Friday, November 20

State Capitol Christmas Tree: Woman donates 35-foot spruce grown in yard of childhood home (WZTV-TV Nashville) It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Tennessee State Capitol. Workers on Tuesday morning started installing this year’s Christmas tree on the Capitol grounds. This year’s tree is a 35-foot Norway spruce weighing 1,800 lbs. The display of Christmas spirit will face Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The 40-year-old tree has been donated by Sherry Willhelm of Franklin. The tree was gifted to the Capitol in memory of Willhelm’s parents, Suzanne and Johnny Simmons, who grew the tree in the yard of her childhood home. LINK

State drills vaccine events in all 95 counties ahead of anticipated COVID-19 shot (WBIR-TV Knoxville) In all 95 counties across Tennessee Thursday, the state’s mass flu vaccination event served as a dry run for an anticipated COVID-19 vaccine rollout. “It gives us a chance to practice our emergency response skills,” Knox Co. Health Department Director Dena Mashburn said. Even if a shot for the coronavirus hasn’t been approved yet, she’s part of the team already working to plan its distribution. LINK

Every Tennessee county hosted Fight Flu TN vaccination clinics Thursday (WATN-TV Memphis) In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, getting a flu shot is more important this year than ever before. Thursday, there were “Fight Flu TN” vaccine events in every Tennessee county to make it easier for everyone to get vaccinated. No appointments were needed to receive a flu vaccine during these events. LINK

Nov. 19 COVID-19 update: November now the worst month for new COVID-19 cases in Tenn. (WTVF-TV Nashville) The Tennessee Department of Health reported 2,887 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases to 328,088. Thursday’s new case update also brings the total number of new cases reported in November to 67,416, which surpasses the number of cases in the entire month of October and makes this month the worst in terms of new cases. LINK

Tennessee should cut restaurant capacity, limit bar hours, White House task force says COVID-19 spread ‘has become deeper and unyielding’ (WTVF-TV Nashville) Tennessee should dramatically slash indoor dining and limit bar hours for virtually the entire state, the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommends in its latest weekly report. “With almost all counties in the red zone and an increasing number of nursing homes, now 50%, with at least one positive staff member, mitigation and messaging efforts need to be further strengthened as other states have recently done,” the report says. LINK

Educating amid the pandemic: Clarksville-Montgomery County schools see learning gains despite COVID-19 (Leaf-Chronicle) Educational experts painted a grim picture when COVID-19 shut down school systems in mid-March, saying American kids would face months of learning losses. Researchers from education organizations, including NWEA, CREDO and McKinsey pinned those projections on the theory the shutdowns amounted to an extended summer break, with students losing learning from a full quarter of theschool year. LINK

‘Tired to the bone’: Hospitals overwhelmed with virus cases (AP) … Conditions inside the nation’s hospitals are deteriorating by the day as the coronavirus rages across the U.S. at an unrelenting pace and the confirmed death toll surpasses 250,000. ‘We are depressed, disheartened and tired to the bone,’ said Alison Johnson, director of critical care at Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, adding that she drives to and from work some days in tears. LINK

Rural hospitals feeling the pressure of increased COVID-19 cases (WTVF-TV Nashville) Rural hospitals have been reporting increased numbers of COVID-19 cases coming into their emergency rooms and ICUs. The St. Thomas system of hospitals saw increases across the board, though most major increases in hospitalizations happened in the Upper Cumberland area. “At our McMinnville and Dekalb hospital, we are seeing a considerable amount of COVID cases through our emergency rooms and in our inpatient units,” said Neal Kelley, regional president for St. Thomas Health. LINK

Education leader calls for more protection for educators and students as cases rise (WBIR-TV Knoxville) A Tennessee education leader is asking for more guidance for schools as COVID-19 cases rise across the state. Tennessee Education Association president Beth Brown expressed her concerns in a letter to Governor Bill Lee. She said their data shows infection rates for educators are higher than the communities they live in and that more must be done to protect them. LINK

