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Capitol View commentary: Friday, April 24, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 1:16 PM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 14:17:00-04

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
April 23, 2020
DR. ALEX JAHANGIR CHAIRMAN OF THE METRO BOARD OF HEALTH & THE METRO CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE IS GUEST ON INSIDE POLITICS; UNHAPPY ABOUT THE PHASES; THE DISUNITED STATES OF AMERICA; THE ECONOMY CONTINUES TO IMPLODE WHILE EFFORTS TO HELP REMAIN A STRUGGLE; BACK IN METRO; HOT SPOTS; CHINA IS THE NEW ISSUE FOR THE 2020 ELECTION; THE NUMBERS RISE BUT THE KINDNESS CONTINUES ;

DR. ALEX JAHANGIR CHAIRMAN OF THE METRO BOARD OF HEALTH & THE METRO CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE IS GUEST ON INSIDE POLITICS

This week both the state of Tennessee and the city of Nashville have announced their first plans to re-open the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The state and Metro obviously have the same goal, but they are approaching the re-open somewhat differently, and it appears on somewhat different time frames.

For example, it appears the state plans to open a number of businesses on a limited basis (restaurants and retail) early next week, while Metro seems more likely to begin reopening a little later in May.

Our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS is Dr Alex Jahangir, Chairman of the Metro Board of Health & Chair of the Metro Coronavirus Task Force.

He will explain Metro’s plan, and how it is based on data and science, not tied to specific dates.

With everything going on due to the pandemic, we appreciate Dr. Jahangir taking time to be with us. I think you will find our conversation informative and enlightening.

To prepare to watch the program, you might to review a roadmap of the Reopening Nashville plan.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times over the weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:
7:00 p.m. Friday;
5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Saturday;
1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted the week after the program airs.

Finally, I am now posting a link to the show each week on my Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday.

UNHAPPY ABOUT THE PHASES

Already there is unhappiness about Mayor John Cooper’s re-open plan. It will be Phase 3 of a 4-phase plan before the bars and live entertainment are open even on a limited basis on Lower Broad or anywhere else in Davidson County.

I am sure owners of Davidson County restaurants and commercial retail establishments are thrilled to be able to re-open in phase 1 of Mayor Cooper’s plan, even if it is just at 50% capacity. But they don’t really know exactly when that will be, while their competitors just down the street and across the county line will be opening this coming Monday. For example the Mall at Green Hills closed. Cool Springs Galleria open. Ouch!

The Mayor’s plan has gotten strong endorsements from the Vanderbilt Medical Center, and more importantly politically, from former Tennessee Republican U.S. Senator and Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist.

Friday morning Governor Lee did disclose more details and guidance on how the restaurant and retail re-opening will occur next week. As for re-opening the rest of economy everything else will remain closed until additional guidelines are issued and protective gear secured.

There also remain enforcement questions about the new reopen plan.

Actually, the Governor’s economic reboot plan begins today (Friday) with a limited capacity re-opening of most state parks along with significant social distancing requirements. A this transition begin, the Governor and the people of Tennessee are getting major props for their efforts to fight the virus in a new public service announcement from Tricia Yearwood and Garth Brooks.

THE DISUNITED STATES OF AMERICA

It has been one of the few constants of this pandemic.

In almost every aspect of our response, there has never been a single game plan or strategy about what to do and who is in charge (except for the use of social distancing).

Now as the nation seeks reopen our economy, the disagreements about when to start and how to move forward continue to crop up. President Donald Trump first wrongly said he had total authority, then he pulled back to say it would be up to the governors of the 50 states with guidance from the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention and signed off on by the President.

But as usual, he couldn’t leave things well enough alone. Late last week, Mr. Trump began tweeting it was time to “liberate” states still under stay at home orders. Then, as if on cue (and it was on cue), elements of the President’s base suddenly started staging protests, ala the Tea Party movement of a decade or so ago. The protests were targeted particularly in battleground states for the 2020 election, especially those with Democratic governors. Some GOP states, including Tennessee, also saw the protests last weekend. The ones in Nashville harkened back to the horn honkers of 2002 who successfully stopped an effort to approve an income tax for the state.

This latest effort seemed to equally successful. In fact within 48 hours, on Monday Governor Bill Lee, who was among the last state chief executive to impose a Safe at Home order, announced it would end May 1.

Along with Governor Lee, a number of other governors this week began to join together, or individually, to announce plans for their own state’s economic reopening. That set the stage for criticism, both inside and outside the states involved (including Tennessee), with the concern being that things are moving too quickly to safeguard public health and keep COVID-19 at bay.

Some Governors went so far, so far, such as in Georgia, that even President Trump said it was too much. More mixed messages yet one more time.

And of course, it was a week for more distractions with President Trump announcing he plans to stop all immigration to protect jobs and the health of the nation. What he really meant is he wants to stop legal immigration by pausing new green cards being granted temporarily. Why? The President has long been trying to end most immigration, legal or illegal, and the pandemic gives him an opportunity. His base of voters like that and in a tight re-election battle, the President wants to please his base.

