covid-19

Alexander: 40,000 Tennesseans could receive COVID-19 vaccine in December

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) speaks at a Tennessee Titans event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions Committee, says Tennessee is in line to receive enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate 40,000 people in December.

Alexander tells The Tennessee Journal he received a briefing from Moncef Slaoui, the head of the federal government’s coronavirus vaccine efforts, who said Tennessee could then receive enough doses for 50,000 people in the following month, and more beyond that. Slaoui told Alexander the majority of Americans could be vaccinated by the summer.

“It’s a spectacular achievement, which the president should be taking credit for — in a way that convinces people,” Alexander said. But the ongoing dispute over the presidential election results could hamper the rollout of the vaccine, he said.

“You don’t want to lose a day or an hour getting those 40,000 doses to Tennesseans because the transition was sloppy,” Alexander said.

Alexander expanded on his comments last week that Trump should be allowed to examine any claims of impropriety in the election results, noting that it took Democrat Al Gore 37 days to concede in 2000. But Alexander said there’s a limit to the strategies Trump should pursue in his effort to turn the tide against Democrat Joe Biden.

“There’s a right way to contest the election — others have done it — and there’s a wrong way. And the wrong way is this business of trying to get state legislators to send a substitute slate of electors,” Alexander said. “That really crosses the line.”

One comes out, one goes in: Gardenhire misses fundraiser featuring Gov. Lee due to quarantine

Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) attends a floor session to adjust the course of the legislative session in response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican state Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) has missed a fundraiser for his re-election campaign because he was exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. The event was headlined by Gov. Bill Lee, who only emerged from his own two-week quarantine after a member of his security detail came down with the coronavirus.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports it’s the fifth time Gardenhire has gone into isolation over a potential exposure to the virus. The senator watched the fundraiser via a videostream provided by fellow Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson).

“I wear a mask all the time. All it takes is a split second and Bam, you got it,” Gardenhire said in a Facebook post. “Very GRATEFUL for all my friends and supporters. Thank you. Going to get tested Monday.”

Gardenhire is being challenged by Democrat Glenn Scruggs, an assistant police chief in Chattanooga.

Counties surrounding Nashville restore mask mandates

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)

The mayors of Williamson, Sumner, and Wilson counties are restoring mask requirements that had been dropped earlier. A spokesman for Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron said “it’s not inconceivable” for a mask requirement to be reinstated there, though no decision has been made.

Gov. Bill Lee has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate despite the White House officially calling on Tennessee to do so. But the governor has extended an executive order granting the authority to require face coverings to local authorities.

Lee launches new COVID mask campaign

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is launching a new ad campaign highlighting Tennesseans going to concerts, gyms, and dining together while also wearing masks when they are out in public.

The spot comes as coronavirus infections are on the rise in Tennessee and the governor quarantines at home after being exposed to a member of his security detail who tested positive for COVID-19.

Here’s the release from the Lee administration.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee today announced a new ad campaign, “Choices”, to promote responsible decision-making by Tennesseans as the state continues to fight the spread of COVID-19. The ad will air across the state on broadcast, cable, and digital media.

“The most effective way for us to combat this virus is through individual Tennesseans making responsible decisions for the safety of themselves, their loved ones, and their neighbors,” said Gov. Lee. “Masks remain one the most effective, widely available tools as we await a safe, approved vaccine. We recognize that life looks different during a pandemic, and we’re encouraging Tennesseans that as they live their lives they make the responsible choice and choose to wear a mask.”

The PSA launches in tandem with a new COVID-19 website from the Tennessee Department of Health that provides Tennesseans with improved tools to make informed decisions for their health. The website can be found at https://covid19.tn.gov/.

Script:

We Tennesseans all have a choice to make in our fight against COVID-19. 

I choose to enjoy live music.

I choose to cheer on my team.

I choose to go out.

I choose to stay healthy.

I choose to celebrate with my family.

The choice is simple. 

Choose to live your life. 

And choose to live responsibly. 

Face it. Masks fight COVID-19.

How Knoxville public radio got the White House coronavirus report Gov. Lee didn’t want to release

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)

Tennessee ranked fourth worst in the country for COVID-19 related deaths per 100,000, according to a White House report that Gov. Bill Lee didn’t want to release to the public. The report was obtained under public records laws by a Knoxville public radio station.

