Flinn weighs in on ‘good, bad, and ugly’ of coronavirus crisis response

Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Flinn is weighing in with his views on the “good, bad, and ugly” of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Flinn, a Memphis physician and radio station owner, criticizes people who refuse to engage in social distancing and calls out members of Congress who allegedly sold stock holdings because they had advance warning of the effects of COVID-19.

“These actions, if proven true, are not only unfair but also illegal according to federal law and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Flinn said in a statement.

Flinn is seeking the GOP nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) this year. His main rivals are former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty and Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi.

Read the full statement here:

As a physician, businessman, and politician, and most importantly as an American just like you, we are all affected by the many sides of this pandemic and the multiple ramifications it is reeking on our society. There are three main sides to this pandemic. First, the ugly.

THE UGLY — There are certain groups of people who refuse to pay attention and heed the national, state and local public health rulings and CDC guidelines. They continue to congregate in close quarters seemingly not caring what happens to others and appear to only be concerned with their personal satisfaction. They believe that this is not a real problem in the United States. The worldwide experience and history of this viral pandemic are ignored. This attitude and these actions keep the viral spread more active and continues the threat of overwhelming healthcare and economic systems. It thwarts our efforts to “flatten the curve” and benefits no one. 

Congress passed a 2.2 trillion-dollar bailout bill that President Trump signed into law on March 27, 2020. This bill, called the CARES Act, is intended to re-energize our economy by helping individual citizens and employees through direct payments, enhanced unemployment benefits and through small businesses and corporations. The goal is to make sure people continue to have money coming into their homes and provide money to people to spend and keep a portion of our economy going. Already, a small percentage of the population is planning to “game the system” and receive more than their fair share of the 2.2 trillion dollars. For this small sector, greed is not dead.

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Healthcare startup’s simulation finds most critical coronavirus cases in Shelby, Knox

Source: Carrot Health COVID-19 Critical Infection Risk Dashboard

Shelby and Knox counties are likely to have the most critical — and fatal — cases of coronavirus in Tennessee, according to simulations by Carrot Health.

The estimates are based on scientific research analyzed against the healthcare startup’s database of demographic and behavior data on every adult in the country.

Under Carrot Health’s simulations, 529,915 Tennesseans will be infected, or 10% of the total adult population. About 27,580 cases, or 5.2%, will become critical, resulting in 5,517 mortalities.

Here’s what the projections find for the five most affected counties:

Adult population Simulated critical cases Simulated mortalities
Shelby 745,963 3,445 689
Knox 361,225 2,014 402
Davidson 504,611 1,704 341
Hamilton 291,970 1,571 314
Sullivan 136,685 1,321 264

See Carrot Health’s full Covid-19 Critical Infection Risk Dashboard here. Simulations can be adjusted based on critical infection and mortality rates.

Governor’s ban on nonessential businesses met with confusion

The doors of the state Capitol were closed to the public on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order to shut down nonessential businesses around the state to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus carried a 2,250-word attachment outlining which commercial activities would be exempted from coverage.

That has led to a chorus of questions about which commercial activities exactly are covered by the ban, and whether looser state guidelines would supercede stricter local rules. The second question is the easier one to answer. According to Lee’s executive order: “Nothing herein repeals, preempts, or otherwise limits the authority, if any, of a locality to issue further orders or measures on these same subjects.”

As for the which companies are covered by the blanket ban, Lee’s previous orders have specifically targeted restaurants (except for takeout and delivery) and gyms. The governor also issued a separate executive order Monday listing more businesses as having to close (in addition to the ones earlier ordered).

Businesses to be shuttered include those performing close-contact personal services, such as:

  • Barber shops.
  • Hair salons.
  • Waxing salons.
  • Threading salons.
  • Nail salons or spas.
  • Spas providing body treatments.
  • Body-art facilities or tattoo services.
  • Tanning salons.
  • Massage-therapy establishments or massage services.

Also closed are entertainment and recreational gathering venues, such as:

  • Night clubs.
  • Bowling alleys.
  • Arcades.
  • Concert venues.
  • Theaters, auditoriums, performing arts centers, or similar facilities.
  • Racetracks.
  • Indoor children’s play areas.
  • Adult entertainment venues.
  • Amusement parks.
  • Roller or ice skating rinks.

Pulled back in? Byrd feared to be running again

Rep. David Byrd takes a photo during at event in Lawrenceburg on June 4, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Guess who (maybe) wants back? State Rep. David Byrd, the Waynesboro Republican who has been accused of sexual misconduct when he was a girls’ high school basketball coach in the 1980s.

