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Health Headlines

    An outbreak of a deadly virus has not spread beyond two areas in south India, officials said, but they have issued a series of warnings to people living in the stricken towns. A total of 12 people have died of Nipah virus since the outbreak began a few weeks ago in the state of Kerala, an unidentified senior Health Ministry official told the Press Trust of India news agency. Another 40 people with Nipah symptoms, which can include high fever, vomiting and convulsions, are being treated in area hospitals. There is no vaccine for Nipah, and no treatment beyond supportive care to make patients comfortable. The virus kills up to 75 percent of those infected. While officials believe this outbreak began with someone infected somehow by a fruit bat, the ministry official said every subsequent infection came from human-to-human contact, sometimes passing to relatives or medical workers caring for the sick. About 100 families where someone has had contact with infected people are being carefully monitored. On Thursday, medical workers in white plastic suits and breathing masks buried the latest victim in the town of Kozhikode, placing his plastic-wrapped corpse in the red earth. Many of the handful of mourners who turned out for the burial were also wearing breathing masks. Meanwhile, officials have issued a set of warnings to two parts of Kerala, including telling the public to avoid consuming partially eaten fruit from date palms and raw liquor made from dates. People have also been told to avoid abandoned wells. Fruit bats eat dates from palm trees, and sometimes nest in wells. The central government has dispatched teams from the National Centre for Disease Control to the area to monitor the outbreak.
  • A California jury delivered a $25.7 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson in a lawsuit brought by a woman who claimed she developed cancer by using the company's talc-based baby powder. Jurors in Los Angeles recommended $4 million in punitive damages Thursday after finding the company acted with malice, oppression or fraud. A day earlier, the panel called for $21.7 million in compensatory damages for plaintiff Joanne Anderson, who suffers from mesothelioma, a lung cancer linked to asbestos exposure. Johnson & Johnson was assigned 67 percent of the compensation payout, with the rest distributed among other defendants. Johnson & Johnson said it's disappointed in the decision and will appeal. 'We will continue to defend the safety of our product because it does not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma,' Johnson & Johnson said in statement. Anderson, 66, claimed Johnson & Johnson failed to adequately warn consumers that its powder contains asbestos and could cause cancer. Johnson & Johnson 'engaged in a multi-decade campaign wherein they hid testing data' from regulators, altered reports to make them more favorable and lied to consumers, said Chris Panatier, one of Anderson's trial attorneys. Similar allegations have led to hundreds of lawsuits against the New Jersey-based company. Jury awards have totaled hundreds of millions of dollars. Last year, a judge in Los Angeles tossed out a $417 million jury award to a woman who claimed she developed ovarian cancer by using Johnson & Johnson baby powder for feminine hygiene. The judge granted the company's motion for a new trial, saying there wasn't convincing evidence that Johnson & Johnson acted with malice and the award for damages was excessive. 'Over the past 50 years, multiple independent, non-litigation driven scientific evaluations have been conducted by respected academic institutions and government bodies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and none have found that the talc in Johnson's Baby Powder contains asbestos,' the company said Thursday. ___ Follow Weber at https://twitter.com/WeberCM
  • Scientists have developed a swallowed capsule packed with tiny electronics and millions of genetically engineered living cells that might someday be used to spot health problems from inside the gut. The capsule was tested in pigs and correctly detected signs of bleeding, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported Thursday in the journal Science . At more than an inch long, it will have to be made smaller for testing in people. But the results suggest the capsule could eventually be used in people to find signs of ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease or even colon cancer, the researchers said. It's the latest advance in a growing field of sensors that can be swallowed or worn to monitor our health. Pills equipped with cameras, thermometers and acidity gauges already look for disease and track digestion. Last year, a psychiatric medication that alerts doctors when it's taken won U.S. approval. Stick-on skin monitors for recovering stroke patients are in the works. The MIT device is the first to use engineered cells as sensors in swallowed capsules, said Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, who is developing a gas-sensing, all-electronic pill at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. 'The work is yet another step toward showing the great promises of smart, ingestible capsules,' said Kalantar-zadeh. The researchers tested the capsules using a harmless strain of E. coli bacteria. The cells were modified with DNA from other bacteria to make them detect blood and then light up. Electronics then take over, relaying signals to a smartphone. Shrinking the capsule to a normal pill size could be achieved by combining its three electronic chips, said co-author Phillip Nadeau. Data encryption will be needed to protect patient privacy. And it's meant to be used once, so they'll need to make it flushable, co-author Mark Mimee said. All that, plus human testing, means a commercial product is years off. As labs discover DNA with new sensing powers, the capsule could be customized to diagnose multiple conditions. Co-author Tim Lu speculated that future patients could swallow a capsule 'once a week or once a month' to screen for early signs of cancer instead of getting a colonoscopy. The capsule could help doctors monitor tricky-to-reach parts of the small intestine for people with Crohn's disease or to study the normal balance of microbes in the gut, said Dr. Stephanie Hansel of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who wasn't involved in the research. 'We're excited about it,' said Hansel, while noting that it probably won't replace the need for procedures using flexible scopes. Texas Instruments and the National Science Foundation helped pay for the research, and the researchers are seeking patents for the capsule. Mimee received a fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports The Associated Press Health & Science Department. ___ Follow AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson on Twitter: @CarlaKJohnson ___ The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has helped with the treatment of thousands of cancer-stricken children around the world. Striving to reach so many more, the Memphis, Tennessee-based hospital announced a $100 million plan Thursday to expand its global outreach. President and CEO James R. Downing told doctors and media that the St. Jude Global program's goal is ambitious — to influence the care of as much as 30 percent of children with cancer worldwide in the next decade. He said he hopes the investment will improve access and quality of medical care for many children who might otherwise die. More than 80 percent of children with cancer live in low- and middle-income countries, where they lack access to adequate diagnosis and treatment, St. Jude said. The majority of those children will die, said Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, director of St. Jude Global. In developed nations, survival rates for pediatric cancers exceed 80 percent. 'We must address this gap,' Downing said. Founded by actor Danny Thomas, St. Jude is considered a leading researcher of cancer and other life-threatening diseases that affect children. It shares its research with hospitals, doctors and health programs worldwide. Families with children being cared for at the hospital never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food. St. Jude is expanding its International Outreach Program, which was founded in 1993 and presently includes 24 hospitals in 17 countries. The hospital's Department of Global Pediatric Medicine, formed in 2016, accelerated the hospital's global outreach. The department has created St. Jude Global, which aims to improve access to care and quality of treatment by focusing on education of medical workers and research. The global program will seek to strengthen health systems that are treating children with cancer and establish standards and guidelines to improve patient care. Hospital officials plan to form what they describe as a global alliance to help transfer knowledge across regions. 'We have set a very bold goal,' Rodriguez-Galindo said. The hospital said that among several other nations, it is building relations in Russia, Myanmar, Cambodia and sub-Saharan Africa. Its research has already influenced medical care in the Philippines, where Dr. Mae Dolendo treats children with cancer in Davao City on the island of Mindanao. Dolendo said doctors from her cancer treatment facility have communicated regularly with St. Jude experts for the past 12 years. These experts have guided Dolendo on programs in leukemia treatment and nursing infectious diseases. Her cancer institute has increased from four beds to 50 beds with the help of St. Jude. 'Children from all over Mindanao come to us, some being carried in hammocks, some taking outrigger boats, some traveling for eight hours by bus, just to get pediatric cancer treatment,' Dolendo said. The overall survival rate was less than 10 percent in 2004, Dolendo said. It is now 50 percent. 'This is the impact of St. Jude to us,' she said.
