By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
December 4, 2020
COVID-19 VACCINE PROGRESS CONTINUES TO SHINE BUT HEALTH OFFICIALS SAY THE NEXT FEW MONTHS COULD BE THE DARKEST AND MOST DIFFICULT IN THE PUBLIC HEALTH HISTORY OF THIS COUNTRY; TENNESSEE AND NASHVILLE; CONGRESSMAN JOHN ROSE ON INSIDE POLITICS; AFTER A MONTHS LONG NATIONAL SEARCH NASHVILLE’S NEW POLICE CHIEF WAS ALREADY ON THE JOB; CLOSING OF METRO BORDEAUX LONG TERM CARE FACILITY ALL BUT FINAL; GOVERNOR BILL LEE CONTINUES TO ENLIST OUT GOING STATE LAWMAKERS TO HELP HIM;
COVID-19 VACCINE PROGRESS CONTINUES TO SHINE BUT HEALTH OFFICIALS SAY THE NEXT FEW MONTHS COULD BE THE DARKEST AND MOST DIFFICULT IN THE PUBLIC HEALTH HISTORY OF THIS COUNTRY
The news about a vaccine to fight and hopefully end the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be very promising, although it will still be several months yet before immunizations are widely available.
For the first time, this week a western country (the United Kingdom) has approved the use of a COVID-19 vaccine with a near 95% effective rate.
The European Union could be next in approving a vaccine. But that may not occur until late in December with E.U. officials saying the U.K may be moving too fast.
Even Dr. Anthony Fauci got into the act, criticizing the Brits, although he later apologized.
Vice President-elect Joe Biden has asked Dr. Fauci, the nation’s chief infectious disease expert to stay on in his administration, including being his chief medical advisor. Dr. Fauci has accepted.
Biden also announced late Thursday, to stop the spread of the virus, and to enhance the effectiveness of any vaccine, he wants all Americans to join him by wearing a mask during the first 100 days of his administration beginning on January 20. It will not be a mandate, although it seems anyone in federal building, on federal land or using federally regulated transportations such as planes and buses could be required to mask up.
In another effort to build public confidence in any new vaccine, three former presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama saying they are willing to take their virus shots on live TV to show their support and confidence in the serum. President-elect Biden says he will do the same. So will Dr. Fauci. This photo op is getting crowded.
The United States could approve two vaccines for emergency use as early as later this month. This comes amid ongoing pressure by the White House to act.
The outlook nationally is to have 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of the year and 100 million receiving the serum by spring. The recommended priority of who should get the shots first are front line and first responders with seniors in long term facilities getting the serum next. However not all health care experts are on board with that decision.
It will ultimately be up to the states to decide how to use the vaccines in their parts of the country. That could lead to some marked differences and continued complaints about a consistent lack of national plan to attack the virus. Vice President Mike Pence came to Tennessee Thursday to showcase the effort of Operation Warp Speed to start shipping the vaccines nationwide within 24 hours of approval. An early victory lap?
The continuing success of developing effective vaccines in record time is the most positive story to come out of the pandemic. But along with the overall politization of how to deal with the virus (especially wearing masks and social distancing), the speed of the vaccine coming online has also further fueled public distrust and wariness of taking the serum. Critical comments from countries working on the vaccines about how their competitors may be going too fast, won’t help build more trust in a vaccine.
Neither will reports of undue political pressure to get a vaccine out so a President can take a victory lap as he exits or if state governors decide to do the distribution of the serums in widely different ways. There are also bound to be complaints from some who oppose President Biden’s call for wearing masks during his first 100 days in office. But it is an effort to show more national leadership, as is the willingness of the three former presidents to step up and get vaccinated on TV.
Here in Tennessee Governor Bill Lee says he will depend on doctors and the medical community to build public support to get vaccinated. The state expects to receive 56,000 doses in the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine.
This week to encourage those exposed to the virus to quarantine to help stop the spread of the disease, national health officials shortened the isolation period. The science does seem to support doing that, and many who have been asked to quarantine have not been willing to do so for 14 days anyway.
