By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
August 21, 2020
WITH CASES GOING DOWN AND RECOVERIES GOING UP CONCERNS MOUNT ABOUT TRANSPARENCY WITH SCHOOLS; SOME SIMILAR VIRUS TRENDS FOR METRO WITH A POTENTIAL NEW HOT SPOT LOOMING; NEW UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS SPIKE ABOVE A MILLION AGAIN WHILE WASHINGTON MAKES LIMITED PROGRESS ON NEW RELIEF EFFORTS; TENNESSEE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR MARY MANCINI ASSESSES PARTY CONVENTION ON INSIDE POLITICS; MY CONVENTION THOUGHTS; BOTCHED RAID RAISES EVEN MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT METRO POLICE; IT HAS BEEN THAT KIND OF WEEK
WITH CASES GOING DOWN AND RECOVERIES GOING UP CONCERNS MOUNT ABOUT TRANSPARENCY WITH SCHOOLS
When he came to office in 2019, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee pledged an administration committed to transparency.
However, when it comes to COVID-19, not so much.
The latest flip-flop on the virus came this week when the Governor backtracked on disclosing school specific coronavirus outbreak numbers citing the need to protect confidentiality.
His decision comes as school classrooms continue to open across the state, and amid reports that, in just the last two weeks, over 2,000 school-age children have tested positive.
In fact as of Thursday night at least 9 schools across the state, including some in Middle Tennessee are closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Governor Lee now seems to changing his mind about making school virus disclosures if he gets information from the federal government that he can release school virus data that is within federal guidance to allow that. FYI, it appears some states already are.
There is also controversy because state officials have decided to let teachers return to class even after they have been exposed to COVID-19 as long as they are not displaying symptoms and wear a mask.
There are also concerns about new state guidance issued this week suggesting a new longer quarantine period of up to 24 days (instead of 14 days) for those exposed to the virus.
Add it all up, and some say teachers are feeling more and more abandoned.
Finally this week, the State Department of Education reversed course on planned child well- being checks in homes, to check up on students. The reversal on visits came on orders from the Governor and after a storm of criticism by parents and lawmakers who see the visits as overreaching.
SOME SIMILAR VIRUS TRENDS FOR METRO WITH A POTENTIAL NEW HOT SPOT LOOMING
In terms of fighting the virus, the numbers released by the state show the daily number of new cases continues to be less most days than the number of those recovering from the illness. The state still has well over 35,000 active cases, and the new case count wavers at a fairly high level between 1,000 and 2,000 a day. The positive rate is now trending in the 8% range down from double digits with the decline in both urban and rural counties. That rate needs to be below 5% but things are moving the right way.
This is somewhat like the trend being seen across the country, although the opening of new schools along with colleges and universities are showing signs a new virus hot spot may be developing.
These trends are seen in Metro Nashville, along with the fear of what lies ahead with the opening of local schools, along with colleges and universities. In fact, this rather stern warning was issued by Vanderbilt’s new chancellor and the school’s provost on Wednesday night. The message from the new Chancellor drew some rather negative social media responses saying it was university officials who decided to recommence in-person classes on campus not students.
Like the state, Nashville is seeing some relief from a decrease in hospitalizations. That breathing room is keeping Nashville from seeing its health care system overwhelmed but we remain in a situation of making “slow progress” says Mayor John Cooper as Metro’s daily new case count in the 100s to 200s range each day while both the number of hospital and intensive care beds remain the caution area. Metro is also seeing its other important metrics, such as its 7 -day positive test rate and the number of new cases per 100,000 population, improve. But the numbers are going down slowly, so continued vigilance is requested. We are making better progress that several other neighboring counties and if we can keep doing so, Nashville can get off the White House “hot list” for COVID-19, be able to allow visits to nursing homes in the county and get off the no visit travel list to other parts of the country.
One move nationally announced this week from Airbnb may avoid any more large parties being held in Nashville’s numerous short- term rentals. If the new restrictions are followed, that would help.
Mayor John Cooper’s move on Monday to reopen local bars with 25% capacity, along with moving back the curfew for bars and restaurants to close a half hour later at 10:30PM, does not seem to have gotten a lot of participation. Most operators say they will stay closed, because they can’t make any money at that level of service. But one iconic Nashville bar, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, is reopening as a bar & grill (with a full service restaurant) giving the establishment a 50% service capacity.under the health rules.
Still being in a modified Phase II of the roadmap for reopening the city, Mayor Cooper also announced this week that no fans will be allowed for Tennessee Titan or Nashville’s MLS soccer team home games at Nissan Stadium at least through the month of September. Vanderbilt University does not open its home football season until October, so no announcement has been made about fans being allowed for those contests. There has also been no announcement about fans at Tennessee State University home football games.
Friday it was disclosed Vanderbilt has COVID-19 cases on its football squad.