  • An appeals court on Wednesday refused to block a court decision that said a California law allowing the terminally ill to end their lives was passed illegally. California's 4th District Court of Appeal refused to grant an immediate stay requested by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra. However, the court gave Becerra and other parties time to 'show cause' — that is, provide more arguments as to why the court should grant the stay and suspend the lower court ruling. There was no immediate comment from Becerra's office. However, a national group that supports the law, Compassion & Choices, issued a statement saying it remains in effect as the case winds through the courts 'and patients can still access it.' 'Physicians still are protected under the law to write prescriptions for their terminally ill patients who want the end-of-life care option for medical aid in dying to peacefully end intolerable suffering,' said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices. 'This preliminary ruling is just one step in what promises to be a long legal battle, so people should not change their current treatment plans because of it.' The law lets adults obtain a prescription for life-ending drugs if a doctor has determined that they have six months or less to live. The Life Legal Defense Foundation, American Academy of Medical Ethics and several physicians challenged the law in court. Last week, a judge in Riverside County Superior Court ruled that the law was passed by the state Legislature in violation of the California Constitution because it was approved during a special session on other topics — specifically, health care issues. But he gave Becerra a few days to appeal the decision. Becerra's request to the appellate court argued that the measure was legitimately passed and asked for quick action so that terminally ill people seeking options under the law wouldn't die 'an excruciating, painful death' before the issue is finally decided. California health officials reported that 111 terminally ill people took drugs to end their lives in the first six months after the law went into effect June 9, 2016, and made the option legal in the nation's most populous state. Oregon was the first to provide the option in 1997. It also is allowed in Washington, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii and Washington D.C.
  • It's a big question for smokers and policymakers alike: Do electronic cigarettes help people quit? In a large study of company wellness programs, e-cigarettes worked no better than traditional stop-smoking tools, and the only thing that really helped was paying folks to kick the habit. Critics of the study say it doesn't close the case on these popular vaping products. It didn't rigorously test effectiveness, just compared e-cigarettes to other methods among 6,000 smokers who were offered help to quit. That's still valuable information because it's what happens in daily life. Providing e-cigarettes 'did not improve the number of people who quit compared to essentially doing nothing,' said Dr. Scott Halpern of the University of Pennsylvania. 'The very best way to help them quit is to offer them money.' He led the study, published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine. It was sponsored by the Vitality Group, which runs company wellness programs. The makers of NJOY e-cigarettes provided them but had no role in the research. Separately in the journal, another study reports that lung cancer rates are now higher for white and Hispanic women under 50 than for men that age, a reversal of a longtime trend that can't be explained by smoking patterns alone. VAPING TO QUIT SMOKING E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporize nicotine. They've been sold in the U.S. since 2007 and contain less toxic substances than traditional cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration is mulling how to regulate them, and earlier this year, a national panel of experts said vaping may help folks reduce smoking but that more research is needed. The new study differed from usual studies of smokers wanting to quit: It automatically enrolled smokers in 54 company wellness programs and asked those who didn't want to join to opt out. Only 125 did, but the vast majority of the rest didn't actively participate yet their results were tracked as part of the study. They were put into five groups: usual care, which was information on benefits of quitting and motivational text messages; free quit-smoking aids such as nicotine patches and medicines like Chantix or Zyban plus e-cigarettes if those failed; free e-cigarettes without any requirement to try other methods first; free quit-smoking aids and a $600 reward if people were abstinent six months later; and free cessation tools plus $600 placed in an account at the start of the study that they'd lose if they didn't quit. The results: Only 0.1 percent in the usual care group succeeded; rates ranged from 0.5 percent to nearly 3 percent for the rest. The groups offered cash did best; rates among the other groups did not differ much from each other. Success rates were higher — from 0.7 percent to nearly 13 percent — among 1,200 smokers who actively participated. COST Average costs were less than a dollar per participant in the usual care group and around $100 for those given redeemable cash accounts. But when looked at per successful quitter, the cash programs cost less than e-cigarettes or traditional methods. Most big companies offer stop-smoking programs and half of them offer financial incentives, study leaders said. It costs companies $3,000 to 6,000 more per year to employ a smoker versus a non-smoker. WHAT OTHERS SAY 'E-cigarettes are substantially less harmful than burned or lit cigarettes, but that doesn't mean they're helpful for cessation' and they're not regulated for that, said Cliff Douglas, the American Cancer Society's tobacco policy expert. Gregory Conley, who heads the American Vaping Association, said the type used in this study is obsolete, and all of the methods proved 'pathetic' because smokers were automatically enrolled and may not have wanted to quit. 'You're just thrusting the product on people,' he said. Dr. Nancy Rigotti, director of the tobacco research and treatment center at Massachusetts General Hospital who was on the expert panel, said it was a well-done study that gives 'a little discouraging and surprising' results. The value of traditional methods is well established, so counseling and support might have been inadequate in this study, she said. Others were critical of the study's methods. David Abrams, a former tobacco researcher at the National Institutes of Health and now at New York University, said researchers don't know how many in each group actually used the quit-smoking tools. 'You can't conclude that the treatments didn't work if nobody used them,' said Abrams, who called e-cigarettes 'the best thing that's come along in 10 years to help people quit.' A smoker took a different view. 'For me personally, it was useless,' said Georges Touaichi, a 22-year-old San Diego hotel worker who tried e-cigarettes but went back to smoking after a day or two. An FDA spokesman said the agency was pondering the results, but that this is not the type of study needed to evaluate safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation. LUNG CANCER RATES For the other study in the journal, researchers used U.S. cancer registries and federal health statistics to track new lung cancer cases by gender and race over various time periods. Rates historically have been higher in men but that trend reversed among whites and Hispanics born since the mid-1960s. For example, among people ages 45 to 49 and diagnosed from 1995 to 1999, rates in women were 26 percent lower than for men. But in a more recent time period, 2010 to 2014, women had an 8 percent higher incidence rate than men, said one study leader, the American Cancer Society's Ahmedin Jemal. Women are catching up to men in smoking rates — 14 percent smoke versus 17 percent of men — but that's not enough to explain the switch, he said. Women also smoke fewer cigarettes than men. One theory is that certain types of lung cancer are more common in women and the risk of them declines more slowly after someone quits, and women have lagged behind men in cessation rates, said Caitlin Murphy of the Simmons Cancer Center at UT Southwestern in Dallas. 