Paige Pfleger

Paige Pfleger is a reporter for WOSU, Central Ohio's NPR station. Before joining the staff of WOSU, Paige worked in the newsrooms of NPR, Vox, Michigan Radio, WHYY and The Tennessean. She spent three years in Philadelphia covering health, science, and gender, and her work has appeared nationally in The Washington Post, Marketplace, Atlas Obscura and more. 

The coronavirus pandemic continues to claim thousands of lives a week — mostly people who aren't vaccinated. But that's not stopping a major gathering of anti-vaccine advocates and conspiracy theorists in Nashville, Tenn., this weekend.

The event is being orchestrated by Tennessee couple Ty and Charlene Bollinger. They have been labeled as some of the nation's biggest vaccine misinformation superspreaders.

Timothy Griffin has been having a lot of long nights.

"I probably have not slept since it happened," Griffin says, "since I woke up and the headline was Afghan president flees the country, Taliban are in Kabul."

Griffin did a tour in Afghanistan under an Obama-era program where he learned Pashto to help the Americans better communicate with Afghans. He was stationed out of Fort Campbell, an Army base outside of Nashville, Tenn.

He says he hasn't been sleeping so that he can bridge the time difference with the translators he worked with during his tour.

Paige Pfleger | WPLN News

In 2018, students and officials at Middle Tennessee State University pushed for a building known as Forrest Hall to be renamed. When it went up for a vote with the Tennessee Historical Commission, they didn’t get approval.

Three years later, on a rainy July day, student Toriana Williams stood in front of Forrest Hall and wondered what the removal of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s bust from the Tennessee State Capitol could mean for MTSU.

“I think it’s confusing that they would remove the bust and not have removed or renamed Forrest Hall,” Williams says. “I’m not sure what changed for them. It does make me excited for their possible support in this situation.”

Only four petitions have made it through the process laid out in a state law called the Heritage Protection Act, including the Forrest bust. Those legal hoops put in place by the law can have a chilling effect.

Paige Pfleger/ WPLN News

The bust of confederate general and KKK grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest has been removed from the Tennessee State Capitol. Advocates cleared the final hurdle Thursday, after decades of protesting and months of jumping through legislative hoops.

Gov. Bill Lee voted along with the majority of the state building commission to move the bust to the Tennessee State Museum.

But the vote was not unanimous: the speakers of the Tennessee House and Senate voted against relocation.

Several different state commissions have voted on the fate of the bust in the last few months, but Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, hoped this was the last.

WPLN News

Tennessee’s top vaccine official says she has been fired as punishment for doing her job in the face of political pushback.

Dr. Michelle Fiscus was caught up in a controversy after she passed along legal guidance to health providers saying teenagers do not need parents’ consent to receive a COVID-19 vaccine shot — a position established by decades of state law.

“Specifically, it was MY job to provide evidence-based education and vaccine access so that Tennesseans could protect themselves against COVID-19,” Fiscus said in a scathing statement about her firing. “I have now been terminated for doing exactly that.”

Tennessee’s leaders have betrayed the public trust, Fiscus says, accusing them of putting their own political gains ahead of the people’s well-being. She defended her colleagues in the health sector who have been fighting the pandemic — and she notably took umbrage that a lawmaker had called the state health department’s actions “reprehensible.”

Chas Sisk | WPLN

 The bust of confederate general and KKK leader Nathan Bedford Forrest could technically be removed from the state capitol Friday, but instead it is caught in a sort of legislative hot potato.

People have been pushing for years for the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest to be removed, and finally made progress on that mission in March 2020, when the state Historical Commission voted to pass the bust off to the Tennessee State Museum. There was a required 120 day waiting period, which expired on July 9.

Yet the museum says they are still awaiting instructions.

One complication is the State Building Commission, which oversees Tennessee’s public buildings, is still working to determine next steps.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The pandemic has canceled a lot of events. In one Tennessee county, it took away a beloved one - a campy agricultural celebration called Mule Day. From member station WPLN, Paige Pfleger reports.

Chas Sisk | WPLN

After decades of protests, the Tennessee Historical Commission voted Tuesday to relocate a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state capitol.

The bust is one of three that will be moved to the Tennessee State Museum. The others depict U.S. Admiral David Farragut, a famed commander in the Union Navy during the Civil War, and U.S. Admiral Albert Gleaves, who served more than four decades.

More than 30 citizens spoke during the public comment period in the hearing Tuesday. Many of them advocated for removal of the Forrest bust, in large part because of the message it sends to Black Tennesseans. Forrest was involved in the slave trade, a massacre of many Black soldiers at Fort Pillow during the Civil War, and the Ku Klux Klan.

St. Louis, St. Paul, Richmond, Boston — cities across the country have dismantled, torn down or removed their statues honoring the explorer Christopher Columbus. One of the more recent and more surprising additions to that list is his namesake: Columbus, Ohio. The city once had three Christopher Columbus statues.

Construction crews recently dismantled a marble statue on the campus of Columbus State Community College, loading it piece by piece onto a flatbed truck to be put into storage.

A small Columbus statue still stands on the lawn of the statehouse.

Several large metal shipping containers are lined up in a warehouse under a large American flag. Their doors are ajar and workers stream in and out, power tools buzzing.

These are no ordinary shipping containers: They represent a huge scientific breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19.

"We're looking at the Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System that we've developed to be able to decontaminate PPE for health care workers on the front-line," says Will Richter, a researcher at the Columbus, Ohio-based company.

Every day for the past week, colleges and universities around the country have made the announcement: in-person classes are cancelled due to fears over the spreading coronavirus.

Ohio State. Harvard. University of Virginia. University of Michigan. Duke. These are just some of the more than 100 universities across the country that are moving classes online.

Lecture halls will be empty. Labs closed. Concerts cancelled. Sports practices called off. Some universities are asking students to go home early for spring break, and if on break now, not to return to campus at all.

In more than 30 states, it is illegal for someone with HIV to have sex without first disclosing their status. Some are now pushing to change that, arguing that the laws are actually endangering public health.

More than 1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, and their HIV status could conceivably put them behind bars. That's what happened to Michael Holder.

"I served 8 1/2 years in prison and three years after on parole," Holder says.

A diversion program for victims of human trafficking is spreading to cities around the country. The model has roots in Columbus, Ohio, where a judge decided to direct women toward rehabilitation instead of jail.

Ten years ago, Judge Paul Herbert was sitting in a courtroom when he noticed a trend. He was seeing lots of women who were abused and forced into sex work, but they were being treated like criminals.