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No Credible Evidence to Support Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s July Shutdown of Bars and Reduction of Restaurant Capacity, Despite Bullying Tactics by His Administration
September 21, 2020 Jason M. Reynolds
When Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced at a July 2 press conference that he was shutting down all the city’s bars for 14 days, reducing restaurant capacity from 75 percent to 50 percent, and temporarily closing event venues and entertainment venues, all due to “record” cases of COVID-19 traceable to restaurants and bars, he apparently knew that his own Metro Health Department said less than two dozen cases of COVID-19 could be traced to those establishments. But he failed to disclose that the “record” of bar and restaurant traceable cases to which he referred to was about one tenth of one percent of Davidson County’s 20,000 cases of COVID-19.
In essence, there was no credible evidence to support the draconian shutdown measures Mayor Cooper took that have had a devastating impact on one of the city’s most important industries, and the tens of thousands of Nashvillians whose lives depend on that industry.
“Our Phase Three has not been effective, and we’re going to back to what we know is effective in slowing the spread of the disease. Beginning Friday, July 3, and for the next several weeks at least, Nashville will revert to a Phase Two with modifications for the road map for reopening Nashville,” Cooper began.
“The modified plan is tailored to what we’ve learned in contact tracing investigations over the past several weeks. It is in response to sharp recent increases in cases and clustering of cases,” he continued. (emphasis added).
You can watch the full video of the July 2 press conference here:
Go to the 3 minute mark, and Cooper begins talking about bars and restaurants.
It’s worth noting that Nashville’s rate of confirmed cases did decline while bars and restaurants operated at 50 percent capacity in May. Now, Metro parks facilities opened in Phase 3 will remain open, including dog parks, skate parks, basketball courts and playgrounds. And recreational leagues and pools will still be permitted, as outbreaks have not been traced back to these venues or activities.
Now, of course, we urge you to practice safe social distancing around swimming pools this weekend.
Additionally, all bars in Davidson County known as limited-service restaurants that derive the majority of their revenue from alcohol sales will close for a minimum of 14 days, beginning tomorrow, which is equal to one incubation cycle of the coronavirus. Our public health investigators have found a record number of clusters originating from bars in the past week, which have affected employees, patrons and musicians. Multiple bars in the downtown and midtown neighborhood have recently closed because of outbreaks among their staff and patrons.
Every decision related to our phased economic reopening has been made with unanimity among our public health experts — including these announced this morning.
Note that Cooper said “record number.”
Cooper is a defendant in a lawsuit brought by bar owners over his tight coronavirus restrictions. The complaint says that from the Metro Health Director’s first order, “restaurants and bars were consistently treated differently than other similarly situated businesses and entities,” especially bars on Broadway.
Dennis Ferrier of Fox 17 News was the first to report that the mayor’s office decided not to release the fact that on June 30, only 22 cases of COVID-19 cases were associated with bars and restaurants. He obtained copies of emails exchanged between members of Cooper’s staff and the health department, and he showed those emails in his story.
Fox 17 News seems to have removed the printed version of Dennis Ferrier’s story, which was here, but so far has left the video version on YouTube here.
Ferrier’s story mentioned how nursing homes and construction workers contributed to high case counts, about 1,000 each, but bars and restaurants had only 22 cases as of June 30. The reporter showed copies of emails of officials as late as June 29 working out a decision to not release the low numbers to the public.
A month later, a reporter asked the health department about rumors that only 80 of more than 20,000 cases in Davidson County were attributable to bars and restaurants, Ferrier reported. Officials talked by email about how to deflect away from giving a specific answer.
Ferrier’s reporting drew national headlines, and the mayor’s office called it “fake news,” according to a story Friday by WSMV’s Nancy Amons.
Around the 2:50 mark, Amons asked Cooper about the July 2 press conference, the emails and his decision to close bars for 14 days even though, she said, there were only about 16 cases. Cooper blamed young people.
I think, if you look into it — and we’re happy to go into all the correspondence — you began to have bar outbreak in June. And that was telling you that it was probably gonna propel the second wave, the second spike, that you had to be especially careful about any outbreak in that area because young people spread it. Young people naturally see more people in a week. They’re out, and they’re about. They may not be symptomatic, but they spread it. And, that is frankly what we saw. Our count went from something kind of manageable in June but by mid-July it was really high.
