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Local
Universities cancel study-abroad programs amid virus fears

As concerns about China’s virus outbreak spread, universities are scrambling to assess the risks to their programs, and some are canceling study-abroad opportunities and prohibiting travel affecting hundreds of thousands of students.

From Europe to Australia and the United States, universities in countries that host Chinese students have reconsidered academic-related travel to and from China.

The scare threatens to cause lasting damage to growing academic exchange programs that reached new heights over the last decade and a half, experts say.

In Winston-Salem, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University and Salem College have students from China on campus, but they do not currently have any study-abroad students in China.

David F. Taylor, assistant dean of Global Study Away at WFU, said that any university-sponsored travel to China requires pre-authorization due to the Level 4 travel advisory from the State Department and that it would require exceptional reasons for such travel to be approved.

“For any personal travel to China, we are asking individuals to delay any non-essential travel and to consult with a travel clinic professional beforehand,” Taylor said. “Likewise, we are asking individuals to inform us beforehand.”

He said that WFU has not issued any blanket prohibitions or altered plans, so far, for its summer and fall study abroad to China, saying that any travel would have to be pre-approved by the university as long as the Level 4 advisory is in place.

Taylor said that Wake Forest’s Center for Global Programs and Studies and the International Student and Scholar Services teams are available to Chinese students and their families for support, and that there are other campus resources for members of the Wake Forest community.

WFU has created an informational website about the virus at https://coronavirus.wfu.edu/.

Winston-Salem State University does not have any study-abroad programs to China this year, said Jaime Lynn Hunt, vice chancellor for strategic communications for WSSU.

“We currently do not have students, faculty or staff scheduled to travel to China this semester,” Hunt said.

While WSSU has a small number of students from China on campus, she said, “We have not restricted their travel at this time.”

Hunt added, “We have wrapped support and services around the students from China during this stressful time. They are part of the Ram family, and we want to ensure they feel supported if they are concerned about family and friends back home.”

Salem College also has a small number of students from China studying on its campus.

“School officials have provided individual support to them to address any concerns or needs they have related to the outbreak of the coronavirus in China,” Salem College said.

The college said it “does not have any students studying abroad in China and does not have any plans for students to go to China as part of Salem-sponsored travel in the near future.”

Salem College also said it has not modified its sponsored travel to other countries, and that college officials will continue to monitor international travel advisories.

The travel restrictions also complicate planning for conferences and campus events in the U.S. that scholars from China might attend.

“That door has been, if not slammed shut, certainly closed for the immediate future,” said Michael Schoenfeld, Duke University’s vice president for public affairs and government relations.

After U.S. officials recommended against nonessential trips to China, many universities limited travel there, including Duke, which also operates a campus in China in a partnership with Wuhan University, which is in the city at the center of the outbreak.

Duke Kunshan University closed its campus in Kunshan to nonessential personnel until Feb. 24. The school also helped students who had recently applied for Chinese residency get their passports from local officials so they could travel home and started developing online learning plans for them.

Two of the 12 confirmed U.S. cases are linked to college campuses. One diagnosis was confirmed at Arizona State University and another at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, which said the infected student had recently traveled to Wuhan.

The virus represents an unprecedented disruption for the academic ties between the U.S. and China, said Brad Farnsworth, vice president of global engagement at the American Council on Education.

He recalled the SARS crisis in 2002 and 2003, when the severe acute respiratory syndrome that originated in China killed nearly 800 people.

“The whole higher education relationship was not nearly as complex as it is now,” Farnsworth said. “We have many, many more students going in both directions.”

Many academic collaborations could be rescheduled if the crisis is resolved quickly, but the longer it lasts, the deeper the damage will be, he added.

China sends far more students to the United States than any other country — more than 369,000 in the last academic year, according to the Institute of International Education. The U.S. typically sends more than 11,000 students to China annually. Lately, the relationship has been strained by visa difficulties, trade conflicts and U.S. concerns about security risks.

“This doesn’t help the current situation, which is very tense right now,” Farnsworth said. “This is a low point in U.S.-China higher education relations, there’s no question.”

China’s consul general in New York, Huang Ping, said Tuesday at a news conference that students who returned to the U.S. from Hubei province, which includes Wuhan, should report to health officials so they can be monitored. He urged the international community to work together to combat the illness, saying the “virus is the enemy, not the Chinese.”

Most Chinese students studying in the U.S. were already in place for classes when the virus emerged, but worries about the illness have led many schools to cancel plans to send Americans to China for an upcoming semester.

At the University of Arkansas, where China has been a popular study-abroad destination, especially for business students, about 60 students who had been planning to travel there beginning in May saw their programs canceled.

The university made the decision a week ago, before students had to make financial commitments, and it has been working to arrange opportunities in other parts of the world for the affected students, said Sarah Malloy, the university’s director of study abroad and international exchange.


Columnists
Local man’s research opens door to become first African American in the local chapter of Sons of the American Revolution

Learmond “Buddy” Hayes didn’t quite know what to think.

He’d always been vaguely curious about his lineage — “I watched ‘Roots’ in the ’70s like everybody else” — and a diabetes diagnosis gave a dormant interest more urgency. Family history and all.

