NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — VIRUS SURGE FLATTENS AS DEATHS STILL RISE AND SCRAMBLE CONTINUES TO FIND MORE VACCINE
The dark winter of the 2021 coronavirus pandemic continued this week.
Worldwide deaths topped 2 million, while total cases are now above 100 million.
In the United States, January has been the worst month so far for deaths and the total number of fatalities could reach half a million, perhaps as early as Valentine’s Day.
In Tennessee, January will set a new record for deaths for the second month in a row, with perhaps more than 2,700 by the end of this weekend. The state also saw the largest number of deaths in a single day this past week (192 died on Tuesday).
It is likely true to some degree across the country, but New York state officials now admit they have been off as much as 50% in terms of the number of those dying in the Empire State’s nursing homes.
The good news is that the plateauing of the virus nationwide is continuing after peaking earlier in the new year.
The leveling off of cases are also the main reason why some local restrictions are being modified. Nashville Mayor John Cooper is extending the hours bars and restaurants can operate while Governor Bill Lee is lifting all the state’s restrictions on who can attend and participate K-12 indoor school sporting events.
In terms of vaccines, the heralded “light at the end of the tunnel” to stop the pandemic, the efforts to get needles in arms remain maddeningly slow. Tennessee officials have learned the hard way, any claim by the former Trump administration that there was a reserve of dosages to jump start the vaccination effort, was just a lie.
Playing big-time catchup this week, the new administration of President Joe Biden announced it is purchasing 200 million new doses of the vaccines (100 million each from Pfizer and Moderna), with the hope that every adult in the country will get their needed shots by the end of the summer.
Perhaps even more importantly, the new administration is promising that it will weekly give every state and local government a three- week projection of how much vaccine they will be receiving, so they can plan ahead. For now, the total amount of serum, going out every 7 days, will increase 16% or to 10 million shots.
Will it work? Even President Biden is making no promises, but he is promising transparency, not more lies from its government. It will take an unprecedented effort and level of cooperation by all levels of government to achieve vaccination success.
Even with all the efforts to move ahead on getting the vaccines into arms, do not expect things to be easy these next few months.
The new vaccination efforts also come as variants of COVID-19 continue to spread, creating an increased need to follow health protocols and monitoring to see if the current vaccines will remain effective.
Concern about the variants increased still further on Thursday. That’s when the new virus strain coming from South Africa was found in two people, unrelated to each other in different parts of South Carolina.
On Friday, there was lots more vaccine news:
Here in Nashville, in hopes to speed up local vaccinations, especially when more serum is available, the city is changing its vaccination locations. It is opening a new COVID vaccine clinic inside the Music City Center. Its’ first day of operation is Saturday. A media tour of the new clinic will be held late Friday morning.
The change transitions from the city’s current COVID vaccine clinics located at the Lentz Health Center for those age 75 and above, and the temporary vaccine clinic near the 5-Points area in East Nashville for Phases 1a1 and 1a2. The move will also allow for covered parking and a larger area inside for social distancing.
COVID vaccinations at the Music City Center, like all of our sites, remain by appointment only. People are advised not come if they do not have an appointment, as they will be turned away.
Vaccinations that are offered to those in the 1a1 and 1a2 categories at the East Nashville location will end on Friday. Beginning Monday, February 1st, those vaccines will be offered Monday through Friday, by appointment only, at Music City Center.
Those 75 and older with an appointment for their first dose of vaccine this Saturday and Sunday, January 30th and 31st, will be vaccinated at the Music City Center.
For those 75 and older who are to receive their second doses this Saturday and Sunday, January 30th and 31st, will return to the Lentz Public Health Center.
Beginning Saturday, February 6th, both 1st and 2nd doses of vaccine will be given at the Music City Center for anyone 75 and older. This will be the case for all future weekend clinics.
PAY IT BACK
It likely came in handy for 135 Metro Parks employees last month during the Christmas holidays. That’s when they received hazard pay for their ‘front line” work during the pandemic.
But due to a clerical error, they got too much and will have to repay it. That’s $267,000.
Nobody likes it and some employees have already spent the funds, but Mayor John Cooper says Metro has no alternative about repaying the money because of federal CARES Act rules. He says the city will ease the blow to workers by deducting the funds a bit at time from their paychecks during the year.
