Nashville Mayor John Cooper and members of his administration weren’t straightforward enough with their COVID-19 data and, in effect, hurt local businesses and justified fears that government officials would abuse their power during this long emergency.
This, according to Beacon Center of Tennessee spokesman Mark Cunningham. Cunningham responded to a FOX 17 of Nashville report that suggested Cooper and his staff members kept secret the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases coming out of the bars and restaurants in the city’s lower Broadway area.
Beacon is a Nashville-based right-of-center think tank.
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.”
FOX 17 reported this week that Cooper’s senior advisor and Metro Health Department staff members discussed, in emails, how to handle the low number of COVID-19 cases emerging from bars and restaurants.
“On June 30th, contact tracing was given a small view of coronavirus clusters. Construction and nursing homes were found to be causing problems with more than a thousand cases traced to each category, but bars and restaurants reported just 22 cases,” the station reported.
The station quoted health department employee Leslie Waller asking in one email “This isn’t going to be publicly released, right? Just info for Mayor’s Office?”
Cooper Senior Advisor Benjamin Eagles, responding to Waller, said “Correct, not for public consumption.”
The station went on to report that other media asked Metro officials about a rumor that they had traced only 80 cases back to bars and restaurants and whether such businesses really jeopardized health and safety.
According to FOX 17, an unidentified official, in an email, said the following:
“My two cents. We have certainly refused to give counts per bar because those numbers are low per site. We could still release the total though, and then a response to the over 80 could be because that number is increasing all the time and we don’t want to say a specific number.”
The station went on to say that a Metro staff attorney verified that the emails were real but that Cooper’s staff would not verify their authenticity. They instead directed FOX 17 staff to submit an open records request to confirm this on their own.
Responding to the report, Cooper spokesman Chris Song published a press release Thursday that blasted FOX 17. He said the station published “limited information and without context” to “falsely accuse the Mayor’s office and the Metro Public Health Department of withholding public health data.”
On Thursday U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-TN-07) told Cooper in a letter that “Tennesseans deserve transparency.”
“They deserve to know the truth, not cherry-picked data to support a certain set of policy outcomes,” Green wrote.
Green also asked Cooper who made the call to conceal these statistics and what he knew about it.
“When government leaders make weighty decisions that threaten to drive businesses into permanent closure, they need to be honest about the data behind such choices,” Green wrote.
“Unfortunately, it appears that the Nashville city government chose to suppress information that contradicted the official narrative concerning restrictions on bars and restaurants.”