'Maybe women are getting diagnosed more often through CT screening,' which also would boost their rates compared to men, said Murphy, who had no role in the work. For smokers who are 50, 'if they quit now they can gain about six years of life,' Jemal said. 'They have this opportunity to avoid not only lung cancer but also other causes of smoking-related deaths.' ___ AP writer Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report. ___ Marilynn Marchione can be followed at @MMarchioneAP . ___ The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • The U.S. death rate rose last year, and 2017 likely will mark the third straight year of decline in American life expectancy, according to preliminary data. Death rates rose for Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, flu and pneumonia, and three other leading causes of death, according to numbers posted online Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Full-year data is not yet available for drug overdoses, suicides or firearm deaths. But partial-year statistics in those categories showed continuing increases. Just as important, there was little change in the death rate from the nation's No. 1 killer: heart disease. In the past, steady annual drops in heart disease death rates offset increases in other causes. But that offset is no longer happening, experts say. The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics calculated the preliminary rates based on a first-pass review of death certificates filed last year. There typically are delays in the filing of paperwork for causes of death that involve police investigations. A more complete report is expected around the end of the year, including the number of deaths and a calculation of life expectancy — the average lifespan based on year of birth, current death trends and other factors. For decades, life expectancy increased, rising a few months nearly every year. But 2016 was the second year in a row in U.S. life expectancy fell, a rare event that had occurred only twice before in the last century. Health officials say there was one three-year decline. That occurred in 1916, 1917 and 1918, a period that included the worst flu pandemic in modern history. 'Looking at these numbers, it seems likely' the nation has just tied that record, said Anne Case, a Princeton University researcher who's done influential work on deaths in middle-aged white Americans from suicides, drug overdose and alcohol abuse. The overall death rate rose a little less than 1 percent, to about 734 deaths per 100,000 people. The rate dipped slightly in 2016 despite a record number of deaths that year, so its rise in 2017 is more reason to expect life expectancy will worsen, Case said. There was some good news. The death rate for cancer, the nation's No. 2 killer, continued to drop. It fell 2 percent from 2016. Death rates from HIV and blood infections also declined. The heart disease death rate fell too, but only by 0.3 percent. Experts think the nation's increasing obesity rate is probably a factor in the flattening of heart disease death rates. ___ The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • President Donald Trump's top health official said Wednesday that the U.S. and global partners will 'take the steps necessary' to try to contain a new Ebola outbreak, asserting that the fight against infectious diseases is one of the administration's top priorities for the World Health Organization, the U.N. agency taking the lead. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar stopped short of predicting whether the outbreak in Congo that's believed to have killed at least 27 people will be contained, but he praised WHO's early response and vowed: 'If it spreads, we will take further actions.' Azar's comments on Ebola came in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, which also touched on universal health care, U.S. prescription-drug prices, and the recent revelations of a $1.2 million payout by Swiss drugs giant Novartis last year to Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Novartis, one of the world's largest pharma companies, said Cohen was hired to advise on how the Trump administration might approach health care policy. Experts have pointed out that Novartis needs FDA approval for the sale of its drugs and that company officials have spoken approvingly of rolling back the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, a Trump campaign promise largely unfulfilled. 'I don't and won't comment on the particulars of any individual situation,' said Azar, a former executive with drugmaker Eli Lilly. 'The president has talked about how extensively 'pharma' generally spends money on lobbying. And we have said: You really don't need to spend that money on lobbying because the president and the secretary have been very transparent about where we are going with drug prices: We're going to lower drug prices in the United States,' he said. The response to the Ebola outbreak by WHO and its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has emerged as a major concern as ministers like Azar and his counterparts from other nations gather this week for the World Health Assembly in Geneva. The conclave lays out the agenda of the U.N. agency, which reaps hundreds of millions in U.S. funding each year. 'I think it best not to make predictions when dealing with infectious disease,' Azar said cautiously, when asked if the outbreak will be contained. 'We will take the steps necessary, we will act aggressively, forcefully, in partnership across the world community to do everything to contain it.' 'I think that what we're seeing is that we're taking it very seriously from Day One,' he said. A day earlier, Azar told the Assembly the U.S. was committing an additional $7 million for the Ebola response, raising its total to $8 million. The WHO has launched a 'strategic response plan' for itself and partner organizations that seeks nearly $26 million to battle the outbreak, a figure that's expected to rise. 'We're also grateful for other countries that have stepped up to the plate. And we hope others will do the same,' Azar added. Azar said the 'first and foremost mission' that the U.S. and the world community look to the WHO for is its 'central role around infectious disease and emergency preparedness and response.' Although he stressed the need for international cooperation in fighting Ebola, Azar also underscored a Trump administration grievance: that other developed countries are 'free riding off U.S. investment and innovation' in medicines and health care. The White House says countries that regulate the price of drugs contribute to higher costs in the U.S. and keep their own costs artificially low. Azar said he delivered that message to his peers in Geneva. 'It has been a thoughtful response,' he said, when asked about their reaction. 'It has not been reflexive, it has been a sense of, 'We're in this together. We do need to work to support innovation.'' But he said he was leaving the details to others. 'I'm not here to do trade negotiations. I have delivered the message and said our trade negotiators are coming: Be ready!' he said with a laugh. 'I have said we have our own job: The president is going to bring down American drug costs. But they'll have their job.
