counties

Tennessee ranks fifth from bottom in COVID-19 vaccination rate

Graffiti scrawled on the side of a shuttered Nashville gas station denounces COVID-19 vaccinations on April 11, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee ranks fifth-worst among the states for the percentage of residents who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines. The 30.3% rate was above only Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, according to CDC data compiled by The Washington Post.

Tennessee slipped another spot among states delivering both doses of the vaccine, with its rate of 18.2% besting only Alabama, Utah, and Georgia.

Here are the counties with the highest percentage of fully vaccinated residents:

  • Loudon (26%)
  • Meigs (23%)
  • Pickett (23%)
  • Unicoi (23%)
  • Washington (23%)
  • Cumberland (22%)
  • Madison (22%)
  • Sullivan (22%)

Those with the lowest rates are:

  • Moore (8%)
  • Sequatchie (10%)
  • Grundy (10%)
  • Lauderdale (11%)
  • Cannon (11%)

Among the state’s largest counties, Shelby’s rate was 17%, Davidson and Knox were at 19%, and Hamilton reached 21%.

The rollout will likely be further complicated by a recommendation by federal authorities to pause the adminstration of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Here are the projected amounts headed to TN cities and counties under the COVID relief program

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee’s cities and counties are projected to receive $2.27 billion under the latest federal COVID-19 relief package. On a conference call about the influx earlier this week, Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) asked for a breakdown of exactly how much is headed to each local government.

There’s a big caveat: The rules for how the money can be spent aren’t entirely clear yet. So state officials are warning local governments to be careful about how they plan to spend the money.

And even then the answer for local allocations isn’t simple.

The Federal Funds Information Service has come up with projections for the totals that could be flowing soon. Estimates for the biggest cities is based on Housing and Urban Development data while smaller towns and cities’ are based on census estimates from 2019. County totals are filtered through adjusted Community Development Block Grant data.

While none of it is final, here’s how FFIS sees it breaking down for counties and cities:

CountyAmount
Anderson14,929,409
Bedford9,641,530
Benton3,134,132
Bledsoe2,921,570
Blount25,811,598
Bradley20,967,269
Campbell7,727,111
Cannon2,846,708
Carroll5,385,239
Carter10,936,687
Cheatham7,887,114
Chester3,354,647
Claiborne6,198,251
Clay1,476,882
Cocke6,982,754
Coffee10,961,706
Crockett2,759,821
Cumberland11,737,481
Davidson134,624,954
Decatur2,261,967
DeKalb3,973,909
Dickson10,462,882
Dyer7,206,759
Fayette7,977,492
Fentress3,592,422
Franklin8,185,982
Gibson9,529,043
Giles5,714,361
Grainger4,522,770
Greene13,395,507
Grundy2,604,084
Hamblen12,593,549
Hamilton71,333,321
Hancock1,283,908
Hardeman4,858,293
Hardin4,975,047
Hawkins11,013,295
Haywood3,356,004
Henderson5,453,119
Henry6,273,114
Hickman4,883,118
Houston1,590,533
Humphreys3,603,864
Jackson2,285,822
Jefferson10,568,970
Johnson3,449,873
Knox91,214,310
Lake1,360,710
Lauderdale4,971,363
Lawrence8,561,069
Lewis2,379,303
Lincoln6,665,074
Loudon10,486,156
Macon4,771,406
Madison19,003,393
Marion5,606,335
Marshall6,666,820
Maury18,693,665
McMinn10,433,015
McNairy4,983,193
Meigs2,409,170
Monroe9,027,116
Montgomery40,532,905
Moore1,258,308
Morgan4,150,980
Obion5,831,697
Overton4,313,505
Perry1,566,290
Pickett979,029
Polk3,264,463
Putnam15,563,024
Rhea6,432,535
Roane10,353,110
Robertson13,927,689
Rutherford64,444,630
Scott4,279,953
Sequatchie2,914,200
Sevier19,054,982
Shelby181,757,575
Smith3,909,326
Stewart2,659,940
Sullivan30,710,619
Sumner37,098,160
Tipton11,946,747
Trousdale2,188,462
Unicoi3,468,298
Union3,873,446
Van Buren1,138,838
Warren8,005,420
Washington25,091,485
Wayne3,233,626
Weakley6,463,760
White5,303,394
Williamson46,238,539
Wilson28,055,334
TOTAL1,324,476,243
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Counties announce end of mask mandates ahead of governor’s decision

