county-by-county piecemeal approach is more effective. As of Tuesday, 54 of Mississippi’s 82 counties are under restrictive measures due to their increased COVID-19 case counts. Those measures include mandates to wear masks in public and other social distancing orders.

“I am willing to take the political heat … because I believe in my heart and my mind that this is the best strategy to protect my fellow Mississippians,” Reeves said in an interview with WAPT Tuesday.

During the past week, Mississippi set records for one-day new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The seven-day average of new cases was over 1,600 Wednesday, exceeding the previous high set in July of 1,360. Many of Mississippi’s major hospitals have no more room in their ICUs. All of those increases are before the expected spike of new cases from Thanksgiving gatherings, which should begin to show up within the next week or two.

“We need to take responsibility for ourselves, because it’s so widespread right now, and we’re not seeing the community effort out there,” Dobbs said Tuesday. “I’m really asking you guys to protect yourselves.”

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Mississippi VA announces changes to its annual Wreaths Across America ceremonies

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(photo courtesy MSVA)

This year, both State Veterans Memorial Cemeteries at Newton and Kilmichael will host private ceremonies for families with loved ones buried at both locations. The events will be held Saturday, Dec. 19, at 11 a.m.

“We must do our part to ensure that we keep as many Veteran families as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, and unfortunately, that means cutting back on the number of attendees at this year’s events”, said Mississippi VA Executive Director Stacey Pickering in a statement. “However, we feel that it is important to honor our resting heroes and allow their families to spend quality time at these hallowed grounds.”

Close to 1,260 Veterans and their families have chosen the State Veterans Memorial Cemeteries as their final resting place. For more information on both State Veterans Memorial Cemeteries, click here.

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‘Check Your Charity’ helps you be an informed giver

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(Photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

Mississippians are known for their generosity, especially during the holiday season. During the last reporting year, Mississippi charities brought in roughly $1.7 billion. As we creep closer to Christmas, it’s important to remember the wisest giver is an informed giver. The annual “Check Your Charity” campaign encourages Mississippians to check the validity of a charity or organization on the secretary of state website before making a donation.

“Our Check Your Charity campaign aligns with one of our agency’s missions to make government more transparent,” said Secretary of State Michael Watson in a release. “We are committed to providing as much information as possible to shield Mississippians from scammers, not just during the holiday season but all year-round. This has been an incredibly challenging year for many families, and I am incredibly proud of the work our Charities Division is doing to protect Mississippians’ hard-earned money.”

All charitable organizations are required to register with the secretary of state’s office and renew yearly. Certain types of organizations are exempt from registration but are nevertheless required to file a notice of exemption with the secretary’s office.

Each year, the secretary’s office publishes a “Report on Charitable Organizations in Mississippi” to provide transparency and keep citizens informed of critical financial information regarding Mississippi charities. The annual report includes information such as total revenue, fundraising expenses and charitable purpose expenses.

Click here to view the 2020 Report on Charitable Organizations in Mississippi.

Mississippians should keep the following in mind when making decisions regarding charitable donations:

  • Check your charity. Use the “Charity Search” portal on the secretary of state website to verify the charity is registered with the State. Ask questions before giving and be sure to ask for answers in writing. Legitimate charities will always welcome your inquiries.
  • Avoid pressure tactics. You do not have to make a donation immediately; take time to evaluate the information provided by the charity.
  • Watch for similar names. Many charities have similar names. Often, scam artists intentionally use names resembling those of respected groups. Take a few extra minutes to research the charity online so you can be sure your donation goes to the right place.
  • Be wary of telephone calls. Always get the name of the person calling and the exact name and spelling of the charity. Ask if the caller is a professional fundraiser, and if they are, ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity.
    • Consumer organizations recommend at least 65% of a charity’s total expenses be spent on program activities directly related to the charity’s purpose.
  • Verify mail solicitations. Be wary of mail containing novelty items you can keep “if you contribute.” Federal law states that unless you ordered the item, you can keep it without contributing.
  • Always get receipts. Receipts are vital for tax deductions and provide a tracking mechanism for donations. To be safe, always donate by credit card or check (directly to the charity).

Taking these extra steps will not only protect you, it will also ensure your donation goes to those who need it most. For more information, contact the Charities Division at 601-359-1599, or click here to send an email to one of the Charities team members.

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