  • Congress delivered a victory to President Donald Trump by expanding private care for veterans as an alternative to the troubled Veterans Affairs health system. The Senate cleared the bill on a 92-5 vote Wednesday, also averting a disastrous shutdown of its Choice private-sector program. The program is slated to run out of money as early as next week, causing disruptions in care. The sweeping measure would allow veterans to see private doctors when they do not receive the treatment they expected, with the approval of a Department of Veterans Affairs health provider. Veterans could access private care when they have endured lengthy wait times or VA medical centers do not offer the services they need. The bill's approval comes despite concerns from some Democrats that the effort would prove costly and be used too broadly by veterans in search of top-notch care even when the VA is able to provide treatment deemed sufficient for their needs. The White House said Trump applauded passage of legislation that would transform VA 'into a high-performing and integrated health care system for the 21st century and provide veterans with more choice in their health care options, whether from VA doctors or from the community.' The VA secretary will have wide leeway in implementing the legislation, which leaves it up to VA to determine what is 'quality' care. Trump said last week he will nominate acting VA secretary Robert Wilkie to permanently lead the government's second largest department serving 9 million veterans. Democrats say they intend to question Wilkie on whether he plans to 'privatize' or degrade the VA health system, an issue that former VA Secretary David Shulkin says led to his firing in March. Sen. Johnny Isakson, the Republican chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, lauded the bill as a big step toward providing veterans with 'more choice and fewer barriers to care.' Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the veterans panel, said the plan will also boost VA health care by paying off higher amounts of student loan debt for doctors who agree to work in high-need VA positions, requiring improvement plans in communities with few hospitals and creating a pilot program that would send medical personnel to help fill shortages. 'The best defense against any effort to privatize the VA or send veterans in a wholesale fashion to the private sector is to make sure the VA is living up to its promise,' he said. Trump has made clear he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk before Memorial Day. The House passed it on a 347-70 vote last week. The Senate supported the bill that would create a presidentially-appointed commission to review the closure of underperforming VA facilities. House Democrats had sought restrictions on the commission but were rebuffed by House Republicans and the White House. It would also expand a VA caregivers program to cover families of veterans of all eras, not just the families of veterans who were seriously injured in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The $51 billion bill provides for a newly combined 'community care' program that includes Choice and other VA programs of outside care. It could face escalating costs due to growing demand from veterans seeking the convenience of seeing private physicians. Some House Democrats warn the VA won't be able to handle a growing price tag, putting the VA at risk of unexpected budget shortfalls next year. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a former chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, criticized the bill as moving the VA 'too far in the direction of privatization.' He noted that it would not provide any money to fill more than 30,000 positions at the VA that the Trump administration has left vacant. 'My fear is that this bill will open the door to the draining, year after year, of much needed resources from the VA,' he said. The measure builds on legislation passed in 2014 in response to a wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for appointments. It aims to steer more patients to the private sector to relieve pressure at VA hospitals, thus improving veterans care at VA facilities and with private providers alike. Patients could also access private walk-in clinics, such as MinuteClinics, to treat minor illnesses or injury if they used VA health care in the last two years. The legislation would loosen Choice's restrictions that limit outside care only when a veteran must wait 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. Currently, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are in the private sector. A broad array of veterans' groups supported the bill. The American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group, says the plan will 'strengthen veterans' health care for future generations while ensuring that veterans' caregivers of all generations get the support they deserve.' The conservative Concerned Veterans for America, a long-time advocate of expanding private care for veterans, called the measure a 'very big deal.' Still, executive director Dan Caldwell stresses the 'top priority for the VA secretary is ensuring it will be implemented properly.' ___ Follow Hope Yen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hopeyen1
  • Federal health officials warned parents Wednesday about the dangers of teething remedies that contain a popular numbing ingredient and asked manufacturers to stop selling their products intended for babies and toddlers. The Food and Drug Administration said that various gels and creams containing the drug benzocaine can cause rare but deadly side effects in children, especially those 2 years and younger. The agency has been warning about the products for a decade but said reports of illnesses and deaths have continued. Now, it wants teething products off the market, noting there is little evidence they actually work. 'We urge parents, caregivers and retailers who sell them to heed our warnings and not use over-the-counter products containing benzocaine for teething pain,' said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, in a statement. One major manufacturer, Church and Dwight Co. Inc., said Wednesday it would discontinue its four Orajel teething brands, including Baby Orajel and Orajel Medicated Teething Swabs. The FDA said it will take legal action against other companies that don't voluntarily comply as soon as possible. Benzocaine is also used in popular over-the-counter products for toothaches and cold sores in adults, including Orajel and Anbesol and generic drugstore brands. Products for adults can remain on the market but the FDA wants companies to add new warnings. Church and Dwight will continue to sell its other Orajel products, the company said in a statement. Benzocaine can cause a rare blood condition linked to potentially deadly breathing problems. The pain-relieving ingredient can interfere with an oxygen-carrying protein in the blood. Symptoms include shortness of breath, headache and rapid heart rate. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend teething creams because they usually wash out of the baby's mouth within minutes. Instead, the group recommends giving babies teething rings or simply massaging their gums to relieve pain. The FDA issued warnings about the teething products in 2006, 2011 and 2014, but it did not call for their removal from the market. Officials reviewed 119 cases of the blood disorder linked to benzocaine between 2009 and 2017, including four deaths, according to the FDA. Wednesday's action comes more than four years after the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen petitioned the FDA to stop sales of teething products. The agency faced a deadline next week after Public Citizen sued the FDA to force a response to the petition. ___ The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Local News

  • The flash flood watch that is in effect for Athens and northeast Georgia continues into the weekend: forecasters say there is the ongoing chance of rain for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. The flood watch is in place through at least noon Saturday. From Zachery Hansen, AJC… The rainy, muggy holiday weekend is fast approaching, but Atlanta should mostly avoid heavy amounts of rain Friday. The morning commute should be pretty dry, with only a few scattered sprinkles around the metro area, Channel 2 Action News Chief meteorologist Glenn Burns said. The afternoon and evening should also only see scattered showers around Atlanta, but the same can’t be said for eastern Georgia. Athens and Gainesville should get drenched most of the day starting at lunchtime, Burns said.  “(Friday) evening, we’re looking at heavy rains in eastern Georgia,” Burns said. “That’s the primary area that we’re going to focus on for flooding potential.” There’s a lot of water already soaked up in the ground in North and Middle Georgia from the past few days of storms. A flash flood watch is in effect for dozens of North and Middle Georgia counties through Saturday morning, according to the National Weather Service. “Additional rounds of very heavy rainfall are likely as a trough of low pressure to the west feeds very high amounts of moisture into the area,” the Weather Service said. “Total rainfall amounts through Friday night could range from 2 to 4 inches with isolated amounts up to 8 inches.” The flash flood watch includes most metro Atlanta counties.