On conference call, West Tennessee mayors say Gov. Bill Lee needs ‘to step up’ and mandate masks (Commercial Appeal) West Tennessee mayors, largely rural Republicans, criticized Gov. Bill Lee’s reluctance to enact a statewide mask mandate and his overall strategy to combat COVID-19 during a conference call Thursday afternoon. The criticism came during a video conference among at least 10 county mayors, several municipal mayors and representatives of major regional hospital systems across West Tennessee, including Memphis. On the call, they discussed a collaborative, regional approach to blunting the novel coronavirus pandemic as cases surge and hospitalizations pass summertime highwater marks across the region. LINK

Push for broader state mask mandate bridges the gap to a vaccine (Daily Memphian) The group of eight mayors in Shelby County is trying to convince Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee that more decisive action is needed during the wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. As Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald put it: “We’re buying time between now and the vaccine.” One way of “buying time” would be getting Lee to impose a statewide mask mandate. Short of that, the local mayors would like to help piece together a county-by-county mask mandate among the mayors in West Tennessee. LINK

Harris: Pitch for West Tennessee mask mandate will be ‘a slog’ (Daily Memphian) The idea of a West Tennessee mask mandate, short of a statewide requirement to wear a mask, went to a group of mayors in the region Thursday, Nov. 19, but no decisions were made. “We opened the lines of communication, which is really critical,” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris told The Daily Memphian following the afternoon session. “I think we will see some action from members of this group. But it will be a slog.” Harris, as well as Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald and Tipton County Executive Jeff Huffman, talked to a group of mayors from counties around the area — some with mask mandates and others without. LINK

Shelby County mayors express concern over health directive’s impact on economy (WHBQ-TV Memphis) Two Shelby County mayors are concerned about a new health directive that could shut down bars and gyms. The new health directive from the Shelby County Health Department is expected today or Monday. The mayors of Bartlett and Arlington said the SCHD will likely shut down bars and gyms, according to a phone call both had with health officials. Arlington Mayor Mark Wissman said he doesn’t want to see anything closed. “I think we learned during the last time this happened that everything is essential,” Wissman said. Wissman said he’s been asking for consistency throughout the pandemic. LINK

Tennessee Hospital Association recommends mask mandate (WKRN-TV Nashville) Medical professionals are expressing concerns over rising COVID-19 rates. The Tennessee Hospital Association and hospitals across the state are asking everyone to put a mask on. This is a new campaign launched to stress the importance of wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic as hospitals throughout Tennessee begin to fill up with COVID-19 patients. In addition to the campaign, chief medical officers and chief nursing officers signed a letter asking all Tennesseans to take precautions while out in public. LINK

Lincoln County mayor won’t issue mask mandate until ‘The Holy Spirit’ tells him (WSMV-TV Nashville) Lincoln County Mayor Bill Newman said Wednesday he would not issue a mask mandate for his county until “the Holy Spirit” moves him to do so. Newman made the comments to al.com in an interview. “(The virus) is science and it’s true and I do believe masking helps prevent the spread of it,” Newman told al.com. “But I don’t feel I should mandate people wearing masks all the time.” Lincoln County is located along the Tennessee border with Alabama, just north of Huntsville, AL. The county is mostly rural with about 34,000 residents. LINK

Ahead of holidays, Tennessee one of 14 states without mask mandate (AP) As health experts ring alarm bells at surging virus case numbers, Tennessee is just one of 14 states poised to head into the holiday season without a statewide mask mandate. Gov. Bill Lee also has vowed he will not impose business restrictions nor issue guidance on how families should gather for next week’s Thanksgiving holiday amid the ongoing pandemic. The Republican has remained steadfast that he’s open to all options to battling COVID-19, reiterating for weeks that he hasn’t ruled anything out. LINK

Health Dept. promises new directive by Monday (Daily Memphian) A new health directive that almost certainly will restrict restaurants, bars and other businesses where people are unmasked is expected Monday but could happen Friday, according to Shelby County Health Department health officer Dr. Bruce Randolph. While the restrictions are not likely to fully close down businesses, people should expect they will last at least 28 days, which represents two incubation cycles of the virus that has killed 250,000 people in the U.S. LINK

More staff. An improved economy. So why are unemployment extensions delayed? (Tennessean) When Nashville music producer Austin Sisk filed for unemployment in April, he waited about 10 weeks to receive his benefits — a lengthy process, but one he understood given the onslaught of claims barraging the state’s unemployment department. He filed for a federal benefits extension on August 30 when his regular state benefits ran out. Eleven weeks later, he is still waiting, without benefits or any indication of when he will get paid. LINK