Byrd has never explicitly denied the allegations made by one of his former players who recorded a phone call with the lawmaker in which he apologized for unspecified past transgressions.

When outrage over the lawmaker’s continued tenure in the House appeared close to reaching a tipping point in a special legislative session in August, Byrd managed to blunt the momentum of ouster efforts by promising colleagues he wouldn’t seek another term in 2020.

Byrd then dodged reporters’ questions for months before finally confirming in January that he indeed planned not to run again.

But now, with just days remaining before the Thursday candidate filing deadline, word is emanating out from the shuttered statehouse that Byrd is looking to run for another two-year term. It’s a prospect that fills most lawmakers on both sides of the aisle with dread.

Byrd told The Tennessean in January he might change his mind if he gets “harassed and bullied” by activists.  But the steady drumbeat of protests and media coverage had largely dissipated when most assumed he would not return to the General Assembly.

Former Savannah City Manager Garry Welch announced earlier this month  he will seek the GOP nomination for the House District 71 seat currently held by Byrd. The district covers all of Hardin, Lewis, and Wayne counties and part of Lawrence County.

UPDATE: The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison reports Byrd has not yet picked up a petition to run again. It takes the signatures of 25 registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

So what’s essential? A look at Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here are the details about which businesses are exempted by Gov. Bill Lee’s order for non-essential operations to shut down to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. It’s a long list, ranging from marinas to dry cleaners. It also includes “any other business or organization that operates at all times with ten or fewer persons accessing the premises.”

Here’s the full breakdown:

For purposes of Executive Order No. 22, Essential Services include:

1. Personnel identified on pages 5-15 of the Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) of the United States Department of Homeland Security

2. Health Care and Public Health Operations. This includes, but is not limited to: hospitals; clinics; medical practices and services; mental health and substance abuse services; dental offices; pharmacies; public health entities, including those that compile, model, analyze, and communicate public health information; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, medical device and equipment, and biotechnology companies (including operations, research and development, manufacture, and supply chain components); organizations collecting blood, platelets, plasma, and other necessary materials; obstetricians and gynecologists; eye care centers, including those that sell glasses and contact lenses; home health care services providers; mental health and substance use providers; other health care facilities and suppliers; providers of any related and/or ancillary health care services; entities that transport and dispose of medical materials and remains; manufacturers, technicians, logistics, and warehouse operators, and distributors of medical equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE), medical gases, pharmaceuticals, blood, platelets, and plasma products, vaccines, testing materials, laboratory supplies, cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting or sterilization supplies, and tissue and paper towel products; veterinary care and all health care services provided to animals. This also includes any medical or administrative personnel necessary to operate those functions in this paragraph. Health Care and Public Health Operations shall be construed broadly to avoid any impacts to the delivery of health care, broadly defined. Health Care and Public Health Operations does not include any procedures that would violate Executive Order No. 18, which remains in effect;

3. Human Services Operations. This includes, but is not limited to: government or government-funded human services to the public through state-operated, institutional, or community-based settings; long-term care facilities; day care centers, day care homes, or group day care homes; residential settings and shelters for adults, seniors, children, or people with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, substance use disorders, or mental illness; transitional facilities; home-based settings to provide services to individuals with physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, seniors, adults, or children; field offices that provide and help to determine eligibility for basic needs including food, cash assistance, medical coverage, child care, vocational services, rehabilitation services; developmental centers; adoption agencies; businesses that provide food, shelter, social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged individuals, individuals with physical, intellectual, and/or developmental disabilities, or individuals otherwise in need. Human Services 7 Operations shall be construed broadly to avoid any impacts to the delivery of human services, broadly defined;

4. Essential Infrastructure Operations. This includes, but is not limited to: food production, distribution, and sale; construction-related services, including, but not limited to, construction required in response to this public health emergency, hospital construction, construction of long-term care facilities, public works construction, school construction, construction related to Essential Activity or Essential Services, and housing construction; building management and maintenance; landscape management; airport operations; operation and maintenance of utilities, including water, sewer, and gas; electrical services, including power generation, distribution, and production of raw materials; distribution centers; oil and biofuel refining; services related to roads, highways, railroads, ports, and public transportation; cybersecurity operations; flood control; solid waste and recycling collection, removal, and processing; and internet, video, and telecommunications systems and services, including the provision of essential global, national, and local infrastructure for computing services, business infrastructure, communications, and web-based services. Essential Infrastructure Operations shall be construed broadly to avoid any impacts to essential infrastructure, broadly defined;