  • The Board of the University of Georgia Athletic Association continues its meeting this morning at the Georgia Center. Thursday’s session included reports from UGA president Jere Morehead and athletic director Greg McGarity and an update on ongoing and future facilities projects. UGA has raised more than $70 million for work on Sanford Stadium and other athletic facilities at the University of Georgia. From Chip Towers, AJC DawgNation… Georgia brought back much more from Notre Dame than a 1-point football victory last fall. Josh Brooks, the Bulldogs’ deputy athletic director for operations, gave the UGA Athletic Association a slide-show presentation of additional improvements beyond the multi-million dollar West End enhancements coming to Sanford Stadium this fall. And Brooks credited Georgia’s experience playing the Fighting Irish in South Bend for several of the concepts being implemented.  One has been the advent of the Silver Dawgs, a group UGA-associated retirees who will serve as home-game weekend hosts this fall. Based on Notre Dame’s “Usher Corps” that demonstrated tremendous hospitality for visiting Bulldogs fans last fall, the group had a “very successful” trial run at the G-Day Game in April. The latest idea, though, will manifest itself in aesthetic improvements at the Sanford Stadium this season. In an effort celebrate Georgia’s rich history in football, the Bulldogs will utilize new paint and cutting-edge graphics to bring life to areas of the stadium previously adorned only in “drab battleship gray.” “We witnessed a lot of things at Notre Dame last fall about how they celebrate their history,” Brooks told the board. “That got us to thinking about how we could celebrate our history and also warm up the stadium at the same time. So we’re going to try to dress up some of those concrete, gray areas we have.” Brooks showed a huge graphic of Herschel Walker running the football with an inscription of Larry Munson’s famous words “My God He’s a Freshman.” That artwork will be placed on one wall on the corner of the South side concourse. There also will be painted likenesses of players in full uniforms representative of their respective decades on support posts in the Gate 6 entrance area off East Campus Road. The covers of team programs for the corresponding year of every Georgia team in history will be painted on support columns on Reed Plaza. That’s just one small project among numerous substantial projects on which Brooks updated the board. Another was the $63 million construction project at Sanford Stadium, which will add a new locker room and recruiting lounge behind the West End grandstands. Another is a proposed $23 million renovation and construction project that would add six indoor courts to the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. There also are recently completed expansion projects for the Boyd Center for men’s and women’s golf, the equestrian center and Stegeman Coliseum. UGA President Jere Morehead and athletic director Greg McGarity lauded the Georgia people for stepping up with donations to fund these projects. McGarity said the Bulldogs already have received $71 million in pledges — mostly coming from members of the relatively new Magill Society — toward the $93 million in football projects. “There’s a strong commitment by our supporters of the football program, but winning helps,” Morehead said after the first of two days of meetings with the board. “… But keep in mind, we’ve still got to collect on all of those pledges. We need people to pay up.” Of all the projects discussed Thursday, none included the expansion of Georgia’s weight room for football. In meetings all over the South since the end of Georgia’s SEC Championship football season, coach Kirby Smart has been telling donors of the Bulldogs’ facility improvement needs in that area. McGarity acknowledged that it was on Smart’s wish list, but said UGA is taking a prioritized approach to projects. “We have to finish the West End first,” McGarity said. “We feel good about what we’re doing. These things take time. We want to plan it the right way.” Added Morehead: “I think it’s important to keep things in context. Look where we were just five years ago. We’re in an extraordinarily competitive position at this point. I think our No. 1-ranked recruiting class demonstrates that it’s working.” Another improvement that UGA fans will notice at Sanford Stadium this fall will be the addition of 12 suites on field level of the East End. That’s where the Bulldogs used to enter the field from their game-day locker room underneath the grandstands. The marble statue of the Uga mascot will be moved to the northwest corner of the stadium to accommodate the change. All and all, there will be a brighter, more colorful and historic feel to Sanford Stadium in the fall. “You’re always trying to learn from what others do, and I think we learned a lot from Notre Dame,” Morehead said. “We took a victory away and I think that really propelled last year’s season of success. But we appreciated their warm hospitality before the game and during the game and after the game.”
  • When Danny Sniff first arrived on UGA’s campus more than 30 years ago, he drove up D.W. Brooks Drive shaking his head. “That shouldn’t be a road,” he thought. “It should be a green space.” Over the next several decades, he set to work as the campus architect, overseeing around 250 major capital projects and renovations that added about 8 million square feet in facilities and more than 50 acres of green space to the UGA campus. Although his last day as campus architect will be June 30, Sniff is not done yet. He sat down with Columns to discuss his proudest accomplishments at UGA and what he has planned for his second act. Columns: What were your favorite projects at UGA?Sniff: The projects I’m most tied to are returning Herty Field and D.W. Brooks Drive into green spaces. A campus is basically a set of buildings and a park. The space between becomes extremely important. When I first came here, campus was dominated by parking and parking lots, so I developed a master plan where we pushed the parking to the perimeter and tried to create a park-like center. One of the very first projects I worked on was the Ramsey Student Center and the Performing and Visual Arts Complex, and I also worked on the Miller Learning Center. I think they’re exemplary buildings to this day. Columns: Why are you so passionate about green spaces?Sniff: One thing American architects have given the world of architecture is the American college campus, where buildings are parallel and perpendicular to open spaces. The archetype of a college campus is like no other place. Students get out of class, meet their friends and study. They have these little gardens that are places of repose. It’s very special in the world of architecture, and I have been very fortunate to be a restorer of one of the best campuses in the country. Over the past few years, we’ve had dozens and dozens of visitors from around the world who come here and are blown away by this campus. I think we’re arguably one of the top universities for architecture and grounds in the country. We developed a master plan back in the 1990s to restore what was the quintessential American college campus, which was that green, or open, place between the buildings. Returning 50 acres of the original 600-acre campus to green space was really important for us to do. Columns: Why is historic preservation important in planning a campus layout?Sniff: First of all, preservation is important because of the legacy that we inherit: a 200-plus year history of the buildings and the grounds. We’re still using buildings that were built in 1806. So that’s an important task, to make sure that we’re respectful and honorable of what’s there. There are a lot of memories of this place that you have to respect as well. We started the preservation program on North Campus. I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve renovated almost every single building, and almost every single building we worked on, we’ve received awards or accolades from preservation societies. You have to respect what came before you; that’s what makes preservation very important. Columns: How about sustainability?Sniff: To me, architects need to be smart with the buildings they design. These buildings, as we just said, have been here for more than 200 years, so to continue to use your buildings for years to come is very important. It’s not smart or economical to tear things down and rebuild. When you approach the design of a building on campus that you know is going to be there for over 100 years, making it as flexible, as usable and as energy efficient as possible and making it something that will be survive for the next200 years makes a lot of sense. Columns: What’s next for you?Sniff: I’ve started a little consulting company. I’ve very much planned this retirement, and I’m not afraid of the challenges of changing what I’ve been doing for so long. The university’s been fantastic to me. I went back and got the qualifications and degrees to teach, which I’ve been doing for a couple of years. And it’s just been wonderful, fantastic. I’m going to continue teaching as an adjunct for as long as they’ll have me around. I look forward to stretching my brain in different directions.