But the virus doesn’t pay any attention to deadlines or guidance. It won’t pay much attention to insistent pleas to the public to refrain from Christmas holiday travel to stop the spread of the virus. Millions of Americans ignored such guidance for Thanksgiving, and we are about to slowly see just how much more danger the country may be headed into.
The disease, already spiking and setting records across the country during November, is expected to go even higher in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday, and perhaps rising still more for the Christmas holiday season. December has already started with Wednesday seeing a record one-day number of deaths nationwide (over 3,000) as well as hospitalizations (now over 100,000). Thursday saw more of the same in terms of virus victims hospitalized. Total infections rose above 14 million, while the number of infections was at a single day record on Thursday at well over 200,000. All in just 24 hours. There was also a record number of deaths in one day (3,100).
Remember, think of all these numbers as people: fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, grandparents. These are lives disrupted, if not ended, or changed forever by this disease. It is not a hoax. It is a tragedy of monumental proportion that is not ending in the short term.
Bottom line, there was a stern warning issued this week from health officials. They caution that, even with a vaccine slowly coming into use, these next few winter months could be “the most difficult in the public health history of this country.”
TENNESSEE AND NASHVILLE
Like much of the rest of the country, November was the toughest month yet for Tennessee in handling the pandemic and the virus looks like it will not relent until the vaccines are here in any strength which could be well into the spring.
The White House and its health experts continue to prod state officials to implement health orders such a statewide mask mandate or restrictions on bars and restaurants. But that will likely continue to fall on deaf ears for Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. He won’t even listen to former Tennessee Republican Senator Dr. Bill Frist who in a national op-ed piece (FORBES) has urged him to act.
The state’s strategy under Governor Lee seems to urge (but not mandate) Tennesseans follow health recommendation). This as the Lee administration holds on, hoping enough vaccine gets here before the local and state health care systems are flattened by this latest surge (and the possible surge on top of the surge).
The strain is already showing, with the state seeing its largest number of daily deaths on Thursday and the highest positivity rate from testing of nearly 20%. Health care workers are wearing out and are frustrated because many people, even patients with COVID-19 still don’t seem to comprehend the gravity of the situation.
Some hospitals in the Nashville area are also postponing some elective surgeries on a case by case basis, and hoping they have the beds and staff to make it through.
This article from East Tennessee indicates the challenge is ominous statewide.
Even if the Governor was open to mask mandates and other restrictions, state lawmakers are indicating they want some say in any new emergency orders that would be issued. There is also a bill drafted for the next session of the General Assembly that convenes in January. It would give students and their parents the right to decline a COVID-19 immunization even in the midst of a pandemic. Governor Lee has already said he doesn’t currently plan to mandate virus vaccine shots for students as the effectiveness of the serum for children remains unclear.
According to Mayor John Cooper, Nashville’s virus numbers are “at an all- time high.” In fact, the city’s virus dashboard is filled more with red and yellow colors in the various important categories rather than green. Of perhaps greatest concern is that as of Thursday ICU bed availability is down to just 6%.
In reaction, new restrictions on bars and restaurants along with public and private events did go into effect last Monday. No other new restrictions seem likely in the next week or so.
Enforcement of these new orders continue to be largely on the honor system although there have been arrests made and citations issued in some cases.
There are some governmental changes in the works. The local General Session judges seem poised to cancel most court hearings in coming days to hold down crowding in the halls of the Birch Building. Meanwhile, the Metro Council is leaving its current in-person meeting site at the Music City Center and is returning to meeting virtually for its December 17 session. Where city leaders will meet in the new year remains uncertain. It will depend on when and if Governor Lee decides to continue his emergency order to allow local government bodies to meet virtually. Given the spiking status of the virus, why he hasn’t already acted is beyond me.
In the wake of the rising COVID-19 numbers, Metro Schools have gone back entirely to virtual learning and seem likely stay there through at least the end of the year and the fall semester. Parents have until midnight tonight (Friday) to choose whether they want their students to learn in person or virtually when classes resume.
There is a new national study that shows the learning loss for students during the pandemic is not as bad as expected although the study may not have included enough at-risk children, such as students of color, to be truly representative.
As for Metro’s plans and priorities in distributing the vaccine it receives, city officials say that is still to be determined in talks with the state, in the hopes to have announcement perhaps as early as next week.