In other Metro news this week, Mayor Cooper received some recommendations from his 49-member sustainability advisory committee. The goal of the committee is to make Davidson County’s neighborhoods cleaner, more livable and more climate-change resilient. More specifically, the goal is to cut Nashville’s carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
To read the mayor’s sustainability advisory committee report and learn more about Mayor John Cooper’s sustainability efforts go to: https://www.nashville.gov/Mayors-Office/Transportation-Infrastructure-and-Sustainability.aspx.
MOVING AHEAD FOR THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION: WEEK TWO
In addition to trying to get the COVID-19 vaccination progress on some kind of forward track, the Biden administration this week was also looking to fight the virus with another round of relief approved by Congress.
The outlook for success on that happening seems guarded at best. In terms of economic news, new unemployment claims this week went down nationally (by 12,000 in Tennessee). But the level of those seeking help remain near historic highs, while a new government reports says that in 2020 the U.S. economy shrank more than in any year since 1946,.
At this point Republicans are not persuaded to join a bi-partisan effort to pass any additional major Covid legislation. They think the $1.9 trillion package is too large especially with a $15 an hour minimum wage and more stimulus checks totaling $1400 per person. That is causing Democratic leaders in both houses to say they will go it on their own, if necessary, to get something done.
It is not clear if President Biden is on board with Democrats going it alone new virus relief. There is feat stiffing the GOP might damage future efforts to build bi-partisan support on administration bills.
In the meanwhile, President Biden continues to govern in many ways by executive orders. He has set a record for the most such edicts in the early days of a President taking office.
This week that included reimposing restrictions on oil and gas drilling on federal lands (except for tribal properties). The administration is also reopening enrollments in Obamacare as the number of Americans who need health insurance has skyrocketed in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus recession.
Among some of the other orders issued in recent days is one to again phase out the federal government’s use of private prison operators. That includes Nashville-based CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America.
The order does not impact the federal contracts CoreCivic has to house ICE detainees.
Not surprisingly, in his attempts to stop or repeal the efforts and policies of the previous administration of President Donald Trump, President Biden is coming under Republican criticism including from Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn. Her criticism comes even though President Trump frequently issued executive orders (to negate or roll back policies of the administration of President Barack Obama), moves which Senator Blackburn supported.
But even the NEW YORK TIMES Editorial Board is urging the Biden administration to ‘ease up” on the use of executive orders.
THE SHADOW OF THE DEADLY RIOTS OF JANUARY 6 STILL LINGER
Just over three weeks since the die-hard supporters of President Trump stormed Capitol Hill in Washington, leaving five people dead and the Hill vandalized, the investigations and the arrests continue.
Two of those involved in the riot were arrested in Nashville and seemed ready to be released, until the presiding judge in the investigation case in Washington, intervened to keep them both in custody.
It is possible these two and three others from the Middle Tennessee area arrested on charges stemming from the riot will be returned here, and perhaps housed in the Metro Jail. Sheriff Daron Hall is preparing for that unique circumstance.
Back in Washington, there are concerns about a new Republican congressmember from Georgia, whose statements and support of the QAnon conspiracy, are raising eyebrows on both sides of the aisle.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi see an overall security potential problem from the “enemy…within ” in terms of some of her own House members.
Concerns also grows that extremists are still plotting violence over the re-election defeat of President Trump and President Joe Biden taking office. The concerns even led to a rare public warning from federal Homeland Security officials this week. Several thousand National Guard troops, mobilized for security surrounding the January 20thinauguration will remain on duty in Washington.
THE POLITICAL WAR OVER SCHOOLS CONTINUES BETWEEN NASHVILLE, MEMPHIS AND THE STATE
It began last week when (not mentioning any names), Governor Bill Lee criticized school districts that continue to hold their classes by remote rather than in person during the pandemic. He says education leaders in Nashville and Memphis are not following the science.
Then Republican lawmakers took matters one step forward, introducing legislation that would cut off state funds if they do not hold at least 120 days of in person instruction this year.
Metro and Memphis officials responded by saying they are following the science and accused their critics of unfairly putting children at risk.
On Monday, state education leaders escalated matters even more, sending Metro a strongly worded letter demanding an immediate explanation from school officials over why they have not spent over $120 million in federal virus relief funds.
