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How Wayne State University kept its COVID numbers extremely low

Many college campuses have been sources of community spread of COVID-19 over the past year. Big schools like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University have at times struggled to curb spread and socialization among the student body. Wayne State University, however, has had fewer than 500 cases, and only 60 cases popping up so far this year. How did the largest university in the state’s biggest city manage to pull off those low numbers? We spoke with WSU President M. Roy Wilson, who explained the measures the school has taken that have led to significantly less spread. 
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Wayne State University introduces scholarship for essential workers

Wayne State University has announced an initiative to help frontline workers get a break in the cost of education. The Frontliners Forward Scholarship will offer $4,000 dollars to essential frontline employees looking to secure a bachelor’s degree in any field. To be eligible, students will need to have first completed the state’s Futures for Frontliners program enacted by Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “Essentially, all they have to do is apply as a transfer student,” says Dawn Medley, associate vice president of enrollment management for Wayne State University. “They apply for admission, then let us know they were a part of that program and it’s an automatic reward.” For the estimated 625,000 essential workers across the state, Wayne State University is ensuring a chance at completing a bachelor’s degree on their terms. Knowing essential workers are typically the breadwinners, flexible class schedules are offered to help ease work-school balance. “We have incredibly flexible schedules. Time is going to march on and you can be five years down the road with or without a degree,” Medley says. “It can change the economic future for you and your family.”
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Guards help lead Wayne State men to first sole GLIAC crown in 22 years

David Greer thought his Wayne State men's basketball team was a year away from being in this position. That position is sole Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champions for the first time since 1999. But when you have dynamic guards, anything's possible. "We had some really good guards, and any time you've got a good backcourt, you've got a chance," said Greer, who's in his 20th season as the program's head coach. "We played a lot of close games, and have been able to win a number of those." Wayne State (12-5) clinched the championship in the regular-season finale Saturday, with a 70-68 victory over 2018 national champion Ferris State in the men's program's final game at Detroit's Matthaei Center. This fall, the Warriors move into a new $25 million arena that they will share with the Pistons' new G-League affiliate. The rest of this season's games will be on the road, starting Thursday at John Friend Court in Hammond, Indiana, site of the GLIAC tournament. Wayne State got a first-round bye play an opponent to be determined by Tuesday's games at campus sites. Then it's possibly onto the Division II NCAA Tournament, which will be played this season after last year's tournament was canceled by COVID-19.
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Third-graders return to classroom, but are they prepared to succeed?

313 Reads is a Collective Impact Coalition that supports programs in direct service to Detroit children. The organization is also part of the Detroit Education Research Partnership at Wayne State University, which has released several reports on Detroit literacy and education. These reports have pointed to a lack of access to resources that have created more barriers to literacy proficiency for Black and Brown students within Detroit than students in other parts of the state. Sarah Lenhoff, an assistant professor at Wayne State University and director of the Detroit Education Research Partnership, questioned whether this year can be used to gain an “accurate picture” of student achievement. “Are we using meaningless terms to compare (students) to other years?” asked Lenhoff, who also said students lack “reliable” technology and broadband access. Lenhoff said chronic absenteeism has played a major role in Detroit’s literacy rates, which may also be a burden this year to students who were not consistently attending school during the pandemic. “Parents want to get their students to school, they just face these little barriers in doing so,” Lenhoff said. “Policies and practices that are focused on an accountability of punishing parents or students for missing school really just missed the boat in terms of what is really going on.”

J&J vaccine gets FDA emergency use approval

After receiving emergency use approval from the Federal Drug Administration, the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine has become the third COVID-19 vaccination available in the country. Authorized for individuals age 18 and older, the J&J vaccine only requires one dose and can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures, which will make widespread dissemination throughout the state and country considerably easier. An ongoing randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted in the U.S., Mexico, South Africa and some of South America, within which 19,630 participants received the vaccine and 19,691 received saline placebo, has found the vaccine was approximately 67 percent effective at least 14 days after vaccination and 66 percent effective at least 28 days after vaccination in preventing moderate to severe/critical COVID-19. When it comes to preventing strictly severe/critical COVID-19, the study showed approximately 77 percent efficacy at least 14 days after vaccination and 85 percent efficacy at least 28 days after vaccination. “This vaccine is not only highly effective against severe disease in the United States, but was also highly effective against the highly transmissible South African variant that is now showing up in the United States,” said Paul Kilgore, M.D., MPH, one of the co-principal investigators of the J&J trial at Henry Ford that began in November, and an associate professor and director of research in the Department of Pharmacy at Wayne State University, in a press release. “It is 100 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths and is also equally effective across all races, including whites, African Americans and Hispanics.”
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NIH director apologizes for ‘structural racism,’ pledges actions