A tale of divergence: Tennessee’s pandemic recovery lags in Nashville (Tennessean) The rise in online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic handed a surprise windfall to Tennessee’s rural counties. Experts told the State Funding Board that residents changed their spending patterns but doubled down on consumer goods despite financial devastation from widespread business shutdowns. Shoppers who formerly traveled to cities in Middle Tennessee relied instead on at-home delivery that lures tax revenue to the county of the mailing address. LINK

New questions about former state commissioner’s side job and why he did not disclose it (WTVF-TV Nashville) Last Friday was the last day on the job for one of Governor Lee’s top cabinet members. He resigned shortly after an investigation into sexual harassment charges. But now comes yet another bombshell or rather two. NewsChannel 5 Investigates found that while he worked for the state and was paid six figures, he was the only commissioner being provided free housing. And on top of that, he also held a second very well-paying job on the side. LINK

Execution of only woman on federal death row delayed after her Tennessee-based attorneys contracted COVID-19 (Tennessean) A federal judge has delayed the execution of the only woman on federal death row after two of her attorneys — Tennessee-based public defenders — contracted severe cases of COVID-19. Lisa Montgomery’s execution has been delayed until at least Dec. 31 under an order filed Thursday by U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss in Washington, D.C. A new date has not yet been set. LINK

Bill would prohibit COVID vaccine requirements (Nashville Post) As COVID-19 vaccines inch closer to readiness, a group of Tennessee lawmakers is seeking to make it harder to require immunizations of the state’s citizens. A newly filed bill for the upcoming legislative session, sponsored by five Republicans, would strip from state law language that allows only religious exemptions to vaccine requirements “in the absence of an epidemic or immediate threat thereof.” The bill would also eliminate a misdemeanor for doctors who give patients a fraudulent certificate of sickness or vaccination in order to get around requirements. LINK

TN lawmakers propose bill allowing religious exemptions to vaccines even during epidemics (WBIR-TV Knoxville) The bill, proposed by two Republican state lawmakers, would change state laws to allow people to refuse immunizations even during public health emergencies. Two Tennessee lawmakers are proposing drastic changes to Tennessee State Code that would prevent the state and its local leaders from enforcing any emergency health ordinances or resolutions that would mandate examinations, treatment or vaccines for anyone who objects on religious grounds or “right of conscience.” LINK

After Hamilton Co. GOP party member’s COVID-19 death, family pleads for people to mask up (WTVC-TV Chattanooga) Mask wearing in public will continue to be a way of life in Hamilton County into January, but for some who have lost loved ones to the virus, they’re hoping people will take the measure seriously. On Thursday, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, along with health leaders, business owners, and families affected by the virus spoke for more than an hour with a message: Masks make a difference. Among those speakers were the widow and daughter of Mike Baskette, a prominent member of Hamilton County’s GOP party who lost his battle with the virus earlier this year. LINK

Bill would allow Tennessee parents religious exemptions in getting children COVID vaccine (Times Free Press) A Tennessee lawmaker has filed a bill that would give parents a greater right to refuse vaccines for their children during a pandemic based on religious objections or “by right of conscience.” Current Tennessee law gives parents the legal right to refuse vaccinations for their children in order to enroll them in school in most instances — but only “in the absence of an epidemic or immediate threat thereof.” LINK

Tennessee lawmakers push for gun laws to curb violent crime, say compromise is needed (WREG-TV Memphis) As violent crime continues to be a major issue in the city of Memphis, lawmakers say they are pushing for better gun laws in the state, but they’re still getting push back. “I’m not anti-gun. I’m not anti-second amendment. But I think that everything that we do we need to keep gun safety and just being smart at the forefront,” said Tennessee senator Raumesh Akbari. Memphis Police say there have been at least 71 interstate shootings, 279 homicides, and as of September, there have been more than 4,700 reported violent incidents involving guns. LINK

