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BATON ROUGE, La. - Unlike last year, Louisiana public school leaders are deferring to local school officials on face masks and other safety measures amid the rising number of cases of the coronavirus.Caddo and Bossier parishes are expected to announce their safety measures this week.Sandy Holloway, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the board is standing by guidelines by the state Department of Education released on July 8, well before the latest surge."BESE has issued no mandates and approved no policies related to masking or distancing in schools for the coming year," Holloway said in a statement."Decisions regarding masking and other prevention measures are best made by those closest to our students, and Louisiana's local school systems have the authority to develop COVID-19 policies appropriate for their communities," she said.The guidelines are based on recommendations of the Louisiana Department of Health and the federal Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.Some school districts start classes during the first week of August.Holloway stressed that the benchmarks "are not state-issued requirements but recommendations for local K-12 leadership to consider in adopting their own opening plans for 2021-22."The BESE president made her comments on the same day Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state has experienced the largest surge of coronavirus cases per capita of any state in the nation.Edwards said Louisiana is in its fourth surge of the deadly disease and he recommended, but did not mandate, that citizens wear face masks indoors to help curb the spread.The state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, and the unvaccinated are credited with fueling the surge that is now mostly the Delta variant.State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said Friday he has no plans to revisit the face mask or other issues."Ultimately at this point the exact set of mitigation efforts employed remains a local decision," Brumley said in a text message.The state approach this time represents a sharp contrast with 2020, when the pandemic was about four months old.On July 14, 2020, BESE approved minimum safety standards for the reopening of public schools that included face mask requirements for students and adults alike.The vote, without dissent, endorsed the plan offered by Brumley, including rules governing school bus limits, indoor gatherings, daily hygiene and social distancing policies.The plan also said "all adults and students in grades 3 through 12 must wear a face mask covering to the greatest extent possible and practical within the local community context."The guidelines this time say unvaccinated individuals five years and older should wear face masks while indoors.Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said Monday many superintendents are taking a wait and see approach on face masks and other issues."I think they will wait another week and a half and see how it develops," Faulk said.He said most superintendents appreciate state school leaders deferring to local educators on what to mandate.The 2020-21 school year began with a combination of in-person and distance learning or some of each, called hybrid.By the end of the year more than 70% of students were back in classrooms as coronavirus numbers dropped and vaccines became widely available.

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NEW ORLEANS - New Orleans Saints All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas is expected to miss the beginning of the 2021 season after he had ankle surgery in June, according to a report from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.Thomas sustained a high ankle sprain in the 2020 season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played intermittently for the rest of the season. He finished the year with 438 yards receiving on 50 catches.His recommended time of recovery is four months, which would line up with him missing at least four games. The Athletic reported that Thomas could miss five games while he recovers.Thomas was not made available to the media during the three days of minicamp in June, but coach Sean Payton said on June 10 that he was present and participating."We're still monitoring it and paying attention to it and scanning it and all those things," Payton said in June about Thomas' ankle. "He's getting treatment and doing the things that are necessary. So far, so good."The news regarding surgery isn't new. It was reported back in January that Thomas would likely need "surgeries" to fix his torn deltoid and the injured ligaments in his ankle.The Saints have a Week 6 idle week, so the team could place him on the regular season's physically unable to perform list if they do believe he'll miss the first five games of the season. Players who begin the regular season on PUP must sit out the first six weeks of the season, and then they have a 21-day window where the player can practice before being brought back to the 53-man roster.The receiver room without Thomas features Tre'Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, Jake Lampman, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Jalen McCleskey, rookie seventh-round draft pick Kawaan Baker and undrafted rookie Easop Winston.When Thomas was out last season, the Saints had veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders available to lead the way, pacing the receivers with 726 yards receiving on 61 catches. However, the Saints released Sanders in the offseason due to salary cap constraints. He's on Buffalo's roster now.The top returning receiver in terms of receiving output is fourth-year receiver Smith, who had 448 yards receiving on 50 catches in 14 games. The 2018 third-round draft pick out of UCF is in a contract year.The player who led the team in receiving yards last season was running back Alvin Kamara, who finished the year with 756 yards receiving on 83 catches. The third-most productive pass catcher in 2020 is also no longer with the team, as tight end Jared Cook hit free agency and was not re-signed. Cook, who had 504 yards receiving on 37 catches last year, plays for the Los Angeles Chargers.Before Thomas got hurt last season, the Ohio State product had sky-high expectations. He wanted to best his efforts from 2019, where he was the NFL's offensive player of the year and broke the league's single-season receptions record with 149 catches.The news regarding Thomas is just the latest in disappointing news regarding Saints starters. Last week, starting defensive tackle David Onyemata was suspended for the first six games/seven weeks of the 2021 season after he tested positive for a banned substance.Then, there's cornerback Marshon Lattimore's lingering court case in Cleveland. He was charged with a fourth-degree felony after police found a handgun in his possession during a traffic stop in March was allegedly stolen. There have been no updates in the case.Taking Thomas, Onyemata and Lattimore into consideration, the Saints could very well suit up just 11 of their starters from their 2020 season opener. Quarterback Drew Brees has retired; tight end Josh Hill was released and has since retired; guard Nick Easton was released; defensive end Trey Hendrickson signed with Cincinnati; defensive tackle Malcom Brown was traded to Jacksonville; linebacker Alex Anzalone signed with Detroit; and cornerback Janoris Jenkins was released and now plays for Tennessee.

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Until Bakhtiari's health situation is figured out, the Packers will have to experiment with a host of left tackle alternatives while also hoping \rookie second-round pick Josh Myers can step into the starting center role as planned and while sorting out a depth chart that is long on youth and short on experience behind the starting crew.

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NEW ORLEANS — The Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans is no more. The naming rights contract with the German automaker officially ended.

How can anyone talk about anything else when it comes to Dak Prescott? His ankle injury last October was arguably the most gruesome of the NFL season, and it torpedoed the Cowboys' playoff chances and put their future in flux.