So he started to do a little research. He learned details about a grandfather killed in an auto crash, in the ’20s, when they were rare.

That nugget prompted more digging; he sent a DNA sample off to be tested.

And that helped lead to something really remarkable.

Hayes learned about an ancestor who fought as a “free man of color” in the Revolutionary War, and received an invitation to become the first African American member of the local chapter Sons of the American Revolution.

But first he had to do a little more research.

“I thought it was like one of those Civil War things, and I wasn’t sure that was the kind of organization I wanted to deal with,” he said. “Then I found out what they were about.”

It’s history

The Sons of the American Revolution, simply put, is an organization by and for history buffs who can trace direct lineage to a patriot who fought in (or supported in some way) the War for Independence.

“Every member is required to prove that their grandfather marched into battle, their grandmother secretly spied on the location and troop strengths or helped feed her son’s army,” said Fred Learned, a senior vice president of the N.C. Sons of the American Revolution and charter member of the local Bethabara chapter. “If you can prove your grandparents gave a horse or a hog, or gave (patriots) a coat or a blanket, that qualifies you for membership.”

Which is easier said than done.

Proving lineage two or three generations back can be difficult enough. Eight or nine can be darn near impossible without a lot of persistence and no small amount of luck.

“I have one ancestor listed only as a slave woman,” Hayes said. “Nothing else.”

Hayes has spent a fair amount of time digging through paper records in courthouses Down East, in Bladen, Cumberland and New Brunswick counties in particular, in an area where he spent time growing up.

These days, with the help of DNA testing and the considerable reach (and consolidation) of information on the internet, research can be faster.

Anyhow, his search drew him to a distant cousin from Wilmington named Kevin Graham. “I was born in Wilmington, so it wasn’t far-fetched,” Hayes said. “But I hadn’t heard the name Graham in the family before.”

And that’s when he found the big discovery.

Graham, a genealogy buff himself, had already done a great deal of legwork. The paper trail led to a man named John Blanks Sr. of Bladen County.

According to the research, Blanks Sr. fought as a captain in the Craven County Regiment of a North Carolina militia authorized in 1775 by the provincial Congress.

The regiment is known to have fought in the Battle of Moore’s Creek, at New Bern and other places near the border with South Carolina.

“I find it extraordinary that, whenever I go home, the same fields where I was running around, hunting and fishing when I was young, could have been the same fields where they fought and camped,” Hayes said. “Some of those battles were right there and I never knew it.”

Research

As exciting as the news was, some things about John Blanks Sr. remains a mystery to Hayes.

In particular, he’s curious about 18th Century terminology.

“In some documents he’s listed as white or mulatto or other, which wasn’t uncommon,” he said. “I’m trying to determine how he became a ‘free person of color.’

“It could be that he emigrated from Africa to Europe and then came to America. Or maybe he was the son of a sailor.”

What’s not in doubt is Blanks’ status as an American veteran of the Revolutionary War. A pension check issued in 1784 — Hayes keeps a copy in his records — to him by the state of North Carolina proves it.

Black soldiers indeed fought as patriots, but their role isn’t mentioned often. The Sons of the American Revolution has compiled a list of 80 or so from Eastern North Carolina, but documentation can be difficult to locate.

So when Hayes learned about one of his ancestors, he was both surprised and pleased.

“I knew about Crispus Attucks,” he said, referring to a black man killed during the Boston Massacre, the first casualty of the Revolution, “but not much else. I didn’t realize African Americans fought for the United States.”

The next step — joining the Sons of the American Revolution — got easier once Hayes realized that the group’s mission was simply to honor those who’d fought for America’s independence from England.

Nothing divisive about that; and no hidden agendas.

He’s scheduled to be formally inducted at a luncheon later this week, and he’ll be the first African American member in the local chapter.

“It took all kinds of people to struggle for independence,” Learned said. “We’re very pleased.”

So is Hayes. He’s planning on taking two of his young nephews so they, too, can take pride in the family history.

“It’s not for me or anything I’ve done — trust me — but it’s to honor and respect an ancestor who did for all of us,” he said.


Local
One person dies in house fire in Winston-Salem

One person died in a house fire Sunday afternoon on the 4000 block of Inwood Drive.

The name of the victim has not yet been released.

The Winston-Salem Fire Department got the alarm at 3:56 p.m. Sunday and arrived at the scene within a few minutes, according to battalion chief Joe Ramsey.

Multiple engines worked to suppress the fire so they could locate a person believed to be in the house, which was filled with heavy smoke.

Three crews went in to do a primary search of the house and perform a rescue operation.

The Winston-Salem Police Department and Forsyth County Emergency Medical Services also responded.

Firefighters “located the victim and evacuated them from the structure to perform CPR,” Ramsey said.

“The patient was turned over to EMS, but they, sadly, were pronounced dead on the scene.”

After the victim was removed from the structure, firefighters worked to put out the blaze, getting the fire under control by 4:43 p.m., Ramsey said.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation as of Sunday evening, and the Office of the State Fire Marshal investigative division has come in to help with the case, which is standard procedure in cases where a fatality occurs, Ramsey said.