Cooper deflected Amons’ question about the cases supposedly increasing from 16 to 80 in a month in the bars and said his responsibility is to protect the entire county.
During a press conference Thursday, Cooper spokesman Chris Song verbally berated Ferrier, as The Tennessee Star reported. Song said Ferrier did not go through proper channels, and he told the audience that the reported had exercised “a lapse in journalistic judgement and due diligence.”
There are reports that Fox 17 News’ management reacted to Cooper’s bullying by issuing a retraction, while other reports call it an apology for using the term “cover-up.”
Dictionary.com defines “cover-up” as “any action, stratagem, or other means of concealing or preventing investigation or exposure.”
Despite what Cooper told WSMV, is this fake news?
Chris Butler of The Star on Friday ran an interview with Mark Cunningham, spokesman for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, in which they discussed Cooper. Cunningham discussed Ferrier’s story on how Cooper and the city’s health department hid the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in lower Broadway’s bars and restaurants.
Cunningham told The Tennessee Star Thursday that, with this news, every bar in the city should open back up.
“The issue is that the data had showed very few cases from bars, and he knew that and he shut them down anyway. That’s the bombshell. He [Cooper] knew that there wasn’t an issue with the bars, yet he shut them down,” Cunningham said.
“Science only seems to follow the CDC recommendations when it fits his preconceived agenda, and he’s just had this vendetta against bars. Despite the contrary evidence, he basically has cost business owners, performers, and employees of their livelihoods with numbers that were contradictory to what he was saying publicly.”
Even if Fox 17 News’ management will not stick up for Ferrier, his wife will.
Lindsay Ferrier spoke out on his challenges on her blog titled, Suburban Turmoil, available here, as well as her Facebook page here.
On her Facebook post, she linked to a video clip of her husband’s story and wrote:
As Dennis Ferrier‘s story blows up and goes national and ever more hyperbolic headlines are being used to describe it, I’d encourage you to watch the story Dennis himself wrote and reported, and then make up your own minds. Click on the link below and watch the video — That’s his actual story about the emails. Everything else you’re seeing is a report on his report along with that author’s spin, and it may or may not be accurate. I also encourage you to read the emails for yourselves.
I’ve seen Dennis’s story on the news twice now and in it, he asked all the same questions I had after reading the emails. I was disappointed the mayor’s office was unable or unwilling to answer any of those questions at the press conference this morning and I hope Mayor Cooper really is willing to ‘get to the bottom of this’ in an interview.
Dennis Ferrier on Sunday posted this on his personal Facebook page:
My late father was a tough customer. I never saw him back down from anyone his entire life. He was a small businessman who often worked 16 hour days.
His favorite quote was “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up.” It was his version of the Winston Churchill quote.
He said it so many times that it still echoes between my ears as a 60-year-old man.
I live by that creed. Thanks, Dad, for teaching me to not back down when you’re right, no matter who’s trying to push you around.
Public opinion seems to be turning against Cooper.
A Facebook group called “Re-Open Nashville” held a “Reopen & Resign Rally” Sunday at Woodmont Park in BelleMeade, reportedly near Cooper’s home on Woodlawn Drive.
We will start at Woodmont Park at 5 pm this Sunday, and continue on in our vehicles past John Cooper’s home on Woodlawn Drive in a peaceful, socially distanced rally to inform John Cooper that Nashville is reopening, and that he is to resign immediately.
There is no sidewalk or gathering area in front of his home, so a slow, safe cruise-in is the most effective means of using our 1st Amendment right to protest his lies, and illegal persecution of Nashville bars, restaurants, and other businesses.
Have fun with the cars! Let’s be colorful with signs, banners, car paint, and flags. Please remain in vehicles, drive carefully, and remain buckled up as a police presence is expected (And welcome).
A drive-by rally with people staying inside their cars should satisfy Cooper, who has frequently called for social distancing.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.
Photo “Nashville at Night” by Jeffry Salazar CC2.0
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