  • The Georgia Bulldog baseball team awaits its post-season fate: the Diamond Dogs were eliminated from the SEC tournament in Hoover Alabama with Thursday’s loss to Ole Miss. The Dogs will learn over the weekend who and where they play in an NCAA Regional. From UGA Sports Communications… Fourth-ranked Ole Miss eliminated eighth-ranked Georgia 5-4 in 10 innings at the SEC Tournament Thursday at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.   Sophomore Grae Kessinger led off the bottom of the first with his seventh home run to give the Rebels a 1-0 advantage. In the fourth inning, an RBI-single by Chase Cockrell scored Will Golsan who was on after a leadoff double. Bulldog senior right-hander Chase Adkins started and provided five innings and allowing two runs on seven hits with two strikeouts.   Heading to the seventh, Georgia had just three baserunners on the day, a single by Adam Sasser in the second, a two-out double by L.J. Talley in the fifth and a one-out walk to C.J. Smith in the sixth. Then, senior Keegan McGovern smashed a leadoff double, his 14th of the year. After Michael Curry moved him to third with a groundout, Sasser followed with a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to 2-1. The run snapped a stretch of 33 scoreless innings by the Bulldogs at the SEC Tournament.    With Cam Shepherd at the plate in the seventh, the game was halted for one hour and 54 minutes due to rain and lightning. When play resumed, Ole Miss closer Parker Caracci took the mound and finished the frame. Georgia turned to freshman Ryan Webb. Kessinger struck again in the seventh with a leadoff double and later scored on a fielder’s choice by Thomas Dillard for a 3-1 lead.   In the eighth with two Bulldogs in scoring position and two outs, Aaron Schunk hit a chopper back to Caracci who opted to throw it home and it was wide of the catcher and went to the backstop, allowing two runs to score and tie the contest. Talley had led off the inning with a double and pinch-hitter Tucker Bradley followed with a single. Pinch-runner Ivan Johnson stole second before Caracci came back to strike out pinch-hitter Mason Meadows and C.J. Smith to bring up Schunk who ended up at third on the bizarre play. Schunk, who also serves as the closer, came in to pitch in the bottom of the inning.   In the 10th, Talley blasted his sixth home run of the year to put Georgia in front 4-3. However in the bottom of the inning, the Rebels (43-15) answered with a pair of runs capped by an RBI-single by Tim Rowe for the walk-off victory to end a contest that lasted 3:10. Caracci improved to 4-2 while Schunk dropped to 2-2.    “It was a tough way to lose after a back-and-forth game, and we tied it in crazy fashion and then took a lead, and baseball can be a cruel game,” said Georgia’s Ike Cousins head baseball coach Scott Stricklin. “It’s a disappointing way to end the game, and you have to credit Ole Miss for coming back too. They’re a very good team, a top five team, and I think what we’ve done over the course of the season, we’ll be a national seed. I think the SEC will have four national seeds and we’ll get back home and get some rest and get ready for an NCAA Regional. “   The Bulldogs (37-19) now wait until Sunday evening when the 16 NCAA Regional hosts are announced, and then on Monday at noon on ESPNU, the field of 64 including the top 16 seeds for the NCAA Baseball Championship will be revealed.
  • A note from City Hall for candidates in Tuesday’s Athens elections, the winners and the losers: they’re encouraged to round up their campaign signs and turn them for recycling at the Athens-Clarke County recycling division.  The post-election formalities continue, with candidates collecting campaign signs from roadways and the Secretary of State’s office putting the finishing touches on vote counting, with certification of Tuesday’s results soon to come. A half-dozen Republicans and two Democrats are still on the campaign trail, aiming now for July 24 runoffs. Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp are seeking the Republican nomination for Governor; David Shafer and Geoff Duncan are Republicans running for Lieutenant Governor; Brad Raffensperger and David Bell Isle are candidates for Secretary of State. The only Democratic runoff pits Otha Thornton against Sid Chapman, two candidates who want to be state School Superintendent.

Bulldog News

  • GREENSBORO — The Georgia Athletic Association board of directors approved a record $143.3 million budget on Friday. And it’s a good thing, because costs are going through the roof, particularly when it comes to football. Among the line items in the 2019 budget, approved by unanimous vote at the spring meeting here at the Ritz-Carlton Lodge on Lake Oconee, was a football compensation expenditure of $9,418,877. That’s the cost of paying head coach Kirby Smart his new $6.6 million salary plus the salaries of all of the members of the ever-growing football support staff. The figure is almost twice what UGA paid in football salaries the previous year ($4.985 million). “It’s all relative to college athletics now,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said after the meeting. Georgia’s football operations budget for 2019 is $35.2 million, up $7.8 million from 2018. That includes a $2.265 million outlay for recruiting travel. There also is a new line-item buried within. It’s $1.8 million, which is the new federal excise tax that is being assessed on nonprofits that pay employees more than $1 million in salary. So Georgia is now being assessed a 21 percent tax rate on anything over that amount that it pays coaches. Currently that is on three individuals: Smart, basketball coach Tom Crean ($3.2 million) and football defensive coordinator  Mel Tucker ($1.5 million). The federal excise tax was part of a legislative package passed last year that also will eliminate donations to athletic departments to buy tickets. “I understand the theory behind passing the legislation [to discourage excessive salaries] but I’m not sure in the current marketplace that it’s going to achieve its goal,” UGA President Jere Morehead said. “So far it has not.” So while college athletics has more money than ever coming in, it has more than ever going out as well. Georgia is spending more money than ever to take care of student-athletes, including cost-of-attendance supplements, training table and other services. “Fortunately we’re able to do so much more for our student-athletes than we used to do,” McGarity said. “I’d say other than salaries and support services that we need to keep the engine running, what we’re spending on our student-athletes has been truly transformative. That’s not really being talked about. There are certain things we’re able to do that they’re not able to do on a lot of other campuses.” Case in point would be what UGA is doing in the area of behavorial health. Ron Courson, Georgia’s director of sports medicine, and his staff gave a 40-minute presentation on the health services they’re providing student-athletes in the area of behavorial assessment and treatment. The Bulldogs now employ a doctor of psychiatry, two clinical psychologists and a social worker. They’re seeking to add at least one more professional to the team. Last year, that team had “895 encounters” not counting group meetings and treated 130 individuals, according to Courson. “It’s something we’ve been trying to put a great deal of emphasis on,” Courson said. “We’re hoping to add another licensed social worker and other professionals. We’re excited about what we’ve done so far, but we’re really excited about what else we can do to get better.” In addition to coaching compensation and student-athlete services, the Bulldogs have stepped up their pace considerably in terms of facility improvements. Football is at the end of a three-year period in which it has spent $93 million on construction projects with the Payne Indoor Athletic Facility and $63 million for a locker room and recruiting lounge addition at Sanford Stadium that is due for completion at the end of June. Board treasurer Ryann Nesbitt reported that Georgia has received $50.6 million in gifts and pledges toward those projects, including $25.1 million in cash collections. Indications are that a new weight room and additional meeting rooms and coaches’ offices will added to the Butts-Mehre Football Complex over the next year. Georgia also recently did $8 million in improvements on Stegeman Coliseum, completed a $4.2 million construction project to expand the Boyd Golf Center, expanded its equestrian facilities, and completed a study that showed plans to renovate the Dan Magill Tennis Complex and build a six-court indoor facility will cost a minimum of $23 million. “So we have committed a lot of money to improvements, and will continue to,” McGarity said. The athletic association also donated $4.5 million to UGA’s general fund as it has done annually for the last several years. “It certainly has benefited the institution in supporting student scholarships in particular as well as the creation of professorships,” Morehead said. “I think it has been mutually beneficial. The escalating cost of running a top Division I athletic program certainly creates challenges, but we appreciate we’ve been able to maintain that level of consistent support.” Accordingly, Georgia’s new budget represented a $15.8 million increase over last year. Several members of the board asked McGarity if there were any concerns that the lucrative revenue stream that has been provided the SEC in recent years due to its network arrangement with ESPN might regress in the future. It has been well publicized that the television behemoth known as the “worldwide network” has been experiencing financial trouble in recent years due to decreases in cable-television subscriptions. “We think our revenue stream will continue to grow,” McGarity said. “Whether they’re consuming the products from Hulu or whatever, the content is still being distributed and ESPN is retaining the rights for that. There are so many different platforms, but ESPN is still part of the package.” The post UGA’s record $143 million athletics budget includes eye-popping expenditures appeared first on DawgNation.
