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MISSISSIPPI PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES HELP STATE COMBAT COVID-19

9/25/2020 - Jackson, Miss.

The coronavirus pandemic has had far-reaching health, economic and educational impacts. Mississippi Public Universities have stepped up in numerous ways to address these issues, combat the virus and help Mississippians adjust to the societal changes brought on by the pandemic. From research to develop a treatment to help stop the spread to community outreach to provide masks and other needed supplies to using technology to provide educational enrichment activities for children, the universities are bringing the breadth and depth of their resources to bear to fight COVID-19.

Alcorn State University’s (ASU) Office of Student Engagement shared its resources with a shelter in Vicksburg to help those in need due to COVID-19. The Office donated non-perishable food items to the River City Rescue Mission. Items were initially donated to Alcorn’s Brave Market, which was formed by outgoing Miss Alcorn State University Jakhia Gray to help students in need of food or personal items such as toilet paper, paper towels, toothpaste, etc. After the students were instructed to stay home for the remainder of the semester following Spring Break, the items were donated to the Vicksburg shelter.

The Bologna Performing Arts Center at Delta State University (DSU) offered virtual arts classes at the weeklong PLUS Camp held this summer. Part of the Janice Wyatt Mississippi Summer Arts Institute, the camp transitioned to online courses this year due to COVID-19. Campers received several age-appropriate arts projects and instructions, as well as links to virtual classes led by returning PLUS camp instructors. With the theme “Seize the Day!,” PLUS Camp 2020 gave campers the opportunity to work with multiple mediums to learn more about color theory, line, and shape, as well as many other artistic concepts.

Ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3, the Hinds County Board of Supervisors and the Hinds County Election Commission announced a partnership with Jackson State University, which will provide two polling locations in the event of an emergency due to COVID-19. The National Science Foundation has awarded JSU’s Department of Chemistry, Physics and Atmospheric Sciences a $200,000 Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant to develop a fast, sensitive and simple “optical technique” to detect COVID-19. Jackson State University professor Dr. Paresh Chandra Ray said a quicker detection is vital to saving lives. In addition, Jackson State University Small Business Development Center is providing technical assistance to small businesses in the area that are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic disaster.

In its Bagley College of Engineering, Mississippi State University (MSU) researchers in the university’s high voltage laboratory converted over 550 ventilators from battery power to AC power, allowing for easier long-term use of the life support machines that are vital during COVID-19. Engineers in the university’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems designed and produced, using 10 different 3D printers, approximately 250 face shields per week during the virus’s outbreak that were sent to frontline staff in Meridian medical facilities. Also, using conventional truck toolboxes, mechanical engineering students battled the face mask shortage by building and contributing several sanitization chambers, which could disinfect up to 20 face protectors in minutes, to EMTs, healthcare workers and teachers across the region.

The Mississippi Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Laboratory System, operated by Mississippi State University, continues providing much-needed surveillance and diagnostic testing for the state’s practicing veterinarians, individual producers, pet owners, and the livestock, aquaculture and poultry industries. the lab system performed as many or more tests and services during the last year as were done during the previous year, despite the ongoing pandemic. The MVRDLS is the state’s only lab with approval to run government-required surveillance and regulatory tests for domestic and food animals, including those tests that are required before the harvest, sale or shipping of food-animal products, which illustrates the importance of the system continuing to function at full capacity despite any challenges.

Mississippi University for Women’s (The W) chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) is helping to assist COVID-19 patients. Using money from recent fundraising events, the students created low-tech communication boards to enable healthcare providers and families to communicate with individuals on ventilators or those too weak to use speech. The students used software from The W’s Department of Speech-Language Pathology to create the communication boards, then laminated the boards in order to be cleaned and reused. The 200 boards created by the students were distributed to hospitals and skilled nursing facilities in the Golden Triangle area.

Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) partnered with the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) to host a webinar aimed at educating local pastors and clergymen about the novel COVID-19 to help mitigate the spread of virus. More than 80 religious leaders and lay persons tuned in for the virtual informational session led by State Health Director Dr. Thomas Dobbs. The webinar covered the origin and spread of COVID-19 and addressed statistics highlighting the disproportionate number of African Americans affected by and dying from the virus within the state. Officials encouraged attendees to promote preventative measures, including social distancing and face masks.

A team of researchers from the University of Mississippi (UM) School of Pharmacy and the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) are developing a treatment to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The team is developing a nasal spray that could be prescribed by a doctor and self-administered by the patient. A daily dose could make those taking it more resistant to COVID-19 and help in slowing transmission, especially among those who don’t exhibit symptoms. In an effort to support local health care workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence and the IDEAlab in the J.D. Williams Library at the University of Mississippi used 3-D printers to produce personal protective gear, including face shields that were donated to Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi in Oxford.

Early in the pandemic, the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) began a robust response befitting the state’s only academic health sciences center. Leaders quickly established a campus-wide command center and drew on the Medical Center’s missions of health care, education and research. UMMC researchers created an in-house COVID-19 test, vastly increasing local testing and efforts to curb transmission; the Medical Center partnered with the Mississippi State Department of Health on testing residents statewide via drive-through collection sites; a UMMC anesthesiologist engineered a respirator for use in critically ill COVID-19 patients; and scientists embarked on clinical research and trials exploring COVID-19 treatments.

For the past six months, The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has worked in collaboration with organizations and companies to support hospitals, first responders and community members across South Mississippi and beyond in the fight against COVID-19. USM researchers have increased the volume and speed of COVID-19 testing for Pine Belt area medical facilities, and researchers at USM’s Center for Molecular and Cellular Biosciences are producing 24-hour result turnarounds for COVID-19 tests conducted at USM's Moffitt Health Center. USM researchers were instrumental in developing essential medical tools to help fight COVID-19, including developing and 3-D printing a universal respirator mask dubbed “The Hub Mask” and designing an oral suction device to reduce respiratory complications for COVID-19, ICU and surgery patients.

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

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