Latest Mississippi news, sports, business and entertainment at 9:20 p.m. CDT

VIRUS OUTBREAK-MISSISSIPPI

Mississippi set to ease some pandemic rules for restaurants

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves says he will ease some restrictions he had set for restaurants and outdoor gatherings to control the spread of the coronavirus. He made the announcement Monday; the new rules take effect Thursday. Restaurants can offer outdoor and dine-in services as long as they don't exceed 50% capacity and servers wear masks. For more than a month, the restaurants have been restricted to takeout or delivery. Outdoor gatherings such as sports practices will be limited to 20 or fewer people, up from 10. Mississippi has nearly 7,900 confirmed cases and at least 310 deaths from the virus.

INMATE DEATH-MISSISSIPPI

2 inmates die after falling ill at Mississippi prisons

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Department of Corrections says two inmates have died in hospitals after becoming ill in state prisons. Autopsies will be done. Darryl Swanier died Monday at Delta Regional Medical Center in Greenville. The 58-year-old had been taken there from the state penitentiary at Parchman. He was serving life sentences for capital murder convictions in 1982 and 2002. On Saturday, 60-year-old Rodney Brown died in the Greene County Hospital. He had been taken there from South Mississippi Correctional Institution. He was about 12 years into a 60-year sentence for a 2006 crash that killed two members of the Alaska National Guard.

MISSISSIPPI WELFARE MISSPENDING

Auditor: Favre received welfare money for no-show speeches

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi audit says a nonprofit group used more than $1 million in welfare money to pay former NFL quarterback Brett Favre for multiple speaking engagements —  but he did not show up at the events. The information is in an audit of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, released Monday. Favre is not charged with wrongdoing. State Auditor Shad White says his staff found $94 million in questionable expenses by Human Services and some nonprofit groups connected to the agency. A former Human Services director and five other people await trial on charges of misspending money that was supposed to help poor people.

AMTRAK-GULF COAST

U.S. officials award $5.5M for Gulf Coast train service

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — Plans to restore passenger train service along the Gulf Coast are getting a big boost. Members of Congress from Mississippi announced Friday that the Federal Railroad Administration had awarded just under $5.5 million to support operating costs for the first three years of the Amtrak service. It stopped after Hurricane Katrina damaged tracks in 2005. Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and two other members of Mississippi's Congressional delegation say the grant to the Southern Rail Commission will allow Amtrak to run two daily round trips from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama with stops in four Mississippi cities. Actual train service is still likely years away.

VIRTUAL GRADUATIONS-MISSISSIPPI

Mississippi colleges holding virtual commencement for grads

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Commencement ceremonies in Mississippi are looking a bit different than usual as graduates began to receive their degrees via virtual celebrations. Alcorn State University awarded degrees to 466 students, including 73 graduate degrees, in ceremonies on Saturday. Mississippi State held its graduation ceremony on Friday. Four Mississippi schools _ Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi Valley State University, University of Mississippi and Jackson State will hold similar ceremonies for their graduates on Saturday, May 9. The University of Southern Mississippi plans its graduation ceremonies for students on its campuses in Hattiesburg and on the Gulf Coast in August.

FURNITURE PLANT CLOSURE

Furniture company to permanently close Mississippi facility

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — A furniture manufacturing plant in Mississippi, open since 1985, is headed for closure. In a news release Wednesday, Flexsteel officials said their Starkville plant, along with a second facility in Dubuque, Iowa, will permanently close as soon as June. The Commercial Dispatch reports the closure could come “sooner or later based on business conditions."  Flexsteel CEO Jerry Dittmer said deciding to close was extremely difficult. The Starkville facility has about 170 workers and primarily makes furniture products for recreational vehicles and hospitality customers