  • GREENSBORO, Ga. — An interesting side discussion developed in the minutes following the first day of the UGA Athletic Association’s board of directors meeting Thursday at the Ritz Carlton Lodge on Lake Oconee. UGA President Jere Morehead was asked if he felt that athletic director Greg McGarity, standing six inches to his left, was deserving of a contract extension and/or raise. It made for a somewhat awkward exchange and resulted in considerable blushing from the already rosey-faced McGarity. “We’re not talking about anything but the current situation,” Morehead said of his AD, who has one year remaining on a contract that pays him $675,000 a year. “But, yes, I have great confidence in Greg. He’s doing a tremendous job, but we’re good where we are.” Asked if “yes” meant UGA is indeed contemplating an extension for McGarity, Morehead clarified: “No. I’m saying to you we haven’t had any of those kinds of conversations.” It was at this point that McGarity somewhat sheepishly piped in. “There’s no urgency,” said McGarity, Georgia’s AD since September 2010. “We’re in great shape. Today is about all these teams and everything they’ve done. There’s just no urgency about [the contract].” An increase in compensation would appear justified. In a recent survey of SEC athletic director salaries, the database SportsInfo.pro revealed that McGarity’s salary ranks 13th — or next to last. Only Auburn’s Allen Greene makes less ($625,000). Alabama’s Greg Byrne makes the most at $1.225 million, followed by Florida’s Scott Stricklin ($1.08M). Even Tennessee’s newly appointed, first-time AD Phillip Fulmer will earn $1.04 million this year. In all, four of the conference’s athletic directors earn at least $1 million a year and 10 earn $800,000 or more. “When Greg has issues about things like that, he’ll come to me and talk about them,” Morehead said. Said McGarity, who is not represented by an agent: “I have no issues. I don’t compare myself against others. I’m extremely well-compensated regardless of what others make. The only time I ever pay attention to it is when somebody brings it up. I’m in great shape, I have a great boss and work for a great institution. I don’t get involved in that and it really doesn’t bother me at all.” McGarity, 63, came to Georgia from Florida in 2010 to succeed Damon Evans and said then that he expected to be in the position at least 10 years or “as long as Georgia will have me.” Asked Thursday if that were still the case, McGarity said, “I just think it’s an unforeseeable future. We’ll just see what happens. And, trust me, we haven’t even talked about it. It’s not urgent; it’s not important. But for the foreseeable future, I feel like I’m in great shape.” It bears pointing out that everybody was singing McGarity’s praises on Thursday, Morehead included. The Bulldogs won the SEC Championship and finished No. 2 in the nation in football. UGA currently is 13th in the Learfield all-sports national rankings, won a national championship in track, won the SEC’s all-sports trophy for women and is No. 2 in that ranking. “Looking across all 21 sports — fall and spring — I cannot recall in recent memory a stronger year for Georgia athletics,” Morehead said. “And the year is far from over. Teams are still competing with championship aspirations. The tremendous success we are witnessing this year is a testament to our commitment to excellence in all of our sports.” Meanwhile, UGA athletics just last week received recognition from the NCAA for its top-10 placement in Academic Progress Rate (APR) for all its sports. Four of Georgia’s sports — including men’s basketball — were ranked in the top 10. It has been a good year McGarity, for sure. That hasn’t always been the case. He has been criticized in the past for his handling of coaches, including former football coach Mark Richt, men’s basketball coach Mark Fox and current baseball coach Scott Stricklin. But since then he has hired Kirby Smart, who has turned around the football program; Stricklin’s Diamond Dogs are likely going to host an NCAA Regional this year; and Tom Crean so far at least has energized the fan base with his hyperbolic promotion of the basketball program. I ask you, DawgNation, does McGarity deserve a contract extension? A raise? Nothing? The post Might be time to talk new contract for Georgia AD Greg McGarity appeared first on DawgNation.
  • GREENSBORO, N.C. — Georgia brought back much more from Notre Dame than a 1-point football victory last fall. Josh Brooks, the Bulldogs’ deputy athletic director for operations, gave the UGA Athletic Association a slide-show presentation of additional improvements beyond the multi-million dollar West End enhancements coming to Sanford Stadium this fall. And Brooks credited Georgia’s experience playing the Fighting Irish in South Bend for several of the concepts being implemented. One has been the advent of the Silver Dawgs, a group UGA-associated retirees who will serve as home-game weekend hosts this fall. Based on Notre Dame’s “Usher Corps” that demonstrated tremendous hospitality for visiting Bulldogs fans last fall, the group had a “very successful” trial run at the G-Day Game in April. The latest idea, though, will manifest itself in aesthetic improvements at the Sanford Stadium this season. In an effort celebrate Georgia’s rich history in football, the Bulldogs will utilize new paint and cutting-edge graphics to bring life to areas of the stadium previously adorned only in “drab battleship gray.” “We witnessed a lot of things at Notre Dame last fall about how they celebrate their history,” Brooks told the board. “That got us to thinking about how we could celebrate our history and also warm up the stadium at the same time. So we’re going to try to dress up some of those concrete, gray areas we have.” Brooks showed a huge graphic of Herschel Walker running the football with an inscription of Larry Munson’s famous words “My God He’s a Freshman.” That artwork will be placed on one wall on the corner of the South side concourse. There also will be painted likenesses of players in full uniforms representative of their respective decades on support posts in the Gate 6 entrance area off East Campus Road. The covers of team programs for the corresponding year of every Georgia team in history will be painted on support columns on Reed Plaza. That’s just one small project among numerous substantial projects on which Brooks updated the board. Another was the $63 million construction project at Sanford Stadium, which will add a new locker room and recruiting lounge behind the West End grandstands. Another is a proposed $23 million renovation and construction project that would add six indoor courts to the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. There also are recently completed expansion projects for the Boyd Center for men’s and women’s golf, the equestrian center and Stegeman Coliseum. UGA President Jere Morehead and athletic director Greg McGarity lauded the Georgia people for stepping up with donations to fund these projects. McGarity said the Bulldogs already have received $71 million in pledges — mostly coming from members of the relatively new Magill Society — toward the $93 million in football projects. “There’s a strong commitment by our supporters of the football program, but winning helps,” Morehead said after the first of two days of meetings with the board. “… But keep in mind, we’ve still got to collect on all of those pledges. We need people to pay up.” Of all the projects discussed Thursday, none included the expansion of Georgia’s weight room for football. In meetings all over the South since the end of Georgia’s SEC Championship football season, coach Kirby Smart has been telling donors of the Bulldogs’ facility improvement needs in that area. McGarity acknowledged that it was on Smart’s wish list, but said UGA is taking a prioritized approach to projects. “We have to finish the West End first,” McGarity said. “We feel good about what we’re doing. These things take time. We want to plan it the right way.” Added Morehead: “I think it’s important to keep things in context. Look where we were just five years ago. We’re in an extraordinarily competitive position at this point. I think our No. 1-ranked recruiting class demonstrates that it’s working.” Another improvement that UGA fans will notice at Sanford Stadium this fall will be the addition of 12 suites on field level of the East End. That’s where the Bulldogs used to enter the field from their game-day locker room underneath the grandstands. The marble statue of the Uga mascot will be moved to the northwest corner of the stadium to accommodate the change. All and all, there will be a brighter, more colorful and historic feel to Sanford Stadium in the fall. “You’re always trying to learn from what others do, and I think we learned a lot from Notre Dame,” Morehead said. “We took a victory away and I think that really propelled last year’s season of success. But we appreciated their warm hospitality before the game and during the game and after the game.” The post Notre Dame experience catalyst for more improvements at Sanford Stadium appeared first on DawgNation.