Tennessee bill would allow use of deadly force for a property crime (WTVF-TV Nashville) The law in Tennessee is clear: You can use deadly force only in self-defense if you fear for your life or someone else’s, but, what if you could shoot someone who stole from you? For now — that would be a felony. But a new bill expands the uses of deadly force. “I think the last year has raised a lot of questions in Tennessee about whether you can use force or deadly force,” said John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. LINK

Lawmakers hope to give legacy to Evelyn Boswell through “Evelyn’s Law” (WJHL-TV Johnson City) When the AMBER Alert for Sullivan County toddler Evelyn Boswell was issued, there was one big question: Why did it take so long for someone to report her missing? In missing persons investigations, police always stress that time is of the essence. When Boswell was reported missing, authorities had almost two months of lost time. State lawmakers from Sullivan County say they want to be sure no community has to go through this again. LINK

Tennessee GOP Caucus’s only contested leadership race will be Rep. Smith’s challenge to current chairman (Times Free Press) While one lawmaker in the Tennessee House Republican Caucus race dropped his bid against a top GOP leader, Rep. Robin Smith of Hixson says she is continuing her challenge to current Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison when Republicans meet Tuesday. “Yes, I am running,” Smith said Wednesday. “From the day after the election in November and I called Chairman Faison and indicated I was going to run, I’ve been traveling the state and meeting with our colleagues and kind of casting a vision of where the caucus could be on some messaging and fundraising, on other things, and I’m continuing that and have been very well received.” LINK

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally gets unanimous GOP approval to remain speaker (Tennessean) Republican leadership of the Tennessee Senate will remain the same, a decision members formalized at a Thursday caucus election. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, was nominated to continue as speaker of the Senate, a position he has held since January 2017. The caucus voted unanimously. McNally is the longest serving member in the Tennessee General Assembly, being first elected to the House 42 years ago, in 1978, before becoming a senator in 1986. LINK

No changes at the top for Senate GOP (TN Journal) Senate Republicans have renominated Randy McNally as speaker and re-elected Ken Yager as caucus chairman and Jack Johnson as majority leader. Here’s a release outlining today’s action: Tennessee’s Senate Republican Caucus met today in Nashville where they voted unanimously to renominate Lt. Governor Randy McNally to a third term and to return Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) to their top leadership roles as Majority Leader and Republican Caucus Chairman respectively. LINK

Rep. Mike Carter battling pancreatic cancer following recent COVID-19 hospitalization (Tennessean) Rep. Mike Carter, the Republican legislator from Ooltewah, is battling cancer, a diagnosis that came as he received ongoing treatment for COVID-19. Carter contracted the coronavirus just before the legislature’s special session in August, an illness that placed him on oxygen in the intensive care unit at Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga. On Thursday, Carter announced in a statement said he recently learned he has pancreatic cancer. LINK

Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after COVID-19 treatment (Times Free Press) State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, who recently survived a life-threatening coronavirus infection, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Since returning home from the hospital in August, Carter has battled unexplained symptoms that he and his doctors believed were due to lingering effects of the virus. Carter was undergoing tests in Nashville as a potential COVID-19 “long-hauler” — former coronavirus patients who experience a prolonged recovery — when a radiologist noticed an abnormality on his pancreas. Additional tests confirmed the cancer, and he’s now receiving chemotherapy through Vanderbilt University Medical Center. LINK

Rep. Mike Carter says he has pancreatic cancer (WDEF-TV Chattanooga) State Representative Mike Carter is going public with a grim medical diagnosis. You may remember the lawmaker was hospitalized back in August with Covid-19. In his tweet Thursday evening, he says he continued to have symptoms afterwards. He just recently went to Vanderbilt Medical Center and got the diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer. His doctors believe his lingering symptoms were really from the cancer. “Because I was in good health prior to contracting Covid-19, my doctors tell me they likely wouldn’t have found the cancer, otherwise, so even that was a blessing in some ways.” LINK

Bedbug infestation is requiring entire Tennessee legislative office building to be treated (Tennessean) Workers in Tennessee’s legislative office building aren’t just trying to avoid catching the coronavirus. Now, there are bedbugs. The pests were discovered Wednesday in multiple offices on the fifth floor of the Cordell Hull office building, where House members of the General Assembly and their staff work. All House staff have now been advised to work from home until after Thanksgiving while offices are treated for bedbugs, according to legislative administration director Connie Ridley. LINK

