By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
August 20, 2021
AS MORE PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES FACE THE NATION, MTSU PROFESSOR DR. JOHN VILE JOINS INSIDE POLITICS; TENNESSEE’S COVID MASK WAR EXPANDS TO INCLUDE ALL THREE LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT; ON THE FRONT LINES; AS UNEMPLOYMENT IN TENNESSEE GOES DOWN THE STATE’S JOBS WEBSITE HAS BEEN COMPROMISED; CAR EMISSIONS TESTING TO END IN MIDDLE TENNESSEE EXCEPT IN NASHVILLE
AS MORE PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES FACE THE NATION, MTSU PROFESSOR DR. JOHN VILE JOINS INSIDE POLITICS
As we approach the final weeks of summer, those who thought we’d be moving into a “back to normal” fall season are quickly learning that, thanks to a resurgent COVID-19 virus with its Delta variant, the weeks to come may be as difficult and unpredictable as any during this pandemic.
At the same time, our politics remain strange, surprising and contentious, whether it is domestic matters or developments overseas.
It leaves the Biden administration under increased pressure and criticism because of a spiking virus, vaccines showing a decline in effectiveness, and a nation still divided over how to address those issues.
The President’s withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan has also been chaotic as has the continuing record surge of migrants across the Southern border.
There are also continued high inflation numbers and a growing debate among Democrats in Congress on how to pass the President’s legislative agenda.
To talk about all this is MTSU political science professor Dr. John Vile, who is also the Dean of the Honors College there.
It is always wonderful to have Dr Vile on the program. We welcome him back to INSIDE POLITICS.
INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:
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THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2. We are also on DISH TV with the rest of the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.
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Finally, I am now posting a link to the show each week on my own Facebook page, usually on the Monday or Tuesday after the show airs.
TENNESSEE’S COVID MASK WAR EXPANDS TO INCLUDE ALL THREE LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT
This week began with Tennessee Governor Bill Lee one-upping House Speaker Cameron Sexton and the Republican House Supermajority by issuing an executive order requiring that any local schools’ mask mandate, to stop the spread of COVID-19, include an opt-out for parents and their children. The Governor’s order seemed to bring an end to calls for a special session.
The Governor claims parents are best suited to decide what’s best. He also says the virus is an adult disease even though the latest science indicates a growing number of Tennessee children are getting sick and being hospitalized.
After the first week of classes, here is what the COVID-19 numbers looked like, in schools in counties like Nashville with a strict mask mandate, and those in nearby Wilson County, which has a recommended, but optional, mask protocol.
Even a top hospital official with strong ties to Governor Lee and the Republican Party is expressing concerns about the Governor’s mask order and the looming crisis facing the state’s young people.
A mask policy with an opt-out is not very effective, especially in classrooms with children under 12 who cannot yet receive a vaccine to protect themselves. The state’s two largest school districts, Shelby County and Nashville have not knuckled under to the Governor’s order. Their refusal has angered Lt. Governor Randy McNally who now indicates he might change his mind and support a special session or what he calls “remedial options” to hold school officials accountable .
But there are public officials in Nashville siding with Metro School leaders, including Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk who says he won’t prosecute school officials for violating the Governor’s executive order. Tuesday night, the Metro Council also backed the Nashville school mask mandate, passing a resolution without dissent. The resolution says wearing masks is “the best way to keep schools open.”
The Council however declined to consider proposed legislation instructing the city’s Health Board to reinstate an indoor mask mandate for all buildings and spaces open the public. Health officials privately said the virus situation has not gotten that bad in Nashville (yet), while Council members are reluctant to open up yet another issue area to fight with the state.
But Shelby County is not waiting. On Wednesday, the county Health Department issued a universal mask mandate indoors, covering all buildings and spaces open to the public with few exceptions.
Meanwhile, the biggest amount of support Metro and other Tennessee school officials are receiving is from President Joe Biden and the federal Department of Education.
Questions are being raised if the Governor’s parental opt-out mask policy violates federal requirements for a safe environment for classroom learning? Would the opt-out policy impact the federal funding Tennessee receives for schools?