  • GREENSBORO, Ga. — Greetings from the Ritz-Carlton Lodge on Lake Oconee, my home away from home. That’s a joke. The only time I ever get to enjoy this posh resort an hour south of Athens is every other year when the University of Georgia Athletic Association board of the directors holds its end-of-year meeting here. That’s happening over the next two days. There’s a meeting of the executive committee this morning, followed by a meeting of the full board until lunch.  The group will adjourn for golf and personal time on the expansive resort, which includes a full spa and golf course, then reconvene Friday morning to conduct more business. Among the items expected to be discussed at this year’s meeting: The approval of a record $143 million budget; An update on several construction projects, including the $63 million west end zone addition at Sanford Stadium and the new men’s and women’s golf headquarters; An update on fundraising to pay for recent projects, including the $30 million indoor athletic facility, thought to be in the range of $90 million; A proposal to build a new $18 million six-court, indoor tennis facility in the South Campus area where the current Lindsey Hopkins four-court facility exists; Election and reappointment of board members and proposal to amend board bylaws; A new student ticket distribution plan; An academic report, which will include details about UGA’s recent recognition by the NCAA for scoring in the top 10 percent of all teams across the country in each sport. As always, there will likely be some unexpected developments. We’ll be here to provide updates the next two days. The post UGA athletic board expected to approve record budget, more construction projects appeared first on DawgNation.
  • SAVANNAH – In the words of the late, great Paul Harvey (ask your parents, kids), “now for the rest of the story.” I was in Columbus on Monday for UGA’s Coaches Caravan stop there. Today I am in Savannah for Stop 2 on this coach speaking mini-tour for Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Tom Crean. So I drove from Columbus to Savannah last night. If you haven’t looked at a map, I’ll just tell you that’s a long way, 4-plus hours by car, which is how I made it. Fortunately for Smart and Crean, they didn’t come here the same way. They flew back to Athens last night via UGA’s plane, kissed their loved ones good night, slept in their own beds, then flew down here to the “Hostess City of the South. Tuesday night, Georgia’s coaches flew back home to Athens. I asked Smart for a ride-along after I walked out to my garage Monday and found my car’s left front tire flat, but he insisted all the seats were occupied. So I rented. Kirby Smart (far right) stands at the front of a long line of fans waiting to get his autograph at Savannah Station on Tuesday. (Chip Towers/DawgNation) Anyway, it seems that my collection of observances from the Columbus proceedings touched a nerve with some UGA folks, particularly those who plan and organize these undertakings. I noted in my column Monday night that the event at the Convention & Trade Center in Columbus seemed lightly attended and somewhat compressed in overall length and depth of program. That was indeed the case. But, while there were a few more no-shows than expected, I’m told that it was intimate by design. That’s according to Matt Borman, Georgia’s executive associate athletic director for development (aka, chief fundraiser). Borman and his staff organize these events, which aren’t to be confused with your father’s and grandfather’s Bulldog Club meetings. These functions aren’t advertised or marketed anywhere, Borman told me. They’re free and open to anyone to attend, but they’re essentially invitation-only events. The people who show up are UGA alumni and/or season-ticket holders — and their friends or children — who received an email telling them that the Top Dawgs are going to be in the area and they should come out and hang out for an evening. This is not to be confused with the “all-calls” of the past, where thousands of Georgia fans from all around were summoned some massive venue to bark and whoop it up for their Bulldogs. This is what you’d call a “targeted audience.” “We’re not trying to be more exclusive,” Borman told me Tuesday, “But we are trying to create a more intimate atmosphere for a group of alumni and fans to spend with our coaches.” Case in point, the 10-minute speech that Smart delivered Monday night to about 290 fans in Columbus was just a small part of his evening there. Before that, he and Crean signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans who stood in line for that opportunity. After their speeches, Crean and Smart were jettisoned across town in Columbus to the Chattahoochee River Club, where they attended a dinner with – well, let’s just say – a very, very special group of donors. In all, the coaches spent nearly six hours in Columbus, according to Borman. That’s why these get-togethers start at 4:30 in the afternoon. It’s more of a happy-hour before the main event. The Bulldogs followed exactly the same format in Savannah on Tuesday. This time, the UGA entourage hustled 3.2 miles down the road to The Savannah Golf Club for a dinner with friends. Georgia held three events similar to these earlier this year in Dallas, Charlotte and Tampa, then there’s going to be a dinner-only function in Atlanta in July. And that’s going to be it for the year. So it’s a change in times and philosophy for sure, but one that’s been gradually coming on for the last few years. And as one might imagine, they’re certainly nice affairs. In contrast to what I saw in Columbus, Tuesday night’s occasion was extremely well-attended, standing-room in the magnificent venue building known as Savannah Station (a brilliantly repurposed and privately-owned 110-year-old facility that used to serve as a stable for horses delivering freight to and from the port, I learned). Attendees weren’t disappointed. They were whipped into a lather by the Energizer Bunny otherwise known as Georgia’s new basketball coach. Crean knows both how to promote his program and pay homage to football program that pays the freight in these parts. Organizers are well advised to provide him a sturdy dais, for whatever stands in front of him will be duly fist-pounded. Then there was Smart, in stark contrast. Adored for leading the Bulldogs to their first SEC championship in 12 years last season, he doesn’t need to say much to incite applause and barking. He’s more focused in approach, hammering down on UGA’s attributes and needs and basically challenging the group come through for him. Like he is on the recruiting trail, Smart remains a man on the mission. His stated goal is to make Georgia football the biggest and the best, whether it be on the field, on the scoreboard or, yes, in total square footage of its weight room. “Every day, we’re competing for a standard at Georgia,” Smart said. “We’re trying to take this football program to a place we still haven’t gotten to.” The targeted crowd loved what both coaches had to say. And as long as those Ws keep coming, they’ll keep stroking those checks. The post Georgia focusing on key alumni, donors with ‘more intimate’ Coaches Caravan appeared first on DawgNation.