Another high- ranking federal health official says he is being demoted because he is speaking out against efforts to allow use of a prescription drug used for malaria and lupus to help cure COVID-19 patients. The President says the drug is a no risk “game changer.” The now demoted health care official, who was in charge of development of a virus vaccine, says the drug is not. He is filing a whistleblower complaint.

And there is the strange presentation at the White House virus briefing on Thursday. What was said and presented by and on behalf of the President is hard to describe as anything but premature hopes that send still more mixed, unproven, if not dangerous messages from the highest levels of the federal government.

Here is how the President is explaining himself…he was being sarcastic. Really.

Of course, none of these distractions contribute much of anything to fighting the virus, they just add to the noise, confusion and conflict in Washington.

THE ECONOMY CONTINUES TO IMPLODE WHILE EFFORTS TO HELP REMAIN A STRUGGLE

Another week, another big jump in unemployment claims. Over 26 million Americans have asked for help in the last 5 weeks since the pandemic struck. That is over 15% of the total workforce, a percentage not approached, especially so quickly, since the Great Depression.

The unemployment application reports are not any better here in Tennesseehttps://www.tennessean.com/story/money/2020/04/23/unemployment-tennessee-nearly-400-k-new-claims-last-five-weeks/3010363001/.

Getting people help with a check also remains difficult. The state is again increasing its computer capacity to receive and process applications. They’ve also had to build an entire new computer system to handle self-employed and other workers now eligible for unemployment assistance. The state says it hopes check to the new folks will be there as early as next week.

Out on the streets, folks are still waiting and wondering if they will ever get help.

One sobering sign of how serious and deep this ongoing virus recession is and could become comes from a study released this week by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. It says every week of delay in reopening the economy, the city will lose thousands of additional jobs, many of which may not come back.

In Washington, yet another virus relief bill (the 4th in 5 weeks) got final approval in the House Thursday. The new approved funds of nearly half a trillion dollars will go to help hospitals and to boost virus testing and contact tracing. But most importantly, the money will be used to replenish the Paycheck Protection program which ran out of funds because, instead providing loans to mom and pop businesses, it went instead to big national companies with long time bank connections. Things are supposed to be different this time under the new funding. We’ll see. Congress is setting up its own oversight committee.
There is already talk of yet a 5th relief bill. It would fund a second round of direct payments to most folks to keep them afloat until the economy returns. There is also a move to help hard strapped state and local governments. But GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel says he would rather see state and local officials file for bankruptcy instead. That is a suggestion getting strong pushback.

BACK IN METRO

No governmental entity in Tennessee needs tax revenues from a reopened economy more than Metro Nashville.

Already in a delicate financial condition before the March 3 tornado and then the pandemic hit, Mayor John Cooper will submit his first proposed operating budget and expected significant tax increase to the Metro Council next Tuesday afternoon.

So far, the city is not getting much help from Washington. The money coming to Metro must be used to coronavirus related work that was above and beyond regular expenditures. That means while the federal funds can be used to hire more contact tracers and inspectors for the health department, it can’t be used to pay police, fire, ambulance or other first responders even if it includes overtime work due to the virus.

The Mayor still isn’t saying much about the size of the property tax hike he will request, but when asked, he is giving a few insights into what he won’t be able to fund in his spending plan. That includes the long awaited fully deployed body cameras for Metro Police. That is a development that will deeply disappoint the African Americans and local activists.

The Cooper administration this week announced that Metro will no longer look to sell its downtown energy system and instead will look to run it more efficiently and possibly more profitably. Said Kristin Wilson, Chief of Operations and Performance Management for Mayor Cooper: “With careful negotiation and management, the system can operate more efficiently, for a meaningfully lower General Fund subsidy. Continuing to operate the system gives Metro time to set the system up for long-term viability and success. Additionally, new developments in the downtown area have expressed strong interest in joining the system.”

Selling the energy system was a major issue in last year’s mayoral race. Then candidate John Cooper opposed the sale as proposed by then Mayor David Briley. Cooper did not think the proposed deal to sell the system was a good one and he took a dim view of selling it just to help balance the city’s budget with one- time revenue. The move now to not sell the energy system by the Cooper team is getting less than positive reactions so far by Council leaders.

In its second virtual meeting Tuesday night, it was clear the 40 members of the Metro Council had the upcoming budget and tax increase debate on their mind, particularly as they considered a renegotiated contract involving the city’s curbside recycling program. It is significantly more expensive.

The Council continues to express solidarity with those adversely impacted by the economic shutdown. The body passed a memorializing resolution supporting a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic as well as asking the city’s Health Department to track, study and report on the impact of COVID-19 on minority and rural communities. The Council also gave final approval to a new law requiring landlords give tenants 90- days notice on rent increases while deferring another bill that would require landlords to provide notice to tenants before selling their rental property.