Later on the same day (Tuesday), with Governor Bill Lee looking on, University of Tennessee officials gave a positive update about opening of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville campus for the fall semester and the Vols home football season at Neyland Stadium, which also begins in October. Athletics Director Phil Fulmer even indicates up to 25% of the stadium (capacity over 102,000) could be filled with fans in attendance. Earlier this summer, a racing event was held at the Bristol Motor Speedway with 25,000 fans in attendance. Governor Lee says he has been told by health officials that no virus cases resulted from that sporting event. Meanwhile a race at the Nashville Speedway set for August 29 is being cancelled at the direction of Mayor Cooper.
Meantime, Nashville’s economic recovery won’t be here until at least the third quarter of next year, says a study by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. For the city’s tourism and hospitality industries, it will take another year longer than that.
In fact, in the hospitality business, times are so tough in Nashville and across the country that hotel foreclosures loom on the horizon if things do not improve.
Nashville’s economic forecast is not good news at the Metro Courthouse on a number of levels.
Metro Councilman At Large Steve Glover this week once again lost an effort to push back on the recent 34% property tax increase. The Council indefinitely deferred his proposal to call a special election in December to have voters approve a 6% limit on any future property tax hikes. Glover says he will try and revive his plan before the city’s Charter Commission at its meeting on September 11. But the Council’s indefinite deferral is a strong indication the 40-member body has no interest in putting Glover’s proposal on the ballot along with three of controversial proposals, especially since doing that requires a two-thirds or 27 yes votes.
The Council approved two late filed ordinances on first reading Tuesday night. The measures may indicate a new wrinkle in Mayor Cooper’s efforts to enforce the city’s mask mandate and other public health orders. The bills would allow the Mayor to enlist other city employees to issue citations or stop work orders to enforce the health mandates, besides just Metro Police, city codes inspectors and health department officials. With the number of citations and arrests remaining in the low single digits for violations, while warnings skyrocket into the thousands, does the Mayor plan to add some more umph to efforts to enforce these virus- related mandates? The Council has to approve the bills two more times before they become law. Meanwhile, a local marketing effort to encourage adherence to following social distancing and other health guidelines, is gaining traction nationally. Just remember to “Mask Now, Party Later!”
In another pandemic related action, the Council approved $2.5 million in the city’s federal CARES fund for hunger relief. The city’s Second Harvest Food Bank will oversee the effort. The city’s growing need for food assistance has Second Harvest asking for volunteer assistance.
One reason for the Council to celebrate at the end of its 4-hour plus meeting Tuesday night. Adjourning at 10:15 marked the first time since May the Council has concluded its business before midnight. In fact, for all but one of the last six meetings before Tuesday, the Council did not finish until well into the wee hours of the morning. Once in early June, the meeting didn’t conclude until after sunrise.
In the area of finding a vaccine to put an end to this pandemic, Nashville is hosting several trials to test potential serums. They need volunteers to help out as well, particularly people of color.
For those of you who still downgrade COVID-19 as just “the sniffles,” read this article about the “long hauler” victims of the virus and think again.
As we approach the end of the summer months, there are also continuing concerns of the virus mixing in with the seasonal flu.
NEW UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS SPIKE ABOVE A MILLION AGAIN WHILE WASHINGTON MAKES LIMITED PROGRESS ON NEW RELIEF EFFORTS
New requests for unemployment assistance nationally unexpectedly went back above the 1 million mark this week.
In Tennessee we saw nearly 14,000 new people apply, up almost 4,000 from the week before.
Before the virus, that weekly figure nationally was consistently below 250,000. Now since March 20, when the pandemic began, 57.4 million Americans have asked for help. In Tennessee close to 800,000 have asked for unemployment assistance since the spring. Over 200,000 are requesting continuing help this week.
Some folks have gone back to work. In fact, unemployment nationally is down to 10.2% the lowest since April. The bad news is that across the country 14.844 million people remain dependent on unemployment assistance.
To make matters worse, that money was cut $600 a week at the end of last month with no new relief bill in sight.
Congress, for the most part, is at home until after Labor Day, while the Trump administration seeks to bring to life the President’s unemployment fix. That effort seemed to make some progress this week with 11 states approved to be in the program. But how quickly the new money (down to $300 dollars week) makes into the pockets of unemployed is still uncertain, while their bills pile up and bankruptcies and home foreclosures loom.
Tennessee has applied for the program and is awaiting approval. State officials are willing to pay their share of the temporary program ($100 per week per claim). The state is already gearing up to get the money out to those who need it as soon it is available. The bad news not everyone will get help. You have to have received at least $100 dollars a week in past state unemployment benefits, some self-employed, gig type workers won’t get the extra $300 a week.
Back in Washington the Senate Republicans put out some details of their latest virus relief package. It keeps unemployment help at an extra $300 a week but this “skinny package” is not getting admiring looks from Democrats or even from some Republicans.