Responding to concerns about discrimination against Black people, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins today issued an unusual public apology for what he called “structural racism in biomedical research” and pledged to address it with a sweeping set of actions. NIH’s long-running efforts to improve diversity “have not been sufficient,” Collins wrote in the statement. “To those individuals in the biomedical research enterprise who have endured disadvantages due to structural racism, I am truly sorry.” The agency plans “new ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and will also correct policies within the agency “that may harm our workforce and our science,” he added. NIH’s move is, in part, a response to last year’s incidents of police brutality as well as the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Black people. An ACD working group on diversity released a report on Friday that calls for NIH to “acknowledge the prevalence of racism and anti-Blackness in the scientific workforce.” The group focused specifically on Black people and not groups such as Native Americans because of the country’s 300-year legacy of slavery and segregation, says co-chair M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University.
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Wayne State University astrophysicist on why NASA’s Mars rover fascinates us

After traveling nearly 300 million miles for the last 6 months, NASA’s rover ‘Perseverance’ has landed safely on Mars. Shortly after its arrival on the Red Planet last month, it sent back its first images of the Martian atmosphere and landing site, setting off imaginations all over the country. So what does this mission mean in terms of exploring and learning about our solar system? Wayne State astrophysicist Edward Cackett explained that the arrival of the rover on the surface of Mars is reason to celebrate in itself. “There’s a small launch window of about one month every 24 months,” explains Cackett, who says that this means that NASA scientists had to prepare everything during the pandemic summer of 2020. As far as what the hope is for what the rover will uncover, Cackett says there are “a whole of firsts” in the goals of this mission. Some of the goals of the Perseverance mission include sending out a helicopter (that was sent with the rover) to test whether it’s possible for an aircraft to fly in the Martian atmosphere, collecting rock samples and sealing them in test tubes tubes that a future mission will be able to pick up and bring back to earth and an experiment that will test whether it’s possible to produce oxygen from Mars’ atmosphere, which is mostly CO2. On the topic of how far we are from sending a person to Mars, Cackett points to the Artemis program, which is to get humans back on the moon in preparation for eventually getting humans to Mars. Cackett says that the Artemis program is planning to have humans on the moon for a continued amount of time to develop a site to test advancements that would allow humans to get to Mars. Cackett says this initiative is one of the very few things that was supported by former President Donald Trump and continues to receive support under the Biden administration. 
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‘What’s new is the attention:’ Black women celebrated as ‘Backbone Of Democracy’ after 2020 election

During and after the 2020 election Black women were heralded as the, “backbone of democracy” by many Democrats. Their organizing efforts and the support they galvanized were crucial to President Joe Biden’s victory and Democrats regaining power in the U.S. Senate. Their efforts in Georgia gained national attention, but Black women also played an essential role leading up to and following Michigan’s 2020 election. Early on, the Biden Harris campaign zeroed in on the city of Detroit. Many believed President Trump’s narrowest nationwide margin of victory in 2016, was partially attributable to a depressed turnout in Wayne County—the state’s most populous and bluest county. Ronald Brown is an  Associate Professor of political science at Wayne State University and a member of Citizen Detroit, a voter education group based in Detroit. He says the role of Black women in Detroit politics blooms out of places like Black churches and other centers of religious and civiclife where women often outnumber men.  “They are the foundation in terms of mobilizing the vote and they’re the ones also…who turn out the meetings that we attend. This is a not random sample, but the meeting that I attend, it’s the same thing is like 66% women, 44% men,” said Brown. 
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COVID-19 blood plasma trial participation available at Wayne State University

As COVID-19 vaccines are being introduced, a researcher at Wayne State University continues work on blood plasma treatment trials that began in November. Dr. James Paxton, assistant professor in the Wayne State School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine, has been the primary investigator for two outpatient studies of treatments that use blood plasma from people who have had COVID-19. The convalescent plasma, as it’s called, contains antibodies that help fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. “Not only do we have to limit the spread of this disease, but we have to be as aggressive as we can in treating it,” says Paxton, who is also an emergency physician at DMC Sinai-Grace and Detroit Receiving hospitals, both in Detroit. “I think convalescent plasma is one therapeutic option that’s going to prove to be effective. We hope it’s going to be as safe as it has been in other iterations and with other applications.” Sponsored through Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the months-long study aims to recruit at least 1,400 volunteers nationwide. Wayne State is one of 24 participating research entities and the only site in Michigan. The first study seeks to use the antibodies contained in plasma to protect people who have recently been exposed to COVID-19 but haven’t yet become ill. The second will use the plasma on recently diagnosed people who have not been admitted to a hospital in hopes that it will slow or eliminate COVID-19 symptoms. The study is slated to be finished with enrollment by mid-March and will continue to seek participants until then.
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The exercise pill: How exercise keeps your brain healthy and protects it against depression and anxiety