5. Essential Government Functions. This includes, but is not limited to: first responders, emergency management personnel, emergency dispatchers, and those supporting 911 and emergency services; legislators and legislative branch officials and employees, as determined by the Legislative Branch; judges, judicial branch employees, court personnel, jurors, and grand jurors, as determined by the Judicial Branch; law enforcement personnel; corrections and community supervision personnel; hazardous materials responders; election officials and operations; child protection and child welfare personnel; housing and shelter personnel; park personnel that provide admission, maintenance, and operation of park facilities that provide outdoor recreation; military; and other governmental employees working for or to support Essential Activity or Essential Services. Essential Government Functions also means all services provided by the State, the political subdivisions of the State, and boards, commissions, or agencies of government needed to ensure the continuing operation of the government agencies or to provide for or support the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Essential Government Functions also includes contractors performing or supporting such functions. Each branch of government and government entity shall determine its Essential Government Functions and ensure a plan is in place for the performance of these functions. This paragraph does not apply to the United States government; provided, however, that any employee, official, or contractor of the United States government shall not be restricted from performing their functions under law;

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Lee orders nonessential businesses to close statewide

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at the state Capitol on Sept. 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has ordered nonessential businesses to close their doors around the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic in Tennessee.

Lee had resisted calling for business closures around the state even while urban areas like Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and others had already taken those steps.

The move comes after 100 people at a Gallatin nursing home were hospitalized and two died amid a COVID-19 outbreak there. Sumner County’s confirmed coronavirus cases jumped to 179.

The governor’s previous executive orders required restaurants to limit themselves to takeout and delivery, shut down gyms, and banned gatherings of more than 10 people.

Lee was joined by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) at the announcement. Here’s a statement from McNally:

From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Lee has been deliberate and careful in his approach. This threat changes from day-to-day, hour-to-hour and minute-to-minute. I appreciate Governor Lee’s ability to remain data-focused and flexible. Today’s order is a big step but a needed one at this time. Most population centers in our state are already operating under these conditions. Essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open. The most important part of this order is that it sends the message the governor has been sending for many days now in no uncertain terms: stay home and stay apart.

Voucher applications go live amid coronavirus crisis

Applications are going live for the state’s new school voucher program amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis that has caused public schools to close their doors for several weeks.

Applications for the education savings accounts, or ESAs, will be accepted through April 29 — five days after Gov. Bill Lee’s current recommendation for schools to remain closed.

Lee caught many lawmakers off guard when he announced he would seek to launch the voucher program this coming August rather than wait to do so in 2021, a non-election year. But he nonetheless pressed ahead this year, even while making deep cuts to other proposed new programs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s a video explaining the applications process:

Pressure mounts on Lee to issue statewide stay-at-home order

Gov. Bill Lee arrives for a press conference on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

With 71 of 95 Tennessee counties reporting confirmed coronavirus cases, the pressure is building on Gov. Bill Lee to declare a statewide stay-at-home order.

Lee has recommended that schools remain shut through April 24, banned statewide gatherings of more than 10 people, and required bars and restaurants to limit their business to takeout and delivery service. But while cities like Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga have told non-essential businesses to shutter amid the pandemic, Lee has declined to follow suit for the rest of the state.

That has set up a situation where businesses are closed inside the city and county lines where state-at-home orders are in place, but their counterparts can operate as normal if they are located just beyond those jurisdictions.

“Tennesseans have shut down,” Lee said at a press conference in Memphis on Friday. “This state is largely closed down except for the number of folks that are moving around for the appropriate reasons.”

But Lee acknowledged “that’s not true of every Tennessean.”

The state got some negative publicity when Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, urged residents living near the state line not to venture into Tennessee.

“If you are a Kentuckian living on that border, I need you to not go to Tennessee for anything other than work or helping a loved one or maybe the grocery, if it is there closer. If you ultimately go down over that border and go to a restaurant or something that’s not open in Kentucky, what you do is you bring back the coronavirus here in Kentucky,” Beshear said. “And again the sacrifice that the people inside your county are making, ultimately you don’t honor by doing that.”

Critics noted that Tennessee not only has a larger population, but that the state has conducted far more coronavirus tests than Kentucky. And infection rates are similar.

Is the ‘party over’ for Gov. Bill Lee?

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Just weeks ago, Gov. Bill Lee and fellow Republicans who run the General Assembly were arguing about where to stash overflowing tax revenues. Everything has changed since the economic impact of the coronavirus has started coming into focus.

The governor has come under increasing pressure over his decision not to order a statewide shelter-in-place order — he’s instead left it to mayors in the state’s largest cities to issue their own guidance.