Will this impasse end before Labor Day? One leading Senate Democrat predicts significant progress after the Republican National Convention is over at the end of next week.
TENNESSEE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR MARY MANCINI ASSESSES PARTY CONVENTION ON INSIDE POLITICS
In a presidential election year, the late summer conventions for the Democrats and Republicans to confirm their national tickets always provide an important milestone to access where the race for President stands, as we look ahead to the fall campaign.
With the Democratic convention being held virtually this past week, how were things different in this always different year of 2020?
And what does the convention mean looking ahead to the virtual GOP convention next week and to the final vote in November?
The Chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party Mary Mancini joins us on INSIDE POLITICS this week to discuss those topics and others.
FYI: We plan a similar show next week with Tennessee GOP officials to assess their national convention.
INSIDE POLITICS will air 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 cannot 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 early in 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.
MY CONVENTION THOUGHTS
If the Biden/ Harris ticket has more good weeks like this week’s Democratic convention, they will be hard to beat in November.
Biden’s acceptance speech showed no “Sleepy Joe” as President Trump likes to call him. The now official Democratic presidential nominee committed no gaffes or unfortunate ad libs that could back to haunt him. He will need to continue that in the upcoming debates and on the campaign trail.
Being more out of the basement and on the stump (safely) could also help narrow the enthusiasm gap Biden has in the polls with his voters, compared to the President. Biden’s running mate California Senator Kamala Harris, the first black woman, woman of color and South Asian on a national ticket, could help narrow the excitement gap too.
Even the FOX News commentators, including Karl Rowe, had good things to say about the Biden speech, which may leave Democrats pleased, but maybe a little suspicious too.
The online format for the convention seemed to work well. The virtual roll call of states was a big hit! Will it be a regular part of future conventions? Can the Republicans find a way to emulate or improve on it next week?
The Biden surrogates, speaking at the convention, worked well for the most part. That was particularly true for the average folks who spoke on his behalf, in particular, the young man who spoke about how Mr. Biden has helped him with a stuttering issue, a challenge the candidate suffered with as a youth.
As for other Biden surrogates, former First Lady Michelle Obama understands (better than any speaker this week) the different nature of giving a speech on -line, instead of in front of a big, roaring crowd. Her husband, former President Barack Obama always delivers a good address. However, we will see how his historically unique and different role as being on the attack against his successor in the Oval Office plays with voters.
We will also see next week what kind of polling bounce, if any, the Biden/ Harris team will enjoy from what appears to be a successful convention.
The one cloud on the horizon for the Democrats, is the significant decline in TV ratings, which were down 25% to over 40% some nights compared to 2016.
As for the Republicans, their biggest question is: Can they do better next week to try and do something to get some momentum going into the fall campaign?
BOTCHED RAID RAISES EVEN MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT METRO POLICE
It has been a challenging first few weeks for Metro’s interim police chief John Drake.
He took over unexpectedly when former Chief Steve Anderson stepped down ahead of schedule. Anderson had planned to retire in October.
Drake’s ascension to Chief also came as the nation and Nashville debate police reform, and as calls for new leadership in the police department increased after 10 years of Anderson’s leadership.
In the last two weeks, more issues have surfaced. Allegations of rampant sexual harassment and sexual assaults have led to criminal and other independent investigations conducted by multiple agencies on both the state and local level. The lead group making the accusations held a rally at the Legislative Plaza while the Women’s Caucus of the Metro Council (which is half of the 40- member body) issued a stern statement about the gravity of the probe.
To further compound the controversy surrounding the Metro Police Department, it was disclosed late Wednesday afternoon that officers had conducted a botched raid in the Edgehill area needlessly harassing a mother and her children. Already Chief Drake has decommissioned 3 of the officers involved, and he has vowed administrative and policy changes would be made to keep something like this from ever happening again.
Edgehill neighbors remain to be convinced.
The matter is getting national news attention:
All this occurred as a 41-member commission appointed by Mayor John Cooper was set to hold its first organizational meeting this week. The group is empowered by the Mayor to take a sweeping look at the department including its use-of-force policies and develop necessary reforms to set a new national standard in policing and public safety.
The recommendations are to be complete by October so they can be shared with the finalists still be to selected to be Nashville’s next Police Chief.
It is believed Interim Chief Drake is the leading internal candidate to be Chief. His quick action to deal with the botched raid and his response to the sexual assault and harassment charges may well have solidify his position. He likely also helped himself by having officers get 9somewhat) tougher on enforcing the city’s mask mandate and other health orders.
But I bet Chief Drake just wishes things calm down a bit after his tumultuous first weeks.
IT HAS BEEN THAT KIND OF WEEK
It has been another too busy week for news.
Here are a couple of significant national news stories, three state-related items, and one related to Congress and Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper that I would give significant column space in weeks past, but there is just not time or space to do that much this week. I think the stories do involve developments worth bringing to your attention.