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News from around our 50 states

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Alabama

Montgomery Public Schools board Vice President Claudia Mitchell and board President Clare Weil speak during a protest at the MPS central office in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, which was the first day of in-person classes after nine weeks of virtual learning because of the coronavirus. (Photo: Jake Crandall/ Advertiser)

Montgomery: Thousands of students across the state who’ve spent the coronavirus pandemic in virtual classrooms are returning to traditional instruction despite safety concerns and continuing school shutdowns linked to COVID-19. Schools in Jefferson County began allowing elementary students to return to class full time Monday, and additional systems that have offered online classes will reopen buildings on a full-time basis through next week. Walter Gonsoulin, the Jefferson County superintendent, said the system planned to stay open unless there is a state or national mandate requiring a shutdown. As public schools reopened Tuesday in Montgomery, a group of teachers and school workers who contend the system lacks an adequate safety plan held a small protest outside the central office. In Tuscaloosa, where classes resume Monday, social distancing won’t always be possible, spokeswoman Lesley Bruinton told WBMA-TV.

Alaska

Juneau: The state Supreme Court on Monday affirmed a lower court ruling eliminating witness requirements for absentee ballots for the general election. Last week, Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby ruled enforcement of the witness requirements during the coronavirus pandemic “impermissibly burdens the right to vote.” She waited to put the order into effect, to allow the high court to weigh in. Laura Fox, an attorney for the state, had asked the Alaska Supreme Court to keep in place the witness requirements, arguing that a change in rules, when voting is already underway, “will cause confusion and distrust.” “This is telling the voters, yeah, we know you have all of these printed materials saying that

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Asteroid Bennu Could Shed Light on How Ingredients for Life Reached Earth | Smart News

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A series of studies published last week in the journals Science and Science Advances offer a new, detailed look at the makeup of a small asteroid called Bennu. The studies come just before NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft plans to pick up a sample from the asteroid’s surface on October 20 and return with it to Earth in 2023.

Before the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft reached the asteroid in 2018, astronomers could only study it with telescopes that couldn’t make out details smaller than cities or states, Michael Greshko reports for National Geographic. OSIRIS-REx allows astronomers to map details the size of basketball courts, sheets of paper and postage stamps, depending on the imaging tool they used.

“The reason there’s so much interest in asteroids is a lot of them are very primitive, from when the Solar System formed, and they didn’t change with wind and water, or weather like on Earth,” planetary scientist Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center tells Passant Rabie at Inverse. “They’re still more pristine than anything you could find in the universe.”

Researchers chose Bennu for close study and a sample-return mission because it is a relatively rare type of asteroid that’s rich in carbon-containing molecules, or organics, and because it formed early in the history of our solar system, Neel Patel reports for the MIT Technology Review. It’s also relatively close to Earth.

Bennu is about a third of a mile wide, made of a pile of rubble that is loosely held together by its own gravity, per National Geographic. The rubble resulted from a collision with a 60-mile-wide object in the asteroid belt that destroyed Bennu’s parent body, a larger asteroid. Bennu probably formed between 700 million and two billion years ago somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, and has drifted closer to Earth

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Monmouth University Goes Online After Superspreader Event | National News

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Monmouth University has canceled in-person classes after an off-campus superspreader event was determined to be responsible for infecting hundreds of students at the New Jersey school.

“It appears that this increase in cases among students was tied to an off-campus event hosted two weeks ago,” Dr. Patrick Leahy, Monmouth University president, said in an open letter to the campus Friday. “An overwhelming majority of the recent cases we have seen can be traced back to this isolated super-spreader event.”

Photos: Daily Life, Disrupted

TOPSHOT - A passenger in an outfit (R) poses for a picture as a security guard wearing a facemask as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus stands nearby on a last century-style boat, featuring a theatrical drama set between the 1920s and 1930s in Wuhan, in Chinas central Hubei province on September 27, 2020. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

The event triggered more than 100 positive tests among students. Another 200 students are considered “high-risk” and are in quarantine as a precaution. Since the end of August, the university has recorded nearly 300 positive tests among students, almost 5 percent of enrollment.