The report took a circuitous path toward becoming public. The Center for Public Integrity in Washington reported about it’s existence last week, and the TNJ: On the Hill blog posted about the finding that Tennessee had slid into the “red zone” of 24 states most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That led another reporter to ask the governor about the report (and the related refusal to make it public) during his weekly press conference.

Lee responded that not all the of the details in the White House report are up to date and that he wanted to limited the sources of information about the outbreak.

“Multiple streams of data from multiple places is not helpful to people,” Lee said.

While the Lee administration didn’t want to share the White House report with the media, it did send copies to health officials around the state. That’s where WUOT-FM, the public radio station in Knoxville, comes in.

The station requested a copy from the Knox County Health Department. Director Martha Buchanan said since she shared the report with the county Board of Health, a a decision-making body, it became subject to Tennessee open records laws.

The report includes a recommendation to impose a statewide mask mandate, which is something Lee has decided to leave to county mayors and health departments.

The report says Tennessee saw a 41% spike in new coronavirus cases between Oct. 4 and Oct. 11, and a 32% increase in COVID-19 related deaths over the period. At the same time, the number of tests being conducted around the state has dropped. The sharpest increases in coronavirus cases has occurred in Putnam, Wilson, and Sullivan counties, according to the White House.

Read the full WUOT and the White House report on Tennessee report here.

Lee calls for suspending negative consequences from school testing

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee announced Friday he will ask lawmakers to suspend any consequences for schools, teachers, and students if they do poorly on testing during the current school year.

Here’s the full release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn today called for removing negative consequences for schools and educators associated with student assessments for the 2020-2021 school year. Student assessments will be conducted as planned.

“Given the unprecedented disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic and extended time away from the classroom has had on Tennessee’s students, my Administration will work with the General Assembly to bring forward a solution for this school year that alleviates any burdens associated with educator evaluations and school accountability metrics,” said Gov. Lee. “Accountability remains incredibly important for the education of Tennessee’s students, and we will keep this year’s assessments in place to ensure an accurate picture of where our students are and what supports are needed to regain learning loss and get them back on the path to success.”

“Due to COVID-19, Tennessee districts and schools experienced extended periods away from the classroom and missed critical instruction time during the spring. The department supports Governor Lee’s call for holding teachers and schools harmless from negative consequences associated with accountability measures this school year,” said Commissioner Schwinn. “Administering assessments to gauge student learning and ensuring strong accountability best enables us to meet the needs of all students, however we know the significant challenges our teachers and school and district leaders are facing and it remains critical to reward their good work. We look forward to working together with our elected officials on a solution for this school year that preserves our strong foundations while ensuring that every teacher feels supported in focusing on educating their students.”

Hagerty reacts to Trump testing positive for COVID-19, Blackburn to get checked

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty speaks at Nashville event on Dec. 3, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty issued the following statement following the announcement early Friday that President Donald Trump had tested positive for COVID-19:

“My family and I join Americans across the country in praying for President Trump, the First Lady and the Trump family and wish them a speedy recovery. President Trump and First Lady Trump are in the hands of the best medical doctors in America, and we are most optimistic that they will fully recover from the virus. I have seen President Trump’s work-ethic firsthand, and I know he will continue to carry out his duties while quarantining. The entire country stands united behind President Trump and First Lady Trump during this time, and we look forward to their full recovery soon.”

— Bill Hagerty

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) said she will get a COVID test after travelling to the debate with the president.

Update: Blackburn says the test came back negative.

Report: Lawmaker’s furniture company struck deal to supply hospital gowns to state

Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) attends a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

WTVF-TV investigative reporter Phil Williams is raising questions about no-bid contracts handed out to politically connected vendors amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One of them appears to have been state Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), who landed a deal to supply hospital gowns through his furniture company.

According to Williams, Sexton’s arrangment was to supply $165,000 worth of gowns at $5.50 a piece, nearly double the amount charged by other vendors. Sexton delivered the gowns but the purchase order was canceled after the TV station began asking questions. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declined to say why.

According to Williams’ report:

Sexton, who still hasn’t been paid, declined NewsChannel 5’s request to explain what happened.