CONGRESSMAN JOHN ROSE ON INSIDE POLITICS
Members of Congress went back to Washington this week to continue their lame duck or rump session following the November election.
It has also been another bizarre week as the current occupant of the White House, President Donald Trump, continues his still unsuccessful effort to prove massive voter fraud and overturn the election.
Two weeks ago on INSIDE POLITICS, we hosted Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper to discuss what he thinks lawmakers can get done by the end of the year and what lies ahead in the new Congress and the new presidential administration of President-elect Joe Biden beginning in January.
This week we welcome Tennessee Republican Congressman John Rose of the 6th congressional district to discuss these same topics from his perspective.
We welcome Congressman Rose back to the show.
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AFTER A MONTHS LONG NATIONAL SEARCH NASHVILLE’S NEW POLICE CHIEF WAS ALREADY ON THE JOB
When Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson stepped down under fire last summer, Mayor John Cooper immediately announced a nationwide search for his replacement. The Mayor also appointed 30-year police department veteran John Drake to serve as acting chief.
From the beginning, Drake had been seen as the strongest in- house candidate to win the chief’s job permanently. That feeling only got stronger as Drake acted as interim chief. Even after four other candidates emerged to be finalists out of the national search, John Drake still came out as the top choice when Mayor Cooper announced his decision this week.
It has been my observation that in its nearly 60-year history, Metro Nashville has almost always stayed in house for it police chief. That includes Chiefs Hubert Kemp, Hugh Mott, Joe Casey, Emmitt Turner, Steve Anderson and others were already in the department long before being elevated to Top Cop.
Only Ronal Serpas was outside of that mold and his term as Chief is remembered for its controversies. There will be those that say in this time of increasing calls for police and criminal justice reform, an outsider might have been the better choice. But new Chief Drake is already making changes.
One major change is already underway. Chief Drake has signed a memorandum of understanding with the city’s new Community Oversight Board. It is an agreement Chief Anderson seemed to openly resist doing.
The new chief also faces calls by the Metro Council’s Women’s Caucus (half of the body’s 40 members) to act quickly on charges of sexual harassment and assault within the police department.
In a related matter, there this for the new Chief to deal with in terms of his department’s disciplinary system.
Make no mistake, Chief John Drake has his work cut out for him. Any new or current Police Chief in this nation does. Community reaction to his appointment has been overwhelmingly positive and that will give him a good start. But change is never easy. Debates are likely to arise again soon about “defunding the police” and other related issues. The new Chief also know his efforts to effect positive change will be judged not just on his best efforts, but by the officers under command, some of whom may be not ready or willing to be part of change.
CLOSING OF METRO BORDEAUX LONG TERM CARE FACILITY ALL BUT FINAL
After many decades of service, Metro’s long-term care facility in Bordeaux will close by the end of the year.
Efforts to keep it operating using Metro’s CARES Act monies and reserve funds were either defeated or deferred in the Metro Council Tuesday night.
Mayor John Cooper says, with only a handful of residents left to be transferred to other facilities, stopping the wind down of operations at Bordeaux would not be a good idea.
Finally this week in Metro, Mayor John Cooper announced the city has received a higher score this year from the 2020 Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index. The 2020 MEI is a nationwide evaluation of 506 cities on how inclusive cities’ laws, policies, and services are of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. Nashville received a score of 63 in 2018 and a score of 70 in 2019.
GOVERNOR BILL LEE CONTINUES TO ENLIST OUT GOING STATE LAWMAKERS TO HELP HIM
Governor Bill Lee continues to recruit outgoing state legislators to join his administration as top advisors. First it was retiring Republican Representative Bill Dunn of Knoxville who came on board.
Now former Memphis representative John DeBerry, recently kicked out of the Democratic party for supporting too many Republican bills, and then defeated for re-election in November, is joining the Governor’s cabinet.
Both lawmakers have been big supporters of a school voucher program, so it seems likely they will work with the Governor, the State Education Commissioner and their former colleagues in the General Assembly on how to implement a new program, after the voucher plan approved earlier, was declared unconstitutional by the courts.
New reporting also indicates one of the problems that bedeviled the voucher plan, even as its court setbacks developed, were miscommunication issues involving an outside support group.