In response, Metro says it has spent the money it was sent, that there is “no pot of money” going unused.
As the squabble between Metro and the state continues, this week the federal Centers for Disease Control did change the science about schools. The agency now says, if proper health safeguards are in place, in person classes do not pose a significant threat of community spread of the virus.
But for now, the Metro School Director Dr. Adrienne Battle has not taken any immediate steps to reopen local schools, saying she is encouraged by the decline in local virus numbers, but that she needs to see more improvement, before gradually beginning to reopen classes.
The controversy over in person classes continues to split the Metro parent body and teachers. It also led to an ethics complaint against a Metro School Board member.
Finally, this article from THE TENNESSEE LOOKOUT raises even more issues about the fight between Metro and the state. Is the state pondering a takeover of Metro schools?
In terms of reopening Metro schools to in person classes, Nashville Mayor John Cooper, during his weekly media briefing on Thursday, did go a little bit further on (but not much) on when it might happen.
To raise the level of confrontation still further, late Thursday came word, Governor Bill Lee has directly told Metro School officials and those in Memphis/ Shelby County, they must offer the option for in person classes no later than February 15.
I guess the continuing pressure (and the continuing fall in the community spread of the virus) has had some impact here in Nashville.
It appears Nashville officials will make an announcement Monday about beginning in person classes.
A SECOND ACQUITAL IN THE OFFING FOR FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP
The second Senate impeachment trial for now former President Donald Trump does not even begin for another 10 days, but already it appears he will be acquitted again.
Remember it takes at least a two- thirds vote (67 Senators) to convict. In terms of the current Senate, that means 17 of the 50 Republican members must join all 50 Democratic Senators to gain a conviction.
But is an impeachment and removal of a former President constitutional? Such a point of order was raised this week. It came after the article of impeachment charging Mr. Trump with inciting sedition (causing the deadly January 6th takeover of the Capitol by an angry mob of Trump supporters) was delivered to the Senate by the House on Monday. All 100 Senators have now been sworn in as jurors.
When the point of order was voted on, it failed 55-45. That is a bipartisan majority, and it includes 4 more GOP Senators who voted against Mr. Trump compared to the first trial. But it is not nearly enough to indicate the 2/3 vote needed is there to win the trial.
Both of Tennessee’s Senators, Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty voted to kill the impeachment trial.
Despite the likely acquittal of the former President, there is so far no sign about the Democratic leadership in the Senate to drop the case, but some Democrats are looking at alternatives.
A move to censure, while requiring fewer votes to pass (60 rather than 67 in the Senate, still looks difficult to accomplish.
INSIDE POLITICS FEATURES THE NEW CHAIR OF THE TENNESSEE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
While Democrats in Washington try to figure out how to take advantage of their new control of the White House, as well as both Houses of Congress, Democrats in Tennessee are still trying to regain relevance in this deep red Republican state.
The person recently selected to take on that task, is Hendrell Remus, the new chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party.
He is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.
As a new major player in Tennessee politics, we welcome Mr. Remus to the program.
INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:
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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.
If you are wondering where the folks who worked in the Trump White House and administration have gone? It appears more than a dozen have gone to work in the office of new Tennessee U.S. Senator Bill Hagerty.
Another surprise to many, is how successful Tennessee’s new on-line sports gambling program is doing in its first two months of operations. The only one of its kind (on-line only), it has set all-time national records for bringing in the bets. If you watched all the TV ads the companies involved have been airing here in Nashville, maybe the record response is less of a surprise?
The General Assembly had this week and next week off, preparing to come back to begin lawmakers’ regular session on February 8 (when Governor Lee presents his State of the State address).
But that does not mean everything was quiet.
There was this political spat between one Knoxville Democratic House member and Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton over office assignments.
Finally, the issue of ringing down the Metro Nashville city flag has surfaced again. The last big push came during the first term of Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell over 20 years ago. Like many folks, His Honor did not understand what a Native American holding what looks to be a skull, had to do with Nashville. The history of the origins of the flag are murky at best.
But nothing ever came of Mayor Purcell’s concerns about the flag. He, like current Mayor John Cooper, always had lots on his plate to handle.
What will happen this time? Stay tuned.