Arash Javanbakht, associate professor of psychiatry, wrote an article for The Conversation about the benefits of exercise on the brain. “As with many other physicians, recommending physical activity to patients was just a doctor chore for me – until a few years ago. That was because I myself was not very active. Over the years, as I picked up boxing and became more active, I got firsthand experience of positive impacts on my mind. I also started researching the effects of dance and movement therapies on trauma and anxiety in refugee children, and I learned a lot more about the neurobiology of exercise. I am a psychiatrist and neuroscientist researching the neurobiology of anxiety and how our interventions change the brain. I have begun to think of prescribing exercise as telling patients to take their “exercise pills.” Now knowing the importance of exercising, almost all my patients commit to some level of exercise, and I have seen how it benefits several areas of their life and livelihood.
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U.S. reaches 500,000 Covid deaths, toll will continue to rise despite vaccine rollout

Dr. Paul Kilgore is an Associate Professor and Director of Research at Wayne State University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Science. He’s also a principal investigator at Henry Ford Health System and an expert in vaccine research. As the country hit 500,000 deaths from COVID earlier this week, Kilgore says that we still have a lot of work to do. “There’s no doubt about it, the vaccine will be an important tool but not the only one,” says Kilgore. He adds that it will continue to be crucial that people wear masks and practice distancing in the months ahead. He also points to other countries, including Korea, where mask wearing as a way of minimizing disease transmission is a normal part of life and would be beneficial here in the United States as well. ”We need to think very carefully about how we adopt mask wearing in this country as a permanent activity… that can really help when reducing transmission,” says Kilgore. As far as the outlook for the next several months here in Michigan, Kilgore says that he thinks ”what we’ll see as (weather warms up) is potential reduction in transmission but… if variants are causing easier transmission we will still need to be very vigilant about masking, distancing and getting vaccinated as soon as possible.” 
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Kar's Nuts, parent of Sanders Chocolates, is changing its name. Here's why

Kar's Nuts, the maker of Sweety 'N Salty trail mix and Sanders Chocolates, is changing its name to Second Nature Brands as the Madison Heights snack food company seeks to broaden its portfolio and position itself with better-for-you offerings. Kar's, the company's biggest brand, will continue to exist, but the company itself is letting go of its 90-year-old identity that traces its roots to Detroit. Instead, the business is opting to use the name from the gluten-free, non-GMO trail mix brand it launched about a decade ago as it continues on a growth trajectory following the acquisition of Sanders in 2018. Changes to an umbrella company's name won't always matter for consumers as it's less visible than its brands, said Laura McGowan, a marketing professor at Wayne State University. Given Kar's following, eliminating the brand completely would be risky, but changing the over-arching company's name to a more health-oriented name to take advantage of consumer trends could be worth the costs. "In this case, if you think of Second Nature as a natural option and that it's taking care of people, it complements the long-term trends toward healthier choices going on," McGowan said. "People value and place a higher value on companies doing the right thing by their consumers."
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Letter: Demolish I-375 and replace it with opportunity

Jennifer Hart, associate professor of history and Carolyn G. Loh, associate professor of urban planning, wrote an opinion piece about the proposed project to demolish and replace interstate 375. “In the midst of protests about racial violence and systemic racism, many planned urban development projects are getting a second look. For the proposed project to demolish and replace Interstate 375, that requires imagining a more equitable future and grappling with the violence and inequality of the past. Begun in 1959, I-375’s construction was part of a broader process of urban renewal and slum clearance that demolished two thriving Black neighborhoods, Black Bottom and Paradise Valley.”

The difficult job of getting vaccines to where they need to be - A discussion on supply chain science

Craig Fahle's guest is Kevin Ketels, a lecturer in supply chain management at the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University. He specializes in the medical supply chain. They discuss why this massive undertaking of delivering vaccines to 100's of millions of Americans and billions worldwide is so complex. They also discuss what we are learning along the way that might help us if we ever go through this again. 
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Want to fix the chronic absenteeism problem in Detroit schools? Start with transportation.

Transportation struggles aren’t the only reason chronic absenteeism is so pervasive in Detroit schools, but it is the most common reason so many students aren’t showing up for class on a regular basis, Wayne State University researchers say in a new report. About 50% of students in district and charter schools in Detroit are considered chronically absent, meaning they miss about 10% or more of the school year. The Wayne State researchers, who are part of the Detroit Education Research Partnership, warn that the pandemic has exacerbated the problem, and that seems to be validated by increased chronic absenteeism so far in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. The researchers predict chronic absenteeism will get worse in the fall unless school and community leaders come up with new solutions for school transportation. As part of the study, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with Detroit parents, high school students, and school staff during the 2019-20 school year. They also analyzed attendance trends in the city.
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Flashpoint 2/21/21: Detroit mayor steers city through pandemic; toll of COVID-19 on mental health of teens