“Moving forward, we will need 100% cooperation from our campus community in order to resume our fall semester as planned,” Leahy said. “I cannot emphasize enough the critical importance of compliance.”

The latest campus closure comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that coronavirus cases among young adults are on the rise and says there is an “urgent need” to address the trend.

In a study released last week, the CDC examined 767 hotspot counties identified during June and July and found that increases in the percentage of positive tests among people 24 and younger were followed by several weeks of increasing positivity rates in those aged 25 and older. The trend was particularly true in the South and West.

The CDC also recently reported that coronavirus infections among young adults jumped from August to September, with the agency concluding that some of the increase was likely due to colleges and universities resuming in-person classes.

In addition, Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said last

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Game ‘pre-bunks’ COVID-19 conspiracies as part of UK’s fight against fake news

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Game 'pre-bunks' COVID-19 conspiracies as part of UK's fight against fake news
Go Viral! visuals Credit: Cambridge/UK Cabinet Office

A new online game that puts players in the shoes of a purveyor of fake pandemic news is the latest tactic in efforts to tackle the deluge of coronavirus misinformation costing lives across the world.


The Go Viral! game has been developed by the University of Cambridge’s Social Decision-Making Lab in collaboration with the UK Cabinet Office and media collective DROG.

It builds on research from Cambridge psychologists that found by giving people a taste of the techniques used to spread fake news on social media, it increases their ability to identify and disregard misinformation in the future.

Go Viral! is launched on the heels of a new study from the team behind it, just published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. The latest findings show that a single play of a similar game can reduce susceptibility to false information for at least three months.

“Fake news can travel faster and lodge itself deeper than the truth,” said Dr. Sander van der Linden, who leads the project and the Social Decision-Making Lab at Cambridge.

“Fact-checking is vital, but it comes too late and lies have already spread like the virus. We are aiming to pre-emptively debunk, or pre-bunk, misinformation by exposing people to a mild dose of the methods used to disseminate fake news. It’s what social psychologists call ‘inoculation theory’.”

The new 5-7 minute game introduces players to the basics of online manipulation in the era of coronavirus. It acts as a simple guide to common techniques: using emotionally charged language to stoke outrage and fear, deploying fake experts to sow doubt, and mining conspiracies for social media Likes.

“By using a simulated environment to show people how misinformation is produced, we can demystify it,” said Dr. Jon Roozenbeek, co-developer

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Phyllis Landrieu, tireless advocate for education and children’s rights, dies at 86 | News

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Phyllis Landrieu, a businesswoman and activist whose causes included health care, education and the rights of children — along with a healthy dose of politics — died Saturday at Touro Infirmary. She was 86.

The cause of death has not been determined, her daughter Judy Landrieu Klein said.

Landrieu was “a woman of steel,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a statement, describing Landrieu as “a passionate champion for our children and for early childhood education.”

The mother of 10 children, Landrieu was an unstinting advocate of early childhood education and children’s health. She also founded her own public-relations agency and was active in politics, serving as the first woman leader of the Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee and a member of the Democratic National Committee. She was a friend of Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

“She was just an amazing bundle of joy and had a special force about her, but it was a joyful force,” former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a niece, said. “She approached everything with passion and vigor and energy.”

Landrieu became a passionate advocate for children’s well-being after the deaths of her sons Stephen and Scott, Klein said, explaining that her mother took on that cause as a way to work through her grief. Her work resulted in the creation of the Health and Education Alliance of Louisiana; she was its founding president.

Calling her work with that organization “an opportunity out of the darkness,” Landrieu wrote: “If I could relieve some child’s suffering, I could relieve some … of mine. Little by little, it worked. Every day, I keep moving in the direction of the children. There are so many children suffering, as I am, with pain and disappointment. In helping them, I am helping myself.”

“She was not exempt

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