With the likelihood growing that this mask war dispute is headed to litigation, might this dispute be not just a state court matter but also a federal case?
As for the letter from the Biden administration questioning the legality of the Governor’s opt-out mask rules, Governor Lee said: “Parents know better than the government what’s best for their children.”
And so, on every level of government, the lines are being drawn.
ON THE FRONT LINES
Across Tennessee, the situation in our state’s health care system may be more precarious than ever during this 17-month pandemic.
Hospitals beds and emergency rooms are full to overflowing, especially ICU beds which are down to a 6% vacancy statewide, The beds and ERs are filled almost completely with the unvaccinated, stricken with the virus and its highly contagious Delta variant.
The recommendation from health officials is to call 9-1-1 or go to an emergency room only for true medical emergencies (heart attack, stroke, a serious accident, or car crash). Even then there is a crunch for beds.
Most hospitals are not taking transfer patients and they can’t find any other medical facilities, anywhere even close, to accept their patients. The planned overflow health care facilities either have been dismantled (as the virus declined) or were never built in the first place.
It really doesn’t matter. The biggest problem hospitals are facing is a lack of personnel. Many health care workers are burned out or have cut back on their work hours. The state is again easing its rules to allow retired medical folks to return, while qualified members of the Tennessee National Guard are again being called into service. As for bringing nurses in from out of state to work, they are harder to find compared to the earlier surges, and the cost has gone up considerably.
The situation is rather grim and trending worse. The state has set a single month pandemic record for hospitalizations in August. We went over 1,000 patients for the first time and did so before this month was even half over!
The latest public plea for help now (get vaccinated for one thing) comes the CEO of the Sumner County Regional Medical Center.
Elsewhere on the front line in terms of vaccinations, the latest information from the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control now indicates the need for booster shots for those who received their doses from Moderna and Pfizer. The extra dab should be taken eight months after the first ones. And that will begin on September 20.
Of course, like every major policy announcement or development during this pandemic, there is controversy about this latest one, for a couple of reasons.
The best news nationally is that vaccinations went over a million one day this week, the highest it’s been in weeks.
Finally this week, there is renewed controversy over the firing of the state’s top vaccine doctor a few weeks ago. Dr Michelle Fiscus claims in the days before she was dismissed, a package containing a dog muzzle arrived. She took as a sign of intimidation.
Now an investigation by the State Safety and Homeland Security claims the muzzle sent to Dr. Fiscus was purchased on Amazon using a credit card issued in her name. The Doctor denies she sent the muzzle to herself that and wants a further investigation.
AS UNEMPLOYMENT IN TENNESSEE GOES DOWN THE STATE’S JOBS WEBSITE HAS BEEN COMPROMISED
With Tennessee’s unemployment rate statewide down to 4.9%, Governor Bill Lee will likely continue to encourage people to go to the Jobs4TN.gov website to find the job they need.
But stay on your guard.
While many Tennesseans have used the site and its services, at least 2,000 of them have had their resumes accessed and their personal information stolen. The site has been compromised by an elaborate group of scammers according to NEWSCHANNEL5 Investigates. What is most concerning is the slow response by state officials to even contact those whose resumes have been taken and their personal information stolen. It’s disappointing.
CAR EMISSIONS TESTING TO END IN MIDDLE TENNESSEE EXCEPT IN NASHVILLE
It was perhaps the hottest issue going in the early 1980s when I was a full- time reporter at NEWSCHANNEL5.
The Environmental Protection Agency wanted Metro Nashville to begin an annual testing of passenger car and truck emissions in Davidson County to clean up the air. Multiple times the Metro Council said no.
Finally, after EPA said it would cut off all federal funding to the city, the Council relented. The inspections have been an annual ritual every year when people renew their car tags for close to 35 years now.
The inspection requirement was later extended to surrounding counties, but not anymore.
While Nashville and the Metro Council have opted to stay the program, EPA and the State are ending the program in 2022 elsewhere in Tennessee, including Hamilton County and four other counties surrounding Nashville.
EPA says the change still allows the state to meet federal clean air standards but the Metro Council, a strong group now on environmental issues, says the city should do more.
My, how things change over time.