The Council also took final action to approve a law to impose new regulations and restrictions on electric scooters. This was also a big issue during last summer’s elections. Perhaps this latest move will resolve the matter, but given the ghost town nature of the downtown area these days in the midst of the virus, you wonder if that type of frantic activity we saw with scooters is now something gone from Nashville at least for a while.

The Council is continuing to adjust to its new emergency virtual format. Tuesday’s meeting, with a 13-page agenda, still took as long (3 ½ hours) to complete, as the first on line meeting two weeks ago with a 30 page agenda. Several items were deferred that night, including public hearing rezoning bills. Using consent calendars to move as quickly as possible through routine non-controversial items, Vice Mayor Jim Schulman did what he could. Even with extended debate on some bills, he avoided lengthy roll call votes by asking those who wanted to vote no or abstain to raise their on- line virtual hand to speak. That seemed to work well, and after votes were verbally confirmed, nobody objected to getting to a quicker vote on some items.

Let’s see how the budget and tax debate goes if the emergency rules remain in place and public can only watch on- line.

HOT SPOTS

Even as both Metro and the state this week moved towards recovery and reopening the economy, COVID-19 continues to create hot spots and controversies.

The hot spots continue to include extended care and nursing homes. The state is now finally releasing more information about exactly what facilities are having cases and issues, although NEWSCHANNEL 5 INVESTIGATES, which led the calls for transparency, is finding some of the state’s new information is flawed.

Metro meanwhile has a challenge with a nursing facility it owns in Bordeaux and is operated by an outside firm. Another Nashville extended care facility Trevecca Towers is also facing a possible virus outbreak.

Another virus hot spot, both in this area and nationally, are meat packing plants. Several have been closed raising concerns about the food supply. The two in Tennessee are Tyson chicken plants. The one in Shelbyville is being closed for deep cleaning while another Tyson plant in Goodlettsville is under close watch by the Metro Nashville Health Department but will not be closed for now.

It is a serious but different kind of hot spot., It appears COVID-19 is making the city’s ongoing opioid epidemic even worse.

Finally, the state of Tennessee has lost the likely first round of a federal court fight to ban abortions during the pandemic. This issue is being fought out in several other states so the office of the Tennessee Attorney General says it will appeal the ruling.

CHINA IS THE NEW ISSUE FOR THE 2020 ELECTION

I don’t know if it will become as big an issue as the immigrant caravans (coming through Mexico and headed to the U.S.) were back in 2018. But for sure, China is becoming a bigger and bigger issue among President Donald Trump’s base of supporters. It revolves around information the Chinese either covered up the COVID-19 virus when it broke or that the country actually invented the disease.

Either way, Tennessee U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn wants Americans and even the 50 states to sue the Chinese.

Interestingly, one conservative publication thinks the Senator’s idea is foolish.

Tennessee Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty, who wants to join Blackburn in Washington, is also making China an issue in his primary campaign.

China is already becoming a bone of contention in the presidential race.

THE NUMBERS RISE BUT THE KINDNESS CONTINUES

The numbers from the virus pandemic remain heartbreaking again this week especially as we approach or pass, worldwide and nationally, milestones in cases and death. As of noon Friday (CDT)

WORLDWIDE:
CASES: Almost 2.8 million
DEATHS: Over 193 thousand
RECOVERED: 753,000 +

UNITED STATES
CASES: 759,000
DEATHS: 50,000 plus
RECOVERED: 82,000+

TENNESSEE
Figures updated at 2:00 p.m. (CDT) everyday

NASHVILLE

Metro Public Health Department officials announced today (Friday) a total number of 2,176 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nashville/Davidson County, an increase of 32 in the past 24 hours.

The confirmed cases range in age from 2 months to 99 years.

A total of twenty-two (22) people have died after a confirmed case of COVID-19. 1,111 individuals have recovered from the virus.

The MPHD COVID-19 Hotline received 276 calls on Thursday, April 23, 2020.

Total number of cases: 2,176
Cases reported in the past 24 hours: 32

Cases by sex
Male: 1,009
Female: 982
Unknown: 185

Total Cases by age

Unknown 32

0-10 43
11-20 134
21-30 619
31-40 427
41-50 331
51-60 287
61-70 178
71-80 89
81+ 36

Total 2,176

Recovered 1,111

Deaths 22

Total active cases 1,043

Total number of tests administered Total positive results Total negative results Positive results as percentage of total
20,890 2,176 18,714 10.4%

Even as we transition to economic recovery (hopefully) there still remains lots of kindness.

NEED A MASK?
THE STATE WILL PROVIDE A MASK FOR ALL
GRADUATION CELEBRATIONS FOR THE CLASS OF 2020
A MAKESHIFT ART GALLERY TO KEEP A NEIGHBORHOOD CONNECTED
A MURAL TRIBUTE TO HEALTH CARE WORKERS
AMAZON AND SECOND HARVEST TEAM UP FOR DELIVERIES TO UNDERSERVED COMMUNITIES

Stay well!

Stay safe!

Stay home!