After giving his two cents at the White House, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan returns to the city to try to steer it through the pandemic. Duggan talked about the challenges of the COVID-19 vaccine on Flashpoint. Then the “other” pandemic -- the mental health struggles of young people after a year of COVID-19. From the beginning, we’ve wondered about the toll the pandemic has been taking on all of us from a mental health standpoint. Studies are now making clear what many feared, that it’s having a deep and damaging impact on teenagers. There was a discussion on the issue with two health professionals including pediatrician Dr. Lynn Smitherman from Wayne State University and Mary Beth Garvey, a family therapist from Grosse Pointe.
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Former chief justice shows ‘ardent desire’ to do good at WSU

Marilyn Kelly, Board of Governors chair, is profiled in a story by Detroit Legal News Editor-in-Chief Tom Kirvan. “When Marilyn Kelly retired from the state Supreme Court nine years ago, most political observers figured it would be but a brief respite from the world of public service. For that, we should all be thankful, as it was only two years before Kelly ran for elective office again, winning a seat in the November 2014 election on the Board of Governors at Wayne State University, where she earned her law degree with honors. Kelly’s return to the campaign trail was rooted in her “deep commitment to Wayne State and an ardent desire to help it accomplish its mission to provide an excellent education for its students and better serve the community,” she wrote in announcing her candidacy. Last month, Kelly was unanimously chosen to serve as chair of the Wayne State Board of Governors, hoping to usher in a new era of cooperation and collegiality, much like she did when she served as chief justice of Michigan’s top court. “The start of 2021 is the perfect time to reflect on the past and frame intentions for the future,” Kelly said after she was chosen chair. “To that end, I’ve consulted in recent weeks with every member of the Board of Governors. Each of us has pledged to renew our efforts to work together in the best interests of this great university. Her ties, of course, to her legal alma mater are strong. She is a past recipient of the University’s Outstanding Alumni Award, and received an honorary doctorate from WSU, where she also has been named its Distinguished Jurist in Residence. She has served as co-chair of the law school’s capital campaign and also established an endowed scholarship for law school students “who are dedicated to public service.”
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How the story of Remus Robinson relates to current racial disparities in healthcare

Dr. Herbert Smitherman, general internist at the Detroit Medical Center and vice dean of Diversity and Community Affairs at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, has been a practicing physician in Detroit for 33 years. Smitherman said he has met with several Black patients who don’t trust the COVID-19 vaccine or the health care system itself. He believes that can change if there are more Black doctors. “The race of the provider and having people that look like you, understand you, understand your concerns and your culture are very important to helping you receive needed care,” Smitherman said. A 2018 study done in Oakland, California, found that increasing the number of Black doctors could reduce the Black-white male gap in cardiovascular mortality by 19 percent. A 2016 study found that Black men and women in the U.S. have a life expectancy that was, respectively, 4.4 and 2.8 years shorter than white men and women. But Smitherman cautions that efforts to increase the number of Black doctors cannot be the only solution. “The mistrust was not created by Black physicians. It was structural racism and systemic racism within a health care system that created that mistrust, not Black physicians, but by non-Black physicians,” he said. Smitherman pointed out that issues such as where the vaccine is distributed, the times of day it’s offered, and the method for scheduling a vaccine appointment are all potential complications for the average Detroiter. He said figuring out solutions is all about having a diverse group of decision-makers at the table. “If you aren't having people of color represented in your real strategy setting and planning for vaccine distribution, we're not going to get where we need to get,” he said.
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Democrats try again on pro-union bill, now with majorities

President Joe Biden has vowed he will be "the strongest labor president you have ever had.” To fulfill that promise, he's thrown his support behind the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. The bill cleared the Democratically controlled U.S. House last year but faltered in the Republican-led Senate. Now, Democrats have narrow majorities in both chambers and lawmakers are taking a second crack at passing the PRO Act — and this time, they may have a chance. "It is a very big deal. It's the most significant labor law reform legislative package on the table for decades, and I think the chances of it passing are more favorable than it has been for decades," said Marick Masters, a Wayne State University business professor who studies labor relations. There's been a dramatic decrease in union membership since the 1950s, Masters said, in part due to "defects embedded in the labor law, which is slanted in favor of employers... employers have felt increasingly emboldened over time to use the law to their advantage to make it more difficult to unionize." While Democrats, who are largely in favor of the legislation, control both chambers of Congress and the White House, it will be a challenge to make the bill into law. Proponents of the legislation would need 60 votes in the Senate to stop debate and move to a vote, which would require several Republicans to side with Democrats. They'll also be fighting for airtime amid a proposed COVID-relief package, climate policies and infrastructure priorities that are likely to take precedence. "It has a fighting chance. The odds are probably against it," Masters said. "I think it's going to be very very difficult. A lot depends on how much political capital the Biden administration and the Senate majority have to expend to get this through."