The Daily Memphian‘s Sam Stockard is positing that the “party’s over” for the new Lee administration as it grapples with the new realities:

While Lee and his new COVID-19 Unified Command have been working overtime amid a state of emergency and executive orders to provide financial support and stem the spread of a hardcore bug that isn’t even alive, some lawmakers say the state’s response has been scattered, at best, sending mixed messages to the public.

Physicians, meanwhile, call Lee “weak” on leadership for refusing to join about 20 other governors in declaring a statewide “safer at home” order to quell the severity of the pandemic.

Lee and other Republican leaders acknowledge the situation is “liquid” and that strategies can change daily, if not hourly, based on the latest information.

Read the rest of the article here.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe looks into the blue/red divide when it comes to responding to the pandemic. The paper looked at the city of Bristol, which is famously divided between Virginia and Tennessee.

It was Saturday night on a main street in the South, but locals described something odd: One side of the street was almost normal, if quiet, with restaurants serving dinner and groups of young people milling around. The other side of the street looked practically vacant.

“There was no foot traffic on the left side,” recalled business owner Janet Atwell, 51.

Both sides of State Street are in cities called Bristol, but the left side is Virginia, the right side is Tennessee and the yellow line down the middle of the road is both a state border and a new frontier in this country’s uneven response to the coronavirus outbreak that often is breaking down along partisan lines.

The different scenes on either side of the pavement reflected the differing pace of the two state’s governors as they seek to contain the pandemic. On that Saturday night on March 21, Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia, a Democrat, had established stricter limits on public gatherings than Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee, a Republican. Since then, both governors have banned dining inside restaurants and public gatherings of more than 10 people, but Northam has ordered a larger swath of nonessential businesses to close.

Read the full article here.

Sethi: ‘Human lives will always be more important than dollars’

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi speaks at a campaign event in Clarksville on Feb. 4, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi is outlining his plan to for economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Sethi, a surgeon at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said while it’s important to get Americans back to worth, “human lives will always be more important than dollars.”

“Our economy will not bounce back if portions of the workforce are seriously ill or do not survive,” he said.

Here’s the full release from the Sethi campaign:

NASHVILLE, Tenn – Conservative outsider and Republican candidate for Senate, Dr. Manny Sethi released his plan to get America back to work today. Dr. Manny, founder of a public health advocacy nonprofit in Tennessee, believes our country can get people back to work and protect the health of Americans at the same time, but it must be done in a thoughtful and deliberate way.

We saw unemployment numbers reach record numbers this morning. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, much of the American economy has been shut down, hurting American workers, businesses, and families in a way we haven’t seen before.

This morning 3.28 million new claims were announced, which is already higher than any past economic crisis, including the 2008 market collapse and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Previously, the highest number of jobless claims was 695,000 in 1982.

While economic revitalization is imperative, human lives will always be more important than dollars. On Thursday, Dr. Manny released the following statement and plan:

“Tennessee is still dealing with this issue, but at some point America cannot sustain a long, drawn-out shutdown. We must start working immediately on ways to get our citizens back to work and our economy moving. Our economy will not bounce back if portions of the workforce are seriously ill or do not survive. In the operating room, when things are moving fast, I’ve learned we have to slow down and think through the best way forward, instead of overreacting.

“I would recommend tackling this region by region, state by state, community  by community. This is not a one-size-fits-all solution for the whole country. Some communities and states will recover from this virus breakout sooner than others. As the threat lessens, these areas need to start lifting restrictive mandates and get their economy back to work.”

Dr. Manny’s proposal to get America back-to-work entails:

  • Federal authorities should work with states to identify when it is safe for individual communities to start lifting mandates once the health threat decreases in their respective areas.
    U.S. health officials should also work with state governments to assess quarantine and containment strategies based on evolving evidence.
  • Companies should be encouraged to continue to utilize telecommuting as much as possible. This will slow the rate of return back to the public workplace. Tax credits and other incentives should be provided to incentivize companies to put the health and safety of employees first, without losing their business.
  • Utilize the Defense Production Act, if needed, to produce medical equipment such masks, gowns, and ventilators. Pass legislation that gives American companies incentives to produce such equipment in the United States.
  • Immediately begin to shift production of Chinese and foreign-made pharmaceuticals to the United States. This is a national security issue, and there is an immediate need for many important drugs to be produced here, and a need to immediately phase-in production of many others.
  • Continue to implement international travel bans and strongly caution Americans to avoid non-essential domestic travel until national health officials approve.