[State Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville] noted that state law makes it illegal for state officials to bid on state contracts, although various attorney general’s opinions have raised questions about whether that statute applies in such cases.

Yarbro said it at least raises some ethical red flags.

“If in the early days of COVID, we weren’t paying attention to that basic rule and were planning to pay a legislator, I think it raises significant questions about just the level of oversight into all of these contracts.”

Poll finds partisan divide on return of high school sports in Nashville

A poll commissioned by Baker Group Strategies finds 49% of Nashvillians support allowing high school sports to resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic, while 45% oppose.

The feeling was stronger among Republicans, who support a return of sports without spectators by a 72% to 21% margin. Just 38% of Democrats supported a return, while 57% opposed. Fifty-three percent of indpndents support resuming sprots, while 42% oppose. Democrats support is just 38% – 57%. Among Independents support is 53% – 42%.

Here is a breakdown among various subgroups (note that the Baker group is consulting on Republican state Sen. Steve Dickerson’s re-election campaign in District 20):

SUBGROUPSUPPORTOPPOSEDIFFERENCE
Conservatives70%26%44%
New Voters 63%31%32%
Non-College Men59%35%24%
Men 45+57%39%18%
State Senate District 2051%42%9%
Moderates47%45%2%

The phone poll of 500 registered voters found 78% find the quality of life in Nashville to be good or excellent, while 21% said it’s not so good or poor. Among college educated voters, 83% had a positive outlook on living in the city, while 71% of non-college educated voters felt the same.

However, just 37% of voters said they think Nashville is headed in the right direction, while 44% said it is going in the wrong direction.

Tennessee updates COVID-19 reporting details

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)

Gov. Bill Lee’s adminstration is updating the way it discloses COVID-19 information. Here’s the full release::

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Health is improving the format for sharing of data on COVID-19 to update how some metrics are calculated and reflect evolving knowledge of the pandemic. The new format will begin September 3, 2020 and reflect a change in how active cases are calculated and a correction in county of residence for some cases. In addition, TDH is adding new resources including data snapshots for each county and a Critical Indicators Report. TDH data on COVID-19 will be posted at 3 p.m. CDT Sept. 3 at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html as the new format is implemented.

“We’re pleased to be adding new reports to help support rapid public health actions in Tennessee communities,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP. “We also want to promote data transparency and help Tennesseans understand the reason case counts for some counties will change as we correct information based on their addresses.”

Reporting Inactive/Recovered Cases

Starting Sept. 3, TDH case count reports will include figures for “Inactive/Recovered” cases and will no longer include data for “Recovered” cases. “Inactive/Recovered” cases will include people who are 14 days or more beyond their illness onset date (or, for asymptomatic cases, their specimen collection date). This will more closely align with what is now understood about the infectious period of COVID-19, as recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show most patients with COVID-19 are no longer infectious after 10 days.

Previously, TDH considered a case recovered after a 21-day period.

Correcting County Locations

TDH is also correcting discrepancies in county location for about 1,700 cases, as the county to which they were originally assigned does not correspond correctly to their street addresses. This can occur in laboratory reports because some lab systems automatically assign county location based on the patient’s ZIP code, which may be incorrect if the ZIP code straddles county lines. These cases will be corrected all at once, which will result in case count changes for some counties. A solution is in place to automate this process in the future.

New Reports and Data Points

Starting Sept. 3, individual County Data Snapshots will provide information on case counts, hospitalizations, testing and more for each county at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov/data/county-data-snapshot.html. In addition, the new weekly Critical Indicators Report includes information to help stakeholders monitor trends in cases, symptoms, testing capabilities and health care system capacity. Find the Critical Indicators Report online at www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/health/documents/cedep/novel- coronavirus/CriticalIndicatorReport.pdf. TDH is also adding data on current hospitalizations to daily information posted at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html.

Tennessee’s county health departments continue to offer COVID-19 testing at no charge to anyone who wishes to be tested. Find a map of health department locations and contact information online at www.tn.gov/content/tn/health/cedep/ncov/remote-assessment- sites.html. County health department testing sites will be closed Sept. 7 for Labor Day.

TDH is posting updated COVID-19 case numbers by 2 p.m. CDT each day at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html. Find additional information at www.tn.gov/governor/covid-19.html and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.