Local
Insurers remain on board — but keep close eye on — N.C. Medicaid reform delay

Insurers preparing to participate in North Carolina’s ambitious $6 billion Medicaid managed-care reform say they remain committed to the initiative.

However, one insurer — Centene — cautioned analysts Tuesday that the rollout delay could cost it at least $500 million in fiscal 2020 revenue. It is operating as WellCare of N.C. 

The other approved insurers are AmeriHealth Caritas N.C., UnitedHealth Group and Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C.

Medicaid currently serves 2.2 million North Carolinians. Of those, 1.6 million are scheduled to be enrolled in the new managed-care system under a federal waiver approved in October 2018.

The proposed managed-care prepaid plans (PHP) — at the heart of the Republican-sponsored initiative — would pay health-care providers a set amount per month for each patient’s costs. DHHS will reimburse the plans.

With the delay, the current fee-for-service model administered by DHHS remains in place.

The initiative was scheduled to go into effect Nov. 1 in the Triad and Triangle, and then statewide Feb. 1. The rollout was delayed in October to a Feb. 1 statewide launch.

On Nov. 19, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the rollout was put on hold indefinitely.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary, warned a legislative healthcare oversight committee Oct. 23 the rollout could not begin without $218 million in needed startup funding critical to paying contractors and vendors, and to implement the assessment tax on prepaid health plans and hospitals.

The funding was contained in the Republican state budget compromise that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed June 28.

Cooper vetoed a separate mini-budget bill, House Bill 555, that also contained the startup funding. He vetoed both bills primarily because they lacked funding for some form of Medicaid expansion that could cover between 450,000 and 650,000 North Carolinians.

DHHS has said it will not decide on a new launch date “until it has program authority within a (state) budget that protects the health and safety of North Carolinians and supports the department’s ability to provide critical oversight and accountability of managed care.”

Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, and a leading House healthcare expert, said halting the initiative “represents a major setback for North Carolina and the Medicaid patients served.”

Cohen is expected to discuss the status of the reform initiative at one or both of Tuesday’s legislative oversight committee meetings on health care and Medicaid.

On Wednesday, Sen. Ralph Hise, R-McDowell, said in a statement that Cooper’s vetoes have not only halted the reform initiative, “but his decisions are proving to be bad for business, too.”

Cooper spokesman Megan Thorpe said in November that “Republican legislators were irresponsible to end the session without moving health care forward.”

Unlikely to walk away

Analysts say it’s unlikely that the four insurers would walk away from the reform initiative.

The three-year PHP contracts are expected to be worth a combined $6 billion a year. With two optional one-year extensions, a contract could be worth a total of $30 billion.

Cohen said she’s aware that as the insurers “have to make a business decision” based on the initiative being put on hold, DHHS will continue to move forward on meeting the federal readiness requirements for the initiative.

“We realize that this creates a lot of uncertainty for them and they have to make decisions about their workforce dedicated to this initiative,” Cohen said.

Centene said it expects to gain 200,000 Medicaid members from the PHP contract. Centene told analysts it is projecting an Oct. 1 start date.

“We continue to maintain sufficient operations for all required implementation activities during this delay,” Centene said.

UnitedHealthcare executive Heather Cianfrocco told analysts Jan. 15 that “North Carolina is in our 2020 guidance (and revenue outlook) right now.”

“We assume it right now to come in about midyear. We are ready for implementation and we are eager to start serving North Carolinians.

“Despite the situation there, there is strong support for the program and for managed care there. So we are continuing to monitor the implementation date.”

When asked what impact a rollout delay to 2021 could have, chief executive David Wichmann said “it would not affect our expectations for (2020), our guidance would stay the same.”

Anthem Inc. chief executive and president Gail Boudreaux told analysts her expectation is for a 2021 start date.

“We have been very much working closely with our partner (Blue Cross NC) in the state of North Carolina and we are ready today,” Boudreaux said.

“Operational readiness is critical for us, and we have gone through numerous iterations with the state around testing and preparedness for the go-live.”

Contract disputes

Centene said it is “defending our awards against ongoing protest and expect that we will retain our awards once the process is complete.”

A joint appeal petition was filed Sept. 19 by the three PHP groups not chosen by DHHS, including by Aetna and MyHealth by Health Providers, a proposed PHP in which Cone Health, Novant Health Inc., and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center are three of 12 hospital supporters.

Aetna has asked an administrative law judge to void the PHP contract awarded to Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C.

Cohen stressed to legislators Oct. 23 that she remains confident in how the four PHPs were selected. She said DHHS expected protests given the size of the annual contracts.

According to Aetna, its findings that focus on conflict-of-interest claims should lead the judge to either award the contract to Aetna or require DHHS “to restore the original rankings” that have Aetna ahead of Blue Cross NC.

Blue Cross NC said Aetna’s conflict-of-interest claims are “misleading” and “Aetna’s reply makes clear its hope that insinuation and conspiracy-mongering can win the day.”

“The facts, however, demonstrate that Aetna’s arguments are misplaced and futile.”