‘Bed bugs’ creep into part of Tennessee’s legislative office building (WKRN-TV Nashville) Bed bugs forced several floors of the Tennessee legislative offices to be evacuated Thursday. It means dozens of people, including lawmakers, won’t be allowed back until their offices are treated for the insects. “Yesterday we were informed there was something going on, on the fifth floor,” said Kingsport state representative John Crawford as he and his wife left the Cordell Hull Building, housing legislative offices. “Frankly it’s just another part of 2020,” said House Democrat Press Secretary Ken Jobe. “We found out that it was some kind of insect problem. Not for sure exactly what it was, but they are really good to take extra precautions to make sure we are well-protected,” added Rep. Crawford. LINK

Bedbugs found in Cordell Hull Building (WSMV-TV Nashville) Bedbugs have been located on one floor in the Cordell Hull Building, state officials confirmed on Thursday. Office of Legislative Administration Director Connie F. Ridley said they learned the bedbugs are on the fifth floor, and contractors were brought in to eliminate the insects. “At present, it is the recommendation of the contractors that the floors above and below the 5th-floor area should also be treated out of an abundance of caution to ensure the areas are clean and ready for use by staff and members,” Ridley said in an email to News 4 on Thursday. LINK

Cordell Hull building undergoes treatment for bedbugs (WTVF-TV Nashville) The Cordell Hull Building on the state capitol grounds will be treated for bedbugs this week. State officials said bedbug insects were found in an area on the fifth floor of the building on Wednesday. As a recommendation from contractors who assessed the insects, the fourth and sixth floors will also be treated. Staff on each floor were told to prepare their offices for treatment by removing loose paper and personal items. LINK

In-person retreat still on for Tennessee Republican lawmakers (WZTV-TV Nashville) Despite the worsening pandemic, TN Republican lawmakers still plan to hold an in-person retreat this weekend. Some health experts say this type of gathering is the exact environment that COVID-19 thrives in. FOX 17 News has emailed all 73 members of the House Republican Caucus, which is holding an overnight retreat at The Lodge at Pickwick Landing State Park in Hardin County this weekend, an area that’s on the White House’s Red Zone list for COVID-19. We’ve only heard back from a handful of those lawmakers, and none have agreed to an interview. LINK

Washington County leader seeking top Democratic Party spot in state (Johnson City Press) The head of Washington County’s Democratic Party is seeking her party’s top leadership post in Tennessee. Kate Craig, who was re-elected to a two-year term as the county party’s leader in 2019, is vying to succeed Mary Mancini as chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party. Mancini, who has held the position since 2014, announced earlier this month that she is not seeking re-election to the position. LINK

OPINION

Editorial: Tennessee needs a statewide mask mandate (Kingsport Times-News) As we have reported, the coronavirus pandemic, as predicted, has caught its second wind. If you’re among the elderly or those with medical conditions that put you at greater risk, we urge you to please stay home for your protection. Following weeks of a nationwide rapid climb in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths, some governors are asking those whose lives are at most risk from infection to go back to the basics we all were asked to follow at the beginning of the pandemic: Wear a mask, social distance, keep your contacts minimal, and wash your hands frequently. LINK

David Plazas: Tennessee won’t mandate COVID rules so personal responsibility is our only hope (Tennessean) The music blared at the honky tonks on Broadway in downtown Nashville. Pedal tavern riders danced and sang boisterously in their seats. The sidewalks teemed with revelers. Meanwhile, a large sign reminded visitors there is a mask mandate in Nashville. Almost nobody cared. Almost nobody wore a mask. Last weekend, my family members were masked inside our car, as a precaution because we had out-of-town visitors with us, and we marveled at the breathtaking scene before our eyes. LINK

Keel Hunt: The Trump brand won’t take a holiday two months before Inauguration Day (Tennessean) The few weeks between election and inauguration are a time to keep our wits about us. Tennesseans especially know how much damage a lame-duck chief executive can do. The election of the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket is settled, but its swearing-in won’t occur until two months from this weekend. History reminds us this interim stretch can be a period ripe for high mischief on the part of the losing side, for departing governors as well as presidents. LINK

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