Gov. Bill Lee, left, announces a $200 million relief program for businesses affected by the state’s stay-at-home order for non-essential businesses at Arnold’s restaurant in Nashville on June 2, 2020. To his right are House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, Rep. Pat Marsh, and Rep. Harold Love. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

With Gov. Bill Lee’s decision pending Tuesday about whether to extend an executive order allowing county mayors to decide whether to impose mask mandates to help stem the spread of COVID-19, several local leaders are already announcing they will no longer require face coverings.

Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron, whom Lee had personally lobbied to impose a mask requirement in July, dropped the mandate last week. Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto has announced a local mask mandate will expire Wednesday, but he’s still urging people to wear them in public. (Meanwhile, WZTV-TV reported the administrative building in Lebanon is closing down after eight employees tested positive for COVID-19.)

Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett announced a mask mandate for businesses open to the public will end on Wednesday. But the requirement will remain for government offices, including schools.

Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain said he would extend a mask mandate if the governor leaves the decision with local officials. The number of positive tests has declined in the East Tennessee county since the mandate went into effect on Aug. 4, he said. Tipton County Executive Jeff Huffman cited improving infection numbers in dropping a mask mandate.

But in Sullivan County, local health department director Stephen May said he wants to extend the county’s mask mandate beyond Sept. 30. Sullivan is among six counties with independent local health departments that have the authority to set their own policy responses to the pandemic. The others are Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, and Madison counties.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has been speaking out against the power of local health boards to override the wishes of county mayors.

“They’re acting like a legislative body that are voted or elected and they’re not. They’re appointed and they’re actually putting in criminal enhancements for people not to wear masks,” WCRB-TV quoted Sexton as saying during a visit to Chattanooga last week. “That’s outside their purview.

“They are absolutist and they are able to control anything and make people do whatever they want,” he said. “That’s not good policy. That’s not a good step.”

Early voting down 8% compared with 2018 primary

Early voting was down 8% compared with Tennessee’s 2018 primary election featuring a heated governor’s race and another open U.S. Senate seat.

Republican voting was down 11%, while Democratic turnout was up 2%. GOP voters still showed up in far greater numbers than Democrats, 354,600 to 215,790.

Only 21 counties saw increases in Republican early voting, led by a 63% growth in Washington County in the heart of the 1st Congressional District, where 16 Republicans are vying to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City). Other counties in the district posing GOP gains included Unicoi (21%), Sullivan (14%), Sevier (11%), and Grainger (8%). Turnout decreased in the district’s remaining counties: Jefferson (-9%), Hamblen (-13%), Greene (-21%), Johnson (-23%), Hancock (-28%), and Cocke (-30%).

Democratic turnout saw its biggest boost in Davidson County, where early voting was up 53% compared with two years ago. Knox County also saw a Democratic gain of 29%, while GOP turnout dropped 10%. In Hamilton County, Democrats saw a 24% increase but Republican turnout also grew 19%.

In Shelby County, which usually accounts for the state’s largest turnout for both parties, Democratic early voting was down 4%, while GOP balloting cratered by 25%.

The full early voting list by county compared with the 2018 primary follows below.

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Here’s how much federal relief money is flowing to Tennessee counties

The Senate meets in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A total of $13 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money is flowing to Tennessee, and a new interactive state website allows users to break down how much is headed specific counties.

In a meeting of the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group on Monday, Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) asked whether the amounts can be broken out on a per-capita basis to ensure smaller counties weren’t getting less than the likes of Metro Nashville and Shelby County. Gov. Bill Lee’s administration didn’t have those figures at their fingertips, so the Tennessee Journal has crunched the numbers. Here are the top 10 per-capita recipients of federal aid (Anderson County, where McNally lives, comes in at No. 12):

  1. Jackson, $7,126
  2. Cheatham, $4,363
  3. Davidson, $3,931
  4. Carroll, $3,380
  5. Smith, 3,738
  6. Fayette, $3,525
  7. Cannon, $3,056
  8. Carter, $2,643
  9. Giles, $2,643
  10. Bledsoe, $2,557

The full per-capita breakdown follows:

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